^ signing ceremony at Boston English High School, the state’s first public school (1635)

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More than a year after the so-called “Promise Act” was proposed, for the future funding of public schools in Massachusetts, the much-amended version of that proposal is now law. Governor Baker signed the “Student Opportunity Act” at the beginning of this week.

The legislature voted unanimously to enact the version signed by Governor Baker.

So the big first question : what is in this massive spending bill ? And can it do the trick — close the so-called achievement gap” between students of color and students Caucasian and Asian ? Masslive’s report lists the main points :

And the second question : how did we get to unanimity ? We arrived there by incorporating into the bill ( a ) performance standards and monitoring of them ( b ) school districts have three years to come up with their plan for using the funds wisely and ( c ) full implementation must occur by year 2026. The original bill insisted on a five-year implementation.

Can this law work ? Despite the performance standards imposed, the gist of the bill is still money. The first object of that money is to close funding shortfalls between local school budgets and local school needs. The problem is that no matter how much money is accorded, school bureaucracies always find more budget needs to fund. The Student Opportunity Act revises the State’s school funding reimbursement formula, yes: all charter schools funding consequences will now be funded, special needs students’ transportation costs will be covered, and in general, poor-performing school districts will receive disproportionate funding help. If money alone can improve the performance of students in poor-performing districts, this bill will do the trick.

I am not so sure, however. The achievement gap is not merely a matter of money, maybe not even mostly. Students who don’t speak English at home need language immersion schooling at school. Homeless students need beds, meals, and security. Students who live in dysfunctional family situations need focus and repose, confidence and mentoring. In school, discipline needs to be rigorous : school cannot be a place for fooling around or “being oneself.” In my view, too much of today’s public school management emphasizes identity rather than rigor and diversity rather than uniformity. All students must master basic reading, arithmetic, and language use skills before they can graduate to specialization. Lots of money, by itself, will do nothing to change classroom facts.

That said, our political situation admits only of euphemism and easy ways out when public education is the topic. Powerful vested interests guard every gateway into how schools are actually managed and operated. Being a unanimous law, the Student Opportunity Act has the approval of every such vested interest, which means that nothing fundamental is likely to change. Unless the elimination of money worries, for the time being, can somehow induce stronger classroom morale. We will see if that happens.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere







All of you now beginning to read this column know, after last week’s Impeachment hearings, that the individual now occupying the White House is a lawless, entirely self–seeking criminal who operates in service of the Russian gangsters to whom he owes hundreds of millions of dollars — and maybe other stuff — and that he must be impeached and removed from office.

I’m very confident that he will be impeached, probably on a party-line vote or very close to it. The prospect that Republican members of the House would vote to impeach was always slim; we now know that in almost every case the chance is nil. Yet that cannot deter the rest of us, and it will not. The man will be impeached, and there will be a full trial in the Senate.

We pretty much know what that trial will sound like. The impeachment managers will present the facts as we now know them, about the infamous July 25th phone call with President Zelenskyy of Ukraine and about the entire build-up to it, including the illegal hold-back of $ 490 million in military aid to that nation. Then will come the defenders of the impeached man, who will present a hurricane of disinformation, forgeries, and outright lies, all of them in line with — and probably in furtherance of — the Russian forgers who disseminated them and continue to disseminate them.

The factual news media will report the facts, and the disinformation media will propagate the disinformation. What will it all amount to ? In my opinion, it amounts to the beginning of the 2020 Presidential election. Facts versus fakery, all of it televised to everybody who cares to watch it and breathe it in.

There will be no conviction in the Senate. The criminal in the White House can defecate on the Constitution all he wants, and his party will allow its faces to be swathed in shit; and those who for some reason believe the disinformation will lick the shit and call it barbecue. And so it will go right up to election day in November of next year: the shit faced versus the fact tellers. We will see how have the larger numbers, in sufficient electoral vote states, to decide the winner.

The only questions that remain are these :

( 1 ) why are the many very capable Republican members of Congress who know that shit is shit willing to let themselves be shit-faced ?

( 2 ) why are those voters who actively support the shitter willing, even eager, to say that shit is barbecue?

To the second question I have no answer. The voters who adore shit have their reasons, I am sure, but I am unable to fathom one.

The first question is more troubling. When we elect Congress people, we elect them to bear “true faith and allegiance” to the Constitution; yet the shitter in the White House could care less about the Constitution, violates it every day, and engages in conduct criminal and almost treasonous, in service of his personal money schemes, almost without giving one damn what anyone thinks or does. It stuns me that there is even one elected Congress person who tolerates such conduct for even one day.

Perhaps the answer is that Republican Congress members are wholly dependent on big donors and that these big donors don’t give a damn what the White House shitter does as long as he nominates bigoted and lawless judges and demonizes immigrants and LGBT people, betrays our allies, and endangers the climate. I don’t know what these donors think the outcome of their destructive radicalisms will be, upon the world’s condition or the lives of those whom the shitter endangers, but clearly these donors are hell bent on destroying whatever and whoever they have to in order to achieve their dark, ice cold nuclear nightmare. The Congress members whose campaign budgets they fund have no other choice. Dependence on big donor devils almost guarantees that small donations, from actual people, will shun them. Yet they take it.

To quote the great Fiona Hill, who testified yesterday : “This will all blow up. And here we are.”

To sum up : we must impeach and we must remove from office the individual who currently lives in the White House. After that, we can clean up the mess, no matter how long it takes. The good of our nation and its Constitution demands it.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



The shape of Boston’s recent City Council election allows us to configure the upcoming Mayor election– which campaign has already begun. Unless miracles drop, Councillor Michelle Wu will run. So might others, but Wu has the challenger’s pole position. She received more than 41,616 votes (tally is still unofficial) from 66,884 voters — well over 60 percent. (No one was close. Annissa Essaibi George and Michael Flaherty fell 7000 and 8000 votes short, respectively.) Wu was the Council’s President and, you might say, was and still is its most outspoken policy proposer. At the end of October she reported $ 344,157 cash on hand — a massive sum for a City Councillor.

Mayor Walsh reported $ 3,930,051 — more than times as much as Wu has, but that’s to be expected. He has the power. There’s plenty of room for that funds imbalance to change drastically. Let Wu actually announce, and there’ll be plenty of funds coming her way.

Can Wu win ? She certainly can. Let’s look at the state of things :

( 1 ) In the Council election just held, non-union “progressives” — Wu’s chosen constituency — outvoted labor-endorsed candidates across the board, both city-wide and in the District 5 race. Wu endorsed the District Five winner and also Alejandra St. Guillen, who lost to independent “progressive” Julia Mejia by one ( 1 ) vote, 22,792 to 22,791, for the fourth Council at-Large seat. Meanwhile, Walsh endorsed only a safe choice, Annissa Essaiabi George, and St. Guillen, whose campaign seemed to stall the day after Walsh decided to endorse her.

( 2 ) Wu’s policy proposals have certainly electrified “progressives.” She called for the MBTA to be fare-free. She proposed a $ 25 annual fee for resident parking stickers. She whole-heartedly supports burdening car owners sufficiently to force as many as possible into using public transportation. She may very well support attempts to bring back rent control to Boston (as of today, State law bars it), and it would not surprise were she to propose some sort of voting rights for 16 and 17 year olds. If there’s a priority initiative on the organized progressives’ agenda that Wu does not champion, I have not seen it.

( 3 ) Plenty of voters who might not like this or that Wu proposal — or any of them — still give her credit for trying to bringing change to a City government that, to many, seems resistant to change of any kind and determined to go its own way no matter who doesn’t like it. First to mind is the Mayor’s attitude toward development : he wants lots of it and seems willing to bend every zoning rule in order to get as much of it as possible built. The more aggressively Wu’s proposals unsettle the Mayor, the better she is liked by the many, many voters who are fed up with seeing their neighborhood bullied by developers. Lastly, an enormous number of voters lack confidence in the Boston School Department — for many very good reasons. Those who can move to towns with better-run schools, often do so. The rest stay — and are unhappy. Mayor Walsh cannot count on their votes, no matter how many Schools policies are voted unanimously by his appointed School Committee.

( 4 ) the most recent citywide, major election, for Governor in 2018, saw Governor Baker take 49.3 percent of the City’s vote to Jay Gonzalez’s 50.7 percent. It would not surprise me if the 2021 Mayor election were similarly close. Baker assembled his 108,000 votes by winning ( a )  the new-breed, Downtown and adjacent areas populated mostly by tech and institutional voters ( b ) the “old Boston” voters of Charlestown, Southie, Bayside Dorchester, Hyde Park, upper East Boston, and West Roxbury and ( c ) 36 to 46 percent of Black and Latino voters. Against him were ( a ) the “progressives” Of Jamaica plain and parts of Roslindale ( b ) Brighton-Allston and ( c ) 54 to 64 percent of Black and Latino voters — 112,000 votes in all.

I doubt that Mayor Walsh can build a win via this coalition. Michelle Wu won a very large percentage of the Downtown and adjacent vote, and Walsh has never been strong in Charlestown and East Boston. Baker is himself an institutional, Downtown-ish man; Walsh is anything but. His background is in labor, and a labor guy he still acts the part. Unions form a significant part of Baker’s support, but for Walsh they are more than that, they are identity. Which is a problem, given the weak showing by labor candidates in the recent Council election. That said, Walsh has no choice : labor will be his bedrock, and the neighborhoods of his traditional base : South Boston and Dorchester, some of Hyde Park, and about one third of West Roxbury. This is far, far from enough, but Mayor Walsh has one huge advantage : he can go to events everywhere in the City, as Mayor, bring City funds for this project and to that organization, and just flat-out meet everyone he can, as Tom Menino did. Michelle Wu can’t come close to matching Walsh’s ubiquitous star power, nor his money grants. He can cobble together votes ten or twenty at a time from almost every part of the City, from business people who need City licenses, from those who use the City’s libraries, parks, youth activities, and Main Streets, or just from people who can tell their kids “I met the Mayor !”

Will this, then, be enough? Against it I see Wu’s aggressive change agenda, her status as a non-Caucasian, and the momentum that “progressive” organizations and pointedly non-White campaigns have built up ever since Ayanna Pressley’s 7th Congressional defeat of defeat of Mike Capauno. More than that, Wu has the look of today — of social media — as the extremely local, Dorchester-guy Marty Walsh does not. There’s a bit of a social class thing going on here, though no one will say it, but appearances matter in the Age of Instagram. Here, Governor Baker held a huge advantage. At six foot six, with the sleek build of a pro athlete and a gentle and well-spoken affability, the non-ethnic Baker dominates every room that he enters without being in the least bit domineering. Walsh is of ordinary height and not an easy conversationalist; he does not dominate unless accompanied by several aides who, crowding around him, convey importance by implication.

Will that be enough, along with all the money and licensing power that a Boston Mayor has ? I’m not sure. You can’t win an election by implication.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ the new Boston politics of blood votes : this campaign was where it took over

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After Boston’s primary election I wrote an article in which I cited lessons to be drawn from the results. I saw that a new movement, of business-office morality, in team with most voters of color, was outvoting the old labor and big government partnership that had dominated the City since at least Depression times.

This result prevailed on November 5th as well, as candidates of the old labor-and-government type were outvoted, even defeated, by their business-office opponents. Yet there was another factor in play in the “final,” a movement quite more radical in policy and more explicitly tribal than the preachy business-office voices heard in the primary.

If I am correct in my assessment of Tuesday’s winners — one race remains much too close to call, between Julia Mejia and Alejandra St. Guillen for fourth place in the Councillor at-large field — we now may have a Council majority dedicated to extreme measures relative to housing, transportation, and voting, policies which, if adopted, would set City administration into serious confusion, not to mention conflict with state law. Mayor Walsh will certainly veto any such proposals, and there aren’t enough radicals to override his veto; yet that’s small comfort for voters who expect the Council to propose reforms that improve the City, not disrupt it.

More ominous than the radicalism of November 5th is its tribalism. Candidates who won, and the two candidates involved in the recount, were extolled not only because of their policies but because they are Latino. Facebook was  flush with posts heralding “all three” — Mejia, St. Guillen, and District Five winner Ric Arroyo as a team : not a team on policy grounds but on ancestry.

Other facebook comments seen during the election’s  final days and after trek a similar path :

“Black people have been voting against their interests for years,” said one commenter on the Hyde Park neighbors facebook page — a wild generalization and a purely speculative assumption. Who gave her authority to speak for all Black people ? My 50 years of conversing with voters has shown me that voters know their interests very well and don’t need to be preached to by others about it.

On my own facebook page, a very serious activist baldly asserted that, as women number more than 50 percent of voters they should hold more than 50 percent of elected offices — so, in other words, we’re not to elect people freely but to apportion them ?

A columnist for the Dorchester Reporter dismissed Maria Esdale Farrell, candidate in District Five, as racist because she said she would address all people equally. Are some people, then, to be favored ? Really ?

A City-wide candidate said that her campaign was about lifting up the City’s immigrants — as if immigrants, who are rising faster than fast, needed her help to get to success, a thing that immigrants — legal or not — are much better at than the native-born.

These examples of “Tuesday wisdom” are, of course, precisely the M/O of Mr. Trump, although in reverse. As he loudly proclaims white people this, white people that, so his most triggered opponents proclaim every sort of other identity, all the identities that Trump’s racial message casts aside.

There has to be a better way; but at present I don’t see a better way coming.

The “blood and votes” message that drives much of Mr. Trump’s opponents was not restricted to November 5th’s radicals. It was very much a part — though stated in moral terms — of the business-office “diversity” voters who won more votes than the radicals. In the contest that I worked in, the District Five race, after an edited 12 seconds of old video of Tim McCarthy calling candidate Ric Arroyo’s endorsees “nonsense people” was posted on the Roslindale and Hyde Park facebook pages eleven days before election, an avalanche of condemnation and outright bigotry was thrown at Councillor McCarthy along with all manner of instruction — not to mention some condescension — as to how no white person (well, maybe one or two) can likely understand what it’s like to be a person of color and therefore a white candidate shouldn’t be elected in a District that has a majority population of color. (Obviously the late attack on McCarthy was made in order to ping back upon Farrell, who as the Roslindale post asserted, was “McCarthy’s hand picked candidate”).

Most voters who I talked to expressed an entirely different view of the campaign.

As Farrell’s Roslindale co ordinator, I knocked on about 3500 doors — six entire precincts, two of them  twice — and conversed with over 1000 people. The lesson that I learned ? That all voters want the same things : better schools, more responsive basic City services, and trees planted. And many voters said that they had no issues at all with City government, that things were OK as they saw it. I heard no difference about these matters between voters of whatever origin, gender or skin color.

Yet some factions of activists were willing to gin up every sort of identity grievance, and the voters were thereby not allowed to make a nuts and bolts assessment of the candidates.  Organized “progressives” in the District had a tested, long-time progressive candidate to support — Mimi Turchinetz — but from the outset she was bypassed by most such activists in favor of Ric Arroyo, who is much younger and new to politics. Why ? Turchinetz had, and maintained, substantial Roslindale support. What was there about her that “progressive” organizations did not like ?

This is not to say that the successful campaign of Ric Arroyo was illegitimate. He would likely have won had the entire apparatus of identity tribalism stayed silent. He is brother to a well-regarded former city Councillor Felix G. Arroyo and son of Felix D. Arroyo, who was a City Councillor as well and is now Suffolk Register of Probate. He was first into the field, two months before Turchinetz (and before Maria Esdale Farrell). He held a large money advantage right up to September. He had widespread name recognition, where Turchinetz and Farrell had much less of it. And he was campaigning a District that voted overwhelmingly for Ayanna Pressley’s identity campaign (“the people closest to the pain should be closest to the power”) against Congressman Mike Capuano. (Pressley eventually endorsed Ric and held a huge rally with him two days before November 5th.) All of that would have happened had the identity warriors said nothing. Ric Arroyo deserved better than to win an election dented by tactics that spawned a great deal of entirely unnecessary division.

That said, the identity message DID happen; and not only in District Five; and it has now cast Caucasian voters, other than the business-moralistic, as racists.

Candidates endorsed by craft unions and many other labor groups were also outvoted, as in the primary.

I can also examine the District Five result on other grounds :

In 2018 Governor Baker won 46 percent of the District’s vote, Jay Gonzalez 54 percent. The Farrell – Arroyo contest finished almost identically : Farrell about 45, Arroyo about 55. Farrell won every precinct that Baker won, plus two more. Arroyo won every precinct that Gonzalez won except two. It isn’t too far wrong to say that Baker’s voters were Farrell’ s voters, and Arroyo’s voters were Gonzlaez’s. (There were some differences. Farrell did less well than Baker in the Haitian-majority precincts, better than Baker in the Hyde Park ones, and about the same as Baker in Roslindale.) And why should the two results not have been like ? In both cases, a centrist (Farrell and Baker) lost to a “progressive” (Gonzalez and Arroyo). Voters know their minds very well. In the two elections they appear to have responded quite rationally.

Still, it’s not the result that I focus on but the manner in which the results were accomplished. The majority message on Tuesday, as last year in the Pressley and Capuano contest, is that all people are NOT equal, that some are to be accorded extra advantage because of their ancestry, or skin color, and others, less.

A sitting City Councillor yesterday opined, on facebook, that candidates of color should win, and candidates who are white should not,because people of color are “oppressed.” Really, in Boston? Our Police Commissioner and his deputy are both Black. So are our District Attorney, one of our Congress people, three of our City Councillors, our Sheriff, three of our State Representatives; and an additional three legislators are Latino as well as the Councillor-elect, the BPS Superintendant, and several high City officials. Add to this number several former legislators who now hold influential positions in business and lobbying.

There are also numerous potential candidates of color, of very worthy quality, who may well run for office and will have significant support if they do. Here I should mention Leon David, Ruth Georges, Sean Gauthier, Michel Denis, and Crystal Davis. (Add Stephanie Everett, Rufus Faulk, and Mary-dith Tuitt, who have run and might run again.)

Is there any difference in principle between these favoritism messages and Mr. Trump’s assertion that he is above the law and is treated unfairly by it ? If in fact to be white is to be a racist — as the morality message argues — then all bets American are off .

Which is what is happening in America.

Other writers than me have long noted that Americans have lost faith in public institutions. Now they’re losing faith in American ideal, in equality, in the Constitution, in the rule of law itself. Is it any wonder that blood and votes politics is replacing these lost ideals ?

But perhaps I overreact.

Most Americans, and most voters in Massachusetts and in Boston, still hold American ideals of equality dear. All over Massachusetts, outside of Boston, traditionally idealistic candidates backed by Governor Baker won their elections. In Framingham, Taunton, Chelsea, Revere, Brockton, Easthampton, and Randolph, candidates of the equality type won; and other candidates supported by Baker made strong showings elsewhere. If, in Boston, the world of Mr. Trump has set off a nasty politics of blood and ancestry, elsewhere there is much to be hopeful about.

The only worry is that almost all the successful candidates of classic idealism are white. They and the identity politicians of Boston and its surroundings live in two different Americas.

For the time being.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere