MAYOR WALSH HEADS INTO THE WIND

Confident, focused, and future-minded : Mayor Walsh voices his Boston vision at Symphony hall

There’s a beloved Irish saying, “may the road rise up to greet you, may the wind be always at your back.” Mayor Walsh, the son of Irish immigrants, would love the winds of change to be at his back. Who would n’t ? Unfortunately, they’re blowing directly into his face. Boston’s economy is booming so high and so fast that it’s all that City administration can do to keep up, much less guide the boom to a safe arrival. Maybe even keeping up is out of reach.

Is Mayor Walsh deterred by the facts ? Not at all. In his 2019 “state of the City” speech — attended by Governor Baker, as Walsh attended baker’s own Inauguration speech — Mayor Walsh pushed back against the boom wind so hard that, for one night anyway, it’s possible to imagine the City’s road rising up higher than the wind is strong against us.

How confident — how boastful, even — is the Mayor ? Read his speech here –https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2019/01/15/transcript-walsh-state-city-speech-with-annotations/LhIoGP7tFdjuEr0BtAs1VN/story.html — as I just did, and you’ll be tackled by his confidence, stiff-armed by his boats, driven out of bounds by his plans, many of which he has already put onto the playing field. (Football analogies, because why not, given our Patriots’s record of conquest, not forgetting last Sunday’s 41-point message to the Chargers)

Walsh is right. The City’s economy is soaring. Almost everybody has a job who wants one. We’re well along erasing a history of racism. We defend our immigrants — all immigrants. We value our seniors. We will not tolerate hate against LGBT people. Where the Federal government has no policy — housing and infrastructure — we have both. We’re fighting the curse of opioid addiction as hard as the State is doing. We’re rebuilding our public school buildings. We’ve revived our branch Libraries. We’ve put parks and open space into everyone’s nearby. We’ve redirected our police department, and crime numbers have plummeted.

All of the above is true. Yet despite all, in a kind of sailboat race between money and the City, money, which generates the wind, is gaining ground away from us. We’re losing the race to keep housing prices affordable for most, and neither Mayor Walsh nor the Council — each striving every which way to find answers — has any likely remedy for the bull market in real estate that has no end in sight and which will take the city to where it likes, away from those of us who don’t earn four times the City’s median income. Yes, Mayor Walsh says that he wants Bostonians to obtain even better jobs. So do we. But how ?

Walsh sure did say all the right things when he contrasted what Boston is doing to what Washington is not. We DO have an infrastructure plan and a housing plan. We DO defend the civil rights of all, including immigrants. We defend everyone who lives here, and we welcome more people, of all races and identities. We do not practice the politics of division. These are worthy commitments, and we can be proud of what we stand for and practice, more or less, in our daily lives. And maybe this is the best we can do. There’s no doubt that Walsh’s six years in office have imparted a very different tone and purpose to City administration than was the custom with Tom Menino. Walsh sees the broad picture — the large, assembled crowd — where Menino saw the nits and bolts of getting things done and, in his personal relation to the City was a one on one kind of guy. Walsh, in my experience, seems sort of shy, one on one, as if he sin’t quite sure what to say to a person he doesn’t know that well, yet when addressing a room, or an arena, he speaks the ideals in everyone’s soul. That was something Menino almost never did, although he was gruffly on point whenever prejudice appeared in his City.

Menino, however, could, in his one on one way, bring almost everybody in the City aboard his plans and his methods. Walsh, who speaks to the grand collective, has yet to persuade a great many, diverse, smaller constituencies that he has their interests in his agenda. In my won neighborhood of East Boston, Walsh’s ambitious housing plans come off as unrestrained development. His job hopes somehow miss the strivings of those here who have to work multiple jobs just to keep from being evicted. Politically, too, he seems not to recognize who holds the majority ground, basing his operation on a very few, mostly long-time loyalists. I doubt that how he is perceived in my ward differs much from how other parts of Boston perceive it.

That said, Walsh is evolving his political operation and his alertness to tone. He is bringing people of color into his administration at the middle and street levels, rather than only at the top; and middle level and street are where actual political connection is made. He is bringing neighborhood activists into at least advisory positions with respect to zoning and planning. He holds coffee hour meetings in every neighborhood and brings department heads, and their informational material, with him. His partnership with Governor Baker — which was so evident at the street and door-knock level during the recent election — assures that the full resources of Massport and the State will be there when he needs it, including at the many public hearings and community meetings Walsh is mart to hold all over Boston.

I am thus reasonably optimistic that Walsh will do the best that he can; that he will mobilize a more or less united City to pursue his City goals with reasonable confidence. That’s probably all that we can ask. Mayor Walsh does not make the economy, and he cannot do much to curb the huge building boom — not that he wants to. Middle class housing will be a priority, and then some, and his housing goals will be achieved. Problem is that those goals may not be enough or anywhere near it, as long as the City becomes ever more a destination for really, really big money and those extremely well-paid managers who administer the big money and cholose where to plant it.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

CAN BOSTON CITY HALL STOP, OR CURB, REAL ESTATE SPECULATION ?

The boom is real, and it isn’t likely to crest any time soon. Is this a good thing, or not ? To many of us, it has become a very bad thing.

This morning, District One Councillor Lydia Edwards posted on facebook that “city officials” are considering two taxes as a means of curbing real estate speculation in Boston. I applaud Councillor Edwards for getting we who live in her District to focus on speculation, which is a real problem aggravating an already major challenge, the huge bull market in Boston’s real estate. That said, I have serious doubts that the Walsh administration has thought thoroughly enough how to relieve the pressure put upon us by speculators.

First, the problem, as I see it, and then my proposals for curbing it, assuming there are any that can work.

Boston real estate has become about as guaranteed a bull market as it gets. The present bull market began in the mid-1980s and has suffered only brief setbacks ever since. The real estate correction of 1990-95 barely touched Downtown Boston real estate. The much larger correction that lasted from 2008 to mid-2012 interrupted Downtown’s bull market. but did not destroy it, as it did the value of real estate in the City’s most vulnerable neighborhoods : prices in much of Blue Hill Avenue’s region, as well as Hyde Park and eastern Roxbury, fell from 40 to 70 percent, and in East Boston by about 20 percent. At the same time, prices in Downtown, slipped barely at all. Commercial construction continued, and by 2013-2014 Downtown residential development resumed its march. Since that time, prices have tripled and in some cases quadrupled. There seems no end to it. At least 100,000 new people have moved into Boston since 2000, or are moving in now, with another 75,000 expected by 2030. (‘m betting it’ll be more than that.)  As long as people want to move into Boston, investors will invest in developing residences for them, which means ever higher prices.

Not only is Boston’s population booming, it’s rising most in the Downtown region. The ground may be limited, but the sky is not, and Downtown is building ever upward. If 200,000 people choose to come here, there will be sky to house them in. In addition, the 100,000 newcomers are bringing incomes with them significantly higher than what has been the Boston average. In 2008 the City’s mean household earning was about $ 59,000. Today the mean for those who have lived here since 2009 isn’t much higher. The income for the techhies, corporate executives, and institutional administrators, however, who are moving into Downtown runs typically from $ 150,000 to $ 350,000 and higher. Compared to the 7,000,000 people who live in Massachusetts this 100,000 to 200,000 isn’t that large a number, but locating them all in Downtown Boston, whose 2000 population had been about 550,000, has enormously overawed the financial facts of our City.

People who earn $ 150,000 to $ 350,000 — not to mention many who earn $ 500,000 and even $ 1 million — have options and want them. It’s not enough to house them; the towers in which developers build million-dollar condominium units offer in-house fitness rooms, cafes, meeting rooms, swimming pools, parking, lobby space, and more. Many towers have a full staff of what we would have once known as servants. Some towers have their own facebook pages. And because those who seek power know that you can acquire it by being physically close to it, people who earn six figure pay and want seven figures can buy in to the neighborhoods created within and between Downtown towers and then schmooze with everyone. Little wonder that Downtown is seeing all manner of boutique businesses open, catering to the high-earner — boites that bring into the City high-earning shoppers as well, not to mention the socializing that takes place in the new Downtown and which itself leads to yet more people wanting to move in.

Nor is it surprising that neighborhoods close to Downtown — the North End, South Boston, Charlestown, the South End , even parts of Roxbury and Mission Hill — have become residential destinations for many others who want the Donwntown life and can afford at least the functional parts of it, the shopping, the restaurants, the night clubs, as well as proximity to all kinds of jobs that either service the new Downtowners or work at lower levels of management alongside them.

Why should this situation end ? What is there to stop it ? Until the economy experiences a turn-around as huge as the one that has made the new Boston, nothing will stop it. Cities can grow almost forever. As long as they’re administered reasonably well, there’s very little reason for anyone with options to seek a life elsewhere. Thus the bull market, and its no end in sight.

If only it were as delightful as what I have described ! Unhappily, even a real estate bull market, which puts a smile on so many faces, also attracts those who abuse the trend. I am talking now about speculation, the problem that Councillor Edwards has spotlighted . No one likes speculation. It adds nothing. An investor at least invests, and her investment builds stuff that people want and can buy. A speculator merely takes. A property that sells for $ 1,300,000 today, and which will bring maybe $ 1,800,000 a year from now, a speculator can buy, not to build, but merely to hold for one year — or less — and then resell, taking a profit earned entirely only by the trend. This is not a thing that bothers only real estate. Speculation in stock markets dislocates the value of stocks and bonds and forces actual investors to pay more, for a trend merely, than they would have to on economic grounds alone.

The nation has a right to disfavor speculative transactions, and the regulators of our stock and bond markets have tools to penalize it. The Federal Reserve Board can raise ‘margin” requirements — the percentage of a purchase price that must be cash as opposed to leverage — and the IRS code includes provisions that incentivize holding a stock or bond for at least five years (I think it is eight years now). These sanctions have worked only in part. Actual investors learned — again — from the 2008 crash that too much leverage is a very dangerous risk, and they have also found that tax rate differences between long term capital gains rates and those of ordinary income — ten percent tax versus 28 percent and more — make it unwise, usually to sell a holding in the “short term.” (I say “usually” because an eighteen percent tax difference doesn’t matter much if prices double, or triple, during the “short term.”) The Tax Code also offers generous amortization deductions which encourage leveraging a purchase to the maximum as well as depreciation tables that negate much or all of any income tax a rented property might generate.

Now we come to the challenge of how to curb speculation in Boston real estate, or to discourage high-price sales. Edwards writes that “City officials” propose two taxes : one, a special tax on “flipping”; the other, a surtax on sales of more than $ 2,000,000. On their face, these two proposals do not work. More is needed:

A “time tax” is feasible, and it is Constitutional, but the City can’t just impose any form of it. The only Constitutional means, I think, is to create a City capital gains tax, with a no-tax rate on long-term holds and a discouraging rate on short-term holds. But how to phrase it ? With stocks and bonds, the time tax is straightforward, because a holding is a holding. But real estate may also be somebody’s home  : and how can we penalize a person for living in a home for less than the tax-approved time ? If I grow up in Boston and buy a home here in 2019, and I am then job-transferred to San Francisco (as happened last year to one of my local friends) after a fourth year, why should I pay a “flip” tax ? Why after even one year ? Or take the case of another friend, whom many of us know : he bought a house on a certain street in 2017, then after four months realized the neighborhood wasn’t where he wanted to be, and bought another home on the exact street he had wanted in the first place, a home he could not buy at first because it wasn’t for sale. Should he have paid a “flip” tax ? Should it matter that in the meantime the market doubled ?

At the very least, a capital gains tax with a hold time basis has to exempt a buyer who actually moves into the property. Yet how will this exemption be policed, and should it be if it can be ? There’s also a very easy dodge to the entire impost: a buyer doesn’t sell the actual property, he sells a purchase and sale agreement for it. This was done during the 1985-90 bull market and again in the 2001-07 bubble. I see no way to tax such a transaction locally. (I will discuss Federal tax strategies later.) The other proposed tax, a surtax on sales of over $ 2,000,000 sounds good at first listen but likely cannot be done. $ 2,000,000 sounds like Big Foot for most neighborhoods, but in the South End, back bay, and Beacon Hill, it’s barely an entry fee. Almost every property therein sells for more than $ 2,000,000. By what reasoning can the City justify penalizing good faith home buyers in these neighborhoods simply because the local price is higher than the trigger figure ? Such a tax also seems to violate the Equal Protection guarantees of our State Constitution. It’s one thing to create separate tax rates for commercial real estate and residential,. quite another to impose unequal consequences upon real estate of the same classification.

Before I discuss options that the City might pursue, I think we need to ask the question, what exactly is the City’s objective here ? Is it trying to blunt the real estate bull market ? Good luck with that. Is it trying to favor long term residence ? We’d all like to see long term residence, but people do have the freedom to move about, and it’s hard to explain, without sounding like a busybody, why they shouldn’t be able to exercise this freedom in their own time. And why the penalty on high sale prices ? Why isn’t the long term homeowner entitled to reap the full benefits of his willingness to invest in the City ? Or perhaps the City is simply trying to divert some of the bull market into its own City coffers. This, the City might have justification to do. After all, the City has to provide the services that taxpayers want, and a busier, more crowded City needs to perform more complicated services.

Asking the question, however, is almost enough to answer it : there is no reason for such taxes that the City can likely convince a majority of voters of. Yet Boston is being radically transformed by the current real estate bull market. We would all like to see long-term residents not pushed out by the bull market, and we would certainly all like not to see any of the price rise go to mere speculators. Can we then do nothing ? I think we can do something.

One : we can triple the residential exemption and raise the tax rate. Doing so might require a Proposition 2 1/2 override, but it wouldn’t require approval by the entire state.

Two : we can give a tax credit to tenants whose rents might be affected by an increased real estate tax rate.

Three : we can recognize that the 2017 Federal Tax Reform capped real estate SALT deductions, thereby disincentive-izing to some extent high real estate prices.

Four : we can require developers to offer a higher percentage of units, than is now required, to the City’s Affordability covenant. We can even ask developers to pay a higher permit fee.

Five : we can give a tax credit to purchasers of residential real estate, but to receive it they would have to take actual title, not just buy a purchase and sale agreement , and the credit would not apply until the tax year following the taking of title.

Frankly, I’m not sure the City can do much else, Constitutionally, by way of taxes, without being foiled by legislative resistance or upended by seeing any such penalties backfire when the bull market ends — and as real estate bull markets are highly leveraged, when they turn, they do so on a dime and are followed by bear markets all the worse for having to navigate penalties as well as foreclosures. Of course right now there is no forseeable market turn, which is why City officials of good will — who see that even building 69,000 units of new housing isn’t close to enough — are trying their darndest to figure out how to tame the bull’s hooves and horns.

One last point : I speak only here of Downtown and its abutting neighborhoods. Population explosion has yet to impact outlying neighborhoods much, some not at all. As a result, voters in those areas — West Roxbury, Hyde Park, Oak Square, Mattapan, Blue Hill Avenue, Codman Square, for example — may wonder what all the fuss is about. Their disconnect from the Downtown vortex has almost created two seaparate cities, and that separation does not augur well for the City;s hope to work its way out of the bull market crush.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

BOSTON : DISTRICT FIVE POTENTIAL CANDIDATES

Dave Vittorini (left) with “team Michelle Wu. As her Chief of Staff, and having previously served Councillor Rob Consalvo, Vittorini has the clout and the outreach to be immediately the top contender to win District Five

UPDATE : take Lisa Menino out — she’s moved to Canton ! — and add Ruth Georges to the mix. She was Mayor Walsh’s neighborhood liaison for Dorchester and Mattapan and to the Haitian community. She’s already in the race and, if she turns out to be the only Haitian candidate in the race, has as fine a chance as anyone of making the “final.”

With Tim McCarthy not seeking re-election, the list of hopefuls to take the open Council seat could be a long one. Not all will actually submit nomination papers, but several surely will. Here’s my list, alphabetical, of those who could well get into this contest — some of whom are already in it :

Ricardo Arroyo : brother of former at-large Councillor (and 2013 Mayoral candidate) Felix G. Arroyo, and son of former Councillor Felix D. Arroyo, who is now Suffolk Register of Probate, he entered the race two weeks ago, before Tim’s announcement. I know all the Arroyos very very well; Ricardo has his Dad’s gentleness of spirit and his brother’s drive. He won’t now have the anti-vote to himself, as he would have, because there now will be no anti-vote. But he does have the head start, and in a tough contest, that counts for much.

Lee Blasi : as Tim’s chief of staff, Hyde Park’s Blasi seems well placed to corrall Tim’s support. Blasi has her own network as well, of business women from Roslindale as well as Hyde Park. If she runs, she’ll be a serious contender.

Emily Carrara : she’s young, barely 24, but this Readville resident, a cousin of State Representative Angelo Scaccia, has already worked several campaigns. Soft spoken and extremely likeable, her demeanor, dedication, and connections — and her age : campaigns are run mostly by people that young, and younger — would make her a serious contender if she runs.

Andrew N. Cousino : he ran for this seat in 2013 and has since worked in Mayor Walsh’s administration. He’s from upper Roslindale, not far from the Pleasant Cafe, a vote-rich area. His chances depend on who runs and who doesn’t. If he’s the only Roslindale candidate he could well make the final.

Will Dorcena : brother of Linda Dorcena Forry, he lives in the Gordon Avenue area in the heart of Hyde Park and has his own following, apart from his sister’s, and if she decides to get fully involved, from her strong position of connection to power as a Suffolk Construction executive, the combination could easily put him into the final. The District has a large Haitian-ancestry vote bloc, easily enough, given a decent outreach to Five’s non-Haitian voters, to win him the whole thing.

Conor E. Freeley : He’s finishing up at Temple University, lives in upper Roslindale, and was a summer intern in Mayor Walsh’s office. Freeley is deeply rooted in the neighborhood, graduated Boston Latin School — always a big deal in local Boston campaigns — and now works for a well known Pennsylvania state Delegate from a Philadelphia district. Freeley has made it known that he would like to run for office back at home; now is his chance, maybe ? If he runs, and Cousino and Carrara do not, he could well make the final.

Segun Idowu : executive director of the Black Economic Council, and a Hyde Park resident, he was a candidate in last November’s state election, seeking the State Representative seat long held by Angelo Scaccia. He finished third in that primary — Gretchen van Ness placed second — but his name is now known, which puts him ahead of most of my other likelies.

Lisa Menino : daughter in law of late Mayor Tom Menino, Lisa and her husband Tom Menino Junior hosted Governor Baker’s campaign in District Five — a campaign that saw Baker improve his Five showing from 24 percent in 2014 to 47 percent this time. (Baker improved by 19.5 percent citywide; his improvement in District Five was better than that. In 2014 he carried no precincts in Five; this time he won six and just missed winning three more.) Clearly Lisa (her husband too) has and can command a following, or two : those who worked for Baker and the even larger group who were her Dad in law’s home-base. If she enters the race, and no other Readville candidate does, she’d be a very serious contender to make the final.

Robert Orthman : I have no idea if Robert, whom I know well, wants to leave the comforts of City employment and campaign activism to put his own name on the ballot, but were he to do so he would, in my opinion, immediately become THE Roslindale candidate. I’m not sure of his reach into Hyde Park, but being the only Roslindale candidate, and able to win a sizeable number of its votes (12w of 25 precincts), would make him a serious contender.

Mimi Turchinetz : she’s an attorney in Boston City government, a lifelong Hyde park resident, an activist in progressive and community affairs, and she ran for the Five seat in 2013. No matter what the field looks like, she’ll be a serious contender given her vast lines of connection and her reputation as a practical-minded progressive.

Gretchen van Ness : another attorney, a civil rights activist, great public speaker, Fairmount Hill neighborhood activist, and was the runner-up to Angelo Scaccia in last year’s State Representative contest. Again, no matter what the field looks like, she’d be a very serious contender to make the final and even to win the whole shebang.

Dave Vittorini : he may well be the insiders’ pick, especially if Lee Blasi does not run. Vittorini has worked for John Connolly, Rob Consalvo, and now Michelle Wu. I doubt that any of the candidates can better his deep and wide connections to every corner of Five, and few can match them. If he runs, he’s probably the favorite to win it all.

Glenn Williams : emcee of Roslindale Parade dinners, activist in all things Rozzie, art studio right on Belgrade Avenue, if he were to run, and no other Roslindale candidate joins in, he probably gets into the final. (So might Robert Orthman.) But that’s the problem : can Roslindale unite ? It hasn’t the vote power to get anyone into the final if it does not do so.

As for me, I don’t live in Five, but 32 years ago I sought public office in a District covering half of the Council area. I have knocked thousands of its doors, and recently as well. I know almost all these potential candidates personally; any one of them would accredit a District that gave the City a legendary Mayor and whose other Counciollors — Dan Conley, Rob Consalvo, and of course Tim — have left major marks upon Boston public custom. And who’s to say there won’t be a candidate or two, or three, other than those who I have singled out ? After all, I don’t know everybody, despite what I sometimes claim. Let the fun now begin.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

BREAKING : TIM McCARTHY NOT RUNNING FOR RE-ELECTION IN COUNCIL DISTRICT 5

Mimi Turchinetz, who would be a very strong District Five candidate, is pictured here at a Hyde Park community gala with several local activists including Pat Tierney, widow of formner councillor Joe Tierney and mother of actress Maura Tierney

No sooner have I written my look at Boston’s City Council Districts in the up-coming Council election than District 5 Councillor Tim McCarthy has thrown us all a curve ball: in a long facebook post yesterday he announced that he is not going to seek re-election.

For me personally, this is sad news. McCarthy is to me more than a Councillor. He’s a friend, a close friend. He’s married to Maureen McCarthy, sister of Dan McCarthy (they’re no relation to Tim !), who was a key helper in my own stab at candidacy some 32 years ago. Tim, Maureen, Dan and I are bonded. But not only for that is Tim my friend. We share a love of local politics, local activism, and local customs. Tim is one of only three people who I call when I need advice on stuff that I dare not decide wrong.

Of course Tim’s decision impacts much, much more than the things I’m about. He leaves a District open in which very significant demographic change has left its traditional voters a small minority and one that continues to decrease. Tim may well be the last traditional Boston candidate to represent Hyde Park, Roslindale, and Readville.

That’s the way it is. The District’s new majorities have every fight to succeed to the area’s Council seat. And if my own connections run deep to the traditionals, the leaders of which have been my friends for up to 50 years, that’s how it is : change happens. On the other hand, the new electoral reality in District Five isn’t only about demographics. It’s about policies. McCarthy has been one of the strongest Council voices opposing, or remaining apart from, some recent Council moves whose implications I cannot support, moves whose chief opposition is traditional voters, although there’s some indication that many of Boston’s Downtown newcomers aren’t aboard with these moves either. I refer to the Council’s attempts to ( 1 ) force tax exempt institutions to pay more in-lieu-of money than they already do — an attempt that is probably unConstitutional and self-defeating and ( 2 ) proposals to combat rising rents by encouraging land trusts and similar price-deferral devices — proposals that either don’t work or which deny to owners of real estate the benefits of the market in which they’ve invested their own money.

I fear that whoever will represent District Five going forward will join, rather than oppose, the Council majority on these proposals. I also think a new District 5 Councillor is likely to support proposals to grant some sort of vote to residents not yet citizens. These proposals have some merit; finding a way to give non-citizen residents a voice at the table is a worthy objective; but granting voting rights devalues citizenship. We should make it harder, not easier, for non-citizen residents to not seek citizenship.

These are the thoughts that trouble me today about District Five”s future. More to the moment is, who will the new Councillor be ? Ricardo Arroyo, brother of Felix G. Arroyo and son of Felix D. Arroyo — both of whom were Councillors, and Felix D. is Suffolk County Register of Probate even now — announced his candidacy two weeks ago. He has the pole position; yet certainly there are others who might enter the contest. What of Gretchen van Ness, who won a f air sized vote last November running against State Representative Angelo Scaccia ? Van Ness lives in Fairmount Hill, one of the District’s most powerful vote blocs. Might not Mimi Turchinetz, a progressive activist and lifelong Hyde Park resident, seek a seat that she ran for in 2013 ? And what of Dave Vittorini, who has worked for John Connolly and now for Michelle Wu ? There’s also likely to be a candidate of Haitian ancestry, Haitians being perhaps the largest single vote group in the District today. Perhaps a Roslindale activist might also run: I can think of a few who have the credibility to do so, starting with Robert Orthman, Conor Freeley and Ginny Cushing. Nor is that all. There might easily be ten candidates seeking a seat that gave us Mayor Tom Menino not too long ago. Indeed, might not his son Tom, Junior or Tom’s wife Lisa Menino seek the seat, coming off their powerful work for Governor Baker in the November election, in which he just missed carrying District Five ?

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

MOVING BOSTON SCHOOLS FORWARD

A city-wide schools recreation: will it work ? Will it even matter in the long run ? One wonders.

Pardon me if I have borrowed Governor baker’s “moving Massachusetts forward” rubric for another purpose, the recreation of Boston’s outmoded, wasteful schools administration. I find the borrow useful, however, because it looks as though Marty Walsh is finally committing to promises he made way back during his 2013 Mayor campaign : to rebuild the city’s ancient school facilities and to streamline its equally obsolete equipage. I write “looks as though” because I remain a bit skeptical that hew ill see this agenda through to completion, or that he will be allowed to do so. Opposition to it remains a force. There’s plenty of folks who like the present inefficiencies and who would prefer the system to become even more wasteful.

You can read the entire “BuildBPS Master Plan” at this link — https://www.bostonpublicschools.org/site/default.aspx?PageType=3&DomainID=4&ModuleInstanceID=14&ViewID=6446EE88-D30C-497E-9316-3F8874B3E108&RenderLoc=0&FlexDataID=22438&PageID=1– but before you do, consider this quote from the school administration’s webpage :
The proposed second phase of the BuildBPS plan aims to expand equitable access to quality schools and programs, while also reducing the number of times students transition into different schools, which create more stable and predictable pathways for students and families. To do this, the plan proposes the construction, renovation or major transformation of 12 schools, to be completed or in progress by 2027.

The guiding principles of the plan include those factors, along with addressing enrollment challenges to meet student needs, and creating equitable access to programming for vulnerable populations. The second phase builds off the work outlined in the first comprehensive BuildBPS report, released in March 2017, which offered a comprehensive scope of the school building conditions, including that 65 percent of Boston’s 125 schools were built before World War II, and how to bring these school buildings into the 21st century.

As the core decision here is to consolidate 125 often ancient, more often under-utilized school buildings into 90 much more compact and efficiently outfitted schools — a decision that Walsh had already talked about in that 2013 campaign — you can easily read that the extra words, the calming pronunciations in which this core is couched are there to f luff the opposition. There’s plenty of it. Advocacy groups that have objected all along to the slightest retrenchment in schools inefficiency — which want more money allocated, not less; indeed,. advocates who deny there is inefficiency in the budget — object not only to budget discipline but to the consolidation of those 125 schools into 90. They object to closing any school, no matter how under-attended. Their view is that any consolidation and efficiency plan is a back door route to privatization of the schools system and to charter schools, which these advocates view as evil manipulators of gullible parents and vulnerable students. All manner of accusations have been poked, like angry pool cues, into the stomachs of charter school plans, as proponents of inefficient standard schools seek to make permanent the way things already are. It’s no wonder, then, that Walsh’s BuildBPS language contains six ice cream words for every one that tastes like castor oil.

Yet for now, Walsh seems to have the upper hand. Many of consolidation’s opponents supported Tito Jackson’s embarrassingly weak 2017 Mayoral campaign. All they succeeded in doing was demonstrating how clearly Walsh can move forward popularly despite them. Walsh’s confidence was shown when he refused to reappoint to the School Committee the one member who did not vote yes to approve phase two of the BuildBPS plan.

How much money will BuildBPS’s consolidation save ? We will soon find out, perhaps, when the FY 2020 Schools Budget is presented to the School Committee next month. How much will modernization of classroom,s save ? that too we may well put a number to once the new annual budget is known. I would now like, however, to address a different subject, one which Walsh has yet to mention but upon which consolidation and modernization represent huge fiscal bets : will the 100,000 new Bostonians who have arrived since 2000 or are expected here by 2030 make use of these newly configured schools ?

Present student enrollment pegs at about 54,000 students. 40 years ago the number was about 92,000. That’s the capacity our present facilities were built to serve. 100,000 new Bostonians have the potential to fill our schools to capacity again. Will they ? I highly doubt it. A great many of the 100,000 are young singles who have no kids. Many of the others earn well above the City’s mean income and can afford to send their kids to private schools, or to home-schooling. We’ve seen how high-earners will stop at nothing, and for whom price is no object, in order to get their kids into the best, highest-performing schools. In large part, Boston’s public schools do not fit that description. I easily imagine the new 100,000 funding private schools already existing and founding new ones if they have to.

It’s hard not to see Boston’s shiny new efficiency schools attracting almost only those who have no other options, chiefly people of lesser incomes, who lack political power anyway and certainly lack it when it comes to taxpayer-funded systems. My sense tells me that the Boston Teachers Union, powerful and brilliantly led as it now is, will have to fight every inch of the way to obtain pay rates satisfactory to the best teachers and to fund advancement programs that will give kids from lower-income families a fighting chance at major college admission. BPS will become less and less crucial to the population mix of Boston in 2030. If current trends continue, Boston in 2030 — and 2040 — will be even richer than it is today, a city in which more people earn $ 150,000 to $ 250,000 a year than who earn less than the current $ 62,000 median. It’s not hard to imagine the City;’s taxpayer-funded schools of 2030 and 2040 relying on state aid and even more upon charitable donations. Perhaps, indeed, it will benefit the city;’s lower-ibcome kids of 20 to 30 years from now if the City’s schools were to beceome non-profits funded chiefly by charitable money. At least that would be Boston reality, whereas the current system is already to a large extent unreal.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

BOSTON CITY COUNCIL : LOOKING AT DISTRICTS 6 THROUGH 9 — and a POSSIBLE 2023 DISTRICT MAP

District Eight Councillor Josh Zakim : vulnerable to his hard-working challenger ?

On Friday I wrote a column in which I discussed Boston’s City Council Districts one through Five as well as demographic change that portends big shifts in council candidacies. This time I’m looking at Districts 6 through 9 and then offering a possible map for the next Council re-districting, which will be done based on the 2020 census and be in place for the 2023 Council election. So let’s get right to it :

District Six : as originally created, this District made historic and demographic sense : Jamaica plain and West Roxbury, complete, and naturals to be joined — as for the past 100 years, residents of Jamaica Plain have moved steadily southwest-ward to West Roxbury. In 1982 the two neighborhoods had solid ethnic continuity as well : residents of both were overwhelmingly of Irish ancestry. It had been that way since the 1940s. Today, all this has changed. Jamaica Plain has become the City’s – maybe the entire State’s — premier “progressive” neighborhood. Most present residents of “JP” originated in other states, came to Boston for university, and stayed for careers. The current flavor of “JP” has expnded its reach, too. West Roxbury is witnessing an influx of “JP” types just as it always has. You could see the effects tin November’s vote for Governor. Though Charlie Baker won West Roxbury handily, he failed to top 70 percent in a single precinct, even as he bettered that number in 14 Boston precincts elsewhere (Charlestown, Back Bay, South Boston, Dorchester).

West Roxbury has also become home to a noticeable number of Chinese-Americans, and it retains a long-standing Lebanese and Syrian corner along Washington Street as well as a Jewish corner between Corey Street and West Roxbury Parkway on the Brookline side of VFW Parkway.

Maura Hennigan, daughter of legendary Boston politician Jim Hennigan, was the perfect candidate for District Six as created; we all expected her to be a “traditional” West Roxbury voice for what was then a neighborhood dominated by City employees, but after two terms she recognized that power was moving to “JP,” whose increasingly “progressive” denizens voted almost as a bloc, as the voters of West Roxbury—most of whom just go to work and come home and don’t engage in community activity — did not. This is still the shape of District Six : JP votes as a bloc, West Roxbury voters do not. The present councilor, Matt O’Malley, follows the tactic favored by Hennigan : his personal base, traditionally of Irish ancestry, is West Roxbury, but his voting record tends to JP’s demands.

There hasn’t been much population growth in Six. Thus what has happened to Downtown will force Six to grab many new precincts at the coming re-mapping, add-ons that will interrupt Six’s two-neighborhood character. Until that occurs, however, O’Malley seems likely to continue his win streak. He may well be challenged from the left, as was State Representative Jeffrey Sanchez, whose district lay mostly within Six : but unlike Sanchez, who was defeated, O’Malley has a large insurance policy : at least two-thirds of West Roxbury’s 5000 to 7000 votes. More portentous for O’Malley’s future is that in the Suffolk District Attorney race he backed Dorchester’s Greg Henning – which, at the time, looked a smart move to give O’Malley a citywide launch pad for a possible mayor race in 2021. But Henning lost.

District Seven : when created, this was the only single-neighborhood District : all of Roxbury proper. It’s still that, but demographically the District is much altered from its 1982 character. Then, it was almost 95 percent people of color (of various ancestries). Today the mix looks more like 70-30. By 2022 it will likely be 65-35. The Caucasian 30 to 35 is almost all newcomers to Boston; of Roxbury’s long-ago Irish and Italian families hardly any remain. As for the of-color 65 percent, it’s not at all homogeneous. Some are Cape Verdean, some Somalian, some Hispanic. That the City’s big mosque sits in the district, at Roxbury crossing, certainly boosts the number of Islamic-faith voters. On the other hand, Caucasian votes are arriving via the bull market in this District’s real estate. It has boosted Roxbury house prices above $ 600,000 everywhere; in favored parts, you’ll find prices climbing toward $ 2 million. The Fort Hill, Moreland-Winthrop, and St James Street sections of Seven have become almost South End in price and population: two or three of Seven’s precincts now have a Caucasian majority. Dudley square, too, is fast becoming a new-Boston, high end milieu.

It would not at all surprise me to see District Seven eventually elect a  South End sort of candidate, but for now, the incumbent, Kim Janey, looks secure. She won the seat convincingly in 2017, topping a 14-candidate field seeking to succeed Councillor Tito Jackson, who decided to run for mayor. Though a challenge to Janey is almost certain in a District this diverse (and politically disunited), I have yet to hear of a major name stepping forward. We may well find out, at the traditional Martin Luther King day breakfast at the John Eliot Church, if there will be one.

District Eight : the shape of this District should have been different. Ideally Beacon Hill, Back Bay, and Bay Village should have been joined to the South End. But there was no way to get this done, given the geography: Mission Hill lay far, far separate from South Boston. So we accepted the reality, paired the South End with South Boston, and forced the Irish-ancestry, working class precincts of Mission Hill to partner with the very upper income blocks along Commonwealth, Marlboro, and Beacon Streets.

We hoped that Susan Iannella, daughter of legendary Councillor Chris Iannella, would win Eight: but partisan politics leached into the race. Susan was a Republican, her opponent was a Democrat, and Democratic partisans took hold of the contest, and thus her opponent won and she did not. A shame.

Today Mission Hill is no longer Irish-ancestry or working class. Rents in the $ 4,000 range and up have made it a tony area, albeit still far short of the rents that accompany the $ 5 million to $ 10 million that owners of “Ward Five” town houses ask and get. That said, there has never been any doubt that the Councillor for Eight would come from the upper income precincts of “Ward Five.” Today that Councillor is Josh Zakim, son of the philanthropist Leonard Zakim (yes, the Zakim bridge is name for him). Josh chose last year to challenge Secretary of State Bill Galvin and was trounced; the loss has certainly left him vulnerable to Helene Vincent, a challenger who entered the lists last year and is campaigning hard. Can she defeat Zakim ? It’s possible.

District Nine : it was hardly rocket science to shape this District. Geographically, Brighton and Allston are set apart from the rest of the City. Their population in 1982 was the ideal size for a District. Ergo, Brighton and Allston. It’s still the case. Size isn’t the only factor. Nine has experienced significant population change. Student housing has expanded a lot; an entire new residential block has sprung up on North Allston Street next to where Harvard University is building anew. The intersection of Western Avenue and Harvard Street is coming to life.

On the other hand, the Oak Square part of Brighton has retained its long-standing character as home to Irish-ancestry families, many of them City employees or city-connected. (Which is why the awesome Devlin’s Restaurant in Brighton Center still commands its huge following.) Nine’s Councillor has always been from the Oak Square tong – this really is one of the City’s strongest traditional power blocs – backed by State Representatives who have given Nine’s Councillors enormous staying power. (Think Brian Golden, long a BRA – now BPDA – Board member, or Kevin Honan, who has been an Allston State Rep forever, or Mike Moran, whose mid-September Oak Park outings draw upwards of 500 people and dozens of smart politicians.)

Today, Nine’s Councillor is Mark Ciommo – not of Irish ancestry, but of an Italian community which, too, has long lived at the center of the District (along Winship Street and adjoining; almost all of them came to Brighton from one town, San Donato, to work in local quarries.) and whose best known representative is probably Fred Salvucci, formerly a department head in both City and State administrations. He remains a very influential figure in land use discussion, of which in Brighton-Allston there are plenty.

Ciommo faced two significant challengers in 2017, both of them newcomers to Boston. He dispatched his runoff opponent handily. Friends insist to me that Ciommo this time might fall; myself, I doubt that. Turnout in Nine in Nine is always smaller than the City average. In a non-mayor election it will be even smaller. The decision will be made, if there is one, in the Oak Square part of the District.

And now my proposed eleven-district Council map :

District One : East Boston (42,000) Charlestown (18,000) and Seaport (Ward 6 Precinct One, 15,000)

District Two A: Ward 3 (60,000), Ward 8 Precincts One and Two, 8000, and Bay Village (Ward 5, Precinct One, 7500)

District 2 –B : South Boston (48,000); Polish triangle (5,000) South End except for 8/1 and 2 (19,000)

District 3 : remove Polish Triangle and Ward 15, Precincts 2 and 3) (72,000)

District 4 : remove Ward 14 Precincts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (72,000)

District 5 : remove Ward 19 precincts 7, 10 through 13 (70,000)

District 6 : remove Ward 10 precincts 6 through 9 and Ward 19 Precinct One; add Ward 19 Precincts 7 and 10 through 13) (71,000)

District 7 A : Ward 10 (32,000); Ward 11, precincts 1 through 5 (18,000); Ward 9 Precincts 3 through 5 (10,000); Ward 4, Precincts 9 and 10 (6000); Ward 19, Precinct One (3500) 69,000

District 7-B : Ward 12 (20,000); Ward 8 precincts 3 through 7 (17,000); Ward 7, Precinct 10 (3000); Ward 13 precincts 1, 2, 4 (6000); Ward 15, precincts 1 , 2, 3 (5000); Ward 14 precincts 1 through 5 (15,000) (66,000)

District 8 : Ward 5, except for Precinct One; Ward 21, precincts 1, 2, and 4; Ward 4 precincts 6 through 8 (72,000

District 9 : same as now except remove Ward 21, precincts 2 and 4 (72,000)

Please feel free to critique my map. I’ve intended to begin a discussion, not end one.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

BOSTON CITY COUNCIL : LOOKING AT DISTRICTS 1 THROUGH 5

District Five City Councillor Tim McCarthy (with family) : the most seriously challenged District Councillor this time around

Boston voters will be choosing a new City Council this year. No Mayor, however, which means that voter participation might be very small. In the last non-Mayor election, 2015, barely 72,000 voters cast a ballot. I have a feeling that this year the number will be quite higher, if only because at least 75,000 new residents—new since 2010, at least —  call Boston home. Whether that number causes total participation to ramp up sharply, this time, such an enormous population increase portends big district line changes to the nine districts at the next re-district mapping in 2022.
I’ll get to that situation later. Meantime let’s look at the first five of the nine district Councillors, their prospects for re-election, and the impact of enormous demographic change.


District One : Charlestown, East Boston, and the North End – population expansion here has pretty much spread itself equably across every portion; but the type of voter new to the district is markedly unlike the “traditional” voters who once dominated the City’s premier Italian-ancestry constituency. Young professionals, most from other states and so completely foreign to Boston’s “traditional” ethnic voter customs, make up maybe 25 percent of the District; Hispanic voters, immigrants mostly, tally maybe another 25 percent. It took many election cycles for these voters to reach critical mass, but they did so in 2017, electing the District’s first Councillor not of Italian ancestry. Lydia Edwards defeated an opponent with an illustrious, four-generation ancestry of elected office in the North End; she assembled a diverse coalition and has maintained it by working very hard on the issues that matter in District one and by attending to the District almost block by block. She looks solid for re-election, assuming she even attracts a challenger. None has surfaced yet.

District Two: as originally created, back in 1982, there was no choice here but to link two very different neighborhoods – South Boston and the South End – that really didn’t belong in the same district because they abut one another. At the time, the South End was very much outvoted by Boston’s most politically energized portion, the South Boston of Irish immigrant legend. (that “Southie” also was home also to substantial Lithuanian, Albanian, and Italian denizens was rarely noted) Today, “Southie” is the part that is outvoted, because within the borders of District two an entirely new neighborhood – Seaport and Downtown – has grown up (literally up : it’s the City’s Skyscraper quarter) and today counts some 50,000 residents. Although the current Councillor, Ed Flynn, a son of former Mayor Ray Flynn, is probably safe right now from serious challenge – in 2017, as a newcomer, he defeated a well-funded and connected South Ender by 56 to 44 percent – he is a quintessential Southie homeboy, and probably takes some comfort knowing that at the next Council re-districting his District will lose most of its non-South Boston precincts. More on this matter later.

District Three : there hasn’t been much population growth in this east-Dorchester district, but there has been significant demographic change – the area’s activists are almost all progressives, and ethnic immigrants abound, where in 1982 they didn’t. Despite the new tone, however, the district’s voting and political enjoyment remain firmly in the hands of “traditionalists” – scions of the area’s Irish-immigrant families, who have dominated Dorchester politics for 100 years. The current Councillor is Frank Baker, one of twelve children of just such a traditional family, the Bakers of Crescent Avenue in the Little House corner of the District. He’s precisely the sort of elected that we created this District to elect, and, like his many predecessors – some of whom still live and work in District Three — he works his District at street level and seems to love doing so. All very Dorchester.

Will Baker face a serious challenge ? He could well. The vote power in his district lies to his south, in the Neponset and Cedar Grove parts, which outnumber his upper Dorchester neighborhood two to one. Despite that disadvantage, he won the seat, several elections ago, by about five to four over a strong Cedar Grove opponent. Baker hasn’t faced a serious challenge since, even though in his district there’s an aspiring “pol” practically in every block. We’ll see.

District Four : we created this District – and District Three – on a racial basis, because the then Black Political task Force wanted two Black majority districts, and as the Task Force was headed by a most well respected leader (Doris Bunte), we had to say yes. It was the only race-based decision we made about the map, whose fundamental goal was to empower neighborhoods, not ethnicities. Dorchester thus became divided, from north to south, essentially along Dorchester Avenue, the Washington Street precincts being District Four, along with the rest of Mattapan out to Wood Avenue. The racial division still holds, even as District Four today has become almost entirely English-speaking Caribbean, where in 1982 it was an African-American district.

Incumbent Andrea Campbell shocked the city in 2015 by defeating the man (Charles Yancey) who had represented District Four since its creation. She raised over $ 200,000 — much of it via her Princeton University connections — and ended up overwhelming Yancey, 59 to 41 percent. She has stumbled on a few occasions with respect to controversial issues, but it’s hard to see any election weakness in her District, even though she’ll likely face challengers in a District where underdog challenge has always been on offer.

District Five : this is the District whose incumbent Councillor seems most seriously threatened by demographic change. In 1982 this was an easy to assemble combination of Hyde Park, Readville, and Roslindale – at that time all equally working-class, traditional-voter neighborhoods.  Maybe 40 percent of the voters were of Italian ancestry, another 45 percent of Irish origin; most of the remaining 15 percent was Jewish. Today, all that has changed. At least 60 percent of the District’s voters are Haitian or English-speaking Caribbean American, and much of the Caucasian vote is newcomers who moved into Roslindale from Jamaica Plain as the Plain’s house prices and rents have moved higher than what most can afford.

District Five enjoyed its big moment in 1993, when its then Councillor, Tom Menino, once a protege of State Senator (and three time Mayor hopeful) Joe Timilty, became acting Mayor when then Mayor Ray Flynn was appointed Ambassador to the Vatican. Five’s run continued, as its next Councillor, Dan Conley, eventually went on to become Suffolk District Attorney. After Conley came Rob Consalvo, who achieved enormous popularity in the District. In 2013 he ran for mayor, and while finishing in the bottom half of the 12 candidate field, topped the ticket in District Five. (Today Consalvo works as a division chief in mayor Walsh’s administration and maintains solid street popularity in his Readville-Fairmount Hill neighborhood.)

Were the present Councillor, Tim McCarthy, of Readville, not extremely diligent at street level – as he knows he must be – and also an incumbent, he would probably not be able to win today’s District five. As it is, he has a serious challenger already, Ricardo Arroyo – son and brother of well-known City Councillors. (brother Felix Arroyo ran for Mayor in 2013 and finished in upper half of the 12-candidate field.) I think McCarthy will come out ahead, probably by five to four –it doesn’t hurt that he has Readville’s 750 off-year votes almost to himself — but the day is approaching when District Five will elect a candidate of Haitian or Hispanic ancestry. Redistricting might play a role here. The movement of 75,000 new residents into Downtown means that the outer Districts will face major shifts northward, prying them a bit loose from the neighborhood basis on which they were formed.

Almost certainly, this election will be the last such Council-only race. By 2023 there will be new Districts, drastically redrawn, in order to represent the 75,000 new Boston residents we have now, not to mention perhaps another 40,000 by 2022. The re-districting done in that year may even change the number of Districts from nine to eleven in order to maintain the preset 70,00 resident District size, and this change may well be accompanied by an elected School Committee, which Boston has not had since 1993. (I certainly favor the elected Committee and am working on an innovative district map and apportionment right now.)

An eleven-member Council would allow for the creation of an entirely Downtown-Seaport District as well as more particular recognition of various cultural communities that still lack political power. One example that comes to mind is the region of Hyde square – Egleston Square – Fort Hill/Roxbury – Lower Roxbury : approximately these precincts (for map wonks) : ward 9 precincts 3 through 5; Ward 8 precincts 3 through 7; Ward 10 precincts 6 through 9; Ward 19 precinct 1; ward 11, precincts one through 5; Ward 7 precinct 10. Add this prospective District to the Downtown-Seaport One (Ward 3 precincts one through 8 and Ward 6 Precinct One) and you’re back at 70,000 person Districts formed on a neighborhood basis.

But that’s for the 2022 Council’s mapamkers. I had my chance working for the 1982 council.

In the next installment I’ll look at Districts Six through Nine and also offer an eleven-district map for the 2022 council to refer to, as of course they wIll, right ?

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

2019 — OUR NEW YEAR’S GREETING

2019

^ what the State House will look like tonight, on a night balmy for this time of year

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Might 2019 be a year of progress and peace, of prosperity and fairness, of tolerance and citizens of the world uniting ? One has to wonder if.

Might these hopes that we have just asked not be too much ? Almost everyone in the world wants to live a life of accomplishment, safety, and love. All of these should befall all of us. Why can’t this take place now ?

As we see it, the biggest obstacle to the happiness of almost all of us is the selfishness of a few. That and their possession of powers which they are willing to abuse for the sake of imposing what THEY want on all the rest of us.

Some of those who have these powers were given them freely in elections or otherwise. Others simply took powers when and as they could. Whichever is the case, the powers possessed by those who have them threaten us all. It’s time that we the vast majority confront abuses of power and defeat their purposes.

I do not speak only of our own situation here in the United States. Though the person who now occupies Article 2 of the Constitution’s executive office violates his oath of office every day, as well as the duties imposed on his office by the Constitution, we the people retain full power to end his misrule. One of our hopes for 2019 is that the citizens of this nation will do just that : having taken strong possession of the Congress, the new majority must refuse 45’s abuse and block his overreach.

He has the Federal government partly shut down, to no good purpose — to an expensive and fraudulent scam — and this must end as soon as the new Congress  takes over. He continues to violate the nation’s laws, to stoke prejudices and hates, and in general to disrespect the nation’s institutions and citizens. The new Congress must put an end to his holding an office he has proven himself entirely unworthy of.

Yet our hopes for 2019 scope larger than the upcoming Congress. What we see, and want, and hope for, is that everywhere in the world where there is abuse of power those who do the abuse will be ousted from their misdeeds and replaced by the rule of law, of respect for all,  of tolerance and liberty so that people can go about their lives freely — free to invent stuff and even to reinvent themselves.

Every single life must be free to live. For us, the ‘worldwide” means every single person, but singly; every life, but lived one life at a time.

We probably cannot “fix society,” but we can each of us fix ourselves: one life at a time. That’s all it takes. Each person fixing himself or herself. Perhaps each of us can begin to build our lives on the precept that Rabbi Hillel the Elder (who lived and taught in the generation immediately preceding that of Jesus, who preached much of what Hillel taught) reputedly told a student who came to him 2,030 years ago : ‘whatever is hurtful to you, do not do to your fellow man. This is the whole law, the rest is commentary. Now go forth and study.”

May you who read us and follow Here and Sphere take to heart Hillel’s dictum and thus make the world that much a better place.

—- The Editors / Here and Sphere

MASSACHUSETTS’s TRANSPORTATION FUTURE, PART 3 : MORE REVENUE ?

Aiello

^ does the MBTA need more revenue now, or not ? Fiscal Control board chairman Joseph Aiello says, “not now.”

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Does the MBTA need more revenue or not ? A recent advocacy group, transportation for Massachusetts, seeks a lot of it; the T’s current fiscal boss, Joseph Aiello, says that it doesn’t need more revenue and isn’t getting any for quite a while.

Who has the better argument ? First, read what Joseph Aiello — an East Boston kid — has to say :

https://commonwealthmagazine.org/transportation/aiello-on-the-state-of-the-t-new-revenues/

Now read what State Senator Joe Boncore — who represents East Boston — and Jesse Mermell have to say :

https://commonwealthmagazine.org/opinion/broken-transportation-system-needs-new-revenue/

To discuss the Boncore – Mermell op-ed first, it seems to me that they’re trying to do too much — way too much — but as Governor Baker’s Commission report also overreached, it’s hard to fault Boncore and Mermell for taking the cue and running with it. She and he really do want the MBTA to become something very different from what it is. Their MBTA isn’t to be only a system of transport, it’s top be an agent of climate change resilience. It’s also to “serve underserved communities,” whatever that means. Their use would suggest people of color and of very low income: but as I see it, that’s exactly who the T serves. why else would taxpayers pay for it, if not to provide transportation for those who can’t pay a fare sufficient for the T to turn a profit ? The only obvious under-service I can think of is that many of Boston’s low-income people live and work at the opposite ends of cross-routes. The T’s lines overwhelmingly favor outlying places to Downtown, like spokes of a wheel; going across town requires frequent route changes, four and even six. Those who must commute to work on cross routes spend huge amounts of time navigating across those cross routes.

Resolving the bus route situation does not require re-imagining the T, and even as I write this, the t is working on a revised bus route plan which will relieve some of the anomalies in cross-routing.

Boncore and Mermell also ask the T to become an actor in the battle against sea rise and climate change. I don’t find this to be a purpose for having a T, but Governor Baker’s Commission reported the same concern, thus, what of it ? As Joseph Aiello has said, publicly, and says again in his own Commonwealth report, the T is on track to build a full fleet of electric buses. That will do plenty to decrease the current T’s record of carbon emissions.

As far as I’m concerned, Boncore’s and Mermell’s call for more revenue and a faster repair schedule fall flat. As Aiello is quoted or summarized in his report, “… the agency is moving ahead with an overhaul of the Red and Orange lines that will double their capacity and committing to an annual maintenance schedule that will prevent the sort of deterioration of service that occurred the last time the two lines were upgraded. “We’ve got a pretty radical transformation going on,” he says. The T is also considering a plan to double the capacity of the Green Line and exploring a re-imagining of commuter rail, not to mention a host of other initiatives. Aiello is cautious about the need for more revenue. He says the agency has enough money for the next five years and adds that broad-based taxes are off the table.”

If Aiello says that more revenue is not needed during the upcoming years, I’m persuaded. As chair of the T’s Fiscal Control board, he’s in the best position to know. Aiello is of course mindful that most Massachusetts voters are not inclined to pay more taxes into a T system that can’t get its fiscal house in order as Boncore and Metmell are playing to the interests that think more taxes and more spending are the answer to all problems. I happen to agree with Aiello. The T has to be disciplined to live within its means. Only in  that path will it adhere to course. If the T knows that more dollars will always be coming, there’ll be no incentive to make do. It was like that these past 20 years, and you see what that did to the T.

I’m sure that Boncore and Mermell mean well. Boncore is a dedicated State Senator and a forceful voice for assuring the T’s responsiveness — not always a given — to the communities he represents. On the revenue question, however, I think that Aiello has by far the better argument. I also think that there’s no better way to assure the T’s responsiveness than to hold its finances to strict account as it moves forward to do what it has to do.

Aiello is also correct, that T repairts and upgrades cannot be speeded up.  These can only take place during the T;’s down time. No one is going to shutdown the T for six months so that it can get up to SOGR — “state of good repair” — all at once. The T will continue to run. That is its first obligation. Repair and upgrade will have to fit in with that priority, or not at all.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

THOUGHTS ON THE DEATH OF AMERICA’s OLDEST MAN, AGED 112

Overton

^ celebrating a 112th birthday : Richard Arvin Overton

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It was big news yesterday that Richard Arvin Overton, America’s oldest man, died just short of his 113th birthday. Overton was also America’s oldest World War 2 veteran. Politicians visited him, President Obama celebrated him. Such longevity merits all the praise we have to offer.

We all wish longevity for ourselves. The longer the better. Young death, we all mourn; death in the ordinary course, at age 70 to 90, we honor. “So sorry for your loss,” we say; “thinking of you at this difficult time.” We say these stock phrases because, as we all know, the fact of a loved one’s death cannot be worded properly. How do you say anything to a loved one who is no longer here ? “I wish I had had a chance to say a last goodbye” — how many of us have NOT ever said or thought this ? It is rare to be there at the bedside of a friend or loved one as she takes her last breaths, says her last words, holds our hand for a last time. We cherish those who are lucky enough to be there for the passing. Much happens at these moments. The loved one leaves, and we stay. We continue on. I think most of us, certainly I, feel a bit ashamed about that. How did I become the one to keep living, while she did not ? Yet the shame passes. Onward we live, striving for a long longevity. Some of us achieve it. Richard Arvin Overton over-achieved it.

Very few males live beyond age 110. 90 percent of these “super centenarians” are female. The world’s current oldest man hasn’t quite reached a 114th birthday. The oldest man ever, according to the Guinness Book, died aged 115-plus. At least 20 females have lived longer. The oldest verified of them, one Jeanne Calment, lived half a year beyond her 122nd birthday. Richard Arvin Overton fell ten full years short of Calment’s age. Stated this way, Overton seems less amazing than he was. Only about six of the 100 currently oldest living people are male.

Of those 100 oldest, all are at least 111 years old. Fifty years ago there might not have been five on such list. Clearly more people are living to the seeming physical limit, the years beyond age 110. Will anyone soon surpass Jeanne Calment ? It would appear not. No one ever, according to Guinness, has reached even 120, much less 122, and only one besides Calment has lived beyond her 118th. That age seems the likely limit. There may be an exception now and then, but despite medical advances that allow more people — many more — to live 111 to 117 years, no medicine yet achieved is able to get us beyond that age barrier. That said, living to age 111 and onward from that, to 117, continues to be unusual. Let us get a larger number of us into that age parameter before we start trying to break the 118 limit.

Or maybe I have it wrong. Just as we are about ready to send people to Mars, and can contemplate sending them into Jupiter or Saturn orbit, things not at all possible till now, perhaps we should try to break the 118 years barrier and send astronauts of life to the outer spaces of age ; 120 years, 125, 130, even 140. Aging, so we now know, is a process. It is not magic. Our body’s cells do not have to stop working, or to grow dim. If chemicals they are, and chemistry their mechanisms, so can chemistry refuel their tanks and keep them working, humming, powering us forward.

If thus there be, it cannot be for only one of us. Even at age 80, most of us have seen half our friends die and almost every parent. At age 90, every parent. At age 100, almost every friend. Live beyond age 100, and you are surrounded by your kids’ generation, your grandkids, even your great grandkids. This feels awkward. Among the young and the very young, one feels not only old but very old. Very very old. Age 85, you don’t talk the same as people age 30, you don’t dress the same, allude to the same social news. You’re a stranger in a strange place. Sure you can adapt — but an adaptation is still a construct, not nature, and you the 85 year old know it. Which is why if we become able to create astronauts of age, we have to create more than one. Ideally we’d create an entire community of age-o-nauts : ten at least, 20, maybe 50 or even 150. If we could create that kind of age situation, age might become as irrelevant as those who say “age is only a number:” want us to think. There’d be communities of people age 30 or so, out nightclubbing, and communities of people age 125 to 135, inside and singing, and the difference wouldn’t mean much more than differences of hair color or meal menu.

Perhaps Richard Arvin Overton had such visions in mind. Even at age 111 he looked fit and healthy, strong and firm. What went wrong in the vast system that was his body ? An autopsy will tell us. More to the point, what went right in his body system that got him past his 112th birthday ? Perhaps we should study the two men who live on, older than Overton. Perhaps we should also ask the females. It certainly seems as though whatever keeps us keeping on, female chromosome set-ups have more of it. In the coming era of age-o-nauts there will be males; but females will lead, will rule, will get us to the next phase.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere