EAST BOSTON : THE ZONING RIDDLE

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^ my working group at the BPDA zoning revision meeting

We attended Wednesday night’s Zoning Plan meeting, at East Boston Social Centers, hosted by the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA). Since early in the summer, the BPDA has moved to engage as many East Boston residents as it can in forming a comprehensive revision of the City’s Zoning Code. Wednesday’s meeting was the third such.

Before I report on the Wednesday meeting, it ,might be helpful to offer links to the actual Zoning Code and to the State’s Zoning Law under which a City is empowered to establish zoning regulations:

The current zoning code, and zoning maps illustrative, can be read and viewed here : http://www.bostonplans.org/zoning/zoning-code-maps-old

The State’s Zoning Law, MGL c. 40A, can be read here : https://malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartI/TitleVII/Chapter40A

I want to call your attention in particular to MGL c. 40A section 10, “Variances,” in which the criteria for granting are made explicit as well as the public policy underlining them: https://malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartI/TitleVII/Chapter40A/Section10

OK then. having provided you the law, let’s look at Wednesday’s meeting as well as the enormous challenges confronting a Zoning revision:

Jay Ruggiero, of Eastie’s well-regarded funeral home family, is now the BPDA’s Director of Community Outreach. Jay emcee’d the meeting. Information pamphlets were handed out as well as papers for nominating people to a 25-person “Advisory Group” that, if all goes well, will meet twice a month to work out a new zoning plan for East Boston. (I nominated three : Mike Russo, Mike Othmer, and Jules Burrell — wanting to name people who, although activist, aren’t already loaded with Eastie meetings and group commitments.) Who the City will actually pick, is anybody’s guess.

These preliminaries handled, the meeting attendees — about 60 people — were split up into six working groups each at a separate conference table. I sat with Frank DelMuto’s group. Frank is a respected Eastie builder who lives in the Salesians-St. Mary’s section and actively participates in harbor View Neighborhood Association meetings. Mike and Christy Dennis joined us as did Jared from the BPDA and several well-informed residents whom I had not met — a good thing; one always wants to see the rolls of local activism attracting new recruits.

The discussion at our table and at the others — including groups led by Dayna Antenucci (Orient Heights), Debra Cave (Eagle Hill). Joanne Pomodoro (Orient Heights), Meg Grady (Eagle Hill), Maureen White (Jeffries Point) — were tasked with identifying zoning priorities. These we all know well enough: density issues, height of buildings, traffic concerns, design hurdles, impact on infrastructure. People also cited the remarkable eased with which zoning variances are granted. Much was said about stiffening the obstacles to variance, including granting more authority to neighborhood groups overseeing the BPDA’s required “public comment hearing.” All of us are familiar with these public comment hearings. Neighborhood association activists command them, which means that development proposals requiring many variances are almost always overwhelmingly voted down.

Not everyone likes how these hearings turn out. This we all know :

Development advocates dislike how public comment hearings are run. They cite the need for greater residential density if limited-income families are to remain in a neighborhood where rents are sky high-ing. Developers  cite the right of property owners to use their properties. Owners who have, in many cases, owned for decades properties bought for very little back in the day, when no one wanted most East Boston homes, feel entitled now to cash in a sale price as big as a lottery winner.  Cashing out has presented Eastie with some of its currently most troubling proposals, including the Narrtow Gauge project, the huge 144 Addison Street envision, the hotel-sized proposals at 205 Maverick Street, 650 Saratoga Street, and Mt. Carmel Church on Gove Street. Nor are these the only disruptions that East Boston faces. According to the BPDA there are 58 variance requests on the Zoning Board of Appeals calendar. Most of these, if not all, seek to build five stories high, increase units from two or three to nine or more, and fill out lots almost to the lot line. Many involve insufficient off street parking.

Wednesday’s meeting achieved no solution to these challenges. Naming zoning priorities is fine, but the details of an actual ordinance revision remain out of reach. And then these riddles, for which no one, at least at  my table, was ready to offer a solution:

( 1 ) Why are zoning variances so easy to win at the Appeals Board ? The stated purpose of variance, as set forth in MGL c. 40A, section 10, is that a variance should confirm and support the zoning condition within which a variance is sought. Yet many, many variance grants — at least within my familiarity — grossly violate the zoning condition thus varied. How come this happens ?

( 2 ) How can neighborhood-changing development be curbed when investors can and do now pay far higher buy prices than any residential home buyer would be willing to pay, or able ? All the happy talk about devising a zoning revision based on neighborhood priorities flies out the window of a real estate and economic boom that is pricing the neighborhood into a completely different future in which ordinary income earners will have no place.

The vast majority of Eastie residents wants its neighborhood character to remain, to be enhanced, not devolved. The zoning law itself establishes neighborhood characteristics. All the good intentions in the world, however, not to mention the law’s precepts themselves, can stand against the plans of deeply pocketed investors and their huge constituencies of architects, contractors, builders, lawyers, consultants, and real estate agents, all of whom draw very comfortable incomes from work done in a development’s course. My own feeling is that all the BPDA meetings that mayor Walsh can ask for, and all the well intentioned “Advisory Group” participation, will amount only to a shrug and a good bye smile as the Boston economic boom transforms every close-in neighborhood of the City from its traditional working class character to the absolute opposite. Nor has the BPDA even addressed the Air BnB controversy : the tourist-ing of close-in Boston neighborhoods continues, and it’s not easy to see how it can be stopped without violating basic individual property rights that cannot in any circumstance be compromised.

It was, of course,. oh so different when Boston was a city that people wanted only to leave; when suburban life was the ideal and vast shopping malls on the Interstates were the trade destinations. Then — 40 years ago — one could readily live in the City on very little money, amid neighbors one had known since childhood surrounded by structures that never got rebuilt or even renovated. Do we want those days back ? Do we want to live on very little in an unchanging corner of a neighborhood that time ignores ? Maybe we do want it; but we aren’t going to get it. In a sense Ayanna Pressley was right to say “change can’t wait.” I make only one revision to her election slogan : in Boston change WILL NOT wait.

I think the BPDA knows this. I think the BPDA is trying to alleviate the anger we will all feel when — I hope I am wrong, but I doubt I am — we see, a few years from now, or by 2030, that all of our pride of neighborhood character was maintained in vain.

The zoning meetings continue. I will attend them.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

 

 

 

 

 

CHARLIE BAKER’s BOSTON ACHIEVEMENT

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^ Governor Baker at Santarpio’s in East Boston visiting Senator Joe Boncore’s Election Day lunch. (Boncore standing next to Baker. StRep Jay Livingstone next, then District One Councillor Lydia Edwards, then local business leader Tony Portillo. In front : Gladys Oliveros and Bob Boncore)

NOTE : this column will be a long read, with many statistics shown. If statistics aren’t your thing, skip over them.

On election day, on his way to a 67 to 33 percent win statewide, Governor Baker won 49.5 percent of the Boston vote, losing to Jay Gonzalez by only one percentage point. The actual numbers : Baker 107,108; Gonzalez 110,187. (5150 voters blanked the race). The total turnout — 222,445 — rose by 68,000 from the 2014 mid-term.

In 2014, Baker won 48.5 statewide, 30 percent in Boston. This time he won 67 percent statewide, 49.5 in Boston. Relative to the state, Boston barely moved : from 18.5 points more Democratic than the state to 17.5 percent.  But Baker’s lift was not uniform. In some neighborhoods his vote rose more than in in others; in some, much more. Let’s look at some sample neighborhoods, precinct by precinct :

Ward One — East Boston

Baker 5006 Gonzalez 4704 (2018) (Baker53%) Baker 2620 Coakley 3982 (2014)(Baker38%)

By precinct :

One       Baker 50.5 / 49.4 (2018)    Baker 33 – 61.4 (2014)  Baker gain : + 17.5 %

Two      Baker 43.7 / 56.4 (2018)     Baker 33.6 / 60 (2014)  Baker gain : + 10.1 +

Three   Baker 45.6 / 54.1 (2018)     Baker 26.3 / 68.3 ( 2014) Baker gain : + 19.3

Four     Baker 45.5 / 53.7 (2018)     Baker 31.5 / 59.6 (2014)   Baker gain : + 14

Five      Baker 50.2 / 49.5 (2018)    Baker 35.7 / 59.5 (2014)   Baker gain : + 14.5

Six       Baker 46.4 / 53.3 (2018)     Baker 31.4 / 61.1 (2014)   Baker gain : + 15

Seven  Baker 44.1 / 55.2 (2018)     Baker 30.2 / 61.1 (2014)   Baker gain : + 13.9

Eight   Baker 46.6 / 52.8 (2018)     Baker 34.9 / 61.3 (2014)   Baker gain : + 11.7

Nine : Baker 47 / 52 (2018)           Baker 30.3 / 62.2 (2014)    Baker gain : + 16.7

Ten     Baker 48.9 / 51.2 (2018)    Baker 30.5 / 63 (2014)       Baker gain : + 18.4

Eleven – Baker 61.8 / 38.1 (18)    Baker 47.2 / 46.9 (2014)    Baker gain : + 14.6

Twelve  Baker 65.6 / 34 (2018)   Baker 54.2 / 40.8 (2014)    Baker gain : + 11.2

13th      Baker 58 / 41.6 (2018)    Baker 43.7 / 52.2  (2014)   Baker gain : + 14.3

14th      Baker 60.2 / 36 (2018)    Baker 48.4 / 48.4 (2014)    Baker gain : + 11.8

In East Boston, Baker gained most in the Jeffries Point region (1 and 3), Salesians (11), and the part of Eagle Hill running from the High School to above Day Square (9 and 10). In 2014 he fared poorly with young professionals (Jeffries Point) and Latino voters (precincts 6 through 10). Not so this time. Even with an opponent named Gonzalez, Baker came close to winning East Boston’s Hispanic precincts. Yet his outreach to non-traditional voters did not cost him “traditional” support. Indeed, his vote share among long-time Eastie voters (precincts 11 through 14) improved measurably.

Now Charlestown (Ward Two) :

Baker 5774  Gonzalez  2624 (yes, you read that right. Baker won Charlestown 69.8 to 30.2 — almost three points better than the statewide. I cannot recall when a Republican managed such a result or anything even close. In 2014 Baker narrowly lost Charlestown to Martha Coakley, 47.8 percent to 49.3. This in itself was a remarkable result — his Charlestown number was only 1.2 points less than his statewide. This time his number improved in Charlestown by a full 22 points. It was his best Boston neighborhood.

South End, Seaport, Chinatown, bay Village, Downtown

If Baker’s vote gain in was remarkable in Charlestown, in these five neighborhoods it rose beyond all prediction. There were precincts in which Baker’s vote percent increased by 23, 24, even 30 points from his 2014 results:

Ward 3 Precinct 7 ( Chinatown) :  this time, 56.3 / 43.6; in 2014, 32.8 / 59.6

Ward 4 Precinct 1 (South End) : this time, Baker 56.1 / 43.9; in 2014, 33.7 / 63.2

Ward 4 Precinct 3 (South End) : this time, Baker 56.9 / 43.2  in 2014, 32.4 / 63

Ward 5 Precinct 1 (bay Village) : this time, Baker 56.9 / 43; in 2014, 33.8 / 63.8

Ward 6 Precinct 1 (seaport) : this time, baker 60.3 / 39.3; in 2014, 38.3 / 58

Ward 8 Precinct 1 (Cathedral) this time, Baker 43 / 56.6; in 2014, 16.6 / 81.5 (yes, a 27 point gain !)

Ward 9 Precinct 1 (Villa Victoria): this time, baker 48.9 / 51; in 2014, 18.3 / 78.5 (you read this right. Baker gained 30 points in this part of the South End, home to Villa Victoria, the City’s foundational Puerto Rican community.)

Blue Hill Avenue and Mattapan: 

If Baker’s numbers in the above neighborhoods stun the reader, what will be her reaction upon eye-balling how he took hold of this part of Boston, the center of its African-American community. In the 21 precincts that include all of Ward 14 plus the Matttapan seven of Ward 18, Baker tallied these numbers this time :

Baker 5573 Gonzalez 8074

That doesn’t look so good: but consider how Baker did in these same precincts in 2014 :

Baker 781 Coakley 10,620

From winning barely seven percent of this region’s vote he gained about 41 percent. How did he do it ? By hiring a full staff of community activists for outreach  — both in Room 280 and on the campaign — and by attending doggedly to community events and never letting go. And by being just as likable a guy as there is. More on this aspect of Baker later.

As I have noted, Baker achieved his successes with voters not part of his 2014 win without losing any of his stalwarts. Indeed, he gained strength in those stalwart neighborhoods :

Ward 16 Dorchester :

Baker 5539  Gonzalez  3668  (Baker won eight of 12 precincts,. including precinct 12 with 80.7 percent of the vote) (63 percent for Baker)

in 2014 :  Baker 3065 Coakley 4431  (Baker won only two of the ward’s 12 precincts; 39.5 percent for Baker)

West Roxbury (15 precincts of Ward 20):

Baker 9,115  Gonzalez 5,008   65 percent. (Baker won every precinct.)

in 2014 :  Baker 6080  Coakley  6003 Baker 50.5 percent.  (Baker won only eight of 15 precincts, most narrowly)

And of course, South Boston, where in his four best precincts he won 74 to 76 percent of the vote.

—- —- —- —-

Baker did not triumph everywhere in Boston. One of his weakest showings was the Hyde Square (Jamaica Plain) vote, which included his worst precinct in the entire city, Ward 19 Precinct One :

Baker 1431 Gonzalez 3476 (Baker 29%)

Yet even this pale result improved a ton from his 2014 vote in the same five precincts :

Baker 452 Coakley 2664

…and in Ward 10, Precinct 7 — Bromley-Heath Project, where he and State Representative Jeffrey Sanchez officiated at a major youth gathering back in March, Baker’s 29.8% represented a 21.8 percent lift from his 8.6 percent there in 2014.  It was one of his largest Boston precinct vote gains.

Sanchez, the State’s legislative budget chief, was eventually defeated, narrowly, by Nika Elugardo — to most observers a surprise result. She assaulted Sanchez for not insisting that the FY 2019 Budget include the Safe Communities Act — even though that act had no chance of passage. (More about the implications of this argument later.) Elugardo lives in Ward 19 Precinct One. It was Baker’s bleakest precinct in the entire city — 23.2 percent — yet in 2014 he won only 10 percent in it. His 13.2 percent improvement was quite weaker than his city-wide improvement — 19.5 percent, yet it more than doubled his 2014 percent there. In 2014, only 69 people in “19/1” voted for Baker. This time, 233 of “19/1” voters chose him.

The rest of Jamaica Plain’s precincts proved nearly as resistant to Baker’s persuasion. With the exception of the “Moss Hill” precinct (19/2), which Baker won — albeit by not a lot : 621 to 532, 53.8 percent to 46 — the Governor cracked 40 percent in only one precinct; in seven, he was under 30 percent. And if that’s much better than the eight to 21 percent that he won in 2014 in these precincts, it still represents a sizable vote of no confidence.

Baker’s Jamaica Plain vote fell short of the little that he won in Somerville, Cambridge, Northampton, and the Amherst region : the state’s “progressive” vote base. In Somerville, 35.2; Cambridge, 34.2; Northampton, 35; greater Amherst, 32.2. There weren’t many precincts anywhere in Massachusetts where Baker won less than his Jamaica Plain percent and probably none where he polled lower than his 23.2 in Ward 19, Precinct One.

That said, Baker’s Boston vote highlights the gap between Citywide voter sentiment and that of the “progressives.” Many media got giddy about “progressive” wins in the Democratic primary, but these were few, even if Ayanna Pressley’s 59 to 41 trouncing of Congressman Mike Capuano — attributed to progressive energy — deserved every headline it got. Pressley’s win arose from much more voter discontent than among progressives — long incumbency has often been an obstacle in this “change” year.

Baker ‘s Boston vote clarifies the city’s prevailing vote opinion : reformist, but cautious; civil rights stalwart, but economically scrupulous. Call it “business reformism” if you like, or “social liberal – economic conservative, as many observers do: whichever your rubric, Boston voters once again confirmed Massachusetts’s long-standing, basic policy preferences: we’re inclusive, but we’re not tax-aholic. We’re a city of immigrants, but we’re not hell bent for confrontation with the Feds. We’re not ready to burn our political bridges or storm barricades. We trust the political process to get it right.

That’s Baker to a T. Reform without drama. Inclusion, as a principle, not a defiance. Do your job, not show out.

Baker is the epitome of an institutional man ? Well, so is Boston, as the state’s capital city, and home to one of the nation’s most powerful Mayors, an institutional city. We’re accustomed to institutional governance, institutional participation, institutional economics, institutional education, institutional finance, institutional charity, and institutional medicine. Heck, in Boston a very substantial percentage of all of us work for one of our institutions. The city’s “progressives” — and the state’s — may dislike the bulk presence and sluggish ways of institutional life, but their desire to hurry the processes strike the rest of us as a kind of Humpty Dumpty falling, and their readiness to divide the community, if need be, to get their way — witness the votes that Nika Elugardo won by attacking Sanchez on his decision to drop the un-enact-able Safe Communities Act from his proposed budget — strikes most of us as grossly irresponsible. Innovation needs to find a smarter path (and for many activist innovators, it has found one).

If the Baker Boston vote was a message for anything, it was that a Governor, and government, should do the responsible thing. Even when innovating.

It also helps that Baker is as a easy going a guy as you’ll see in high places. It doesn’t hurt to be the “selfie king” — as he is — in the era of instagram. People flat-out LIKE Charlie Baker, and he likes them. Politicians always hug babies, but for Baker, convening with kids seems a passion. He enjoys their presence. Partly that’s because he’s something of a kid himself. He’s a fan of 1970s-80s rock bands — who hasn’t seen his contributions to David Bernstein’s “song challenge” facebook posts ? — and knows his stuff. Clearly it’s not just a pose.

Combine the likable Charlie Baker with Governor Baker the master of institutional governance, and you’ve got a landslide’s worth of political good.

Nor was that all Baker had working for him in Boston. He also had political clout. In the 15 precincts that make up the Hyde Park, Roslindale, and Readville parts of Ward 18, Baker tallied 7366 to Gonzalez’s 7530. That he came close to winning Boston’s biggest and most sprawling Ward had no Republican precedent since the early 1990s, and only one like it since at least the 1970s. How did he do it ? Consider that in 2014, Baker lost these precincts to Martha Coakley 3158 to 8380, a 29 percent vote share. This time he won 49.2 percent. In some precincts he improved by 25 points and more. So I ask again, how did he do it ? He did it by having the active, vocal, door-knocking support of the entire local political establishment : State Representative Angelo Scaccia; City Councillor Tim McCarthy; Register of Deeds Stephen Murphy; and, to cap it off, the son and daughter in law of the late Mayor Tom Menino. And their entire followings.

In Boston, political support has institutional heft. You can’t get from wanting to a win without it.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

 

 

 

 

LESSONS FROM THE MASSACHUSETTS ELECTION

Dean Tran

^ big winners in our election : State Senator Dean A. Tran (R) and State Representative-elect Tran Nguyen (D)

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We in Massachusetts performed an election like no other in the entire nation. An actual majority of the 2,700,000 who voted chose a Republican Governor and a Democratic Senator. I cannot think of another state in which such a decision would even be possible today.

Clearly the words “Democrat” and “Republican” mean something different to us than what they mean beyond our state. We do have our partisans, for whom these two words mean what they mean elsewhere, but for most of us, “Democrat” and “Republican” are simply two lines on a ballot, each of which is worthy of voting.

As I’ve written often, because 56 percent of Massachusetts voters belong to neither party — a percentage that increases every year — the two actual parties have to open their portals to vastly more voters than the few who work within. Openness to all being our first voting principle, a candidate can chose either of the two major parties and win an election. At least that is the logical consequence.

One obstacle stands in the way of complete electoral openness in our state : the party primary. Chiefly party members vote in them. Those who enroll in no party can vote in either one, but few do. Why should they ? In November they get their shot. The result is that party primaries in which mostly only party members participate pick the candidates whose names will appear on the November ballot. This gives the whip hand to those who view politics through partisan filter. Thus candidates who get to the November ballot don’t usually reflect the 56 percent, and openness, but the preferences of a distinct minority.

Because in Massachusetts the Democratic minority is three times larger than the Republican one, the two candidates facing  the November voter do not start off equal. The Democratic one has already been vetted by three times as many voters who vetted the Republican one. That’s an enormous handicap for a Republican November candidate to overtop. Most don’t. On Tuesday, not one Republican legislative challenger defeated a Democratic opponent, incumbent or not. Meanwhile, two Republican incumbents lost to Democratic challengers : Senator Richard Ross and State Representative Jim Lyons.

That the primary is the chief obstacle to absolute electoral openness in Massachusetts was proven by Governor Baker, who won 67 percent of the vote to Jay Gonzalez’s 33 percent, prevailing in almost every community. Baker had four years to be vetted, by all the voters, and the vetters liked what they observed and judged. The 56 percent who belong to no party voted Baker by about seven to one; he won a majority of registered Democrats. As the same voters who liked Baker also voted for Senator Warren makes clear that for almost two-thirds of our voters, party label, by itself, carries no advantage.

If political party means little to most Massachusetts voters, principles do. Our state’s voters have gateway issues on which they hold very specific views. Civil rights for all is one such. On Tuesday, the state’s Transgender civil rights law — which accords transgender people the same public accommodation rights as everybody else — was confirmed, versus repeal, by 68 percent to 32 percent. The ballot initiative won all but four towns and one city (Lawrence), and those it lost, it lost narrowly. There is but a small constituency in Massachusetts for discrimination, as for the pro-life position, and candidates who insist on the minority position do so at great risk.

Jim Lyons, a Republican who had represented North Andover, Tewksbury and part of Andover since 2010, was beaten 55 to 45 by a first time Democrat, Tran Nguyen, for his advocacy of repealing our Transgender Civil Rights law. He lost in a District in which Republicans outnumber Democrats and in which Governor Baker won over 75 percent of the vote. Can there be any clearer example of the commitment that most Massachusetts voters have to civil rights for all ? Lyons’s district is one of the most reliably Republican voting in the entire state, up and down the ballot, yet he lost convincingly even as the transgender rights law repeal he helped sponsor won his District by 60 to 40. Meanwhile Dean A. Tran, a Republican State Senator elected in a “special” early in the year,m was convincingly re-elected (32,500 to 27,500) against a strong Democratic challenger. It doesn’t hurt that Trans’ campaign manger is a transgender woman, or that he has a firm, personal support base in his district’s largest city, one in which Democrats occupy almost all the elected offices.

There are signs that the openness and consensus that have dominated Massachusetts state politics since at least 2014, and probably since 1990, may be diminishing. Governor Baker won the 67 percent in large part because the entire Democratic establishment, those who have worked with him on large amounts of reform, embraced him because he is a huge barrier to the “progressives” who loom increasingly i n the Democratic primary. The last thing regular Democrats wanted was a Governor whose political base is those “progressives.” Jay Gonzalez campaigned almost solely with “progressive” support; he espoused the entire “progressive’; agenda of higher taxes, medicare for all, and a “Safe Communities Act” which, however worthy — it would prohibit any local ore state law agency from co operating with Mr. Trump’s immigration police — would split the Democratic party and divide our electorate just as immigration has divided the nation. Unlike with civil rights, there is, in Massachusetts, no consensus for immigration reform – far from it. Regular Democrats understood that “progressives,” using Safe Communities as a “wedge issue,’ might swell challenge them in a party primary and maybe lose to them, just as Jeffrey Sanchez, appointed the state’s budget chief was beaten in  a party primary on the strength of that issue. (Nor can any regular forget the 59 to 41 defeat suffered by Congressman Mike Capuano, who would have been a Committee chiarman, by Ayanna Pressley, who will be but a freshman.)

Such challenges may well arise in 2020 — the “progressives” loathe Speaker DeLeo and frustrate over his partnership with Baker — but without a Governor Gonzalez to mobilize the power of a state-wide organization such challenges face barriers as formidable as the Eiger North Face.

That said, the “progressives’ aren’t stopping. Just the opposite. Plans are afoot to challenge legislators and Mayors, and certainly the 2020 Presidential election will give them an organizing opportunity likely to bear fruit in the 2022 mid-term elections. The politics of division foisted on us by Mr. Trump may affect only a minority of Massachusetts voters,m but it’s a passionate minority , in both directions.Even as “progressives” make inroads into Democratic primaries, so right wing ideologues impact the Republican. can we forget that the almost lunatic Trumpism of Scott Lively won 36 percent of the Republican primary vote this year ?

The media, too, stoke this new divisivenss: it gets attention and thus sells newspapers and collects “eyeballs.” It was probably no surprise that the lead about Tran Nguyen wasn’t her win but that she is of Vietnamese origin and thus gives a voice to voters who “look like her,.” This same “look like her”-ism was a big part of Ayanna Pressley’s message, and of course nationally gender identity was a major feature of media stories about the election and in campaign fund-raising. Myself, I don’t see legislating and governing as matters of what one looks like : the pens that sign new laws don’t have eyes, hair, a skin color or  national origin. But for the Instagram generation and the cult of selfie (don’t discount that Governor Baker is the Massachusetts selfie king), what one looks like is the only thing that emits drool from a political mouth. Expect more of it, not less. Even in Massachusetts.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

A LESSON IN LISTENING AND COMMUNITY

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Yesterday, at a 250-person rally at fairmount Grille in Boston’s Hyde Park neighborhood, Governor Baker gave his closing message stump speech. It was a lesson in the power of listening — in his case, to the voters. All the voters. It was also a lesson in community — its role in crafting a successful politics for our state.

This is what Baker said, at length and with much passion (I am paraphrasing at times) :

“We’ve gone to the every one of our 351 cities and towns and to the various communities — of color, Latino, LGBT, women — and we’ve listened. We’ve listened to what these communities want, and everyone in my office has done outreach to every community in the state. It’s hard work, but we hear what they want and it’s been up to us to give it.

“Haven’t we all had enough of the division ? Of each side trying to out-crazy the other ? that’s not how we roll. We’re a uniter, not a divider. A good idea is a good idea no matter which side it is said by.”

The 250 people listening to him exemplified his outreach and his unification. I saw Haitians, Latinos, African Americans, Caribbeans, LGBT, and more women than men. (Not since Ed Brooke’s time have I seen as many people of color at a Massachusetts Republican rally as at yesterday’s.) Tom Menino, Jr, son of Boston’s late Mayor, co-hosted the rally with his wife Lisa Menino. State Representative Angelo Scaccia Spoke; so did Hyde Park’s City Councillor, Tim McCarthy. Suffolk Sheriff Steve Tompkins attended. All are Democrats.

So were most of the campaign activists — many of them veterans of city and Congress campaigns — gathered in such large numbers that some had to look down upon the rally from upstairs.

Five Democratic State legislators, in addition, to Scaccia, have endorsed Baker, and at least 50 more support him even though they can’t say it publicly. But their supporters get the unspoken message: essentially, Baker is the Democratic establishment candidate for Governor. There’s a political pull to this — Baker’s opponent has married the “progressives’ who, at every point they can, are contesting establishment Democratic legislators in the party primary — but pull or no pull, Baker won this level of support by listening and more listening and by going out constantly to the 351 cities and towns and winning the trust of municipal officials — central to the support that Democratic legislators — who number 80 percent of the legislature’s total –rely on for re-election.

Even more than his — and the legislature’s — record of reforms, Baker’s outreach and his listening represent his core message.

If Baker has made community central to his message of action, what he has done is to commit his mission to the most passionate popular movement going on right now, in response to the self-containment and division imposed on us by Mr. Trump and his politics of revanche and isolation. Everywhere I see communities being created, by activists and by just folks, as people step out from behind their iPhones and engage in real life, in numbers, to reach communal peace and to innovate solutions to riddles of climate, transportation, education and inclusion. Baker hasn’t won over every community arising, but if the polls are right that he has 65 to 67 percent of the vote, he’s definitely won the trust of most. This may be why 22 Massachusetts mayors have formally endorsed him and why most of the rest support him without saying so.

That Baker spoke so pointedly and with passion may surprise those who see him as the epitome of no-drama and caution. These he is : but no one should ever assume that because he is slow to engage, he lacks ideals fervently believed. He leads by example, teaches by doing — and by what he does not do and does not say — and makes his point — anti Trump — by being, in every sort of the way, the opposite of what Mr. Trump is and presents.

The city Democrats who gathered for Baker and cheered his words and saluted huis introducers spoke very directly about why they were there : “it’s not about what party you belong to, its about getting things done,” said District Councillor Tim McCarthy. Tom Menino, Jr. said the same thing.

I have never, since he died in 2014, seen a member of the late Mayor’s family spearhead a political event, much less one for a Republican. Yet there they were, Tom Junior and his wife Lisa, co-hosting, in a neighborhood of Boston where, in 2014, Baker had no organization at all. Today he has there a large one, of all sorts of people, including every Hyde Park political leader. Listening isn’t a bad tactic for winning the trust of a community strategy.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

 

NOV 6th : OUR ENDORSEMENTS — STATE REPRESENTATIVES, SUFFOLK D.A. & BALLOT QUESTIONS

Kearney OConnell

^ perhaps the most interesting open=seat House race is taking place in the 4th Plymouth, which covers Marshfield and most of Scituate. Read our endorsement below.

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This column complete our endorsement decisions for the State election that finishes up this coming Tuesday. Some of you have already voted. We hope that even if you have already declared your choices, you will find our recommendations worth reading.

As we stated in our previous endorsement column, for the State Legislature this has been a ‘deserves re-election” occasion. The 2018 legislative session enacted a wide assortment of reforms, most of it unanimously or almost, and these enactments have been signed by Governor Baker. We in Massachusetts have consensus governance, and full credit should go to those who have made it a reality — one almost unique in our politically polarized nation. Generally, therefore, we find it difficult to name a State Representative who should not be endorsed for re-election. That said, there are a few House members whose replacement by a challenger will not disappoint us.

We do not trouble to endorse House members running unopposed, because why ? that said, most of those running unopposed who are known to us count among the House’s most capable, well informed, and hard-working electeds we know. Thank you to all.

We therefore endorse the following House members seeking another term. All have opponents :

5th Barnstable : Randy Hunt (R)

1st Essex : Jim Kelcourse (R)

4th Essex : Bradford Hill (R)

4th Middlesex : Danielle Gregoire (D)

9th Essex : Donald Wong (R)

9th Norfolk : Shawn Dooley (R)

2nd Essex : Lenny Mirra (R)

2nd Middlesex ; Jim Arciero (D)

2nd Plymouth : Susan Gifford (R)

7th Worcester : Paul K. Frost (R)

6th Bristol : Carole Fiola (D)

10th Plymouth : Michelle DuBois (D)

3rd Norfolk : Ronald Mariano (D)

31st Middlesex : Michael A. Day (D)

36th Middlesex : Colleen Garry (D)

1st Barnstable : Tim Whelan (R)

10th Worcester : Brian Murray (D)

2nd Barnstable : Will Crocker (R)

There are several open House seats on offer in this election. We have looked at the various candidates and made our choices. Where we could learn a candidate’s position on Question 3, a “No” was a deal breaker. We might accept a few House incumbents who aren’t “Yes on 3,” but we will not accept newcomers who refuse to support civil rights for all. And now to our open-seat endorsements :

19th Middlesex : David A. Robertson (D)

7th Plymouth : Alison Sullivan (R)

12th Bristol : Norman Orrall (R) Note : Norman Orrall is Treasurer candidate Keiko Orrall’s husband. Keiko held this House seat for four terms. We’ve met Norman and find him a gentle, diligent man who will surely continue Keiko’s work.

12th Plymouth : Joe Truschelli (R)

30th Middlesex : Richard Haggerty (D) His opponent touts a Trump-like agenda.

17th Worcester : David LeBoeuf (D)

4th Plymouth : Patrick Kearney (D) (Marshfield and most of Scituate) A close call here. Republican Ed O’Connell seems a strong candidate whose top priority is infrastructure. There’s also an independent candidate, Nathaniel PowellA vote for either of the three candidates would be a good one.

14th Essex : Christine Minicucci (D) Her opponent is a “No on 3.” Nuff said.

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We also are endorsing Rachael Rollins (D) for Suffolk County District Attorney. We aren’t happy with Rollins’s overreaching intent to use of “nolle prosequi” powers, but she has, since winning her primary over the established favorite, reached out to many City interest groups that hold a less sweeping view of the District Attorney’s office as an instrument of criminal justice reform. In addition, her independent opponent, Michael Maloney, has failed to persuade many voters, who might be inclined not to vote for Rollins, that his campaign is to be taken seriously. Running a serious, strong campaign seems to us like an essential prerequisite. If you can’t marshal strong and broad voter support, how can you run the executive office you are seeking election to ? We endorse a vote for Rachael Rollins.

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The Ballot Questions :

Question 1 : we’ve written in opposition to this initiative, which seeks to impose, as a matter of state law, complicated hospital staffing regulations that few voters have any expertise to decide. A majority of voters appears to agree that this complex proposal is better handled by collective bargaining or by the legislature. We recommend that you vote NO.

Question 2 : would established a citizens’ commission to recommend ways to overturn the Citizens United Supreme Court decision allowing unlimited corporate money into elections. The intent of this proposal seems good to us, but the Commission, if approved by voters, won’t be able to do much. call this a “feel good:” question, then. Vote “Yes” if you like. we intend to do so ourselves.

Question 3 : In 2016 the legislature enacted, and Governor Baker signed, a civil rights bill assuring transgender people full access to all public accommodations just as everybody else has a right to. A “No” vote here is a vote to repeal those civil rights protections. We can NEVER and will never support denials of civil rights to anyone. Please Vote “YES” on Question 3.

—- Mike Freedberg for the Editors / Here and Sphere

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NOV 6TH : OUR ENDORSEMENTS, PART 2

 

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Today we announce our endorsements for state-wide offices other than Governor and Senator as well as the state legislature. (Last week we offered endorsements for Governor, Senator, and Congress, and you can read them here : https://hereandsphere.com/2018/10/24/november-6th-our-endorsements-part-one/ ) But before we list today’s endorsemnst, let us give one warning : today’s endorsements involve a  so-called “litmus test” : any candidate who in any way evades a “Yes” on ballot Question 3, or who is a “No” on it, cannot have our endorsement no matter what else he or she may offer.

Attorney General : we like the incumbent, Maura Healey.

Healey said in 2014, when she first sought this office, that she would be “the people’s lawyer.” that is exactly what she has been.  From prosecuting wage theft to embracing strict enforcement of our gun laws, she has fought for economic justice and public safety. She has successfully opposed Exxon’s attempts to deny her access to company pollution records; has pushed back against the Trump administration’s denials of equal rights and its regulatory misfeasance; and she has aggressively overseen major non-profit organizations and trusts. She has also spoken out, as a people’s lawyer must, in protest against Trump administration overreach and irresponsibility. Meanwhile, her opponent lent his presence to, and spoke at, rallies held by Scott Lively, the Trump-worshipping bigot whose presence on the Massachusetts ballot disgraced this year’s primary season. We are proud to endorse Maura Healey for a second term as Attorney General.

Treasurer : a vote for either incumbent Deb Goldberg or her challenger, Keiko Orrall, currently a State Representative from Plymouth County,is warranted.

Goldberg has not been the subject of a single headline during her term, which speaks well of her judicious operation of the office that oversees the state Lottery and unclaimed property fund. meanwhile, Orrall has critiqued Goldberg for waiting much too long to secure a new Lottery headquarters — the present lease expires in January. Orrall’s critique has merit, but there may well be rental reasons why the move remains not certain. That said, Orrall has brought sanity and inclusion to the state Republican party, as its national committeewoman,w here before, the office had been an instrument of radical divisiveness. We have full confidence that, if Orrall is elected, she will be a diligent and open-door Treasurer. This contest is the state’s best, featuring two outstanding electeds. We like both Orrall and Goldberg.

Secretary of State : we like the Republican challenger, Anthony Amore.

Usually we don’t cotton to the idea of term limits, but in the case of incumbent Bill galvin, we do. Though he runs an effective office — corporate maters — his stewardship of our elections doesn’t measure up. He scheduled this year’;s primary for the  day after Labor day,. hoping, evidently, to suppress turn out, thereby protecting his incumbency from a primary challenge (from a Boston City Councillor) that seemed serious when it first arose. That proved not the case, yet we simply  cannot support a Secretary who schedules primary day to his expected benefit. Meanwhile, Anthony Amore is a strongly pro-choice, civil rights-stalwart Republican whose appetite for election fairness you can count on. We are proud to endorse Anthony Amore for Secretary of the Commonwealth.

State Senate : the legislative session this year was a triumph of consensus reform. “Deserves re-election”: is therefore very much our theme. There aren’t very many actual contests, but we endorse the following :

Bristol and NorfolkPaul Feeney (incumbent). His opponent supports No on 3. Nuff said.

Cape and IslandsJulian Cyr (incumbent). Unclear where Cyr’s opponent stands on civil rights issues.

5th MiddlesexJason Lewis (incumbent). His opponent, Erin Calvo-Bacci, has an estimable business background but opposes the $ 15/hour minimum wage that we enacted and also waffled on support for #YesOn3 before finally and rather grudgingly agreed to be a Yes.

First MiddlesexJohn McDonald is a #YesOnQuestion 3. Thus we endorse his energetic, classic door-to-door campaign to represent the key city of Lowell and most of its suburbs in the State Senate.  We’re less than thrilled with the “progressive” views of his opponent, Edward Kennedy, former mayor of Lowell.

Norfolk, Bristol & Middlesex Richard Ross (incumbent): Ross was the only Republican State Senator to vote Yes on the 2016 transgender Rights Bill. (Patrick O’Connor had not yet been elected.) He also voted Yes to eliminate “conversion therapy.”

Plymouth & Barnstable : Vinny deMacedo (incumbent)

Plymouth and Norfolk : Patrick O’Connor (incumbent) : O’Connor is perhaps the Republican State Senator most supportive of Organized Labor. We applaud that. He even has the Boston Teachers Union endorsement, and that is one that counts, thanks to the union’s smart new leadership team.

Worcester, Hampden, Hampshire & Middlesex : Anne Gobi (incumbent): a tireless worker for her very rural District, opposed by a challenger who, like Jeffrey MacDonald,. spoke at at least one Scott Lively rally.

Worcester & Middlesex : Dean A. Tran (incumbent). Elected in a spec ial  contest when Jen Flanagan resigned to join the state’s Cannabis Commission, Tran is a civil rights stalwart and a supporter of economic prudence. He can be stubborn sometimes, and cast a lone vote on principle, but that’s hardly a reason to not give this city-based Republican a full term.

Worcester and Norfolk : Ryan Fattman (incumbent) : Fattman was a lead supporter of John Kingston, the US Senate candidate who in 2016 openly opposed Mr. Trump.

We will post our State Representative endorsements tomorrow. Also our position on the three ballot Questions.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

 

NOVEMBER 6th : OUR ENDORSEMENTS, PART ONE

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^ ’tis a season for re-election : Governor Baker and Senator Warren

An election is not a party primary. As a result, we do not feel that political party identification has more than incidental to do with who should lead our state and county, and our endorsements reflect that. As for who we send to Washington, political party does matter a lot, thanks to the capture of our Federal government by narrowly partisan institutions, vote blocs, and donor groups. Thus our endorsements for national office involve party affiliation.

United States Senator : we endorse Elizabeth Warren. She’s far from perfect. She can be careless, and her “Accountability capitalism” proposal is wildly impractical. Yet on the major issues that partisans have caused to divide the nation — immigration reform,. health care for all, student debt relief, economic policy, and government accountability, she is a stalwart voice for common sense, equal rights, and economic flexibility. Warren also has a much more bipartisan record of legislative co-operation than the major media lets on. Meanwhile, her two opponents fall far short. Shiva’s campaign is a Pocahontas joke — low-grade slapstick, and Geoff Diehl’s platform mirrors that of President Trump in all its injustices and ranting horror.  Warren could have had a worthy opponent had Republican primary voters chosen Beth Lindstrom, or even John Kingston, but they chose Mr. Trump’s Massachusetts chairman and will have to live with the consequences. We are glad to recommend a second term for Senator Warren.

Governor : we endorse Charlie Baker. Some voters feel that Baker hasn’t supported sufficient reforms, others feel that he has supported much too much. That’s an argument for another day. We support re-electing Baker for three reasons : ( 1 ) he has involved almost every local government body as well as the legislature in a co-operative drive for all kinds of public policy reforms, from workforce housing and infrastructure repair to state administration modernization, MBTA renewal, criminal justice reform, full civil rights for transgender people, and the $ 15/hour minimum wage ( 2 ) he has recognized the best of “identity politics” by organizing, and focusing upon, specific task forces developing policy for the Black Community, Latino community, and the LGBTQ community: and he has devoted countless hours to outreaching to both leaders and ordinary members of all three communities. ( 3 ) he has refused to take the Governor’s office into the national political maelstrom — with a few significant exceptions — and has thus enabled Massachusetts political and civic life to seek consensus without fear of retribution. And consensus reform is always the most lasting and effective.

Baker’s opponent, Jay Gonzalez, is a nice enough guy, and well qualified for administrative office, but it’s hard to see how he could improve upon Baker’s work or even match it. His policy proposals also put him at odds with state consensus.

In effect, Baker has seen that in an era of national political dissonance, a state, well led, can go its own way and accomplish its own political goals pretty much unimpeded. And that is what he has done, brilliantly. If anyone ever deserved re-election, it’s Governor Baker. We endorse him for a second term.

Congress, 3rd District : The “Third” is an open seat resulting from Nikki Tsongas’s decision to not seek another term. It’s also the only seriously contested Congress seat in our state. There are three other contests — the 2nd, 8th, and 6th Districts — but we aren’t impressed with the efforts mounted by any of these three challengers to Democratic incumbents in addition, we feel that party does matter here. It is crucial that the Democrats take control of the House, both to stop the hurtful proposals from Mr. Trump as well as the rollback works sought by the so-called “freedom caucus.” Democratic control is also needed in order to get the nation closer to immigration reform that works for immigrants as well as born here citizens.

Toward that objective, we endorse Lori Trahan, the Democratic nominee. Her opponent, Rick Green, has run a smart, locally-based, nuts and bolts campaign that, in ordinary times,would match what voters should want from Congress. Yet Green, by talking local, has avoided, probably for good reason, how he would vote on Trump or Freedom caucus initiatives; nor is it likely that he would support any kind of immigration reform other than a bare minimum. Meanwhile, Trahan has been a “max” donor to Governor Baker and is therefore a proven bipartisan voice, which we like as we’ve said, and will, in addition, support the kinds of legislation which a Republican-led Congress will not.

We endorse electing Lori Trahan the 3rd District’s Congress-person.

The nation at Large : we are a Massachusetts-based medium, but we have readers elsewhere, and we feel also a duty to the entire nation where Congress is involved. Thus we make the following endorsements for Congress and Senator from states beyond our state’s borders :

Congress : in almost every Congressional District that has a contest on hand, we urge a vote for the Democrat. The exceptions we are aware of are few., 17 total. We support only the following Republican Congress members : Will Hurd (Texas 23), Carlos Curbelo (Florida-26), Leonard Lance (New Jersey-7), Steve Chabot (Ohio-1), David Valadao (California-20), John Culberson (Texas-7), Brian Fitzaptrick (Pennsylvania-1), Dan Donovan (New York 11), John Katko (New York-24), Peter King (New York-2), Mike Bost (IL-12), Scott King (PA-10), Tom Reed (NY-23), Elise Stefanik (NY-21), and Pete Roskam (Illinois-12). We also support these two Republicans running in open seats : Louisa Marisa Salazar (Florida-27) and Young Kim (California-39). In every other case, we support electing the Democrat.

Senator : It’s not the same matter here as in the House. states have interests of their own, particularly in a time of national dysfunction. Who best represents the interests and views of their state is thus our endorsement basis. We also list some Senator candidates who we can’t endorse but whose candidacy seems appropriate for the state they are running in.

Endorsements : Martha McSally (AZ-R), Bill Nelson (FL-D), Jon Tester (MT-D), Joe Manchin (WV-D), Amy Klobuchar (MN-D), Sherrod Brown (OH-D), Bob Casey (PA-D), Phil Bredesen (TN-D), Kevin Cramer (ND-R), Cindy Hyde-Smith (MS-R), Josh Hawley(MO-R), Dean Heller (NV-R), and Mitt Romney (UT-R). 

There are significant contests also in Indiana, Texas, Michigan, New Jersey, and the second Minnesota seat (to fill remainder of Al Franken’s term). The Indiana race leaves us unimpressed by either Joe Donnelly, the present Senator, or Mike Braun, his major challenger. Texas pits the media favorite Beto O’Rourke against incumbent Ted Cruz, who won’;t win any Mr Congeniality prizes. Polls suggest Cruz will win re-election ? that’s probably how Texas wants it. New Jersey features a damaged Democratic incumbent against a Republican pharma CEO: best we pass this one by. We would like to support John James, the Republican running in Michigan against Debbie Stabenow: but we’re not sure of his political views. as for the Minnesota contest, Democratic incumbent Tina Smith seems unimpressive, but her challenger, Karen Housley, has some history of racial insensitivity that she hasn’t yet cleared up. Our recommendation ? Do your own research if you vote in one of these contests.

That completes our first round of endorsements and recommendations. We’ll do our more local endorsements on Friday.

—- Mike Freedberg for the Editors / Here and Sphere

 

 

ASSESSING LT GOV POLITO’s SEXUAL ASSAULT / DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AWARENESS MISSION

 

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Friday, at the State House, Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito chaired a first meeting of her Sexual Assault / Domestic Violence public awareness task force. Its mission is a significant part of what Governor Baker sees as a core Health and Human Services responsibility, which is why HHS Secretary Maryou Sudders co-chaired the meeting.

(The group was originally formed by Executive Order in mid-2015. Use this link to read the purpose of the Order and the full Awareness Group membership : https://www.mass.gov/orgs/governors-council-to-address-sexual-assault-and-domestic-violence )

At the meeting a power point presentation set forth a seven-month timeline of what the Group will do, including public comment and policy conclusions that it hopes to put into action. I tweeted those displays, and you can find them also on my facebook page.

Definitely the members of the task force mean well. Definitely they respect the primacy of process. This effort is a bureaucratic one, which means that process is everything. That said, certainly the Task Force will enlighten some of the dark strata in which sexual assault and domestic violence breed. More light will fall thereon via the media, for whom accusations of sexual assault have become a magnet for readership. All good, as far as it goes.

I see the subject differently. Perhaps a long life has worn down the knife edges of my assumptions, for I see sexual assault and domestic violence as deeply embedded in human nature, the socio-biology of sexual attraction, competition, commitment, bonding, and social sanction. Various societies have adopted differing customs for alleviating the passions that sex engenders, but all societies fall short of remedy. Our society too. Whether sex is seen as libertine amusement, or temporary bond, or a life-changing imperative, once attraction overtakes us, our perceptions change, our emotions redirect, our bodies act out, whether sex is fulfilled or falls short. For human beings, the arousal of one intense passion almost always upsets another passion: and inhibition often intervenes too late or not at all. Sex fundamentally affects self-esteem. I know that in my own case, as a teenager, a “no” from a girl I wanted to date shied me away from even asking another girl, for months on end, for fear of another “no.” I doubt that i was unique. Nor do I believe that it’s any different for girls. Rejection by a boy often comes wrapped in rejection by his friends too. Rejection becomes a tit for tat ritual of humiliation, revenge, and success — which often breeds the opposite sort of humiliation.

These traits do not fall away, like one’s first set of teeth. They stay in the psyche. Adults are better at resisting the consequences of rejection or success, but they’re no less prisoners of the feelings. Some cannot hold back. I don’t see how any Task Force, no matter how well-intended, can illuminate these basics any more brightly than we all of us see them already. I do suppose, I guess, that a Task Force can enlighten us to how frequent is the number of those who cannot hold back. Perhaps that will help the rest of us to understand just how true is the old saying “there but for the grace of God go I.”

As for domestic violence, it too pressures us all. Unless we live alone, we lash out at those nearest to us. The old saw about yelling at one’s wall arises from this condition: that if not at the wall, then what do we get angry at but those who stand between us and that wall ? Which usually means family. All of us are capable of domestic violence. I’ll never forget the evening when my mother,m overworked and frustrated by it, started yelling at my Dad and did’t — couldn’t stop: in full cry she threw a grapefruit at him.

And then the anger abated, as often happens. Domestic abuse is shameful — our society’s customs assure that — and the abuser knows it. Usually that stops him or her.

Sometimes it doesn’t, and the criminal justice system steps in, to punish and sanction; but it acts too late, of course, as all criminal cases do.

Can these basics be changed by a Task Force ? I rather doubt it. What Polito’s Task Force can do is to remind us all that domestic violence can happen to anyone, of any income level or education attainment, that its happening is not a sign of poverty or moral failure but of human weakness. The Task Force can also, perhaps, create settings for an intervention: because the custom we call “intervention” can, if done in time, assuage the tensions that lead family members sometimes to strike at one another. The tactics of intervention can be taught, and if Polito’s Task Force accomplishes that much, it will be well worth its members’ time, research, and decisions.

The next task Force meeting takes place on November 5th at in Room 157 at the State House.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

MASSACHUSETTS AND “THE EXHAUSTED MAJORITY”

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On November 6th, all signs point to Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly re-electing both Senator Liz Warren, a Democrat, and Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican. Given the partisan polarization going on in states west and south of us, how has it come about that our voters decide so differently from theirs ?

The roots of our politics run far back in time; and many have commented at length upon our state’s unique political way. To that long history, I have not much to revisit in this column; yet I would like to list some current facts that support how we do :

( 1 ) 54 percent of our voters belong to no political party.

( 2 ) the two major parties that we do have — Democrats number about 36 percent, Republicans about 10 — lack structure, and to the extent they have it, said structure adopts positions the rank and file does not care much about

( 3 ) almost every Massachusetts elected wins her race in the Democratic primary, which means that every candid\ate who actually wants to win runs as a Democrat regardless of what he or she thinks about the issues.

( 4 ) municipal elections in Massachusetts are non-partisan. Thus party plays no part in the most local, most close to the voter, of all election contests

( 5 ) political patronage has almost disappeared here, which means that the only people who participate physically in campaigns, except for a candidate’s immediate family and close friends,  are ideologues — a very small number — and special interest people. The rest of us watch from our doorstep. The precinct captains of old are gone.

( 6 ) the great ideological divides, many of them based in religion, have minimal presence here because with respect to them, the overwhelming majority of Massachusetts voters take the positions advocated by the national Democrats.

( 7 ) because that is true, Presidential elections are never contested in Massachusetts. No PAC money is spent here, no ground game is organized. Our stare is never in play. As a result, we are free to develop our own political customs, and we have done that.

( 8 ) The only issue divisions that matter much exist within the Democratic party, yet those have little sway except in a few legislative districts, because even most Democrats don’t care much about such arguments. The big argument this year was, has the legislature done its job of reform or did it fall short ? Two legislators — and only two — were defeated by the “it fell short” interest. A few others defeated “it fell short” challengers.

( 9 ) within our Republican party the big issue was, support for Trump. Governor Baker, who has kept his distance from Mr. Trump and has opposed him almost every time it really mattered, was challenged by a candidate for whom loyalty to Trump was almost a religion. In many states, distancing oneself from Trump was a fatal move within the Republican primary. Not so in Massachusetts. Baker defeated that challenger by 64 to 36.

Therein lies a story that tells us much about our state’s political customs :

Support for Mr. Trump among Massachusetts Republicans mirrors that of Republicans elsewhere : about 75 to 85 percent support him. Most of Governor Baker’s cadres support Mr. Trump, too. How, then, was Baker, who has nothing to do with Mr. Trump and has often said as much, able to win his primary by 64 to 36 ? The answer, as I see it, is that most Massachusetts Republican activists want to win. Baker has taken positions far to the left of most Massachusetts Republicans. He has signed bills no Republican Governor in any other state (except perhaps Maryland) would sign. He is an uncompromising social liberal and even, in his own way, a supporter of identity politics : how else explain his Latino Advisory Commission, the Black Community Advisory Group, or his out-front support for the newly formed LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce ? Yet he commands the work of a staff who, in many cases, have been recruited to Massachusetts from Republican operations in other,m far more partisan and conservative states.

Baker has built a support team of people who, had he not taken them on, would likely be working for Republican candidates in states whose politics we in Massachusetts reject. In doing so, he has set these political operatives on course into the political mainstream and thereby impacted the national Republican party generally, in ways not yet fully developed. I think that 2020 and beyond, we will see the consequences of what Baker has accomplished.

That is the inside effect. Most of us vote on the outside. Yet we, too, will be voting in a way that casts our state firmly into what observers are now calling “the exhausted majority.” (see the graph at the top of this column.) Probably a majority of Massachusetts voters will vote for both Baker and Warren. I can’t think of another state where that will be true this time around.

The rest of the nation sees Senator Warren as a “bold progressive.” We in Massachusetts view her differently. We see a professorial, charming and idealistic advocate — what my parents’ generation knew as an ADA, Adlai Stevenson/Hubertt Humphrey liberal — who can be careless sometimes but very judicious — and bipartisan — often enough. I think we know her correctly. She understands that she cannot depend on Democrats alone, not when these total only 36 percent — and run the gamut of political views; she , like Baker, has to win a good chunk of the 54 percent who belong to no party. No-party voters are, almost by definition, not ideologues on the political fringe. (The “exhausted majority” graph suggests that committed ideologues on the left total about eight percent of voters, and those on the right about six percent.) If the “exhausted majority” — voters who don’t live and die for an ideology — amount to 86 percent of all, they probably number 95 percent, at least, of those who belong to no party. A Massachusetts candidate has almost no choice but to adopt consensus views if she wants to win an election.

Consensus, therefore, is our state’s political watchword. No matter which political party you are campaigning with, in Massachusetts you either voice consensus views or you lose. For me, that’s the right result. The success of our state’s government and politics declares it.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

 

 

OF GOLD RUSHES AND THE LEFT BEHIND

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^ as far as the eye can see, Boston is booming its population and its money chase. Can any of us cope ? What about those left behind in the small towns and outlying cities ?

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According to a forecast published by the City, Boston by year 2030 will have over 800,000 residents — up from barely 625,000 in 2000. 175,000 additional people means much more commerce in Boston and proportionally less the farther you travel from Downtown.

It’s a kind of gold rush, like every other gold rush. Ever since cities acme to be, and commerce arose within them, people have left wherever they were and moved into those cities to get on board the commerce train. Its why cities grow. Boston in 2018 is no different in that regard than New York in 1787, 1820, or 1890; than Florence in the 13th and 14th centuries; than Lyon and Paris in the 12th Century; than Rome in the age of Augustus, Milan in Ambrose’s time, Babylon in the 5th century BC, Ur in the fourth and third millenium BC. Cities are hubs of money.

I’ll discuss the major adjustments that Boston faces, and will continue to face, in this and the next 12 years. Before I do that, however, what of those of us who do not move to the cities ? Who are left behind in towns losing population, where businesses that serve the public are forced to shut down for loss of customers ?In the 19th century many small towns found economic viability by location on a river, which meant water power to drive a mill. Lowell, Lawrence, Manchester (New Hampshire), Fitchburg, Gardner, Maynard, Uxbridge, Milford, even Grovesnordale, Torrington, Shelton, and Waterbury in Connecticut all grew to prosperity and in population thereby. Today, however, river power has lost its prominence, and all of these once booming small cities have declined substantially or forced themselves into complete re-purposing. As for towns even smaller, most of these in New England peaked in population in the 1830s, before the rise of riverside mill cities and the Gold Rush of 1848, each of which decimated towns strictly agricultural. Throughout New England one finds stone walls, once boundary to adjacent farms, falling to ruin amid woods, the farms once tilled now tolled, the rural roads long disused and overgrown with new forest.

Forty years ago, before the move that many city folk took to rural peace as craftspeople and gentle-person farmers, these rural New England towns were Appalachia poor. Many still are. Inland Maine is one of the lowest income regions in the entire United States. In forgotten mill towns like Newport, New Hampshire or North Adams, or Erving, or Skowhegan, Maine and Barton and Orleans, Vermont, one sees Caucasian people with grey skin, tell tale sign of malnourishment, and/or buildings abandoned to the elements. Granted that these are extreme examples : most rural or exurban communities maintain a marginal but persistent economic existence. Orange and Clinton, Massachusetts, Bennington and Pittsfield in New Hampshire, Sanford and Bangor in Maine, Barre in Vermont — all continue on, despite loss of population and an almost complete lack of 21st century technology jobs.

The economy of these places could not be more different from that of Boston, and it is very difficult for public policy to do much about it. In Fall River you can rent a three bedroom apartment for $ 1000; in Holyoke, $ 800; in Ludlow and Blackstone, the same or less. Massachusetts now has a $ 15/hour minimum wage law (the higher figure to be in force by 2023). In Fall River, that’s a very generous wage. In Boston, not nearly enough. As for the jobs, in Boston there’s a labor shortage; in Fitchburg, Springfield, and Hopedale a job lack. Granted, that Governor baker has moved smartly these past four years to establish education-to-job, workforce development systems in areas far away from core Boston, and he’s also established, or encouraged, transportation expansions therein; yet no Governor can overcome the laws of market. The money is rushing into Boston, and perhaps now into Worcester as well, and money goes to money. Investors do not gamble with their millions, nor with huge bank loans; they want to have a pretty dependable twenty year run ahead of their monthly loan payments. In Boston, they can count on at least 20 years, as the Mayor has made it city policy to add 69,000 new housing units by 2030. 69,000 new residences means maybe 120,000 new people, and an investor can feel quite confident of this happening because there are hundreds of investors investing alongside him, and there are hundreds of businesses forming in the city or moving to it (example: GE.)

Someday, most likely, people will begin to leave the city and its supercharged bustle in search of exurban or rural peace of mind. Who doesn’t want to raise a family in a town blessed with open space, a river, good hiking, and a school that isn’t overburdened ? Yet until that happens, Boston will boom with newcomer and already here’s, and with the jobs and six-figure salaries that rush to Downtown like iron filings to a magnet: while those who stay in the communities losing people to Boston (and Worcester) will have to commute long distances — and longer distances — to the only jobs that pay enough to fund a decent life.

Meanwhile, what of Boston ? Adding 125,000 new people means ( 1 ) politically, adding two, maybe three State Representative seats and most of one additional State Senate District. And subtracting those from outlying communities ( 2 ) imposing enormous pressure on an MBTA system that will take another seven or eight years just to reach “state of good repair” status; expansion of lines will be needed as well as increased number of trains, buses and employees ( 3 ) increases in residential density that will dislocate many neighborhoods — several have already undergone this change — and impact quality of life for those who grew up in the neighborhoods with expectations of life quality that will now be abandoned.

In addition, the $ 15/hour minimum wage will fall way short of what is needed for survival in Boston without falling back on public assistance. Even now, a $ 21/hour wage isn’t too much, with typical apartment rents fetching $ 1,900 to $ 2,900 a month. By 2030, the required wage, for those who want to live in Boston, might need be $ 30/hour. ($ 30/hour = about 5000 a month. With rents at $ 2,900, or higher by 2030, and withholding, $ 5,000 a month doesn’t cut it.) Nor are “micro apartments” any answer, because only a single person can live in one, and soon enough our 125,000 new people, singles mostly, will want to raise families. They will simply be forced to move out of Boston altogether./ Do we want that ? I hope not.

City life rarely stands still. The current boom has huge undertow, dragging most of us into its deep quicker than we can outrun it. It’s well and good to chase money. I do it too. We all do it. Yet what happens when the chase favors the luckier, and the rest of us have to play catch up when catching up has by-passed us ?

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere