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

—- —- —-

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.”

—- —- —-

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 that path will 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 repairs and upgrades cannot be sped 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

MASSACHUSETTS’s TRANSPORTATION FUTURE : PART 2 –THE POLITICS OF POPULATION SHIFT

county_map3_2018

If Governor Baker’s Transportation’s Future committee report has it right, the City of Boston will, for the next 20-plus years, experience population growth more typical of cities in Arizona and Texas. And that our State’s mountain counties and Cape Cod will decline in population.

Nothing that the Committee report foresees has larger significance than that.

To opine first and then quote at length :

Boston is growing fast. From 2010 to 2040 the City is expected to increase population by 31.5 % !

Which means about 800,000 people in a City where barely 600,000 lived in 1990.

“Population growth in Massachusetts is highly concentrated in the eastern part of the state. While Greater Boston alone makes up 45 percent of the state’s population, it accounts for 67 percent of population growth since 2010.

…growth is even more concentrated in the urban core, close to
where the jobs are: Greater Boston region is one of a minority of metropolitan areas in the US where the primary city growth rate is higher than the suburban growth rate. Communities with high-frequency subway service accounted for 42 percent of Massachusetts’ net job growth in the last decade, up from only six percent in the previous decade for those same communities.

Future projections for the state exhibit this uneven growth trend: communities in Greater Boston and Central Massachusetts are expected to grow, while Berkshire and Franklin counties in Western Massachusetts and Barnstable County on the Cape are expected to contract over time.”

 

Politically, these population facts command large changes in representation. Today, Boston has 17 State Representatives and five State Senators. If the population predictions come to pass, by 2040 the City will have 22 State Representatives and six, maybe seven, state Senators. Meanwhile, the numbers for Berkshire, Franklin, and Barnstable counties will decrease accordingly. It’s likely, too, that representation for central Massachusetts will decline, while that for the Route 128 communities will increase.

This assures that the transportation priorities of Boston voters, and of those who live in its nearby suburbs, will dominate state planning, and that the transportation needs of people living outside metro Boston will be heard less and less. This imbalance is already happening, despite the best efforts of Governor Baker to bring new institutions and enterprise to the Connecticut valley and beyond.

To sum the situation up : for communities west of Worcester, connection to the “Hub” will be the be-all and maybe the end-all; while for the “Hub,” a major overhaul of every transportation infrastructure will be crucial.

Boston, with its enlarged political voice, will win most of the fights. What fights ? These :

( 1 ) vehicle traffic will have to be channeled. No longer will through traffic be able to monopolize major streets. In addition, through traffic will have to be directed away from narrower, and shorter, neighborhood streets. Both of these situations have already reached critical mass.

( 2 ) the central Artery, planned for 1970s traffic, has become almost unusable. Between 7 am and 10 am and again from about 3.30 pm to 7.15 pm, everything is slow-crawl or worse. Some through traffic, at lest, must be directed elsewhere. From Sullivan Circle all the way to Columbia Road, so many entry roads feed the Artery, or exit from it, and from opposite sides, that much traffic criss-crosses the wide roadway in order to exit, across entering traffic from the feed roads. The exit from Artery to the Ted Williams Tunnel narrows down to one lane, backing rush hour traffic for over an hour. This is what it’s like today. Imagine it in year 2040, in a city with one-third more people.

Suggestion ; a by-pass tunnel, built under Mystic River and Harbor, from Wellington Circle in Medford to University of Massachusetts campus in Columbia Point, accessible only to passenger vehicles. (with roof built low enough to assure it)

( 3 ) From Boston downtown to Pittsfield is about 140 miles. Only the first 25 miles or so lie in metro Boston, another 25 in greater Worcester. Beyond that lie communities losing population and influence. These are already served, somewhat, by the Turnpike in the south and Route 2 to the north. Traffic is not a problem, but road time is. I’m not a big fan of high-speed rail., but to offer people of our west a speedy connection to Boston, I don’t see a choice. Because the Connecticut valley sits perpendicular to the east to west flow that really matters, any high sped rail line will need two spurs, one to Springfield, the other to Greenfield, to feed the east-west rail running from Pittsfield to Worcester along current Route 9 and then onto the existing Worcester to Boston commuter rail. An important issue is : how frequent the train trips ? This will not be a heavy-usage line. I’d suggest that the east bound trains leave at 5 .30 am, 6.30 am, 7.,30 am,. 8.30 am, noon, and 3 pm, and that the west bounds leave at corresponding times.

( 4 ) the North Shore corridor. Vehicle traffic coming into Boston from the north has few options, thus the major one, Route 1 A, is as backed up as the central Artery when one needs it most. Route 93 isn’t any better. There are no other major access roads. What then to do ? Suggestions : ( a ) extend the Blue Line — finally !! — to Lynn, maybe t.o Salem ( b ) extend the Orange Line to Route 128 between Wakefield and Reading ( c ) build a service road alongside the Orange Line accessible only to passenger vehicles

( 5 ) Hyde Park and beyond. Traffic here hasn’t yet overloaded, but the day is coming. Suggestions : (a ) build a service road alongside the commuter rail Fairmount Line, accessible only to passenger vehicles ( b ) extend the Mattapan high-speed trolley line from Mattapan Square along Route 138 all the way to Stoughton ( c ) build the South Coast rail line

( 6 ) Cape Air’s Dan Wolf has a seaplane proposal for transport up to and across Boston harbor, including servicing Logan Airport. It should be looked at with favor,

( 7 ) Logan Airport. We’re very lucky to have our city’s major airport so close to Downtown. On the other hand, traffic to the airport impacts East Boston more and more, and rising seas threaten its very low-lying runways. It may be best to expand the Airport more toward Deer Island and perhaps even shift its footprint half a mile to the southeast, freeing up space for East Boston to develop normally and diversely and with less noise.

Overall : Governor Baker’s Future of Transportation report also emphasizes the need to decrease the carbon emissions put into the atmosphere by traffic jams and non-electric vehicles and trains. The report correctly prays that future public transit vehicles be electric, and it encourages electric vehicles generally. This is far less difficult a proposal than the basic infrastructure challenges, and it’s one proposal that the Commission Report can look forward to success at.

For further reading, it might be instructive to look at this, by Transportation for Massachusetts, a public interest advocacy group,which offers this proposal to the State’s recently released policy statement : https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/t4ma/pages/314/attachments/original/1537900718/white_paper_final_9-21.pdf?1537900718

In my next installment I’ll look at some of the Baker Commission’s specific suggestions.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

OUR CHRISTMAS MESSAGE, 2018

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^ tree lighting and carol singing at the State House

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We at Here and Sphere send our holiday best to you as always. Some of you celebrate Christmas as a religious event; others savor its cheer and happiness for their own sake; some of you celebrate joy and happiness under a different name. Whichever of these rituals you observe, we embrace your observance and wish you bright days, weeks, months ahead.

For many of us, 2018 has been a second year of trial. As we wrote last year, most of us did not vote for Mr. Trump and dislike his behavior in office. I think I can say that most of us react to his presence with disappointment, even heartache; some with anger. As we are politically minded, we share these reactions fully. Almost every day we have wanted to yell, to scream, to wish Mr. Trump gone. Having ousted his supporters from control of the House of Representatives, however, we can look forward to better legislation in Washington, to some measure of respect for immigrants, LGBT, those of other faiths than Judaism and Christianity, and for marginalized people generally.

I ask that for these next few holiday days we set our entirely justified disgust for Mr. Trump aside, that we focus on what is nearest and dearest to us : our family, friends, and our pets; our neighbors and our work colleagues. Remind ourselves that those who share our life journey are loved by us and love us in return and that that love binds us and blesses us, daubs us in glory, renders us immortal even in mortality. We can never forget those who love us and have our backs, just as they can never forget us.

Those who have our backs, and whose backs we have, are male, female, transgender, gender-fluid. They are straight, gay, bisexual. They have all kinds of skin colors, come from every sort of culture and national origin, worship all sorts of gods or none at all. Some who have our backs, and whose backs we have, are not American but Canadian, or French, or German — Catalan — Chinese — Russian — Colombian — Salvadoran –Vietnamese. They are Italian, Iraqi, Irish, Iranian, Hindu, Haitian, Korean and on and on and on : for our backs have no nationality, they are human backs backed by anyone from anywhere who stands behind us as we behind them.

Thus our message : celebrate the day and its rise-up meaning, and invite all who love you, and who you love, to celebrate with you, harmonious and glad of it. Truly I say to you : let the angels sing. All the angels.

Merry Christmas !

—- Mike Freedberg and the Editors / Here and Sphere

A LOOK AT GOVERNOR BAKER’s TRANSPORTATION REPORT — PART ONE

Baker speaks

Six days ago Governor Baker’s Commission on the Transportation Future of Massachusetts released its report after working it for ten months. It’s certainly good to see that state government recognizes the urgency of doing more than merely repairing the MBTA; that the crucial need is to plan a NEW transportation system, to replace what we have now, geared to 1970 traffic and usage. Today’s traffic has boomed far beyond the 1970 numbers, yet MBTA ridership has not kept pace. It must catch up, now, and quickly, or the entire thing will clam up no matter what state-of-good-rep[air measures the T takes in the five to eight years ahead of us.

That said, I am disappointed by the report in two ways.

First, I think the Commission has tried to do too much. No doubt the following quote is true —

…the (interplay) of many…major forces influencing the larger system in which transportation operates:

how the regulation of land influences the cost of housing; how the cost of housing influences trip patterns; how long commutes and low-density development contribute to carbon emissions and climate change by forcing all but exclusive reliance on personal vehicles; how climate change drives the need to reinforce infrastructure and re-think long-established development preferences; and whether and how electrification and greater levels of autonomy may be able to help the Commonwealth to address these challenges.

— yet a Commission charged with prioritizing a transportation system ought to focus on transportation itself and not be cowed by, or diverted by, other factors, even those these factors all play a part in what Massachusetts communities and commerce might look like in 2040.

Governor Baker charged the Commission in these words, however :

1. Climate and Resiliency: What changes will be needed to reduce transportation
greenhouse gas emissions consistent with Commonwealth targets for 2040? What kinds of investments will be needed to make transportation infrastructure more resilient?
2. Transportation Electrification: To what extent should the Commonwealth encourage or promote electrification of personal vehicles, transit systems and other transportation systems? What changes might be needed to energy infrastructure to support electrification?
3. Autonomous and Connected Vehicles: Over what time frame will autonomous vehicles likely be deployed in Massachusetts and under what policy framework? What changes to policy and infrastructure might be needed to support deployment of autonomous and connected vehicles?
4. Transit and Mobility Services: To what extent will “mobility as a service” change
transportation in Massachusetts? How will the role of public transportation evolve if on demand and mobility-as-a-service options become more widespread in the future?
5. Land Use and Demographics: What changes in land use and demographics could either drive or be driven by the types of disruptive climate, technology and business model changes likely to occur in transportation? What other context issues should the Commonwealth consider when planning for its transportation future?

That’s a lot. I agree that all these events impact the future of transportation and may well determine what is politically doable — and that should be done — yet in my opinion Item 3 is a side matter at best, and Item One cannot be the top priority no matter how significant climate matters may be.

I’ll return to this critique later.

Second, I am troubled to see not even one community activist in the list of  Commission members whose recommendations I will be talking of :

Steven Kadish, Chair
Senior Research Fellow, Taubman Center for
State and Local Government, Harvard
University

Eileen McAnneny, Vice Chair
President, Massachusetts Taxpayers
Foundation

Rebecca Davis
Deputy Director, Metropolitan Area Planning
Council (MAPC)

Dan Dolan
President, New England Power Generators
Association.

Gretchen Effgen
Vice President, Global Partnerships and
Business Team, Nutonomy

José Gómez-Ibáñez
Derek C. Bok Professor of Urban Planning and
Public Policy, Harvard University

Andrew Hogeland
President, Berkshire County Selectmen’s
Association; Williamstown Selectman

Kenneth Kimmell
President, Union of Concerned Scientists

Carol Lee Rawn
Senior Director of Transportation, Ceres

Timothy McGourthy
Executive Director, Worcester Regional
Research Bureau

Mark Melnik
Director, Economic and Public Policy Group,
UMass Donahue Institute

Colleen Quinn
Senior Vice President of Global Public Policy,
ChargePoint

Karen Sawyer Conard
Executive Director, Merrimack Valley
Planning Commission

Sandra Sheehan
Administrator, Pioneer Valley Transit
Authority

Stephen Silveira
Senior Vice President, ML Strategies

Navjot Singh
Managing Partner, McKinsey Boston

Kirk Sykes
President & Managing Director, Urban
Strategy America Fund, L.P

I’m sure these are all fine people, thoroughly versed in the professional minutiae of transportation planning; yet should not the commission incorporate actual riders and community activists ? It’s for their benefit (and votes) that the commission is working. It ought to have brought at least four or five activists and riders aboard.(No doubt testimony by activists and riders was received at the five public hearings the Report’s cover letter mentions. I don’t think that’s enough.)

I would also have liked to see participation on the Commission by other advocates, such as Transportation for Massachusetts. Certainly these activist organizations have their own agenda, but a commission planning state policy for everybody ought top include, as feasible, voices of everybody.

We now come to Items 2, 4, and 5. These form the core of any realistic transportation commitments going forward. Electrification of the system is a very defensible priority. I might add that the MBTA is already developing it. Electric buses will be in use by 2023. Certainly demographic change has to determine where new transportation projects will go : you build where the riders are going to be. Mobility service is a very smart rubric for viewing tomorrow’s transportation system. Taxpayers fund a “mobility system,” in other words, a mans of getting around, other than one’s own car or bicycle. The success of Uber and Lyft should make clear to everyone that if the state doesn’t offer a superior “mobility system,” entrepreneurs may do it instead. (That might be  a good thing, except that entrepreneurs will focus on demand, as they must: but transit routes have to be available even to less demanded routes : which is why taxpayer-funded transportation was instituted to begin with.

The Commission has issued its report, so there’s no means now for influencing it. Going forward, I want to see public hearings everywhere, well advertised, so that activists of many kinds can participate (as Boston’s BPDA is now very effectively doing for its Zoning overhaul initiative) and so that workable plans can be agreed to which will establish flexible mobility services that respect climate resilience requirements and which utilize electric power chiefly, maybe altogether. There’s nothing in the Commission report that impedes these discussions or discourages public input from playing a big part in what is eventually committed to.

As the Cover Letter notes :

…against this very complex and interdependent backdrop are the ways in which
our transportation ecosystem itself is evolving rapidly. The birth of Mobility as a Service (MaaS) and the advent of car-, bike-, and scooter-sharing are some of the first paradigm-shifting mobility innovations in many decades. Other paradigm shifts that we can only imagine are likely to occur by 2040, but transportation infrastructure will likely remain much as it does today: made up of bridges and roads, rails and airports, and focused on the mass movement of people and goods.

How people and goods move and on what types of infrastructure built and managed by what types of entities will determine much about whether and how the Commonwealth will thrive in 2040.

After Christmas I’ll write Part two of my report, focusing on the meat of the report itself.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

NOT MUCH URGENCY AT AN IMMIGRATION FORUM IN EAST BOSTON

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^ Ayanna Pressley speaking powerfully at her recent “Equity Agenda” Forum on Immigration

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Something was missing on Saturday at Congresswoman-elect Ayanna Pressley’s Immigration Forum on her “Equity Agenda” : people. About 75 showed up, far short of the 231 that her facebook event post listed as  “going.”

Pressley’s immigration reforms carry some urgency — I’ll outline them for you later in this report; most should be enacted as soon as possible. Why weren’t 500 people there ? Certainly Pressley doesn’t lack for support. In the primary race she defeated our incumbent Congressman, Mike Capuano, by almost 20 points, well over 10,000 votes. Immigration matters a lot. Divisive the issue may be, but those divisions reflect plenty of voter passion, on both sides. You’d expect a Pressley event in East Boston, where about 54 percent of all residents are recent immigrants, many facing visits from ICE, to draw a standing-room-only crowd. It didn’t happen.

I counted about eight Eastie residents present. Where were the other activist who show up all the time at Eastie gatherings ? Those who did attend came mostly from elsewhere : Jamaica plain, Chelsea, Downtown,  Cambridge. And what did they find there ? A two npage list of Pressley’s immigration proposals, a brief — eloquent and passionate — stump speech by Pressley, and then a long lecture, by Liza (no last name given) from MIRA (Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Agency) which, though heartfelt, veered away from Congress matters into state and local immigration concerns (drivers’ licenses for undocumented, police co-operation with ICE) which, however important to immigrants, have nothing to say about what Pressley intends to do in Congress. (Note : Pressley did say that she intends to weigh in on these state legislative matters. We’ll see where that goes.)

After Liza’s speech came an hour of breakout as each table of attendees was asked to discuss among themselves what immigration reforms should have priority. This sort of table group process at issues forums has become kind of a norm these days, and in some settings it can focus the ideas, usefully, of ordinary participants. Not, however, in this case. If Pressley wants to find out what her voters prioritize by way of immigration, she can do an in depth poll. If she wants to activate citizen enthusiasm, she can hold an outdoor rally. That’s what she ought to do.

I did not stay for the full hour of table group discussion. To tell the truth, I’m less interested in what 75 Pressley supporters want her to prioritize than i am in her own list. She’;s the one elected to Congress. Here is that list :

( 1 ) pass a clean DREAM act that creates a pathway to permanent status for DREAMers and their  families.

( 2 ) Like DREAMers, individuals and families with temporary protected status (TPS) should have a pathway to permanent status

( 3 ) “I will fight any proposal that links protections for DREAMers with funding for the construction of a border wall….”

( 4 ) Increase Title 1 funds to district schools… Expand resources for English Language Learners

( 5 ) End ICE enforcement and deportation activities. “Immediate end to funding for ICE’s immigration enforcement and deportation activities, while working to re-house non-immigration enforcement activities currently carried out by ICE, including human trafficking investigations…”

( 6 ) co-sponsor HR 6361 Establishing a Humane Immigration Enforcement System  to officially terminate, defund, and replace ICE

( 7 ) Codify protections for asylum seekers…pass legislation codifying grounds  for seeking asylum, including domestic and gang violence.

This list is quite more carefully worded than the sweeping generalities she adduced during her primary campaign. Note there is nothing in it about citizenship. The most that Pressley offers to DACA people and those with TPS is a pathway to permanent status : in other words, a Green Card. This is hardly a radical proposal. It may  fall short of what some are hoping for. As for the border wall, an overwhelming majority of voters (including me) agrees : don’t build it, it’s a useless waste of money.

Re-purposing the functions now carried out by ICE also makes good sense. Pressley’s original  call to “abolish ICE” seemed reckless, not to mention threatening the jobs of ICE’s thousands of employees. Her revised reform avoids that consequence and offers specific systemic suggestions that will maintain ICE’s proper mission while eliminating any legal basis for current abuses, some of them disgusting.

All of this is worth rallying for. Pressley should call such a rally, or engage other electeds if need be to maximize attendance. She has a passionate, powerful stump speech in her: she should use it where it’ll do the most good. 75 people at a table group discussion sends a message that the immigration issue isn’t all that important to folks. That’s not good.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere