QUESTION 3 : PLEASE VOTE YES

Joe

^ Congressman Joseph Kennedy III speaking at a large “Yes On 3” rally in Copley Square yesterday

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This November, when those of you who vote in Massachusetts cast your ballots, you will find three Referenda to be voted on. One of those three seeks to repeal the transgender civil rights bill that our legislature enacted overwhelmingly two years ago and was signed into law by Governor Baker.

This repeal is opposed by Governor Baker ; opposed by the legislators who voted for the hill; oppoded by Attorney General Maura Healey; opposed by the entire business and law enforcement communities; by labor; by every sort of civil rights activist; and opposed by us at Here and Sphere.

The so-called “TransBillMA” accords transgender persons full civil rights access to all public accommodations, including restaurants, store front businesses, and — yes, bathrooms, which are the focus of the repealers. They claim that it is unsafe for women if transgender women use a women’s bathroom.

Please note that no objection is made to transgender men using a men’s bathroom.

Why are the civil rights of transgender men any more guaranteed than the civil rights of transgender women ? The repealers have no good answer for this question except to posit a rather comic hypothetical : men pretending to be transgender women.

Really ? How does one pretend to be a transgender woman ? It is difficult to be transgender. I cannot imagine how anyone who is not transgender gets even a small grip on what being transgender is like.

Frankly, I find the entire repeal argument to say, in essence, that transgender people do not exist, that being transgender is a myth or a mental disorder.

By what right does anyone get to decide who someone else is ? If there is any basic human right, it’s the right to be who you are.

And what’s the big deal about bathrooms ? Many establishments have unisex bathrooms, one at a time. Where multiple bathrooms present, in stalls, each person still goes into one stall and can lock the door. People use a publicly available bathroom because they simply want to take a piss, period. A piss and move on. And anyone who wants criminally to predate people in bathrooms can already break the law.

The repealers’ motive is deny that transgender people exist. Or, that if transgender people do exist, they can’t be allowed to participate fully in the community and society. This is segregation, pure and simple. Second class citizenship.

It cannot be allowed to happen.

Please vote “yes” on Question 3, to preserve the protect the full civil rights of our state’s thousands upon thousands of transgender people.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

MAYOR WALSH’s STRANGE ELECTION WEEK

Walsh

^ The mayor and Jeffrey Sanchez : what happened here ?

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The big media have remarked that Tuesday’s primary election was a bad day for Mayor Walsh’s political standing. Whether that continues true for ominously long, we’ll see. What I can say, however, is that he seriously mishandled his options.

From what I have been told, or could see with my own eyes, Walsh sent his impressive political army to assist five — yes, five — candidates, in this order of priority so far as I can tell : ( 1 ) Mike Capuano ( 2 ) Dan Koh ( 3 ) Dan Cullinane ( 4 ) Jeffrey Sanchez ( 5 ) Greg Henning.

If your mouth has gone agape at seeing Dan Koh number two on the list, you’re with me. I was stunned to see it and even more stunned to discover that, with four Boston-based candidates in some electoral trouble, he chose to prioritize a person running for an office 30 to 70 miles from Boston. Dan Koh seems to have lost the primary for the office he sought : Congress from District 3. Yet even had he won, what good could that have done Walsh  The 3rd District contains none of Boston nor even any of Boston’s suburbs. Politically, from a Boston standpoint, it might as well be in Wyoming.

Dan Koh was Walsh’s first chief of staff, starting in 2014 soon after Walsh took office. Walsh favored Koh immensely, siding with him in territorial disputes with persons who had worked day and night for Walsh’s election. I am not privy to most of the relationship, yet it was clear, when Koh left to run for Congress, and Walsh helped him raise much of his $ 3,000,000, that Walsh has hitched his political standing to a young man whom he hired from outside his own substantial ranks of solid loyalists.

I do not ask why. That’s not the point of this article. What I want to focus on is why, for goodness sake, wasn’t Jeffrey Sanchez a top priority for the Mayor ? Sanchez lost his difficult re-election fight by about 300 votes. Could not a couple of dozen Walsh operatives have found those 300 votes and delivered them to the polls ? Yet it appears that Walsh operatives based in Sanchez’s district were sent to help Dan Koh on the vital weekend just prior to the primary.

Why ?

Would it not have been mightily to Walsh’s benefit to have the Chairman of House Ways and Means owing re-election to him ? The most powerful Latino elected politician in the entire state ? Walsh now faces a major challenge in 2021 from communities of color enormously empowered and aroused by Tuesday’s wins. Would it not have helped him to have the House Chairman of ways and Means solidly his ally ?

Maybe there is a different answer. I’ll come back to it.

Meanwhile, by what standard was it wise for Walsh to divide his political army into five pieces ? Mike Capuano, I can see helping. He had endorsed Walsh in 2013, and his endorsement mattered. A Mayor needs a close friend in Congress. His help for Capuano made sense. But why Greg Henning ? I like Henning. I supported him. But why did he need any help from Walsh other than a nod ? As for Dan Cullinane, as a former Walsh aide he surely merited some assistance from the Mayor. He actually needed all the help he could get, winning by about 180 votes. But would not Sanchez victory have mattered so much more to Walsh’s future than a win by Cullinane, whom Walsh can always bring back into his administration ?

Even a political army as large as Walsh’s — and his is most impressively large — can’;t fight five battles at the same time. You want to concentrate your forces.l In my opinion, Sanchez and Capuano should have been Walsh’s ONLY election priorities, for his political sake and his agenda’s. As it turned out, four of the five who he assisted lost. Which brings me to wrap up my thinking about Walsh and Sanchez, to whose campaign he gave little more than token assistance :

Can it be that Walsh saw Sanchez more as rival than ally ? Might he have seen Sanchez, as House ways and Means chairman, as a serious challenger — maybe his MOST serious — in 2021 ? For it is a fact, now, that Sanchez is no longer any rival at all, and that those who are possible rivals have nothing like the clout that Sanchez had. Linda Forry is an ally, not a rival. Ayanna has now left the scene to go to Congress. Who of the remaining players can assemble the money, and the community power that Jeffrey Sanchez had ?

Here is yet another way in which Speaker DeLeo’s naming Sanchez House ways and Means chairman put a target on his back.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

REASONS WHY WE DO NOT SUPPORT THE KAVANAGH NOMINATION

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We at Here and Sphere cannot support the nomination of Brett Kavanagh to be a Supreme Court justice.

I’ve written about the nomination in a column posted about two months ago. There I wrote that I had read all eight of Judge Kavanagh’s significant Appeals Court opinions and dissents. I showed how his arguments evidenced an agenda political, not jurisprudential; that his findings mirrored specific policies advanced by this or that “conservative” think tank, as if he were a Senator, not a Judge. Brilliantly worded his opinions are, but themes are always those of a paper written for a think tank by a researcher working there.

That is not what the nation expects of its High Court. Justices are not to be Senators or Congress-people. they must not be voices for this or that lobbying interest or policy research team.

Once you read the Appeals cases that include a Kavanagh opinion, you do find that the majority opinion, or the dissent, written by other members of the Court,. with one exception, those of Judge Millett — including those by Merrick Garland — read no better than Kavanagh’s. They too deliver many, many words — many more than in a Kavanagh essay — in favor of a law they clearly want to support, in the manner of a legislative majority. Never does one read a jurisprudential rationale in those findings, only a bureaucratic one : this is the way the regulations tell us to rule. That sort of thing. Not very edifying. But the other Appeals Court judges are not before us with a Supreme Court nomination. Kavanagh is.

The Court must be peopled by Judges who think for themselves; who do not have an agenda that knows in advance how to decide each case that comes to the bar. Some of the most famous, and controversial Justices, such as Brandeis, Holmes, and Marshall, had a recognizable agenda that they applied when judging, but these agendas were legal, and procedural, evidentiary and grounded in how the law should judge. I do not find that sort of priority in Kavanagh’s rulings.

Presidents have often nominated men and women whose legal theories they liked. Not often have nominees been selected for their political views.

We supported the nomination of Justice Gorsuch because it was clear, from reading 30 of his available opinions, that his findings derived from legal theory; that it was rare to know in advance, on the facts, how he would decide. Indeed, as Al Franken demonstrated in the case that involved the now famous frozen trucker, that Gorsuch insisted on a strict view of the law whatever the facts might be. That was perhaps a shock to some, who believe that justice comes before strict law, but his was a legal rationale, not a political one. His finding was, if anything, quite impolitic.

No such rigor does one find in Judge Kavanagh’s opinions. He says that he supports precedent, but his opinions are quite ready to discard it, or to wish to discard when he cannot, whenever he feels the need; and he grounds his preferences not in legal theory but in debate school dialogue.

I do not for a minute believe that Kavanagh perjured himself on the matters involving his work in the Bush ’43 White House, nor did I find his careful answering of Senator Harris’s deposition-like,gotcha questions disqualifying. Nor was I much moved by Cory Booker’s grandstand play against clear Senate committee rules on document disclosure. There was no need for any of this preening for the television cameras. I’m also not persuaded by those who argue that a President under investigation should not be allowed to nominate Justices. As long as Mr. Trump occupies the office of President, he occupies all of it. He either is President, or he isn’t. There’s no such Constitutional thing as half-President.

All the evidence for assessing Judge Kavanagh’s nomination is right there in his opinions plus the think tank and lobbying group back stories. On the basis of these, I cannot support his nomination. It should not be agreed to.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

FIXING THE T : WHAT NEXT ?

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^ collapse of a portion of the Alewife T stop parking garage highlighted additional problems inherent in our 50 year old MBTA system

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Recent news has clarified that the MBTA’s repair situation remains in flux. First came collapse in the Alewife T station garage; today the Boston Globe reports that more of the T’s stations than not are in serious disrepair. Add that during the past month, track and signalling repairs have shut down the Orange Line, on weekends, between Ruggles Station and Forest Hills. Nor can we forget the power outage that put the Maverick Station to Government Center section of the Blue Line out of commission for two hours on the night that Harbor Fireworks caused a ridership surge during that very time frame.

What does all of this mean ? I think most of us felt that when Governor Baker took office in 2015 and immediately made full-scale MBTA reform a top priority, that somehow the entire T would be humming sweetly by now, three years later. I also think that most of us had expectations out of sync with the MBTA’s facts. Let’s look at these :

( 1 ) early on, Baker’s MBTA team determined that at least $ 8 billion would b e needed to bring the system’s tracks, signalling, power , and cars up to a “state of good repair. This level of money was not going to be available all at once, the legislature and baker having decided that no new taxes could be asked until the MBTA out its existing financial house in order.

( 2 ) The T has done that part. New contracts with the Carmen, a Fiscal Oversight Board to see that spending is efficient, and new management of the T workers’ pension funds have entirely re-written how the MBTA deploys its finances.

( 3 ) Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollock, a commuter advocate prior to joining the Baker administration, determined that the first repair priority would be tracks, signalling, and cars. Every rider understands, or should, that actual transportation must come first, before station and garage upgrades.

( 4 ) Meanwhile, Pollock ordered a comprehensive assessment of the T’s stations and garages. The report has come back : more than half rate below average or worse for state of repair.

( 5 ) Actual transportation has not gone unfixed. Tracks, switches, signals, and power boxes have been upgraded, repaired, replaced. New Orange Line cars are here; new Red Line cars are coming soon,. Electric buses are o n order, as well as minibuses for less traveled routes. Late night service has begun. Heavy travel bus routes are getting additional buses.

( 6 ) The Green Line extension is under way, all the way to West Medford, including a brand new Lechmere Station to replace the present one more than 50 years old. The Silver Line has added a bus route from Chelsea through East Boston direct to South Station and the Red Line.

( 7 ) the Fairmount commuter rail line has added several new stations, serving chiefly Boston’s communities of color, from Newmarket and Upham’s Corner to Four Corners and Blue Hill Avenue.

( 8 ) We now have non-stop commuter rail service from Boston to Worcester

( 9 ) the entire system has been digitalized. Every bus has a GPS location that tells a rider when it will arrive at her stop; every T station has arrival information on a digital board.

Garages and stations will now see repair and modernization. I would also like to see major stations become weather-proof, as none are right now. The money has been allocated, and a Transportation Bond b ill,. passed by the legislature in this session, should fund much of heavy lifting for what remains to be done with tracks, power, signalling, and cars.

That said, it’s not going to be a brand  new, state of the art Transit system any time soon. Governor Baker has a target year if 2023. It might take more years than that, even. Yet when complete, the present objective of restructuring every aspect of the T seems well worth the public’s patience.

I almost forgot to talk about traffic : auto and truck traffic. What are we going to do about that ? The business boom and population increase within downtown Boston has made traffic almost self-defeating. Gridlock affects everyone who uses a car, Uber or one’s own. Can we assemble a regional master plan ? I hope we can.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

 

CONVERGENCE IN THE CITY

The Empress Theodora.

^ the role model for a politics of “queens” : Theodora, resplendent co-ruler of Constantinople in the 6th century, a politics now coming to you because it’s what you want

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The lede for Boston Herald editorial of Ayanna Pressley’s winning Congressional District 7’s nomination read thus :

This was not about Michael Capuano.

Well ? If it wasn’t about Capuano, why was his name on the ballot ? Boston Herald, you know better than this.

The nomination contest was absolutely about Mike Capuano. Whenever an office holder is challenged by a ballot opponent, the contest is always about him or her — and his or her record. The voters, more than 100,000 of them, decided by a 59 to 41 percent margin that they did not like Capuano’s record.

So what is Mike Capuano’s record, that 59 percent of his District’s voters did not like ? I think it’s fair to say that they did not like how he presented himself: his style, his presence. Capuano is the quintessential workman-like, nuts and bolts legislator working on what legislators are supposed, Constitutionally, to do : hold hearings of bills, amend them, enact them if possible. And to tend to needs of the District, the individual situations that seek the intervention of an ombudsman who can remedy the difficulties. In Capuano’s District, these  situations include immigration prominently among other, more topical concerns; and Capuano’s office worked wonders to address these matters, rapidly and effectively. A Congressman’s job also involves advocacy for the reforms his or her voters care about, and Capuano did that, too, unfailingly. By every standard, Capuano epitomized what the Framers surely envisioned Congress people being : tribunes of the people, as were the tribunes of republican Rome.

Yet for 59 percent of the District’s voters, Capuano’s exemplary record had no juice. They voted for something else : a fresh voice, as their candidate said; for “change” because “change can’t wait.” I have already written about this change that “can’t wait” : what I said then was, “why is change even needed ? If change isn’t need, the question of waiting does not even arise.” I say this again now. Why was change needed at all ?

The answer is easy ; change wasn’t needed, indeed was a mistake. But the 59 percent of voters who voted for “can’t wait” had, I assert, something else in mind that could not wait : they did not want a workman-like doer and legislator. They wanted a star a radiant, photograph-able, elegant and elegantly dressed STAR. They wanted a QUEEN.

THAT — having a queen — was what could not wait.

Some also wanted “Black girl magic.” During a week when Aretha Franklin, the ‘queen of soul,” was laid to rest with adulation well deserved, especially by people of color, for many of whom Franklin the singer was a role model, here was a chance to vote for a new, rising Queen demanding “R. E. S. P. E. C. T.” and wearing the clothes and bearing of an entertainer, an Aretha reborn.

Meanwhile, many voters who are conscious of enjoying “white privilege,” as the saying goes, spurned Capuano because, in their view, it is more just to have a representative of color than an “old white guy,” as one friend of mine called Capuano and ( 2 ) more effective to have a star power voice, a beautiful woman (and that Ayanna most definitely is), a national media attention-getter, representing them than a mere doer, an uncharismatic, paunchy, greying guy who looks like your electrician or grocery store manager.

And this is the convergence I am writing about : a coalition of two interests, the social justice world with the politics as entertainment interest. I find this convergence not all that different from Mr. Trump’s coalition of social reaction with politics as entertainment. The issues oppose, but the addiction to entertainment is the same.

In my opinion, the Constitution can only work when those who claim to live by it work at it. It is a Constitution for electricians ad grocery store managers, for artisans and entrepreneurs, for police officers and lawmakers, for policy advisors and debate and compromise. But it is NOT a Constitution for kings and queens.

Politicians like Mike Capuano, as with the majority of is colleagues and of those who preceded them, embraced that participatory model, the ideal of “doing the people’s business,” as did their voters. Unhappily,. this ideal, this classical republican idea, is losing its hold on our nation.

I sincerely hope that Ayanna Pressley gets down to business, sheds the queen pose and puts on her political electrician’s habit. Yet the opposite is more likely. If ” voice” is your tool of choice, attention is what you seek. Our politics has devolved to an anarchy of attention-seekers, each outdoing the other in outrageousness, in clickbait and battle cry in a sandbox peopled by enemies wrestling like WWE actors. And why not ? The WWE makes millions of dollars from suckers for vicarious fakery, and “E” television draws many times more viewers than does C -Span covering Congressional debates. Roman republican government, which demanded citizen participation, gave way to an Imperium and arena entertainments; to spangles and ceremony on the one hand and ugly death sport on the other. It was not pretty, and neither will our nation be cute when entertainment and queens become the epitome.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

TURNOUT !

Image: Democratic candidate for U.S. House of Representatives Ayanna Pressley takes the stage after winning the Democratic primary in Boston

Turnout. Ayanna Pressley sure did turn it out.

Turnout elected our new Congressperson. Major congratulations are in order — so, from all of our elections panel at Here and Sphere, congratulations, Ayanna !!!

The ultras — purists, if you will — turned out. The rest of us, not so much.

Guys & gals, you gotta VOTE — yes, in primaries — or the purists will make the decisions we will probably not be very comfortable with.

Ayanna’s big win, does not shock me. Having seen the turnout. 2362 voters cast a ballot in C Town ? 2833 in Eastie ? Heck, I’ve seen C Town cast 5550 votes and Eastie 6500. Clearly most voters here didn’t care. That’s a failure with very deep roots that goes way beyond Mike’s immediate Campaign, which was a dynamic one — except that 75% of the people in it were Mayor’s people and unions. How does a Congressman who was going to be a Committee chairman not have a large organization of his own ?

Three weeks before Primary, Mike had not one thing happening in Eastie. Nada. And then he met with — 5 of our 6 electeds and recent electeds !! Look —I love them all, these guys. But WE elected THEM, not the other way around. You want Adrian’s support, and Carlo’s and John Nucci’s, and Sal’s, and Joe Boncore’s ? Go to their voters directly !

And do it all the time.

This wasn’t about gender or color of skin. Mike had a pretty good team in Black communities. Bigger than in Eastie.

This was not about Ayanna’s skin color. In Readville, for example, an overwhelmingly Caucasian precinct, with few ideologues if any, Capuano won by only 50 votes out of 550 cast. Mike had the support of the local City Councillor, who lives in and was born in Readville. He had Rob Consalvo, who was the District’s City Councillor before and remains enormously popular in the neighborhood. But you can’t win your own election by depending on your colleagues. You win it by depending on the voters, especially on ordinary voters; and that reliance must be worked for, again and again.

I will say it again : you have to stay in touch with the voters — all the voters — constantly. You have to have outreach people to do it — thoroughly — and you have to do it yourself. Hold a Summer picnic, every year; have a Christmas or St Pat’s Party, as Sal DiDomenico does.

Somerville : how did Mike win it by only 0.8 percent ? How does an incumbent, powerful Congressman, former Mayor, not win his own city at least 2 to 1 ? We’re told the city has changed, but when you’re a Congressman — or an elected — you stay in touch with the newcomers, you know they’re there, you make sure they know and trust you. Basic stuff.

Turnout again : you can’t get ordinary, non ideological voters to vote unless they have a personal connection to you, one that’s forged at precinct level, block level, even one family at a time level. Basic stuff.

A friend from the Bayswater section of East Boston posted on his facebook page : “Well, Mr. Congressman, you can’t just show up at election time.” Nope, you can’t just.

Meanwhile, Ayanna, as underdog, has been planning her run for years. This was not a surprise. I’ve been hearing about it since the 2013 Mayor race. Ayanna is a radiant, confident, knowledgeable politician and good company as a person. She has worked very hard to get to this point, and has finished number one in Council races four (4) Times. There is no way that Mike could have not known long ago what was coming and planned for it. But what I saw just in Eastie makes me conclude that make a plan, he did not.

This is not to say that Mike isn’t a great Congressman. To me he is the model of what a Congressman shoujd be. I think his District will realize soon enough what they have lost. A fighter and a doer. And an ordinary guy, just like your neighbor and mine.

Mike is a great, great man.

Ayanna will be a very well attended voice. That’s what she campaigned as : a voice, a new voice. Personally, I could use less political voice and more political nuts and bolts. Rhetoric is all too ephemeral; nuts and bolt accomplishments last long. But those who cared to vote decided to replace workman-like accomplishment with a beautiful new voice. I hope her voice succeeds.

—– Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

OUR ENDORSEMENTS : SEPTEMBER 4th PRIMARY — PART TWO

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^^ our US Senate Republican primary endorsee : Beth Lindstrom at east Boston National Night Out, with Jack Harper of North Suffolk Mental Health Center

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We begin today’s endorsements with the three-way Republican Primary for United States Senator. The winner of this primary will face Senator Elizabeth Warren. It will be a very difficult task for any challenger to out-vote Warren, but our Senator should have the strongest available opponent, the better to debate all of the issues. And there are some. Even if you agree with most of Warren’s general policy direction — and I do — her specific recommendations seem not well thought out, and she has a tendency to speak carelessly. She may well run for President, and if she does so, she will need to up her preparedness substantially. A strong opponent on the November ballot will force her to do better.

It’s also crucial that her opponent be able to represent the majority of our state’s voters and do so with idealism and innovative policy advocacy. Warren’s opponent might win; and we cannot have a Senator who acts divisively or irresponsibly toward the majority, especially of City voters and activists.

Given all of the above, we endorse Beth Lindstrom. The panel’s vote was 8 for Lindstrom, 3 for John Kingston, and none for Geoff Diehl.

Mr. Diehl was Mr. Trump’s Massachusetts campaign chairman — enough said. Mr. Kingston has made the effort to reach out to City voters, and his support from our panel shows that his reach has not been in vain. Our panel’s three Kingston voters like his “outsider” status and his direct talk: one said “he walks the walk.” Yet, for us, Mr. Kingston, who began as the most anti-Trump of the three — he supported Gary Johnson in 2016 — has come to advocate Trumpian views on immigration and borders. These have no force here in Boston, where 200,000 immigrants live under the threat of ambush and deportation. Our immigration laws badly need total reform. Mr. Kingston has offered no reform plan.

Beth Lindstrom, on the other hand, has ( 1 ) campaigned extensively in Boston and engaged in many useful policy conversations with all manner of activists. She continues to do so. ( 2 ) On immigration, she supports enacting a pathway to citizenship for DACA’s 1,800,000 eligibles and citizenship for those who do two tours of combat duty in our Armed Forces. She supports making permanent the residency status of our City’s thousands of “TPS” immigrants. She supports generous asylum and refugee admissions.

( 3 ) She also seems to have the support of Governor Baker’s activist team — a very good prospect, because Governor Baker is a reformer par excellence, comfortable with innovation and open to every sort of imaginative policy initiative, particularly in the areas of climate resiliency, mass transit expansion, and workforce housing development. If Lindstrom becomes our Senator, her readiness to advocate for Baker’s reform priorities, in state and in Congress, will benefit us all. For those taking a Republican ballot next Tuesday, we urge a  vote for Beth Lindstrom.

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And  now to our second group of Democratic Primary endorsements :

11th Suffolk State Representative : we endorse Liz Malia for re-election. The unanimous vote was 8 to 0. (A few of our panel did not vote in this race.) Malia has two opponents, Ture Turnbull, a leading advocate of single-payer health insurance, and Charles Clemons Mohammed, who opposed Malia in 2016. Malia has represented half of Jamaica Plain, parts of Roslindale, and Fort Hill Roxbury since 1998. No one in the legislature works harder or is better prepared., Her newsletters to constituents are required reading for those who want to know the specifics of committee debates and the politics of reform : can a bill get enough votes or not, and if not, why not. Malia’s advocacy was crucial to our state becoming the first to enact marriage equality. Her voice for the “progressive caucus” agenda remains the most persuasive; she never succumbs to impatience or intransigence, and she is better able, it seems, than most “progressives” to persuade her constituents that “steady as she goes” is the most effective reform course. We strongly support the re-election of Liz Malia.

14th Suffolk State Representative : Hyde Park, Readville, and most of Roslindale have had Angelo M. Scaccia as their representative since 1981, and for some terms before that. He is the “dean of the House.” As in 2106, he has two opponents, civil rights attorney Gretchen van Ness and NAACP Board member Segun Idowu. If Scaccia had only one opponent, he would likely face a difficult race, as the District has become majority people of color, and 40 years in office is a tough sell in this year of “change can’t wait.” In addition, Scaccia holds old-fashioned social issue views. He was the only Suffolk County representative, of 19, to vote “nay” on the landmark transgender Public accommodation s civil rights bill that was signed into law in 2016. That said, Scaccia is deeply rooted in the Readville portion of the District — perhaps its single most important neighborhood — and, even at age mid-70s, knocks doors as energetically as any 30-year old. Scaccia may well hand off the seat to a newcomer in 2020, but this year — one in which the lejgislature rose to every reform occasion — seems not that time. the vote to endorse him was 5 to 1, the one vote being for van Ness, who has some support among “progressives.” We endorse Angelo M. Scaccia for re-election.

4th Suffolk State Representative : This seat is vacant, Nick Collins having been elected State senator for the South Boston and Dorchester District. Two candidates are running: David Biele, a former aide to Collins, and Matt Rusteika. Only 5 people of our eleven-member panel voted in this contest, but the vote was unanimous. Rusteika probably should have greater support than he does : he touts his work on the state’s C lean Energy plan, a Governor Baker priority. Yet Biele fits the strong tradition, in South Boston, of succession within the system. He also boasts a Boston Latin School, Boston College, and Boston College Law School education. One panelist said of Biele, “great guy, polished, knows the State House well.” A unanimous 5 to 0 vote of our panel gives David Biele our endorsement.

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There are several other contests on the September 4th Democratic Primary ballot. We have not followed these others closely, but this is what is happening there:

In the 9th Suffolk State Representative District, long-time incumbent Byron Rushing faces John Santiago, a physician at Longwood Medical Center. Santiago received endorsement by the Ward 4 Democratic Committee, Rushing’s home organization. Can Rushing, a progressive stalwart, be beaten ? In this year of “deserves re-election” ? We will see.

12th Suffolk State Representative : incumbent Dan Cullinane has a rematch with Jovan Lacet, who came very close to defeating Cullinane in 2016. No legislator works harder or has greater command of the Budget than Cullinane, yet demographic change — the District is majority Haitian-American — may be too much this time for Cullinane to overcome. This could be Suffolk County;s closest legislative primary race.

5th Suffolk State Representative : again, an open seat, Evandro Carvalho having decided to seek the office of Suffolk District Attorney. Three candidates seek to succeed him : Liz Miranda, Director of the Hawthorne Community Center in Fort Hill, that neighborhood’s premier community institution; Darrin D. Howell, who served as an aide to then City Councillor Chuck Turner, and who has some union endorsements; and perennial candidate Roy Owens. Mirnada, who is of cape Verdean heritage in this Cape Verdean-plurality District, received three votes from our panel — most of the eleven did not know enough of this race to vote — with none for Howell or Owens. Three is not enough for us to endorse, but i will note that I know Miranda, and I know the Hawthorne Center well, and I was one of her three votes by our panel.

3rd Congressional District : Niki Tsongas having decided not to seek re-election, ten Democratic candidates have stepped up to seek her Congress seat. I did not ask our panel to vote in this race because we ar4e all Boston types, and this seat runs from Framingham to Lowell to Lawrence and Haverhill. Of my facebook friends, who are almost all political types, some support Alexandra Chandler, an intelligence analyst; some support Barbara L’Italien, currently Lawrence, Andover, Tewksbury, and drcut’s State Senator; some support Lawrence State Representative Juana Matias. Yet others support Lori Trahan, as do I. Trahan is close to Governor Baker, and that bodes well for the kind of bipartisan co-operation that exists presently between Mike Capuano, who represents the 7th District, and Baker. She also hails from Lowell, the seat’s hub and economic center.

—- Mike Freedberg / for the panel at Here and Sphere

 

 

 

OUR ENDORSEMENTS : SEPTEMBER 4th PRIMARY — PART ONE

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overwhelmingly endorsed by our panel : 11th Suffolk State Representative Jeffrey Sanchez

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We’ve paid attention to several of the upcoming primary contests in both parties. Today we make our endorsements in those contests. In the past, endorsements have been discussed only between the two founders of Here and Sphere. This year we have asked a panel of eleven observers to weigh in. To win an endorsement, a selectee had to win seven votes.(6 to 5, we decided, was a “split decision” for endorsement purposes.) Not all our potential selections got to seven.

For the most part, our theme this year is “deserves re-election.” The legislature and Governor have just completed one of the most successful reform sessions that we can remember. It is difficult to see why any legislative challenger merits endorsement over incumbents who have just finished a “job well done.” That said , there are open legislative seats, and we have made choices in those.

7th Congressional District : we endorse Mike Capuano. (the vote was 10 to 1)  Capuano is the incumbent. Boston City Councillor Ayanna Pressley is challenging. This is a race between two very worthy candidates, both of whom Here and Sphere has great respect for, politically and personally. Pressley has campaigned as a “fresh face,” while Capuano talks about the clout he has already had and will have more of as a Committee Chairman in the new Congress, which will almost certainly have a Democratic majority. For us, that is the winning argument. Having a Committee chairman as the 7th’s Congressperson is a tremendous advantage for all the Federal funds we need for infrastructure, transit, pipeline issues, and hazardous materials safety — the nuts and bolts of Capuano’s committee. Capuano has campaigned almost non-stop, throughout the District, whose issues he has already shown mastery of and responded to with great success. Pressley’s supporters say that “change can’t wait,” but if change isn’t needed, waiting isn’t on the table. We strongly urge that you vote to re-elect Mike Capuano.

Suffolk District Attorney : the vote was 9 to 2, and thus Greg Henning wins our endorsement. Henning has four primary opponents : State Representative Evandro Carvalho, who before winning election as the 5th Suffolk’s representative was a Suffolk prosecutor; Rachael Rollins, formerly General Counsel to Massport; Shannon McAuliffe, a well-known defense attorney; and Linda Champion, also a former Suffolk County prosecutor. (Champion and Rollins each had one vote from our panel.)

Though not predicted, the result is not a mistake. Henning is a Suffolk District Attorney currently, and he is the only one of the candidates who does not propose that criminal justice reform — whose advance we strongly support — means overturning how the District Attorney operates. The District Attorney is there to prosecute — not defend. Criminal justice reform goes to the State’s Corrections Department, to the Sheriffs, and to police departments and Court probation services. As the people’s lawyer, the District Attorney has only one job to do “: decide which criminal complaints to prosecute and then prosecute them. Current District Attorney Dan Conley and his staff have operated fairly, with integrity, and openly and won convictions in almost all cases where a conviction should be won. Electing Greg Henning, who is best positioned to carry on the Conley record, thus accords with our theme “deserves re-election.”

15th Suffolk/Norfolk State Representative. Here the vote (11 people voted) was nearly unanimous : incumbent State Representative Jeffrey Sanchez wins our endorsement. As the State’s Budget chief, Sanchez completed an enormously complex $ 41.7 billion next-year appropriation which funds all sorts of reform initiatives. Sanchez is also a tireless advocate for the diverse residents of his District, which includes arts and medical students, community activists, public housing residents, affluent executives (on Moss Hill and in Brookline’s “Point” section), many Hispanic communities, and three bustling business districts. Lastly, sanchez enjoys a solid working relationship with Governor Baker, not a small matter when his signature is wanted on legislation.

Sanchez’s opponent, Nika Elugardo, (one vote from our panel) has worked on State Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz’s staff. She complains that Sanchez hasn’t secured legislative passage of the entire “progressive’ agenda, much of which remains for the 2019 legislative session, in which it may be enacted — or may not be. We find that argument unconvincing. The current session enacted all kinds of significant reforms. Jeffrey Sanchez well deserves re-election.

Secretary of State. No endorsement. Long time incumbent Bill Galvin is challenged by Boston City Councillor Josh Zakim, who narrowly won the Democratic State Convention’s vote. The vote by our panel was 6 to 5 for Galvin (I voted for Zakim). This office is one in which I think there needs to be a different way of doing things. Galvin’s calling the primary for the day after Labor Day strikes me as prejudicial to challengers, not to mention the voters, who deserve a breather after vacation before diving into consideration of who to vote for. That said, half of our panel felt that Galvin has operated the securities and elections responsibilities of his office very effectively.

Suffolk Register of Deeds. challenger Katie Forde received two votes, incumbent Stephen Murphy five votes. Thus Stephen Murphy wins our endorsement for re-election to an office that probably shouldn’t be elected at all. Murphy has held information sessions all around the County, an innovation which probably does help voters to understand what the Deeds Registry actually does. That’s a worthy reform. We endorse a vote for re-electing Stephen Murphy.

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There are a host of other contests, including a three-way Republican primary for United States Senator and a contest for Governor. We’ll report these races tomorrow.

 

—- Mike Freedberg for the Panel / Here and Sphere

 

 

 

OPPOSING THE “NARROW GAUGE” DEVELOPMENT PROPOSAL

narrow gauge

MG2 of Quincy, one of Boston’s major developers of residential housing, has shocked the Jeffries Point neighborhood with a development proposal that cannot stand and will not stand. This proposal does have one benefit : it has turned Zoning Reform from legal esoterica to a first priority.

The above picture shows the proposal as presented : 99 units, 90 parking places, buildings 55 to 70 feet high. (The hulk-like structure between Maverick and Everett Streets looks especially monstrous.) It occupies four strips of land, long unused, that before 1940 belonged to the Boston, Revere & Lynn Railway right of way. That railway, rendered bankrupt by the rise of automobile use, followed the current Blue Line to its Wood Island station, then veered eastward onto land now belonging to Logan Airport, after which, at Maverick Street, it entered the Jeffries Point neighborhood; culminating in a  tunnel underneath Sumner and Webster Streets, from which it emerged to a ferry depot on the water side of Marginal Street. In 1940 the rail line ceased operation, and all the tracks, electric poles, and signage were removed. The land on which it ran was never used again. 40 years ago, according to deeds at the Suffolk Registry, its four “vacant parcels” were bought by Hugo Ascolillo, then of 192 Everett Street. (See Book 9048, Page 356, April 1978; grantors were Vincent A LoPresti and Sidney Boorstein, purchase price $ 4500.00.

At that time most of East Boston had not attracted investor interest in at least two generations. I’ve told how my Aunt Elizabeth, coming home to my Mom’s funeral in 1970, after living in Cleveland., Ohio since 1928, recognized every building and even every store. In the area you can find single family houses built after 1950, but very few.  Why Hugo Asoclillo bought these vacant lots, is anybody’s guess. Certainly he didn’t do anything with them.

In 1992 he created the Narrow Gauge Realty Trust but still didn’t do anything with lots that, although likely worth more than $ 4500, still fell far short of attraction to a home-builder. In any case, here we are, in 2018, and presumably that Trust is the seller in the current buy option which MG2, or a nominee, has reportedly entered into, to purchase these lots if the BPDA approves a proposal. Which is where things stand now.

Much money must be involved here. Buildable lots in the waterside parts of East Boston cost plenty. With three-family row houses asking $ 1.2 million and more, the potential rewards of MG2’s 99-unit offering run to the 50 millions or more. Hugo Ascolillo bought wisely. His $ 4500 purchase is probably worth two million — my guess, and maybe a  conservative one — to the beneficiaries of the trust he created. In no way do I fault the Ascolillo family for its good fortune: my objection is to the MG2 proposal. The Ascolillo beneficiaries will do just fine, and has every right to, assuming MG2 can commit to a proposal that does not rip apart the character pf the Jeffries Point neighborhood.

And now to the zoning issues, before I set forth my own Narrow gauge proposal:

Massachusetts zoning law, set forth in MGL c. 40A and 40B, gives cities and towns authority to create various zoning characteristics as they deem necessary and proper —

https://www.mass.gov/info-details/massachusetts-law-about-zoning

— and case law makes clear that if a zoning variance, from the applicable characteristic, is to be granted, it must carry out the purposes ascribed in the zoning characteristic. In other words, a variance must bolster the character of a zone, not detract from it, much less alter the character entirely.

The Narrow Gauge proposal requires several variances. It also overturns the very defined character of Jeffries Point. If the law of variances governs, no variance can legally be granted t.he MG2 proposal as it stands.

Doubtless MG2 will adjust its aspirations substantially. That’s what has happened with several other recent Jeffries Point development offerings. The area’s Neighborhood Association has vetoed many such, mostly by overwhelming votes. Developers simply seem not to grasp that residents of this very defined neighborhood aren’t going to approve its disruption.

How defined a neighborhood is Jeffries Point ? Go there, walk or drive around, take  along look at it all. It’s an area of brownstone row houses, wooden row houses,. and a few newly designed but similarly sized condo structures. It has a park similar to Louisburg Square. The majority of its residences were built 100 to 150 years ago. Al,most all have amenable back yards. The houses on Webster Street’s water side, and on Brigham and Marginal Street, have Harbor views to amaze you. The houses along most of Everett Street and half of Sumner Street are less imposing, but they share an easily recognizable, common character.

Jeffries Point epitomizes what the zoning law means by “characteristic.”

As I see it, there is no way that the City’s Zoning Board of Appeal can approve variances to enable the sort of proposal that MG2 has on offer. Sadly, the Board does approve, all over East Boston, variances for projects similarly derogative of neighborhood characteristics. Appealing these zoning decisions in Superior Court can easily require a $ 50,000 legal fee, maybe more. Few of us have one fifth of that. Thus zoning decisions that cannot stand, do stand. Which leads us to zoning law reform, a top priority for what Councillor Lydia Edwards, speaking for almost all, demand of a new East Boston Master Plan whose parameters will soon enough be presented for a City Council vote.

Zoning law reform will happen, because it must. We can’t continue to build ,more and more housing, in hopes that the law of supply and demand will force rents and house prices back to affordability. The situation reminds me of what cities felt about highways back in the 1930-1970 era : build more and bigger highways, and traffic will be absorbed. Instead, the more and bigger highways we built, the more traffic used them. Highway building made the traffic worse, not better. I’ve come to feel that the more housing we build in Boston, the more boom; the more boom, the more high-earning people Boston will attract, the higher that prices will go.

No one wants to see Boston’s prosperity boom fade away, but we cannot keep on the path we’re in. The only feasible method for stopping Boston’s boom from wiping out established neighborhoods, with their consensus quality of life, is to use zoning to protect them. Eventually, the Governor’s work-force housing plans, which foresee home building all along the West of Boston-Framingham-Worcester corridor, will ease the housing pressure on Boston land by extending the area in which businesses desire to locate. But that plan will take a decade or more to realize. Meanwhile, zoning reform offers a stop-gap remedy.

And now my suggestion for the Narrow Gauge lots :

On the two, quite large lots that run from Maverick Street to Sumner, build two or three unit condos similar to those recently erected on Geneva Street. On the lot between Sumner and Webster, build two such condos, one facing Sumner, one facing Webster. As for the fourth lot, that runs from Webster to Marginal, make it a dog park, if possible, with a walkway down to Marginal (the lot may not even be usable as a park given its steep slope)

The neighborhood might welcome such a proposal. What is wrong with building housing that a neighborhood can approve ?

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

 

 

 

 

CRITIQUING SENATOR WARREN’s ACCOUNTABILITY CAPITALISM PROPOSAL

Warren

Last week Senator Elizabeth Warren, seeking re-election as our state’s US Senator, proposed a corporate reform bill she calls the “Accountability capitalism Act.” I dislike her proposal on several grounds. First, however, let’s look at what she proposes :

  • Requires very large American corporations to obtain a federal charter as a “United States corporation,” which obligates company directors to consider the interests of all corporate stakeholders: American corporations with more than $1 billion in annual revenue must obtain a federal charter from a newly formed Office of United States Corporations at the Department of Commerce. The new federal charter obligates company directors to consider the interests of all corporate stakeholders – including employees, customers, shareholders, and the communities in which the company operates. This approach is derived from the thriving benefit corporation model that 33 states and the District of Columbia have adopted and that companies like Patagonia, Danone North America, and Kickstarter have embraced with strong results.
  • Empowers workers at United States corporations to elect at least 40% of Board members: Borrowing from the successful approach in Germany and other developed economies, a United States corporation must ensure that no fewer than 40% of its directors are selected by the corporation’s employees.
  • Restricts the sales of company shares by the directors and officers of United States corporations: Top corporate executives are now compensated mostly in company equity, which gives them huge financial incentives to focus exclusively on shareholder returns. To ensure that they are focused on the long-term interests of all corporate stakeholders, the bill prohibits directors and officers of United States corporations from selling company shares within five years of receiving them or within three years of a company stock buyback.
  • Prohibits United States corporations from making any political expenditures without the approval of 75% of its directors and shareholders:Drawing on a proposal from John Bogle, the founder of the investment company Vanguard, United States corporations must receive the approval of at least 75% of their shareholders and 75% of their directors before engaging in political expenditures. This ensures any political expenditures benefit all corporate stakeholders.
  • Permits the federal government to revoke the charter of a United States corporation if the company has engaged in repeated and egregious illegal conduct: State Attorneys General are authorized to submit petitions to the Office of United States Corporations to revoke a United States corporation’s charter. If the Director of the Office finds that the corporation has a history of egregious and repeated illegal conduct and has failed to take meaningful steps to address its problems, she may grant the petition. The company’s charter would then be revoked a year later – giving the company time before its charter is revoked to make the case to Congress that it should retain its charter in the same or in a modified form.

I find nearly every portion of her proposal misguided or unworkable or both. To be

specific :

( 1 ) Requiring a large corporation to obtain not one but two corporate charters is a

recipe for gridlock and contradiction. Corporations are rightly creations of the

individual states, to whose laws they are responsible. These laws might well conflict

with Federal  law, in which case the Supremacy Clause overrides.  As corporations

make significant decisions every day, even every hour, the potential for conflict of

laws and resulting litigation could make corporate activity impossible; or else the

Federal law would take control, rendering the corporation’s state charter useless.

( 2 ) what does it mean, that a chartered corporation must “take into account” the

interests of ‘all stakeholders,” including employees, customers, ad the communities in

which the corporation operates ? Corporations already take customers into account, and

employees, and the tastes of the communities in which they have locations and, or

customers. So, does Warren mean to suggest that customers, employees, and

communities will be included in management decisions ? If so, no suggestion could be

more unworkable. Communities differ. What one wants, others oppose. Customers vote

with their buying decisions. market power is their input. Management is not within

customers’ expertise or time constraints, and customer complaints have their own path

to management, without being formalized into corporate legal duties.

( 3 ) Including employees on corporate boards sounds good to many, but in practice it

guarantees corporate conservatism, a death sentence in a competitive environment

where entrepreneurial innovation renews the economy every year. German corporate

governance is cited as a model: but it works — to the extent it does work — in Germany

because almost all employees of major corporations belong to a union. In this country,

less than 15 percent belong. warren’s proposal would mean a vote, which to organize

would import the equivalent of a union into the corporation’s affairs without the

requirements — and the safeguards — of a union organizing election pursuant to the

national :Labor relations act.

The German model produces cautious corporate management which has led to the death

of many old-line German big-names. Union executives’ first priority is saving their

members’; jobs and wages. Unions are rarely good at reform or change, and both are

requirements of successful economic competition. To the extent this caution doesn’t kill

the German economy’s competitiveness, that’s because Germany benefits from a huge

mittelstand” of medium-sized, family-run, specialty businesses which combine

expertise with innovation and make Germany one of the world’s dominant export

economies.

So much for the most unworkable portions of Senator Warren’s proposal.

The activity of publicly traded corporations does merit much reform, but Senator

Warren’s proposals fail to address them. Her proposal that 75 percent of corporate

shareholders be required for political expenditures would all but guarantee that none

would be made: almost all publicly traded shares today are owned by investment

institutions, which do not share the same goals, indeed pursue conflicting goals. Rather

than warren’s proposal, which like most of this bill’s provisions would freeze a

corporation in its tracks, I have long proposed the following, and now do so again :

( A ) Require institutionally owned shares to be non-voting

( B ) Apply Section 144 restricted stock provisions of the Securities Act of 1940 to all proposed stock buybacks.

( C ) Limit the sale by an Insider, as defined in the Securities Act, of option stock by requiring GAAP to value option stock at the market price on the day of sale.

( D ) impose a 100 percent margin requirement on stock purchases of more than 10,000 shares.

 

( E ) impose a 100 percent tax on profits obtained by taking a publicly traded company private.

These reforms would curb the irresponsible, short term and very short term speculation

that vitiates the investment goals of capitalism, which are of necessity long-term in

nature. Business cannot control their own operations if speculators and privatizers have

power to commandeer corporate assets for their own benefit. If we are actually practice

capitalism, which I define as the investment of private money, not government money, in

economic ventures — and I feel strongly that capitalism is by far preferable — then let’s

practice capitalism, not speculation and asset capture. In no way does Senator Warren’s

proposal get us  closer to that goal.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere