111 bus

Today’s Boston Globe spotlights the enormous ridership demand that has made the Chelsea to Haymarket “111 bus” a nightmare for all. Reading the long report on the MBTA’s inability rapidly to accommodate a bus route that runs through the worst of city traffic, this thought occurred to me: MBTA bus routes were set forth long ago, well before downtown Boston and its next door neighborhoods became the places to be, the locations of everything.

Although the T suffers chiefly from being run on equipment and infrastructure that’s 50 years old , the scheduling, too, dates from decades ago. We like to think of transit as reliably the same, but it isn’t. If ridership declines, the T generates big losses and inattention from the legislature. That’s how it was back when we still looked to highways to get most commuters from home to job. The complete reversal of Boston’s situation has required a similarly total reversal of the T: but an infrastructure as everywhere as the T can’t, be turned on a dime or even on five hundred dimes. It takes plenty of time, to reconstruct everything and to find ways to d o bus routes appropriately, and it takes money and workers to see it through. And then what / What if Boston ceases to be the Great Attractor and reverts, once again, to being a place to get out of ? What do we do with a rebuilt T, a T built for a Great Attractor ?

That’s an argument for later. Right now, the T faces a ton of redeployment. One thinks of what General Hellmuth von Moltke said in the 1860s —

“an initial mistake in the deployment of an army can hardly be made good in the whole course of a war.” 

— and realizes that all large systems are the same: elephants that move with the slow elephantine oomphs. In this case the “mistake” wasn’t actually a mistake. T decisions made in the 1970s and 1960s were made according to conditions at the time and most likely expectations. that these expectations became the opposite of what actually happened, in the 1990s and since, is no fault of those who made them. The fault, if any,k would be if today’s T overseers did not work to correct the situation.

Governor baker and the legislature enacted reforms across the board, in 2015, to make the T work. All manner of improvements have been put in place since. The issue now facing Baker and the legislature is, how to adjust the entire system to a downtown-obsesssed ridership ? As the Boston Globe points out, there’s no easy answer. The T can hire 55 new bus drivers; it can deploy more frequent buses; it can stop cannablizing other bus routes for buses and drivers to met the route 11 demand. And these, the T is doing.

Governor baker is vividly aware of how greatly his attention to T challenges affects his popularity with the voters.

Thus the T will also introduce smaller buses on the 111 Route (and other heavily used buses) and build a Red Line to Blue Line connector, even as it has opened a Silver Line route from Chelsea to the Seaport — a line that has helped accommodate Chelsea commuters. I would like, in addition, to see the T adopt some method of flexibility in the 111 Route, or even to create 111A and 111B routes,m so as to minimize the size of crowds now waiting on the 111 Route. Perhaps a Chelsea to Boston water taxi might help. Given the dogged attention that baker and his Transportation aides, Stephanie Pollock and Joe Gulliver, bring to this constant crisis, I fully expect to see the T meet these challenges.

But then what ?

Even if by 2023 — the T’s stated re-purpose date — the T adjusts its operations to a downtown-centered Boston, what measures might it think of taking if Boston after 2023 begins once again to be a place people want to move out of, back to the suburbs and exurbs where houses have picket fences, lawns, and driveways ? Such a change means commuter-rail: but the current commuter=rail is managed by a contracted, outside company, not by the T itself, which means that failure cannot be rapidly corrected, because contracts are for a term of years.

Oh well. Meanwhile, the redeployment of today;’s T goes on, on the march, under the warning spoken by General von Moltke 150 years ago.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ my future fellow Americans — and yours

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You will hear plenty of people who oppose the resolving of undocumented immigrants’ status, saying “I like legal immigration.” As if to make a distinction between how one immigrant got here as opposed to another. I find the distinction disingenuous.

Or, the people who say “legal immigration” will tell me “we must obey the rule of law.” As if laws are perforce always right and never unjust. I say “unjust,” because laws arise from what is just. At least in a democracy they do. On this point, Jeb Bush had it right when he said, about undocumented immigrants, “they didn’t come here to break a law, they broke a law to come here.”

The very definition of America is immigration. Except for Indians, we’re all of immigrant descent; and even the various tribes of Indians came here from elsewhere, albeit thousands of years ago. Immigration is how America gathers itself. No distinction is made, in the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence, of origin, or faith, or nationality, or language. Any attempt to prefer one sort of immigrant to another is an innovation. It is not part of the national mission.

Mitt Romney has said it well : “every religion enhances the national character.” I would add, ‘every origin of immigrant enhances the national character.”

Congress has, from time to time, enacted laws that prejudice one sort of immigrant in favor of another. I find these laws specious. If our Constitution extends equal protection of the laws to all, and rights of due process, how can an immigration law treat potential immigrants unequally ? You can answer that immigrants don’t possess such rights until they are admitted, but that is to invert the Constitution. How can an immigrant get admitted to equal protection if he or she is denied equal protection before the fact ?

These Constitutional arguments avoid a deeper objection to what people mean by “legal immigration.” Most who use that phrase argumentatively disfavor immigrants from “shithole countries,” as our President termed it, or who are of color and don’t speak English — as if English were entitled to unequal protection of the law over other languages. That immigrants bring with them cultural customs that most of us are unused to, or uncomfortable with, is  no argument against them; because the promise of America is to make immigrants comfortable — and welcome — in the nation. Many who feel uncomfortable about immigrants’ customs talk about “assimilation,” as if immigrants don’t want to “be American.” This is false. I have witnessed, in my long life, many brands of immigrant move from complete un-assimilation to complete assimilation in three generations. How can it be otherwise ? Those who grow up; in a culture are part of it.

In any case, the nation belongs to those who live in it and to those who will live in it in the future; and if the language or customs of that future are different from what we are normed for, so be it; we do not own the nation, it is not our private property : we only tenant it; we shepherd it forward.

Those who use the term “legal immigration” do imply such a property interest in the nation — as if our cities and countryside belonged to us by deed and “illegal immigration” were a kind of  “keep off the grass” sign, or a “no trespassing,” not to mention a “violators will be prosecuted.”

No such property interest in the nation inures to anyone.

So much for the moral and inspirational bases of immigration justice. There’s also the economic argument : every immigrant is a customer. The more customers a business has, the more it grows. Immigration is bullish. Immigrants not only spend money, they also create it. More businesses are started by immigrants than by those who are born here. Jeb Bush made an economic argument for immigration as well as a moral one : because immigrants have a much younger demographic, they bolster the solvency of Social Security and Medicaid.

Given all of the above, it is imperative that we move past the hatred of immigrants that has poisoned our current politics. The national mission insists on it, the economy benefits from it, and immigrant customs enhance the national character. Arguments to the contrary are self defeating at best, destructive at worst. Hopefully a new Congress, and in 2020 a new President, will grant DACA folks pathways to citizenship, make permanent the temporary status of so many “TPS” immigrants, welcome refugees, grant automatic citizenship to combat veterans, and in general resolve the angry conundra that have pushed our nation off its rails of destiny.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere




^ Ready to door knock in Brighton : “Team Capuano” feels good about their guy

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Ten days ago I wrote a fairly long column about why I personally support Mike Capuano for re-election as one of two Boston-plus Congresspeople. This time I would like to argue more generally about why I think the voters of our District should re-elect him. I will focus not on his strengths in office but on the forensics of the campaign itself.

Ayanna Pressley, Capuano’s well-liked opponent, with an estimable record of her own as a Boston City Councillor, has argued two points. Neither one stands up to cross-examination :

First : that the Democratic party needs new voices. Voters don’t elect a Congress-person for the sake of a political party. They elect for the benefit of everyone. The Committee that Capuano will chair — Transportation, Pipelines, and Hazardous materials — oversees crucial infrastructures underpinning everyone who lives in and near Boston, as well as the Federal funds which, by law, are dedicated to maintenance and upgrading of these infrastructures. As Committee chairman, he sets funding priorities as well as the time involved to secure said appropriations. If anything, the power that Capuano will exercise over these infrastructures is a solid reason for NOT ousting him in favor of a “new voice.”

Pressley may argue that as the vote on September 4th is a Democratic primary, the future of that party is very much the main issue. But no. In the 7th District almost everyone enrolled in a party enrolls as a Democrat because every office on every ballot, except Governor, is decided there; and if you want to have a voice in who gets elected, you vote in the Democratic primary. Very few who vote in the Democratic primary care much, or at all, about Democratic party matters. For example : Democratic ward committees — the party structure set up by MGL c. 55 —  endorse candidates in party primaries who, more often than not, fail to win the Democratic primary in which the voters, not just party activists, vote.

Second : Pressley argues that as the population of the 7th District is mostly non-Caucasian, she, as a woman of color, is more representative than Capuano. I find this argument without merit. A candidate earns a vote because of what they stand for and can do, not because they have this biology or that one.

Boston has five City Councillors who are women of color, three State Representatives, and one State Senator. Two other women hold office in the City. We’ve had State Senators of color going back to the 1970s. We’ve had an African-American District Attorney : Ralph Martin. The city elected an at-large City Councillor of color, Tom Atkins, as far back as the late 1960s. Ed Brooke, then an Elm Hill resident, was elected a United States Senator, twice. David Nelson ran for Congress in the ancestor of the District now held by Stephen Lynch. He won a solid percent of the total vote and was later appointed a Federal Judge. It is not as though Boston voters are unwilling to elect candidates of color. Quite the opposite.

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Campaigns matter. You have to pick your spot, and, assuming you’ve picked smartly, you have to make your case. That case has to answer the basic question : why am I a better choice than my opponent ? And, if you are challenging an incumbent, the question has a second part : what can I do that the incumbent cannot ? The reverse question also demands an answer : what can you, the challenger do, that I, the incumbent, am not already doing ?

To these questions the answer “change can’t wait,” which Pressley has argued, is no answer at all. You can’t say “change can’t wait” until you have shown the voter why there should be change at all.

Pressley argues that change is needed because of Donald Trump. I fail to see why Mike Capuano should be replaced because of Donald Trump. Capuano is an opponent of Mr. Trump, not a supporter; and as a Committee chairman in the new Congress, he’ll be an even more influential opponent. If anything, Pressley’s change argument cuts against her. If the nation were at political peace, voters might say “OK, a new voice,” because nothing would be lost or at stake. But now, of all times, when the future of the nation is on the line, opponents of Mr. Trump need all the clout we can get.

To sum up : I like Ayanna Pressley, politically and personally. She’s a fine speaker, an effective Councillor, an advocate for small business, and good company. Many of my friends support her, and she has earned that support. But this campaign is not only about Ayanna Pressley’s accomplishments. It’s about Mike Capuano as well, and, ultimately, about Federal power and who can best use it for all the voters of the District.

Adrian Walker in today’s Boston Globe appears to decry that the “status quo” is in good shape in Massachusetts. Why is that bad ? If those in office are doing a diligent and forward-looking job — as almost all of our current electeds are, including Mike Capuano — maybe the status quo is exactly what we should want.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere




^ US Senate candidate Beth Lindstrom chats with East Boston Community Health’s Manuel Lopes at National Night Out event yesterday

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Three candidates seek Massachusetts’s Republican party nomination for the United States Senate seat now held by Senator Elizabeth Warren. Given the unpopularity of Mr. Trump in our state — for very strong reasons — the question has to be, why does this Republican nomination even matter ? And if it does matter, why ? In a recent WBUR poll, 66 percent of our voters disapprove of Mr. Trump’s performance; only 29 percent approve. It’s hard enough to defeat an incumbent in any office, much less a Senator who voices passionately the anti-Trump views of an overwhelming majority of our voters. Yet the nomination is there. Why should we who dislike Mr. Trump even care ?

I’ll try to answer this question. First of all, you should note that the primary is not the election. One can like one of the three Republican candidates, and want him or her to win the nomination, without committing to a November vote against Senator Warren. That is where I stand.

My view is that voters should have two excellent choices on the ballot, not one excellent choice and one who is unthinkable. Mr. Trump has, in mind, terribly corrupted the national Republican party and made it flagrantly illegitimate to all but his band of followers. But Mr. Trump is not immortal. He will be gone soon enough. Those of us who want to see a useful Republican party on the scene can start recovering a useful Republican party by nominating the best of the three now seeking the Senate nomination.

We can do that and still vote for Senator Warren in November.

In my own case, I have decided that Beth Lindstrom is the candidate most able to restore political sanity to the national Republican party. To that end, it helps that t.he GOP in New England has retained much of its reformist roots. Governors in Vermont and New Hampshire, as well as our own Charlie Baker, hold mainstream views and govern as common sense reformers. Though they’re not part of the national GOP, they do at least provide example to activists who like Republican reform but aren’t sure that it has a future in the age of Mr. Trump. Granted, that the numbers are small. How could they not be —

“every journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step” — Lao Tzu

— yet single steps offer one big advantage in politics: with few around, you get listened to a lot by the candidate. And together, you and she learn.

Of John Kingston, there isn’t much to say. Though he is no friend of Mr. Trump, he has adopted Mr. Trump’s terrible immigration message and, on other matters, has had little to say beyond standard Trump-era talking points. He also knows hardly anyone in our SNtate’s political community.

The third candidate, State Representative, Geoff Diehl, was Mr. Trump’s Massachusetts campaign chairman. ’nuff said.

Mr. Diehl won the Republican convention’s endorsement, with 56 percent, but Beth Lindstrom won 29 percent and Kingston 15. It is highly unlikely that the 400,000 primary voters will be anywhere near as ideologically rigid as the convention delegates. And even they — most of them — understand the need to be practical in a state where they count only a small minority of us all. They want to win.

Beth Lindstrom will likely not win in November; but neither would Diehl or Kingston. Recent polls give them each about 20 to 22 percent against warren’s 53 to 55. But right now that is not the point. The point is to nominate the candidate who can best exemplify a usefully reformist Republican position.

Lindstrom’s campaign is far from perfect —

( 1 ) it has taken her all year to become the persuasive campaigner she now is — to develop the confidence to listen to all manner of voters, knowing that listening is often more persuasive than talking.She’s there now, but the time is late.

( 2 ) She still struggles to find a message that appeals to the majority without risking the support of Republican primary voters. Yet how can I blame her ? It would take extraordinary political integrity to advocate a majority position, as a national office Massachusetts Republican, in any year. In the era of Mr. Trump, you might have to be a martyr. Nonetheless, Beth is working her way toward a message : boiler plate on the issues that salivate Mr. Trump, reformist specifics on issues that actually matter to participatory voters.

( 3 ) She has been out of the political world for almost a decade, and it shows. She needs badly to catch up on who’s who these days and what is being discussed by those who drive our state’s political opinions and agendas. Like almost all Massachusetts Republicans other than Governor Baker, she doesn’t appear to know much about city politics or city voters. (Beth lives in Groton, in the Route 495 belt.) As a result, she almost entirely lacks a personal political following : because it’s in the cities that followings are won.

— yet these deficiencies, though grave, aren’t deficiencies of character or good will. Beth wants to be a responsive candidate, wants to embrace city issues, wants to know more and talk about more than just the usual RNC talking points. Whether she actually gets top that point, or not, of grasping city issues and being able to advocate specific reforms that generate an actual campaign, is not at all certain. But she is definitely a part of the solution. And that for me is good enough reason to advance her candidacy for an otherwise otiose nomination.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphedre



^ ONE DALTON PLACE : gazillion-dollar condos for jet set investors

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The building pictured above sets a most depressing pace for the transformation of Boston from an introverted but stable, affordable city, as it once was, to a dynamo of top dollar innovation unaffordable to all but the sponsors of linkedin dazzle.

Yes, your Boston has, since the 1990s at least, moved to recreate itself entirely. So have other cities — the movement is a global one — but Boston is the city I was born in and have lived my life in or near, and it is Boston’s transformation that I — and all of you — have seen from up close. There’s very little in it that anyone foresaw back in the 1970s and 1980s, when the idea first took hold, that downtown Boston badly needed revival and should pursue it. The proposal then was to revive Quincy Market: a limited endeavor, easy to support, for very sound reasons : bringing new life — tourists, maybe even local shoppers — into downtown might regenerate the whole district economically and maybe even boost the City’s real estate tax revenue. The project was a hit. Today, after twenty years of such hits, downtown and in the City’s close-in neighborhoods, Boston isn’t the same City at all. The hits ARE the city.

—- —- —-

Thirty years ago — 40, 50, even 60 years ago — the dynamics of Boston life pointed outward. Boston’s rich had, almost all of them, beginning as early as 1920, left Beacon Hill and the Back Bay for Brookline, Milton, the North Shore. The rest of Boston’s people also wanted to move away — from dense, tenemented in-town neighborhoods, with their under-funded schools, and out of the next rung of neighborhoods as well : off to West Roxbury and Hyde Park, and Ashmont, and out of the City altogether. The South Shore, once completely rural, became the “Irish Riviera,” as towns from Quincy and Weymouth to Marshfield, Hanover, Holbrook, Braintree, Randolph, and Pembroke — and even onto Cape Cod — doubled and tripled in population: and then some. At the same time, other in-town people moved from the West End and North End, Charlestown and East Boston up routes 38, 28, and 1-A, changing the demographics of Middlesex County all the way up to Route 128 and beyond — and up into Essex County also. The dream was to own a home with a picket fence, lawn, and driveway away from smoggy air and  city noise, in towns with well-managed school systems; towns near huge new shopping malls and close to the new super-highways that led to the new jobs in defense plants and high-tech mills built, providentially, along those same highways. Route 128, which in the 1950s circled Boston through farm towns, became a 50-mile long industrial park. This is where the action was, and Boston itself was left, pretty much, to those with City jobs — in 1975 Boston had over 30,000 municipal employees — and folks who serviced city employees’ needs. Also another 20,000 or so people with county and State administration that takes place, perforce, on Beacon Hill, in the city.

Boston in 1975 was a closed world able to continue being a closed world because no one wanted to open it. I recall that world. I was part of it as was my Mom, a famous Boston newspaper-woman born in East Boston to a large immigrant family. My Mom knew everybody who mattered, because in that closed world, everybody who mattered knew and had always known each other. House prices were low — you could buy a row house in Charlestown for $ 5,000, and not only in Charlestown — which favored the continuation of that closed Boston: why move out if your work was in Boston, and you could get a favor done, and you trusted your neighbor, and the cost of living was almost nothing ? Even the derelict had a placed in that closed Boston. The South End in 1975 was a mix of long-established city denizens, many of them people of color, and rooming houses, each seedier than the next but all of them woven comfortably into the accepted fabric of the neighborhood and its city. Plenty of South End properties sold for $ 10,000 and some for much less. Many others were boarded up, which was also OK because boarded-up properties signalled the culture of no-change.

In the Boston of 1975 those who continued to live in it had no reason to expect that their uncontested ownership of the city would ever give way. It was a city of the familiar and the permanent. I often tell the story of my Aunt Elizabeth, who, returning to East Boston for my Mom’s funeral, in late 1969, after living in Cleveland since 1929, recognized every building, even every store, in her old neighborhood of Eagle Hill. Nothing had been done. No investor had built anything. Why would they, when property prices didn’t budge, nor rents rise much : Mom’s family in 1921 paid $ 18 a month to live on the second floor of 180 Bennington Street; rents in 1975 Eagle Hill had lifted to maybe $ 35 a month.

So that was it. There were Irish neighborhoods, and Italian ones, and a Jewish one — fast disappearing: more about this later — a remnant upscale neighborhood (Beacon Hill, Back Bay), and two or three Black neighborhoods too. that was how it had been, and would be, and nobody was making any alternative proposal.

Boston’s very few 1975 high-income people — almost all of them from old-money; Boston families — who still lived in the city benefitted too. They had their neighborhood, and house prices higher, of course, than elsewhere in the city but a bargain nonetheless. Their clubs were in the neighborhood. They had a grocery, on Charles Street.. They lived close to their work, at the MGH hospital across Cambridge Street from Beacon Hill, or at white-shoe law firms, wool brokerages, and old-line trust companies in the downtown district. Many took the subway to work or walked.

Most of that Boston is now gone, the rich as well; as the middle and bottom; the remnant is rapidly going. Where money 40 years ago wanted no part of Boston, today money wants all of it. The rest of us can go take a hike :

( 1 ) the thing now is to live, work, shop and socialize downtown. The nearer to downtown, the more desirable.

( 2 ) the high tech industries that in 1975 made Route 128 their happy place now locate downtown. So do the bureaucratic new specialty professions — lobbying, “consulting,” public relations, event production, trade show promoters, networking convention management — that did not exist in 1975. Downtown is home to several new convention centers.

( 3 ) entirely new neighborhoods of high-rent, amenity-rich residential clusters, $ 40 to $ 60 a meal restaurants, craft beer brewers, high tech firms, nightclubs serving $ 12 drinks with a $ 25 to $ 50 admission price, and specialty professions have remade derelict old, portside sectors. Areas that once had no value now claim multi-million dollar prices.

( 4 ) much of the new downtown is blatant racist. Clubs are afraid to let more than ten percent of their fans be people of color because, as one club  owner told me, let in more, and the club soon becomes all Black.” (And the all Black clubs are here too.) The old Boston was racist too, vulgar at times, economically biased (“no Irish need apply,” “Italians not wanted,” or “no Jews in this law firm”)and it was divided by neighboods with different country of origin; but the new economy is open to all — even its business clubs — which makes today’s downtown racism a sick joke as well as an obsolete hypocrisy. Does anybody in it care ? Not many that I hear from.

( 5 ) neighborhoods near to downtown, of “period” homes and funky old two and three-decker row houses, have become trendy destinations.

( 6 ) the move of high-paying jobs from Route 128 (and Route 495) to downtown, combined with a scarcity of housing compared to those whop want to live close to high-paying work, has spurred a building boom t.hat shows no signs of slowing. Rents have risen 1000 percent; you’ll pay $ 2,500 to $ 5,000 to rent in a trendy neighborhood. Buy prices, too: homes in East Boston, Charlestown, South Boston, Mission Hill, and Roxbury all claim a million dollar price tag. West Roxbury in 1975 was one of Boston’s priciest neighborhoods; today, being seven miles from downtown, it’s below average.

( 7 ) immigrant and low-wage people have either been forced out of their long-available neighborhoods or will soon be, as low-wage people move away from the city, away from their jobs, leaving them with long, costly commutes. Even middle-income workers find it hard to remain in the City. (This is not news. From 1967 to about 1974, the almost 100 percent Jewish neighborhoods along Blue Hill Avenue were block-busted to meet the expanding needs of Boston’s Black residents — a classic cased of pitting one disfavored group against another. Block-busting was a real estate brokers’ bonanza — an avalanche of houses for sale, sold quickly !)

( 8 ) traffic has almost choked the City. It was one thing to locate industry along super highways, quite another to concentrate it in and around the narrow streets of downtown. Super highways could always be widened and service roads built. No such option is available in the city. And where do residents park ?

Boston by 2030, which year is Mayor Walsh’s end date for building 53,000 units of new housing in the city, almost all of it very high-rent or high-buy-price construction, will almost certainly. be a city for the very highly paid, along with those City and State employees who can somehow continue to afford to live in it. It’ll be  a city of impossible traffic no matter how many bikes and bike lanes we enable. It will be serviced by low-wage workers who commute in from ten to 60 miles away, living in Fall River, where house prices and rents are one-third or less of Boston prices, or in Lynn, Lawrence , or Malden, where low-income enclaves have taken up since the 1980s and continue to grow. There’ll be more of these enclaves, because unlike the old Boston, in which low wage workers often came from the same families as city and State big-wigs, are today m,ore and more likely to be immigrants in a society that has come to look down up[on immigrants.

Boston by 2030 will have public school facilities with a capacity of 92,000 students but probably fewer than today’s 54,000. Fewer and fewer residents will want to send their kids to a school system bound by old work rules and bureaucratic curricula when they can easily afford private schooling. By 2030, as well, Boston will be challenged every day by rising sea levels that already flood portions of East Boston. By 2030 much of Dorchester and the South End will also be threatened. The money cost will be immense of berming low-lying Boston neighborhoods.

Boston had been very much a city of the old. In 1975 the typical Boston voter was a grandmother with an Irish or Italian last name. The old of 1975 had no choice but to live as they had, because house prices were too low for anyone to want to sell and because Boston life was easy and familiar. Toady the old, if they own a home, must find it very hard NOT to sell, now that their house is a lottery ticket. Boston by 2030 -will be a city of the young. You can tell by what kind of housing is being proposed: tiny units (two bedroom condos with 850 square feet of living ? The typical house with a picket fence, of 1975, had about 1200 to 1500 square feet; the 19890s McMansions that everybody wanted briefly offered about 3500 square feet ! Those 750 square foot one-bedrooms, 450 square foot studios, and 850 square foot two-bedrooms can only accommodate the young and the single.

The young, the single, the highly paid, will dominate the Boston of 2030, a beehive of 12 to 15 hour workdays, craft beer bistros, $ 50 meals, food trucks, and high-end retailers serving all of those post-graduate educated $ 150,000 to $ 500,000 earners in their linkedin consultancies, medical cubicles, law firm brief-writing laptops, and higher-education speech-code lecture halls. Immigrants will be only those with HB-2 visas. Everyone will be busy beyond belief, solo, and endlessly self-conscious that they live in a city surrounded by nameless proles who fear and hate them.

There has to be better than this for a city whose present dynamism is, in some ways, as much downfall as triumph. Perhaps the community activists who are gathering for conversations and recreating block-level friendships, can find a way to rein in the runaway gold fever that threatens the city’s sanity, not to mention its legitimacy.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere





^ Clout as a Congressman, and bi-partisan co-operation — Mike Capuano (2nd from left; Somerville May.or Joe Curtatone to his left, ground-breaking the Green Line Extension., whose funding he was instrumental in securing, with Governor Baker and many local electeds.

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Note : this column is my personal view. It is not a formal Here and Sphere endorsement.  In that decision my editing and writing partner Heather Cornell has an equal voice.

Sometimes we forget what election campaigns are about. The campaign has its own custom, a free for all of advocacy, charges, counter-charges, debate, organization, turn-out. All of which excites me and thousands like me. Yet the campaign is actually a job interview, if you’re new, or a performance evaluation if you’re already in office.

It is easy sometimes to think otherwise —

“I was campaign shoutin’ like a Southern diplomat” — Chuck Berry, “Nadine.”

— but the actual job, be it Governor or State Representative, Mayor or Congressman, Councillor or State Senator, has a job description (you can find them in State Constitutions and statutes governing the duties of an office), and it is that, the job, that happens once the campaign  is over.

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So now my reasons why I support re-electing Mike Capuano:

( 1 ) by his long tenure he has built seniority on Congressional committees that gives him extraordinary clout. Federal administrators know that, he will be there; that he knows where the inefficiencies are and who is responsible for correcting them; that his staff knows who to call when there’s an intractable constituent problem. (On immigration matters, as pressing a crisis as any right now, there’s none more effective than his immigration staffer Kate Auspitz.)

( 2 ) long tenure of Congressional office as a basic strategy. Massachusetts voters have always understood that the surest way to give our smallish Congressional delegation maximum influence is to keep re-electing t.hem for the sake of all the clout that long tenure accords. This strategy has served us well. regardless of which party controls Congress, our long-serving delegation gets its way on all sorts of matters, from Federal dollars to our defense and sciences industries, disaster relief, transit upgrades, and our long coastline, all of whose issues are subject to Federal jurisdiction.

( 3 ) Mike Capuano will be a Committee chairman when Democrats take control — as they will — of the next Congress. Of what Committee ? Read this excerpt from his website biography :

“I’m also a member of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. I received this assignment in June of 2002. Before being named to this Committee, I served on the Committee on the Budget and the Committee on Science and Technology. The Transportation Committee has jurisdiction over issues related to aviation, maritime transportation, railroads, highways, transit and pipelines and water resources. Currently I am the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials, and a member of the Subcommittee on Aviation and the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit.”

People skeptical of Mike’s re-election have suggested to me that his committees aren’t exactly where the action is. I could not disagree more —

( a ) We in greater Boston depend upon the service we get from railroads and MBTA transit : their upgrade and maintenance, extension and hours of operation. Federal dollars provide a significant amount of these costs — it’s right there in the Federal statutes governing transportation operation.

( b ) Pipelines : ask the people of West Roxbury and Roslindale whether pipelines and their location are not enormously important. Moreover, gas pipelines generally are being questioned, given the need to convert so much of our energy needs to clean power.

( c ) Hazardous materials come into our port of Boston on LNG ships every day. We have strong state laws governing road transport of “hazmat,” and the Department of Environmental Quality is loaded with work overseeing site clean-ups. Federal oversight is often required.

As a Committee Chairman Mike will be able to prioritize legislation, and his clout, already legendary, will only increase. Let me tell you a story about Mike’s clout, one which always gets voters’ attention when I tell it :

Back in May I was at a large-attended meeting of the South End Community Board. On the agenda was a problem the neighborhood’s 02118 zip code was having with its mailboxes. On hand to answer people’s questions were three (3) postal officials. Not one, not two, but three, including the District Director. They answered questions for a full hour.

I have never seen a postal official at a neighborhood meeting. Never. But Mike Capuano was able to get three of them to an after-hours meeting and stand there answering questions for twice as long as intended.

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This has been a very strange campaign. Capuano’s challenger, Boston City Councillor Ayanna Pressley, who certainly boasts her own record of valuable accomplishment, and whom I very much like, has adduced no reason why she should win this office and Mike Capuano not. On the issues that most observers discuss — opposition to Mr. Trump and his agenda, she and Capuano agree. Her supporters, trying to fill an empty glass, present three arguments that lack all merit :

—– She is a woman and a woman of color in a District whose population is majority minority. Here we have an identity politics argument : that people can only be represented by people who look like them or have the same anatomy. I reject this argument root and branch. It is a kind of apartheid argument that diminishes a nation dedicated to the equality of all.

—- “time for fresh leadership” — to which I respond : Why ? As I’ve pointed out, what we want is the exact opposite. We benefit from long tenure and the committee chairmanship it now earns.

—- #changecantwait —- I saw this in a facebook discussion yesterday. I’m not a fan of hashtag politics, but I’ll accord this one a full response.

The slogan has two components. The change component, I answered above. As for the “can’t wait” part, my view is that change must indeed wait. Reform must have patience. Impulsive change often gets it wrong and almost always entails unintended consequences we’d rather have avoided. In a complicated government arrangement such as ours, the only path to change that ( a ) lasts and ( b ) minimizes potentially regrettable after effects is to take our time. One consensus step at a time sure does beat a tidal wave of instant overturn.

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To all of the above reasons why I support Mike Capuano I’ll add another : bi-partisan co-operation for the betterment of all the voters. Electeds of different political p;arties working together is how democratic reform gets most effectively done.

In Mike’s case, I cite one huge instance of it:

Together with Governor Baker, with whom he maintains a relationship of mutual deep respect, Mike was able to win the billion dollars needed to complete Green Line extension funding. Extending the Green Line will greatly boost the business prosperity (and thus the good jobs) of Somerville and Medford and probably of Malden, Melrose, and Everett besides. Resolving the myriad transit and commuter-rail upgrades that remain to be completed, the Baker and Capuano relationship is a distinct asset as we move forward.

Moving forward is the operative phrase here. Elections are about the future, and a future that includes Mike Capuano’s best is well worth re-electing him.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere




^ signing the FY 2019 Budget bill: Governor Baker, 5 days into the new fiscal year.

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Last week the House enacted its $ 41.88 billion budget, after which Governor Baker vetoed some line items, as Governors always do. Soon the final Budget will be law. What does it contain that may be of interest to reform-minded voters ?

Before I get to critiquing the Budget, here is ML Strategies’s analysis of the initial, April budget for you to study in great detail, if you like :

Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation (MTF) offers these comments about the House and Senate Conference Committee Budget reported on July 18th :

Today, the House and Senate released the fiscal (FY) 2019 budget conference report, which will now go to Governor Baker for his review. The $41.88 billion budget reconciles the House and Senate spending plans eighteen days after the start of the new fiscal year. The conference budget is most notable in its decision to increase assumed tax revenue by $667.3 million over the amount agreed to as part of the consensus revenue process.

There’s been much talk, including some by me, about the State’s unexpectedly large tax collections this year. The extra money has generated some voter interest in boosting state spending on many items currently viewed as underfunded. MTF, however, notes that much of the State’s unexpectedly large revenue boost has come from changes enacted by the Federal government in its Tax Reform Act :

As MTF advised in our conference preview, while it is reasonable to reconsider the original FY 2019 tax revenue figures in light of strong tax collections, lawmakers should proceed with caution.
The recent surge in collections is in part driven by federal tax changes and therefore much of the revenue, especially capital gains and other non-wage income taxes, is likely to be nonrecurring.
Therefore, MTF suggested limiting any adjustment in FY 2019 to tax revenue sources not subject to volatility from year to year.

Further analysis :

The conference committee report boosted assumed tax revenues by a significant amount – $667.3 million – but assumes that $300 million of this comes from above-threshold capital gains revenue which must be deposited into the Stabilization Fund and therefore is unavailable for operating expenses. After accounting for increased revenue transfers to both the MBTA and the School Building Authority (due to increases in expected sales tax revenue), the tax revenue upgrade leaves $341 million available for budgetary spending. Until final tax numbers are released for the last fiscal year, it is difficult to gauge the fiscal risk of increasing spending by that amount,

In other words, the State Budget should be cautious about appropriating money that may be one-time-only. The Budget notes that it has enacted no new taxes or fees : yet it has increased Budget spending by 3.2 percent and $ 4.4 billion of “off budget” spending by 6.4 percent. (What might these “off budget”: items be ? MTF tells us : transfers to the pension fund, MBTA and school building authority.)

The Budget does not delve into the State’s pension liabilities, which past analyses have opined to be significantly underfunded. It would be valuable to know if the Budget cures at least a part of said underfunding. Have the off-budget transfers done so ?

To continue my main line of analysis : the Hopuse and senate combined to increase spending by the two legislatures’ maximum figure, making full use of the year’s tax windfall. Wrote MTF :

The House and Senate budgets differed by just $21.6 million in total spending, but that similarity masked more than $500 million in different spending choices. In fact, unique spending in both budgets combined was approximately $41.8 billion – an amount significantly higher than the revenues used by either the House or Senate. The decision to increase tax revenue available for the budget by $341 million allowed the conferees to opt for the higher spending figure in almost all instances where there was a discrepancy and add $153.1 million in new spending to offset otherwise underfunded accounts

Not surprisingly, the Budget includes this :

The conference report contains more than 800 earmarks that generally provide funding for local projects.

I do not oppose these local earmarks. The State Budget is not only a general account. It must take notice of unique local needs. I have myself advocated for Magazine Beach (in Cambridgeport) upgrades and reforms. These appear to be included in the Conference Budget.

Why the Budget includes under-funded accounts is beyond me. The following is an MTF list, in which Governor baker’s recommendation is on the left and the various legislature adjustments to the right of his request:

                             GOVERNOR          HOUSE         SENATE         CONFERENCE   DIF’RENCE

Indigent defense   $236,938,646   $189,739,504   $193,250,115   $244,031,412    $7,092,766
Family homelessness  $190,763,011  $181,107,614  $186,091,253  $193,745,706  $2,982,695
Sheriffs                         $626,715,238   $573,039,125   $579,845,616 $623,752,476 -$2,962,762
MassDot (snow and ice removal)

                                      $367,679,448     $323,109,448 $323,246,448 $358,546,448 -$9,133,000
Collective bargaining $107,246,977     $47,216,876   $47,216,876    $47,216,876 -$60,030,101
Settlements and judgments $10,000,000 $1,000,000 $1,000,000     $1,000,000    -$9,000,000
Total                  $1,529,343,320  $1,314,212,567 $1,329,650,308 $1,467,292,918 -$71,050,402

Policy items abounded, according to MTF — as they usually do. Very few made it past the conference:

Issue                                                   Proposed by              Conference

EITC increase                                      Both                              Included
TAFDC cap on kids                             Both                              Included
State Police audit                               House                           Included
Dairy farmer tax credit                    House                            Included
Conservation tax credit                   House                            Not included
Charter school growth cap             Senate                           Not included
CPA dedicated funding increase    Senate                            Not included
EMAC double jeopardy                   Senate                            Not included
EMAC hardship exemption            Senate                            Included
Higher education notification
requirements                                    Senate                          Not included
Municipal police training surcharge Senate                     Not included
County deeds fee increase             Senate                           Not included
Sports betting commission            Senate                          Not included
GIC membership change               Senate                          Not included
Immigration cooperation
restrictions                                      Senate                          Not included
Tax expenditure review                Senate                           Included
Pharmacy rebates                         Senate                          Not included

Governor Baker then vetoed $ 48,700,000 (about one tenth of one percent of  the total) so as t.o bring the Budget more in line with revenue expectations. said MTF :

The Governor’s vetoes are intended to produce a starting budget (often called the general
appropriations act or GAA) that pares down spending to fit within expected revenues and future obligations as well as to eliminate unnecessary spending. These vetoes – along with other revenue adjustments and assumptions related to unexpended appropriations – are sufficient to address several spending and revenue exposures in the Conference budget so that the budget is balanced.

Every Governor vetoes certain items in the annual State Budget proposal. Few of these vet.oes are popular with the legislators, and most get overridden. Why this budget charade even takes place, I have no idea, but it does take place. As MTF notes:

The $48.9 million in spending vetoes eliminate one line-item and reduce 45 others, by far the smallest number of spending vetoes during the Governor’s term.

Will any of Governor baker’s vetoes not be overridden ? Today we will know, because the close of business today is the end of this legislative session.

An under-funded Budget, one that assumes fairly optimistic, one time revenue receipts, but a fairly conservative, strong allocation to the State’s $ 1.89 billion Reserve Account : here’s  a Budget that doesn’t miss the mark by much, as we can see by Governor Baker’s downsized veto numbers. Hopefully the actual fiscal year up-coming will see the State’s employee pension liability further cured, our voluminous and diverse health care responsibilities better targeted and carried out, and more bond bills as needed because let’s not overlook the part that two major bond bills totaling $ 3.9 billion have played in bringing us a budget better adjusted than not.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere










^ ranked choice voting — the above is what a ranked choice vote ballot would look like

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On twitter this morning I entered a discussion, with two election activists, Ed Lyons and Jim Aloisi, about our State’s Party Primary voting system. We were exchanging suggestions as to why the system doesn’t work, if it doesn’t, and if so, how to improve it ? Answers don’t seem simple. I can think of many ill consequences that this or that change might give rise to. But first, let’s look at how did we get here ?

The late, September primary was enacted by a Democratic legislature, back when the state was still two-party competitive, to make it difficult for the Republicans, fast becoming outnumbered, to focus on the Democratic candidate. This scheme worked. A Republican candidate state-wide is hemmed in campaigning to 10.5 percent of voters until very late in the game. Curiously, however, the late primary did advantage one Republican candidate : for Governor. Because the Republican electorate is so small, a strong GOP candidate for Governor, with all the prospective power that a Governor holds, can dominate the primary process while the various Democratic candidates are still focusing on each other. Thus the late primary seems perhaps the single most important factor leading to what we now have : an overwhelmingly Democratic legislature and a Republican Governor (since 1990, only 8 out of 28 years has a Democrat held the office.)

The legislature is not married to late primaries on principle, however., When a vacancy in one of our US Senate seats has occurred, it used to be that the Governor appointed a successor to hold office until the next general election. Not so after Scott Brown. The legislature enacted a very early primary and election in such case, giving the appointee on;ly a few months in office.

Thus we see that the present primary systems exist to maximize Democratic control of every office except Governor, which leaves the governor at the mercy of what sort of relationship the House Speaker wants to have with him or her. Fortunately for reform achievement in Massachusetts, Speaker DeLeo and Governor baker work very closely together, each for his own reasons, and the result has been consensus reform across the board. But what if it were otherwise ? It’s risky to have effective governance depend on the personal chemistry between two officials.

In any case, many activists want to change our primary system. Let’s take a look :

( 1 ) move the primary to June.

Doing so would definitely focus the campaign on the general election in which 60 to 70 percent of voters vote — a definitely democratic (small d) move, and much to be applauded. Yet an early primary would probably mean an even smaller turnout and would sharply increase the amount of donor money needed for that long general election.

( 2 ) make the primary open to all voters, where today only party members and unenrolleds can vote — and unenrolleds must choose which primary to vote in

The theory behind the current system is t.hat political parties are private entities (albeit  with procedures regulated by statute) and therefore elections within the party ought to be available only to party members and those who choose to join it. I understand tghe validity of this theory. Yet in a state where a majority of voters is not enrolled in any party, and chooses not to be, is it fair to all the voters to have only party nominees on the ballot to vote for ? The obstacles placed in the way of non-arty candidates, by way of increased nomination signature requirements, or in the way of write-in candidacies, whose votes will only be counted if the candidates use legal process to get there, all appear designed to leave general election voters with only two feasible choices. Thus the call to let all voters vote in every primary.

Despite this argument, even an open primary doesn’t work. Only a fusion primary, in which ALL candidates are on THE SAME ballot, achieves the aim of an open primary.

( 3 ) establish an all-candidate primary with a runoff to choose two for final election.

Sounds fair, yet t.he recent California primary shows the fault of this option : you get dozens of candidates, which can leave the voter with two fringe choices at the runoff. No thank you.

( 4 ) make state elections non-partisan.

Would probably have the same result as in the runoff option, only worse. Whatever option we decide upon, it should promote, not hinder, coalition candidates who can amass a clear majority of the 60 to 70- percent of voters who vote in our general election.

( 5 ) ranked choice voting in an all-candidate election, no primary.

Cambridge uses this system for its city elections. It works there. The idea is that the voter ranks ALL the candidates on his or her ballot by choice : first choice, second choice, and so on. The bottom candidate is eliminated, and his or her second choice, third, and remaining choice votes are then assigned to those candidates. When one candidate reaches a majority of allocated first choice votes, he or she is elected. Then repeat the allocation and elimination.

Advocates of ranked choice voting say that it would force candidates to be collegial, since all would ant second choice votes from each other. I’m not sure that will usually happen. The ranked choice system does not prevent voters from voting for only one candidate, thus making it potentially impossible for a candidate to win a  majority. Nonetheless, I like this idea. It’s worth a public conversation. At the very least, the late primary cries out for reform. And has cried out ever since the legislature enacted it.

The other important factor in how our election laws operate (MGL c. 55, for those who care to read all the rules) is the state committee that c. 55 requires recognized political parties to have. State committee members are either elected at each party’s Presidential primary every four years (two per district, elected by State Senate district, one man and one woman) or are appointed by the elected state committee members to auxiliary membership. State committee members are bound by party rules that prevent them, under pain of loss of office, from supporting candidates other than that party’s official nominees. Though the rigidity of these rules is not often enforced, in practice state committee members approach elections “party first, public interest second,m if at all.” This is true of both major parties’ state committee members. I know not very many who operate differently. (Which is not to say they aren’t great people to know. I know hundreds, and can’t say that I dislike more than a handful.)

Ranked choice won’t eliminate the narrow outlook of party officials, especially of party state committee members. Parties will still have a lot to say about who gets plenty of first choice votes. State committee members will still operate “party first, public second.” But the ordinary voter will loom much, much larger in a ranked choice general, election than in a small-turnout primary, held late Or held early.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere




^ cities = commerce, and our nation is a commercial city writ large. As early as the 11th and 12th Centuries, as commerce revived in Western Europe, business and freedom, opportunity for all and justice, and the welcoming of immigrants have realized the hopes and ideals of all manner of people. It is our heritage as a nation and should be the Democrats’ message in 2020.

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My personal view is that the 2020 Democratic nominee for President can be just about anybody, and advocate just about any agenda, and win by a landslide. Given Mr. Trump’s stew of awfulness — the economic idiocies, his hatred for everybody who isn’t of white skin color, his corruption, his gratuitous cruelties, his nearly treasonous submission to Russian dominance, his enemies lists, his mendacity — the only way he could possibly be re-elected would be to have two major candidates facing him. He does command about 33 percent of voters. Add a couple of million votes to that and yup, he’s….B-A-ACK !

Yet if almost any Democrat, running on almost any platform, is almost sure to defeat the disaster in DC, that doesn’t mean the vast majority of America’s voters should just say “whatever.” It won’t help the nation much if the Democrats of 2020 are a party purely or chiefly of vengeance. Let Mr. Trump meet his legal and moral fate, but rescue the nation from echoes of it. By which I mean that the 2020 Democrats should embrace the everything that is America at its most promising, not this or that bones to pick.

Now to the question at hand : what should the 2020 Democrats stand for ?

David Brooks calls the current, media-favorite Democratic trend as “racial justice socialism.” The phrase recalls the 1984 and 1988 candidacies of Jesse Jackson, which failed despite their eloquence. It certainly has captured the news cycle via various victories by “racial justice socialists” in this cycle’s Democratic primaries. Like Brooks, I’m not inspired by this faction’s message. An American President should rise above any single special plea, even one as pressing as justice and civil rights for all. If the next President is to move the entire nation toward hope and ambition, and away from fear and division, he or she must find a way to seek justice and civil rights for all within a much broader agenda of reform in which a clear majority sees itself moving on up : because no matter how crucial civil rights and justice are for those who are denied them, the majority of voters has other aspirations and difficulties at hand; and a successful coalition includes a minority AND a majority. Ronald Reagan was able to do that, for Republicans; Barack Obama almost did that for Democrats.

I say ‘almost” because Obama never put into words what was his actual message. He sounded the social justice t.heme in Reaganite terms, yes, and spoke it brilliantly. Yet his actual message was business prosperity — regulated business prosperity, to be sure, but prosperity in a context of civil rights and “inclusiveness.” This was not only Obama’s actual agenda. It was his donors too. Obama brought to his side business leaders from all corners of the nation; and his term saw what I call “business progressivism” successfully demand several recalcitrant States to enact civil rights protections for LGBT people, women, even for immigrants.

This was a wise policy to embrace. Who has the money, and the jobs, commands in a nation as commercial as ours : and “business progressivism” —  business with a  social conscience if you will — has at many times in our history moved the nation morally and justly forward. This was true in Alexander Hamilton’s day — the Constitution was a commercial contract with a social justice partner — and it was true of Abolition’s merchant aristocracy. It has taken almost permanent hold since the Presidency of “Ike” in the 1950s.

Business progressivism has stood for freedom, the rule of law, commerce and “rising up” ever since the recovery of commerce during the 11th Century. The pactism of medieval merchants precedented our own Constitution, its rights and its reciprocities. As we are pre-eminently a commercial nation, peopled by those who immigrated here to pursue enterprise and a better life, business with a social conscience is knitted indelibly into our nation’s quilt. We should recall that 11th Century merchants came from all kinds of social classes : serfs, slaves, knights, loners. The Constitutions of many medieval cities expressly called upon people of every condition to come into them from near or far. (that of the Catalan city of Cardona, from year 1080, is quoted in Robert Hughes’s Barcelona. Which city by the year 1180 had a written governmental pact, the first such.) They read almost exactly like the famed Emma Lazarus poem engraved on the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal. How could it be otherwise ? Commerce has no borders  — the more people who partake of it, the more customers — and money has no pedigree. Whatever you/ look like, whoever you sleep with, whatever language you speak or religion you profess, your wallet has the same buying power.

The message of business progressivism contradicts Mr Trump at almost every turn. It opposes his hatred of immigrants. It abolishes his corruption and lies. It gives the lie to his trade wars. It is skeptical of his love affairs with dictators. It transcends religious theories and skin color division. No message more overrides that of Mr. Trump than business progressive. It is a winning agenda.

To sum up : as money talks, those who have it, or earn it, command tremendous authority in the halls of decision. In my mind, the justice that 2020 Democrats should stand for is commercial justice — and all the social inclusion and expeimentalism that that arrangement encompasses.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere





Baker two

^ localism at work : Governor baker signs Criminal Justice Reform bill, with StRep Jeffrey Sanchez behind him, StRep Sheila Harrington next, and Speaker Robert DeLeo and Attorney General Maura Healey to his right.

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Recently New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote of what he called “the new localism” that he sees taking charge of the nation’s political future. (You can read Brooks’s column here : )

He sees correctly. It has often been true that when central governments lose their sinew, power devolves to the locality, where personal connection takes over from capital city officials. It was so in 9th Century France: after the tremendous centralizing success of Charlemagne’;s 44 year rule, a succession of ever weaker Carolingian rulers presided ever more minimally over the increasing authority of a number of local dukes and  counts. A similar localizing took place throughout Western Europe in the 6th Century, as Germanic invaders degraded, and then erased the power of the Emperor and his bureaucracy. How could it be otherwise ? People living in community, rather than singly as hermits, need to agree on some sort of common rule, with an agreed-upon authority to enforce them. Local rule means, perforce, difference : every locality sees itself from its own point of view.

We don’t live in the 6th Century or the 9th, and communication between localities, hardly possible then, is available to all today and is used by all. Nonetheless, local customs are arising upon local conversations that differ from place to place. The needs of Boston, in respect of flooding, traffic, and impossible housing prices, are not the same as the needs of, say, Charlotte in North Carolina or Chicago, St. Louis, Spokane, or Duluth in Minnesota. Nor is the population of Boston at all the same as that of these other locations. We’re very much a polyglot, immigrant city; Duluth certainly is not, nor Spokane; t.he other cities, less homogeneous but hardly major immigrant destinations. Thus each of these places, and thousands more, in today’s America, have responded to national dysfunction and gridlock by taking the power of innovation and decision into our own hands.

Nothing about Boston’s localism — so notable for its innovation, self-starting, and experimentalist conversations about every reality of Boston life — more vividly shows what we’re like than the political success of Governor Charlie Baker. He is a registered Republican and everybody. knows it; yet despite our locality’s almost universal distaste for Mr. Trump, who also claims to be a Republican, Baker is viewed favorably by at least 70 percent of voters, and by a higher percentage of Democrats than of Republicans. What is going on here ?

Granted, that Massachusetts voters vote the person, not the party; 53 percent of our voters belong to no party — a higher percentage than in any other state that registers voters according to party preference. (Not all States do that.) Yet I don’t think that Baker’s success results entirely, or even chiefly, from our voters’ independence of mind. I think it arises from our strongly local command of the conversation, the agenda, and the power of doing. We have long held the view that a Republican Governor is better able than a Democrat to referee disputes among factions of our overwhelmingly Democratic legislature; and Baker has certainly been as successful a referee as any before him. But that tradition does not account for the almost universal respect that almost every elected has for him and his priorities.

I think we’ve simply decided that we will govern our state, and manage our cities, the way we want to, without regard for the word salads cooked up in Washington and, indeed, in opposition to them. If Washington sends us lemons, we make lemonade. If it confuses us, we talk around it. If it disrupts us, we build our own eruption., If it denigrates our immigrants, or our LGBT people, or women seeking health care, or people of color, or businesses that tariffs destroy, we uplift them all, safeguard them, economically enable them. Last year at his “State of the State” speech, Governor Baker concluded by saying, “I don’t represent Washington to Massachusetts, I represent Massachusetts to Washington.” That was a strong defiance at the time; today he has gone farther still. The legislation signed .his year by him, and the taxes and fees approved, and the bond bills, have very little to do with — indeed, contradict — the economic agendas that command Republicans in Congress; and of course, none of what Baker and the legislature have done has anything to do with the odd messages tweeted by Mr. Trump.

Not everyone understands the localist movement that Baker has dominated, much less why. Several candidates, who dub themselves “progressives” or “super left” (in one case) are challenging incumbent legislators on platforms addressed more to the misdeeds and reactionary policies of Mr. Trump than on local matters.  Their messages sound oddly dissonant, given the context — as if they had wandered by mistake into the wrong conversation. The legislature of 2018 is not an arena for reshaping the national Democratic message, and one suspects that the September primary will ill reward these candidacies.

We in Massachusetts hardly realize how uncommon the Baker success is, or his partnership with a legislature overwhelmingly/ Democratic. Only Maryland has anything like it — and Maryland, like Massachusetts, is essentially a city state dominated by its major city and thus a ready candidate for dynamic localism. In most states of our nation today, partisan warfare is the rule, similar to that in Washington. I doubt that this situation can continue. Even in states sharply divided by party, localities are making policy decisions regardless of those divisions. As cities in these states — Atlanta in Georgia, Omaha in Nebraska, Salt Lake City in Utah, Minneapolis in Minnesota, Madison in Wisconsin, Columbus in Ohio, Birmingham and Lee County in Alabama, and several cities in Texas — become huge economic dynamos, local autonomy in all of them ramps up. Governor Baker will soon have imitators of his success, because there will be more and more voters who promote local politicians for local reasons that will bring back to our two major parties (and especially to the Republican party) the diversity of interests that characterized them during our long period of “union and liberty, indivisible,” as Daniel Webster once orated.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere