BOSTON MAYOR : MEL KING ENDORSES MARTY WALSH

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^ to the levers of power : Mel King standing with Marty Walsh

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On Wednesday, Mel King, grand man of the Old Left, endorsed Marty Walsh for Mayor at a press conference in the South End. Joining him was former State Representative Royal Bolling, Jr, of Grove Hall, as well as Felix G. Arroyo and John F. Barros. All was friendly; all joined in a ring of hands as King declared that “I stand with Walsh” and “there’s a new rainbow coalition !” It was a moving scene. At age 85 King won’t have too many more such moments; but he is well entitled to this one. Thirty years ago he himself was in a Mayoral Final versus South Boston’s Ray Flynn…

Thirty years ago ! King’s history in Boston politics goes farther back than that. Like Walsh, he was a State Representative. Before that, he was a very vocal, confrontational activist, of a type then common, brought to prominence in the late 1960s by President Lyndon Johnson’s Anti-poverty program. There was lots of money in that program, and a great deal of community planning power — the Model Cities Program overlapped and abetted it — and King was at its center along with activists gentler and, it has to be said, more lastingly effective. Yet effective or not, King drew a following — devoted — on the Left and the Far Left, and this he kept intact, it following him into that 1983 Mayor election in which he lost badly, like Barry Goldwater an ideologue before his time.

Would it be too melodramatic to say that King’s time was yesterday’s press conference ? This was the not the first occasion that Mel King has endorsed a candidate from a constituency not close to his own — in 2009 he and Ray Flynn held a joint endorsement conference for Mike Flaherty; but that was a challenge to an entrenched incumbent, one whom King — and Flynn — both felt had overstayed his time or forgotten “the people.” This time King was endorsing in an open election : endorsing the candidate of established power. So the question presses for an answer : why did he do it ?

One is tempted to conclude that, as Walsh has successfully coalesced all the strands of Boston’s Labor Left, so King the Old Left icon simply joined the party — gave it his imprimatur, as it were. That’s the obvious answer. i think it’s the wrong answer.

For King, the Left is oratory. His objective has always been something else : get people of color to the levers of power. For King, the Left is a means to pry those levers away from the established forces. And Marty Walsh has finally been revealed, this week, not as “the union guy” (though he Is that) but as the quintessential levers of power candidate. The BRA insider candidate. The candidate of developers needing Building Trades union laborers, multi-million dollar money deals, zoning persuasiveness, and planning clout.

Thus the endorsement. The levers of power now reach out from Walsh to King and his fellow seekers of the elvers.

I do not mean to suggest that for King, union solidarity and power to the workers do not matter. They’re part of his life mission.

Prior to the Primary, King was closest to Charles Clemons, a radio station owner whose economic views aren’t much different from Herman Cain’s. King did not support Felix Arroyo — though 30 years ago he and Arroyo’s father Felix D. Arroyo were strong allies — nor did he support John Barros or Charlotte Golar-Richie. It is simple to figure out why : Clemons’s radio station is a lever of power. All media are levers of might. Barros, Arroyo, and Golar-Richie had none, or lesser such levers. Thus King’s support for Clemons, a candidate who was not going to get to the Final in any scenario. King seemed to be saying that he’d prefer to stand by a lever of power that he could count on rather than chance things with the other three.

The Primary proved his skepticism correct : none of the three made it into the Final. King was now free to choose a candidate on better odds : one of the finalists WOULD win. For an entire month he did not choose. But then came polls showing that the wind was blowing in the Walsh direction, and doing so because Walsh’s campaign was wielding goliath-an levers of Hulk power :
$ 2,400,000 — and counting — of special interest money is one hell of a power lever !

King’s choice was thus a simple one, and the man who made his reputation on confronting Irish politcians from the seaside Wards joined hands with one in a “new rainbow coalition.”

Keady beaming ... 10.30.13

^ high point of a thirty-plus year career in Irish Democratic Boston politics : Tom Keady praying that this is not just an illusion

And, symbol of the power levers thus levered, there was Walsh’s reported svengali, Tom Keady — now Boston college’s Director of Development, but long known to me from a time when, as a young political, he worked for then Speaker of the house Tip O’Neill, whose Congressional District included Keady’s home precinct in Brighton’s Ward 22.

Not for himself, at age 85, did King link to Walsh power.This was done, rather, for the next generation of King people. It was a gift from the Grand Old Man of “Arise Ye and take what is rightfully yours.” As such, it is likely to be a powerful endorsement, if it hasn’t come too late in the race in which the tide seems to have already turned..

— Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

BOSTON MAYOR RACE : BIG BUSINESS AND DEVILISH DETAILS @ BACK BAY ASSOCIATION FORUM

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^ Dan Conley, John Connolly, Rob Consalvo at this morning’s Back Bay Association Forum

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This morning the Back bay Neighborhood Association held its Mayor Forum in an appropriate setting : the conference center of Liberty Mutual Insurance Company. Big granite-walled office bureaucracies are the Back Bay’s money machine.

People fear money machines, and no neighborhood association in the City is more feared by the various business seeking to locate, or to develop real estate. Members live in some of the City’s highest income census tracts; achievement and dominance come naturally to the 200 well-dressed Forum attendees. Attentively they regarded the twelve candidates, answering questions put to them by Tom Keane and his co-host, as if they were job-interviewing — grilling — a room full of interns.

The Forum topics featured, unsurprisingly, zoning, permitting, development, the BRA, and late night closing hours — seriously complex issues all — and the banning of plastic bags.

But to the questions. Some were addressed only to some of the candidates, others to all.

To a question, to some, about what to do with the BRA, John Connolly gave the most well thought answer : “Planning should be an independent function. It’s about having real holistic planning — the process should not be for influence peddling. We need to modernize Inspectional services (ISD). (we) need honest conversations about zoning. We need to move beyond outdated zoning laws).”

The City’s permitting process has come under severe attack in most of this campaign’s Forums, for good reason. All the candidates want the process reformed, som radically. Charles Yancey cited “hostile employees’ at ISD’s office due to “inadequate training for the job.” Dan Conley promised “a bottom to top review’ and said that permitting “should be able to be done online.’ He would also “reform the zoning process.” John Barros decried the process a “illogical…unpredictable.”

Clearly ISD is in for a huge shake-up no matter who becomes the next Mayor.

To a question about “90 % of fire alarm calls not being for actual fires,” Rob Consalvo insisted that :we need more public safety, not less.” Marty Walsh, who has the Boston Firemen’s Union endorsement, admitted that the “number of fires are down” but insisted that “I don’t want to be the mayor who closes a firehouse.” Felix Arroyo said “municipal research says that we need to increase fire efficiency” — whatever that meant — and Charlotte Golar-Richie gave a similarly non-committal answer. And then it was Dan Conley’s turn. He did not waste it :

“There is overwhelming evidence that the Fire Department needs a full review and thus a Mayor who will reform the Fire department,” he said, aiming his remarks directly at Marty Walsh, whom polls show him tied with for second place in the Primary.

To which Conley added, “reform… was posed years ago when I was on the Council, but it was put on the shelf. (Stare Rep) Nick Collins has a bill in the legislature to allow fire people to respond as EMTs. it’s a crazy bill, but the firemen don’t have enough work to do, so this is a way to give them some work.”

Conley’s could have been the Forum’s big moment, but he was immediately knocked back by Charles Yancey, who said “If someone is injured within a block of a firehouse and the EMT’s can’t get there first, the Fire Department must save that life !” Mike Ross’s follow-up — “I’m the only Council member who has stood up to the Fire Department” — sounded like a shrug.

All the candidates were then asked a series of “yes or no, do you support” questions. Most of these at various Forums have been no-brainers to which all answered an easy yes or a no. Not so at this Forum. candidates had to think about whether to allow later closing hours, a “traffic congestion tax,” plastic bags, and Segway. Responses were divided.

Last came a round in which one candidate posed a question to one other, until all twelve candidates had either asked or answered. Obviously the intent was to have candidates emphasize their differences, but only two of the questions rose above the minutiae of Council votes little known to average voters.

The first useful question was Rob Consalvo’s to Marty Walsh, who has proposed razing the current City Hall and redeveloping its huge, centrally located plaza : “How will the city function while city hall is bulldozed, as you suggest ?” Walsh’s answer was as good as Conley’s on Fire Department reform : “Bulldoze is not my word,” said Walsh. “it aas the Herald’s. I want to offer City Hall Plaza to developers for proposals. It will give us 135 million dollars and 12 million a year in tax revenue. I want to reconnect Hanover steer and Quincy market…the next growth area in the City is government center !” Walsh’s answer highlighted his support by the city’s construction unions –and his being the Building Boom Candidate.

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^ Bill Walczak and Marty Walsh : the moralist vs. the building boom candidate

Mike Ross then asked Bill Walczak what he would do for city development if the city had no casino — as Walczak endlessly repeats — but one were then created “seven feet from our door” (in Everett) ? This gave Walczak his opportunity to rail against casinos in general — “I don’t want casinos anywhere” — in the moralistic manner that he truly believes and which gives his candidacy something of the social-issue darkness that has bedeviled a great deal of the national political debate these past five years or so. Who is he — who is anyone ? — to tell people how or where to spend their money ?

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^ Charlotte Golar-Richie and Mike Ross : on Ross’s home ground ? Or maybe not ?

It was difficult to tell which candidates most impressed the association’s members. Unlike the teachers union activists at their Forum, no one cheered or clapped hands. They received the candidates’ often passionate talk as calmly as candidate David Wyatt sits on a stage — though without his facial shrug. Many of the 200 worked laptops ; were they noting points ? Recording testimony as if at a deposition ? Maybe so. And who will they vote for ? This is Mike Ross’s home ground — the Council district that he represents — yet he hardly seemed the crowd favorite — although in the Forum’s humor moments, when he laughed, so did the 200. Maybe that was it. Maybe this Forum was a kind of in-group entertainment, and Mike Ross has its 200 votes in the bank.

If i were he, I wouldn’t count on it.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

BOSTON MAYOR : ROSS, CONNOLLY, ARROYO, AND WALSH IN COMMAND AT MAIN STREETS COALITION FORUM; DAN CONLEY EFFECTIVE TOO

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^ the Twelve : Arroyo, Barros, Clemons, Conley, Connolly, Consalvo, Golar-Richie, Ross, Walczak, Walsh, Wyatt, Yancey

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Supporters of Mike Ross, John Connolly, Felix Arroyo, and Marty Walsh can sleep well tonight.  At the Forum held by the Main Streets coalition of 20 Coalition members, their candidates spoke well informed on every topic asked, indeed eloquently at times. Each seems to have his vision of the mayor’s mission well in place, and each saw the questions — mostly the concerns of small, neighborhood business, because that is what the Main Streets program is about — authoritatively in their particular mission’s terms. Dan Conley spoke effectively too, albeit in detail only — no grand themes did he embrace.

At a Forum, a candidate uses forensic skills. Speaking at a podium or into a microphone isn’t all that matters to a campaign — far from it — but voters do want to know that the candidates they are assessing can speak to the issues on voters’ minds and do so boldly, without resort to talking points. At the main Streets Coalition Forum, held in Upham’s Corner’s Strand Theater, the five candidates so far mentioned aced the test. If only the theater had been more full. It holds easily 1200 people, but most seats were empty. Let’s say that 300 were in the room, many of them supporters of local favorites John Barros, who lives nearby; Charlotte Golar-Richie, who lives almost as close by as Barros; and Felix Arroyo.

The evening had its highlights. Each of the effective speakers chalked up several.

On the question of what to do with the BRA, Marty Walsh and John Connolly answered well. Said Walsh : “Certain things are working, but much is lacking. Costs of construction don’t get figured properly. Main Streets organizations aren’t told where to apply to fill slots on their boards.” Connolly gave this answer : “going into the BRA should be like walking into an apple store : serve the customer. We should utilize technology to make the BRA’s services more user friendly. There should be a time limit on all BRA Board members. we should know how the BRA plans to create jobs and housing.”

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^ John Connolly ; an apple store government, with equity funding for small businesses

Even stronger was Ross’s answer : “Remove all affordable housing plans from the BRA. We shouldn’t decentralize the BRA in the middle of a building boom, but affordable housing must be the first principle of any developer’s plans.” Conley’s answer was also memorable : “the BRA has a lack of predictability, accountability, transparency. I will publish all BRA decisions on my website. Splitting the BRA would hurt its effectiveness.”

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^ Dan Conley : no big vision, but much useful reform

As these answers make clear, the candidates are divided on whether planning should be a separate process from that of BRA approval. The voters will have to decide that one for themselves.

On the permitting and licensing process, all of the effective speakers agreed that it takes far too long to navigate the process and costs far too much to get so many city agencies to sign off a plan. Ross said it best : “We need less bureaucracy ! in this city it should take 30 days — no more — to get a business permitted. No business owner should have to call an elected official to get his business open !” Walsh added this : “27 permits to get an outdoor vending business licensed. That’s just not right !” Arroyo made much the same points, though more gently. You could hear the frustration in Ross’s and Walsh’s words; clearly they have heard horror stories galore from business people in Boston.

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^ Mike Ross : “restaurants are ambassadors for a neighborhood.”

The candidates were asked if they support Councillor Ayanna Pressley’s home rule petition to the State legislature to have all of Boston’s Licensing Board appointed by the mayor; under current law, the Governor appoints a member. All the “major” candidates said yes, but Ross’s answer stood out. It just might have been the best by any candidate to any question posed : “Must say to you that the legislature is very reluctant to give this power up. But restaurants are ambassadors for a neighborhood. If people are visiting a neighborhood in the city and can’t have their hosts take them to a local restaurant because there isn’t one, that hurts the neighborhood.” On which point Arroyo noted that Mattapan, for instance, has almost none of the 1000 liquor licences in Boston, ‘and,” said he, “that’s just plain wrong.”

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^ Arroyo : the people’s candidate. And why not ? it worked for Scott Brown.

Finally, the candidates were asked about funding for small neighborhood businesses. Here Walsh gave the most effective answer : “Small banks need to give back to the community they’re in. The Mayor can make a difference by picking where the City deposits its money.” Arroyo noted that he has legislation filed to require banks to disclose how much and where they lend out money into the neighborhood they serve. Connolly made his own characteristic, tech-savvy point : “We should be talking equity investment, not just lending, to be available to local businesses. Call it a ‘buy Boston’ program.”

So there you have it. Connolly sees the Mayor as the director of an Apple store and maybe the entire Apple business, too. Walsh’s Mayor would bend city agencies to the needs of the construction boom and the businesses it is empowering. Arroyo as Mayor will serve people where they live, informally as they live, and make these living informalities his priority. Dan Conley will work quickly to de-mystify the arcane ways of City Hall and City planning. And Mike Ross will do much the same as Arroyo, but with a broader vision that includes developers as well as informal people.

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^ “traditional” Marty Walsh : authority and command even at a new-Boston Forum

Ross was the evening’s good surprise. I did not expect him to give voice as eloquently as Arroyo to the frustrations that average people have with City Hall: but he did so. Arroyo spoke from the heart; Ross spoke from the heart and the head; his is the true voice of classic urban progressive reform in this campaign, a voice that recalls the great urban reform speakers of a hundred years ago. Unfortunately for Ross, there aren’t all that many 2013 voters who speak, or respond to, the voice of classic urban reform.

The evening also surprised in a bad way :

Rob Consalvo spoke much too quickly and lowered his eyes most of the time. He needs to look up and speak deliberately; say less words, more meaning.

John Barros disappointed. We had heard that he has the most eloquent vision of a city in progress; at this Forum he retreated from boldness to a kind of guy-next-door friendliness. That persona might elect a City Councillor; as a would be Mayor it failed.

Charlotte Golar-Richie continues to see herself as an administrator — more capable than the current, but an administrator most of all. That is not a message to win votes. Voters want an advocate, not a manager. The Mayor can hire managers.

—– Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

BOSTON MAYOR RACE : LABOR, CONSTRUCTION, AND THE B.R.A.

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^ Local 26 Hotel Workers have endorsed Marty Walsh

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On August 2nd, the Hospitality Workers union (Hotel employees) decided to endorse Marty Walsh for mayor rather than Felix Arroyo. This was a significant move. Arroyo had expected endorsement from a Union membership mostly people of color and not a construction trade, all of whose endorsing Locals have so far gone with Walsh, a former Building Trades leader.

The Hospitality Workers made a nuts and bolts ddecision that Arroyo, their sentimental favorite, could not win, but that Walsh can. That’a how it goes in crunch time.

You can make a good case, too, that hotel workers are bound to the construction trades. Why ? Simple : hotels have to be built before they can hire Hospitality workers. Much hotel building is going on in Boston, and more is planned. There’s construction of all kinds afoot, but when looking at the building boom and what it portends for construction workers, one shouldn’t overlook the hotel component. Thus the Walsh endorsement fits.

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^ construction jobs galore — hotel workers too 

Boston’s construction boom may be the most significant event affecting the election of a next Mayor. What to do about the City’s schools, and how to fit them into the City’s new, technology economy has wider provenance, but at greater length of time. Just as the school riddle boosts John Connolly’s campaign, so the construction boom lifts Marty Walsh.

He, alone of the twelve Mayoral hopefuls, seeks to replace the Boston Redevelopment Authority (B.R.A.), not just reform it (as John Connolly suggests) or tweak it merely (the position — no surprise — of most other candidates). Walsh told the Boston Globe, in response to its editorial board’s questionnaire, that he would replace the BRA with an economic development agency whose director would serve under a contract and be less accountable to the mayor’s office. Wrote Walsh, “Under my plan, the mayor will have less direct power; multiple current entities with similar responsibilities will be morphed into one, creating tax savings and eliminating duplication.”

Walsh’s BRA proposal would put economic development in Boston more into the hands of construction companies and workers than it has been. It also portends greater input for Boston neighborhoods.

His suggestion makes some sense. The current BRA, still much the same in its power relationships as when it was first created in 1957, answers to the Mayor and implements his policy goals. That mattered in 1957 and for a long time thereafter, when neighborhoods had not awakened to, or were formulating, their needs and identity. Walsh is saying that, today, a Mayor-controlled BRA works against the interests of Boston’s neighborhoods, which have found their own identities and needs now and want the power to pursue them.

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^ Boston, as the BRA sees it 

Still, the economic development agency that Walsh wants to create in place of the BRA, which in nits current form he would do away with, would give much power to the construction industry and construction labor along with local planning boards. This looks a lot like free-wheeling and, in part, a return to the 1950s, before Massachusetts instituted zoning laws. Today, all building projects must seek permits and zoning opinions at the City Planning Offices in 1010 Massachusetts Avenue. Would Walsh’s economic planning board engender a series of neighborhood permitting and zoning opinion agencies ? It could be. Under Mayor Kevin White, “Little City Halls” were set up in many Boston neighborhoods. Their authority was limited; their political outreach was almost limitless.

There would be good in localization of development planning but also much grief. And if Walsh does not foresee localization of zoning and development approvals, would his economic planning board be that different from today’s BRA ? What difference would it really make to have City development answer to the construction business rather than the mayor ? Would that be better for the city ? And what of the City’s centralized Water & Sewer Commission ? We would love to hear what Walsh has to say about these details of his plan.

Meanwhile, Walsh continues to accumulate Union endorsements and some high-fives from the City’s traditional businesses.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere