BOSTON ELECTION : FOR AT-LARGE CITY COUNCIL

Boston voters go to the polls on Tuesday — in less than 48 hours — to choose the candidates who will face off in the November 5th “Final.”

Mayor is of course Boston’s first priority; but a City Council final eight will also be selected. Below are our choices. Please read about them all. We like all eight.

photo (69) Jack Kelly : our first choice, as the most across-the-board voice of labor we’ve seen in decades, at a time when a trusted voice of labor is most needed on the Council. Kelly’s campaign has captured the imagination and support of the entire City — even the Boston Globe –and he has the endorsements (including from Councillor Tito jackson and planned parenthood) to prove it. He also has ours.

photo (55)Chris Conroy : his campaign lacks money and moves sometimes on foot, but Conroy has much more city-wide support than that suggests. He grew up in ward 16 (Fields Corner) and lives now in ward 11 (Roxbury) and speaks in eloquent and passionate detail about bettering the City’s schools — not bit by bit, but hugely. Some might say, “a white guy in Roxbury ? and think “1969 hippie,” but that’s for throwbacks. Conroy is the Roxbury of today : diverse, and progressive for real, not just for hippie dreams.

Annissa Essaibi

Annissa Essaibi-George : a Boston Teacher’s Union (BTU) activist, Essaibi-George has the radiance, class, and articulation for which Boston Public school teachers are justly respected. We met her and liked her instantly, and mot just because she’s from Dorchester, with strong support in East Boston as well (where she teaches at East Boston High School). She runs a small business, and has time, somehow, to also be a neighborhood activist. We think no one will outwork her on the Council, and defintely her voice for the BTU is needed, even if the BTU itself sometimes misses the political bulls-eye.

photo (65) Philip Frattaroli : resident in the North End, he owns a restaurant, Ducali, on Causeway Street and grew up in his Dad’s restaurant business. As Mayor candidate John Barros says, “ten percent of all workers in Boston work in the restaurant business.” Reason enough to want Frattaroli on the Council; add to that his growing city-wide support, as he captures the imagination of small business people everywhere in Boston frustrated  by the red tape encasing the City’s bizarro permitting process.

photo (43) Marty Keogh : we’ve known Marty for a long time — and that’s him : this season’s most energetic voice of “traditional” Boston. From that side of Boston– as it stands  today — he has gathered the kind of committed support that elected Councillors galore thirty and forty years ago. Keogh has significant labor union support and is beginning to make some inroads into parts of “new Boston.” We can’t wait to see him debate cultural issuers with Jeff Ross (see below), progressive agenda with Chis Conroy, and school assignments policy with just about everybody.

photo (61) Catherine O’Neill : if Senator Elizabeth Warren does nothing else for Boston, her selection of O’Neill to work the campaign’s media presence deserves our thanks. O’Neill, we discovered soon enough, isn’t just a Warren protege. She comes from the large and we,ll-known O’Neills of Lower Mills, field-directed Linda Dorcena-Forry’s historic State Senate win,  is a published playwright, and hosts a Boston television show (at BBN TV). And it shows. She simply loves people and political discussion — city-wide ? no problem at all — and people take to her as well. We look forward to seeing her speak from the perspectives of both “traditional” Lower Mills and “new Boston” media on all the issues — senior citizens too.

photo (39) Ayanna Pressley : she’s an incumbent, and we hope that she continues to be one. The Chicago native is articulate, genial, classy — and has hold of an issue vital to Boston’s quality of neighborhood life : her Home Rule petition to the legislature to grant Boston control over the number and location of our liquor licenses. ask restaurant businesses if that matters ? Hint : it does.

photo (24) Jeff Ross : a South End resident — in Ward 9 Precinct 2, for political junkies like Ross — this politically experienced, veteran campaigner now steps forward to run for office himself, bringing to the battle long and progressive knowledge of what must be done to make Boston a more diverse, more fun, and more effective city for all. You have to respect — and want to see elected — a guy who grew up in a working-class, home, was the first in his family to graduate college, is a voice for the city’s LGBT community, and has the neighborhood touch too.

Conclusion : by no means do we wish to denigrate the eleven at-large candidates who did not make either our endorsed or suggested list. Indeed, the eleven include two long time personal friends and several promising newcomers. But one must choose; that’s what elections are about. If the eight people we have singled out above all “make the cut,’ Boston will enter a new political era, one less dominated by the old ways and more inclined to articulate diversity. that’s what cities should be.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

PROFILING THE BOSTON CITY COUNCIL CANDIDATES : CATHERINE O’NEILL

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^ Catherine O’Neill, of the Lower Mills O’Neills, conversing with a roomfull of Seniors at Foley House, South Boston

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There’s something of a Dorchester revival afoot in the City of Boston, an irish-name revival too. Here, in a city decreasingly peopled by those of Irish-name, we see on the Council at-Large ballot a Mike Flaherty; a Stephen J. Murphy; a Jack Kelly, Marty Keough, Chris Conroy, and — by no means the least — the subject of today’s profile, Catherine M. O’Neill, of the large and well, well-known O’Neills of Lower Mills.

It would be hard to have been any sort of active Boston citizen these past forty years and not known at least one of Catherine O’Neill’s siblings. Her brother Tim has been a public prosecutor since the early 1970s; brother Tom was a legendary principal at Mattapan’s famed Solomon Lewenberg School. Brother Ted O’Neill has been well-known too, and her late brother Mike — known to hundreds of politically busy Bostonians as “wide Mike,” — who always reminded me of what the poet and playwright Brendan Behan must have looked like, a presence as physically awesome as he was likeable.

Catherine O’Neil has Mike’s fierce eyes and Viking face, and something of Tim’s soft forehead, and it’s hard to figure how this writer somehow did not meet her back when her brothers were a constant presence. Turns out that her career  followed an entirely different trajectory ; she’s a published playwright (that Behan connection ?) and a media person who hosted The Boston Connection, All About Boston, and the Dorchester Connection, all on BBN-TV.

O’Neill went to St. Gregory’s School — where her Dad was a janitor — for thirteen years, then got her degree from Suffolk University in communication and journalism. She also has a master’s degree in Fine Arts.

She never married — a loss for the best Boston men of my generation — but as a child growing up in a large family, it comes second nature to her to care about people. And so, when Elizabeth Warren, who knew of O’Neill from television , asked her to work on her Senate campaign, O’Neill was ready to take her caring into the formal political groove,

Cath O'Neill and Sen Warren

^ Catherine O’Neill with senator Elizabeth Warren

She found the experience to her liking, and after Warren was elected, went to work in the campaign of her Lower Mills neighbor, Linda Dorcena-Forry — wife of Bill Forry, whose father Ed was “Mr Dorchester News” for several decades — for State Senator. Dorcena-Forry was already the Lower Mills area’s State Representative; indeed, O’Neill had been her field director in her 2005 first campaign. Dorcena-Forry’s Senate campaign made history. She won over the South Boston candidate, becoming the first Dorchester candidate to do so, and the first person of color to represent the District.

O’Neill was now ready to become a candidate herself; and when Tom Menino’s decision it to run for a fifth Mayoral term opened up two of Boston’s four at-large Council seats, her time had arrived.

We chatted with O’Neill three times; stood with her as she greeted voters at a Marty Walsh rally in East boston; and saw her in action conversing with voters at the Foley House in South Boston. There was never a minute in which she did not connect eye to eye with voters together an d singly; the experienced media hostess this was ever in command, credible, likeable. Thus our first question — what special qualities do you possess to make you uniquely qualified as a Councillor ? — answered itself.  Not many Council candidates are published playwrights and accomplished television show hosts,

Our conversation continues (Here and Sphere as “HnS”) :

HnS : Your first priority as a Councillor ?

O’Neill: Seniors. My Mom is 93 years old. I know the needs of seniors first hand. Seniors need all the help they can get. Longer stop lights at crossings, better curb cuts. Safety of the neighborhoods !  I will be an advocate for seniors ~!

Here and Sphere (HnS) : Do you favor lifting the charter school cap ?

O’Neill: no, I do not favor it.

HnS : What school reforms do you favor ?

O’Neill: I think a longer school day is a good idea.

HnS : The BRA : replace / reform ? If so, how ?

O’Neill: There needs to be separation of planning and decision, so that the community can have input.

HnS : Speaking of safety, Marty Walsh has said there’s a heroin epidemic in the city. Do you agree ?

O’Neill : The first documentary I did, for BBN television — in 2001, produced and wrote — was on the heroin problem in the city of Boston. It was epidemic in proportion then, and I know we still have that problem with it in our city. The shame is not to be a heroin addict; the shame is not to do anything about it. Heroin addicts, and addicts generally, usually have no advocate. There’s nobody out there beating a drum for people who unfortunately are addicted to heroin.  and I…i would be an advocate. we need more beds for women (addicts too). I really do know a lot about his subject, because of my friend, now deceased, who was the head of the drug corps at South Boston District Court,. it was he who asked me to do the documentary.”

That O’Neill proved so conversant of Boston’s heroin problem surprised me. It probably shouldn’t have. It’s the kind of problem that a television discussion show, such as O’Neill hosted, wants to focus on. Proof that her television experience offers more than just show time to the City Council if she’s elected.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

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^ Catherine O’Neill advocating to Seniors at the Foley House on H Street in South Boston.

BOSTON MAYOR RACE : 18 FORUMS UPCOMING … AND A NEW STATE REP FOR THE 12TH ?

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^ John Connolly vs. Marty Walsh : big battle shaping up

In case you doubt that the “sprint to Primary day” is really under way for the 12 Mayor candidates, get this : there are no fewer than eighteen — 18 ! — Mayoral Forums on schedule between today and September 19th.

No one wants to downgrade any Forum, but clearly, of those coming soon, the Main street Coalition’s Forum at the Strand Theater in Uphams’ Corner, on August 19th is key. Important, too,  are the Ward 10 (Mission hill and Hyde Square) Candidates Night on August 27th, the South End Business Alliance Forum on August 29th, and the Wards 19 and 5 Democratic Committee night on September 5. After that, it’s all big stuff, especially these : the NAACP’s Forum, 650 Dudley Street, on September 10th; Action for Boston Community Development’s Forum, 178 Tremont Street, on September 11; the Boston Teachers Union Forum that same night, at the BTU headquarters, 180 Mt Vernon Street near Columbia Point (Dorchester). Then comes the Back Bay Association’s Forum on September 16, and on September 19th, two biggies ; the Dorchester Board of trade, 780 Morrissey Boulevard, off Freeport Street, and a WBUR and Boston Foundation Forum at U Mass Boston in Columbia Point.

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^ Former School Committee member John Barros ; impressing many, and a chance to be heard on the big stages coming up

For some of the twelve, these Forums will be a last chance to get voters thinking beyond the “major” hopefuls. For the “majors,” it will be a voice-exhausting exercise in saying over and over again the themes and details that they are already speaking about, again and again, every night now.

Having had few opportunities to say their say in detail and at length, the last-chancers will doubtless impress many. Still, without meaning to sound dismissive, this writer feels, from long observation of major City campaigns, that for the last-chancers, these forums’ big significance will be that they catch the attention of the “majors,’ so that after the Primary, their support will be sought after. Which accords them and their supporters some palpable share in the agenda of whichever candidate finally becomes Mayor. Given that Boston has a strong-Mayor charter, by which the mayor appoints almost every key administrator and runs almost every City department, having skin in his or her game is no small thing for a last-chancer to gain.

There will also be some last-chancers who either do not get the point or who mishandle it. So be it in the political major leagues.

For the “majors,” the objective will be to not stumble, as Dan Conley now infamously did at a recent Black Community Forum, and to not misstate or overlook a policy position. Preparation will not be an issue; with so many forums coming on, no one is going to lose his or her forensic mojo. Still, these forums do not — cannot — overwhelm a major candidate’s time and thinking. He or she has several of his or her own campaign events on schedule, every day and night. it’s one huge, daily rush-rush-rush from here to there and everywhere, a series of stop-and-speak’s, strung across 17 hours of driving like knots on a rope. Such a candidate finds himself cramming on the ride to a Forum — when he or she’s not trying to catch 40 winks.

The good times of this campaign are over for the “majors” — the one on one talks with voters, the casual visits to city parks, neighborhood groups, restaurants, and small house parties. From here on, it’s thirst, palm cards, remembering voters’ names; it’s punishment, exhaustion, endurance, awareness missing nothing, plumping for funds — and reporters bothering them. But hey — this is the biggest of big leagues. Bring on the Forums.

As far as who the Big Two will be after Primary time, we saw nothing yesterday to change our view : John Connolly and Marty Walsh are it, with Rob Consalvo a credible alternative.

I give Consalvo that much because, at yesterday’s special Primary election to choose the 12th Suffolk State Rep’s Democratic nominee (to replace Linda Dorcena-Forry, now a State Senator), he had the most visibility of any mayor hopeful. At the seven city polling places (the District also includes also two precincts in Milton) and in lawn signs all over the Mattapan part of the District, Consalvo showed up.  So far as this writer has observed,he has all along  run the most thorough visibility campaign of the twelve. Were it not that a battle royal is already shaping up between Connolly and Walsh — political people throughout the City are talking about it; we’ll discuss why in future reports — Consalvo’s visibility effort would make all the difference. But that battle royal is taking shape, and fast, and the man from Hyde Park may get squeezed out.

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^ Rob Consalvo ; visibility dominant

The 12th Suffolk being a Dorchester/Mattapan thing, local favorite Marty Walsh had workers displaying his name — enthusiastically — at several of the seven polling places; supporters of Bill Walczak and Mike Ross also made a few appearances. John Connolly people, however, were not seen. This could not have been accident. Clearly Connolly had no intention of being measured against Walsh on Walsh’s home turf.

Now to that 12th Suffolk District special election. As we reported on our Facebook page at 9:00 PM last night, the Democratic nomination was won by Dan Cullinane, a former Marty Walsh aide from the Lower Mills neighborhood of Dorchester — as politically active a community as any in Boston. Surely Walsh had to be pleased.

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^ Dan Cullinane : Lower Mills victory

Cullinane’s victory party at the Ledge on “Dot Ave” was packed with about 100 supporters, including State Senator Brian Joyce as well as several members of the large and well-known Lower Mills O’Neill family, one of which, Catherine O’Neill, is running for Boston city Council city-wide. The O’Neills too had to be pleased.

Cullinane announced “diversity is the strength of our district’; and thanked, in particular, voters of Haitian origin, several of whom celebrated at his party : “merci, merci, merci,” Cullinane said, ‘and I can’t wait to visit Haiti !”

The new nominee won more than 60 percent of the vote against Stephanie Everett, who waas an aide to State Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, and Marydith Tuitt, an aide to State Rep Gloria Fox. Cullinane now faces, on September 10th, two independent candidates, one from Milton and one from Mattapan, in a District as Democratic as almost any in the State. If elected, he will join the Boston delegation and bring it to full size again.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere