^ street theater at City Hall & Faneuil  : the “$ 61 million” BPS parents’ bake sale yesterday

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As just about everyone knows who is involved in it, moving the Boston Public School system forward is almost a combat challenge. Berms galore face the advancing warriors ; severely decreased Federal funding; unfunded State mandates; administrative change, including to staffing and work rules; figuring out a workable relationship between charter schools and “standard schools”; layoffs; teacher salaries. Doubtless I have left out many more.

That said, the army of school reform Is moving forward. Some even of the opponents of reform are actually assisting it by highlighting the difficulties. One such highlight took place yesterday, at the back of Boston City Hall, across the street from Faneuil Hall : a school parents’ “$ 61 million” bake sale.

The $ 61,000,000 they refer to is, as they see it, the dollar amount by which the Boston School department’s FY 2015 budget falls short of what is needed. Superintendent John McDonough agrees that the new school budget has “at the end of the day…only so much revenue,” as he put it at the March 26th Budget hearing. Whether McDonough concurs that the shortfall amounts to $ 61 million, I do not know; there is no disagreement, however, that the budget foes come up short. as McDonough put it, “trade offs” were needed. The trade-offs included eliminating abort 200 position : 100 of them from central school department administration, another 100 or so from the staffs of individual schools.

Hard hit was the Mary Curley K to 8 school in Jamaica Plain ; a school that has, since the late 1970s, occupied a central place in Jamaica Plain’s re-invention as a gentrified neighborhood. Parents of Curley School children cite losing a coach, support personnel, and a school nurse. Other parents, with children at other schools on Boston’s western edge, report the same.

it may well be that McDonough chose to layoff staff in these schools rather than in poorer neighborhoods because he knew that Curley parents would organize and protest loudly, and that those responsible for cutting Federal and state school funding would hear ; and that their protests would matter more to these officials than if he himself were making them. McDonough is as shrewd as they come, and I find nothing that he does to be without well placed purpose. In this case, if his intent is as I suggest, he has planned well indeed.


^ shrewdest guy in Boston : School Superintendent John McDonough at the “$ 61 million” bake sale

The bake sale drew at least four City Councillors, several Boston teachers, and much media attention. Less attention has been paid to what McDonough has done to school administration. He has made major moves, chiefest of which is to give every Boston school principal full authority to choose every teacher and staff at the school of which he is principal; and to do so by early hiring, when the best teachers are still on offer, and to count diversity as a criterion. The effect on future teacher union work rules can only be revolutionary.

Mayor Walsh, too, has made school improvement moves. his new appointees to the School Committee both voted for McDonough’s propos;las (which were adopted unanimously); and today, at the City Councils’ FY 2015 Budget Hearing, orders presented by the Mayor were adopted unanimously, as follows:

Order # 0637, to borrow $ 72,848,295 for constructing the Dearborn 6-12 STEM/Early college Academy, on Dearborn Street in the Cape Verdean part of Boston : the City’s first new school building in many, many years.

Orders # 0588 through 0593, statements of interest to the Massachusetts School Building Authority, for six more new projects, in West Roxbury, South boston, Jamaica Plain , East Boston, Hyde Park, and the South End.

It would he hard to make a case that thee projects are moving forward without an accompanying commitment by the mayor and City to set these new schools up in any way but under the McDonough reforms.

Now all that is needed is for the State and Federal governments to do their part in funding the goal that McDonough states best : “this isn’t about charter schools or standard schools. It;s about making all schools better. we must cloze the achievement gap.”

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

UPDATE 11.30 PM 04/09/14  : Mary Tamer, who was a Boston School Committeewoman until her term ended on January 5th, questions the viability of the Dearborn STEM project — citing what she calls the “poor results” at the current Dearborn as a turnaround school — and also some other school moves being made around the City. Tamer asks how the City justifies the Dearborn project. It’s a good question deserving an answer that was not given at today’s Council hearing.



^ taking the three-part oath as Boston’s 48th Mayor :Martin Joseph Walsh of District 3

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So said Marty Walsh after being sworn in as Boston’s 48th Mayor. Chief Justice Roderick Ireland swore Walsh in. Walsh’s Mom and brother and his gal-pal Lorrie Higgins stood by to watch the “kid from Taft Street” official become His Honor. It was a moving moment no matter which of the 12 Mayoral candidates you wanted. Walsh grew up without a big name, on a three-decker street, surrounded by temptations, some of which befell him. And now here he was, the City’s leader, holder of perhaps the most powerful elected office in Massachusetts.

Other men have traced the same kind of path from bottom to top. One thinks of Diocletian, Roman Emperor, yet born a slave, who rose, who educated himself. Or of Abraham Lincoln. Or Fiorello LaGuardia and Al Smith. It is, in fact, a commonplace of politics, that those on the bottom often believe in the system more truly than many on the top and who, aspiring, steel themselves to rise within it, no matter how long or painful the climb, and to become the steward of it and of all it represents. There have been innumerable Marty Walshes in history. And yet…it is still moving to see an actual Marty Walsh actually become Boston’s Mayor and to see the gathered thousands of Boston’s elite and non-elite actually there, in Conte Forum, to witness his becoming Mayor and to cheer it.


^ Senator Elizabeth Warren delivering her remarks to “my friend Marty”

The powerful did not hang back. Senator Elizabeth Warren spoke eloquently about the passion that she and Walsh, so she said, share for alleviating inequality and the achievement gap. Governor Deval Patrick, choosing a light comic note, told Walsh that he would wake up from “a day of blur” but to savor the moment anyway. Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston also sat on stage. Yo Yo Ma performed the “Danny Boy Serenade” with dominant intensity and equally masterful delicacy. The entire City Council, all 13 members, sat on the other side of the podium and took its own oath. The front rows of the Forum found a seated multitude of descendants of former Mayors : Flynns, Whites, Fitzgeralds, Hyneses, Collinses — lending depth to the occasion’s topside.


^ the gathered thousands included a huge segment from Dorchester, all of whom cheered loudly when their Councillor, Frank Baker, was sworn in.

Walsh then delivered an inaugural address sturdy and point by point clear. All the themes of his campaign took a turn : collaboration, diversity in staffing, improving education, ending the achievement gap, attacking violent crime, and assuring full equality to all Bostonians no matter what their sexual orientation, lifestyle or origin. He thanked “,my sisters and brothers in labor” — was roundly cheered — and almost in the next sentence said “let it be known that Boston is open for business.” Here he spoke of “innovation in every neighborhood, not just downtown” and of small business, start-ups, and businesses big.

It was a firm speech, confidently delivered, steady as she goes. Which may well be the defining tenor of Walsh’s administration.

And so you have it. Marty Walsh is your Mayor. Yep.



^ from Chelsea, with what mission ? new corporations counsel Eugene O’Flaherty, currently chairman of the State’s House Judiciary Committee

Hardly two hours had elapsed after that “yep” when an announcement was made at least as portentous as the inauguration itself : State Representative Eugene O’Flaherty, of Chelsea, is giving up his House seat and his House Judiciary Committee chairmanship, moving from Chelsea to Boston, and becoming Walsh’s chief corporations counsel : the city;s top lawyer. I admit that this choice surprised me completely. It was easy enough to believe that Walsh wanted O’Flaherty, who was first elected to the House in the same year as he (1996). The two men share much heritage. The difficult part for me was, why would O’Flaherty take the job ? He isn’t just a State Representative, he is one of the chamber’s key leaders. And also have to move house. There has to be a big story going on, and what it is, I can only speculate. It may involve the Steve Wynn casino project : O’Flaherty represents Charlestown, which Walsh did not come close to winning on election day and which will; be heavily impacted. Is O’Flaherty being asked to use his particular knowledge of the area to win the best mitigation package possible from Wynn, including — a top Walsh priority — construction jobs ? or perhaps to sue the Wynn project, or the Suffolk Downs Revere-only casino project if needed ?

We will soon find out.

We will also find out who Walsh chooses to head the other City departments. Of only one such did he say there would be a “nationwide search” : schools superintendent. Of course so. No Bostonian would want the thankless, frustrating job. (One of his two school committee appointments has already caused comment : replacing charter school principal Mary Tamer with labor lawyer Michael Loconto.) As the school committee appointment shows, not many Bostonians Walsh might name as superintendent would avoid raising an outcry from one interest group or another. Compared to schools superintendent, it’ll be easy to pick a Police Commissioner and one for the Fire Department. No nationwide search needed there.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ Council President Stephen Murphy

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Boston, October 2, 2013 at 2.45 PM —- Stephen Murphy, Boston City Council president, is not at all happy with having the City’s arbitration with the Patrolmen’s Union bounced back to the Council for a yes or no.

“I’m angriest at the Mayor,” Murphy told me. “We’ve been good to him on all his projects, and now that he’s out the door he hands this to us. No, I’m not happy.” In fact, Murphy is angrier than that quote. He shares with me some not-so-choice words about Mayor Menino.

Murphy doesn’t know when there’ll be a Council hearing on whether to accept the award, which gives the Patrolmen a 25,4% raise over several years. “First the award has to get to us,” he said. “it hasn’t. I need to see what’s in it before I know how to vote.”

Will it come before the election five weeks from now ? Murphy isn’t even sure of that. One hears the frustration in his voice.

Murphy also doesn’t know if he will have the Council as a whole do the hearing or give it to District 9 Councillor mark Ciommo’s committee.

His beef isn’t with the award itself, which he hasn’t seen the details of. “There hasn’t been a lot of public outcry about the award, though the media want to make it one,” he tells me. But when questioned about the Walsh legislation — House Bill 2467 — that Connolly has cited, Murphy agrees that “it is a mistake” to take away the Council’s authority to approve or turn down arbitration awards.

The issue thus continues. It will definitely be raised by Connolly time and again. And parried by Walsh again and again. Meanwhile, Tom Menino walks out the political door with a “who, me ?” shrug.

—- Michael Freedberg



As many of you reading this already know, we put Annissa Essaibi George on Here and Sphere’s suggested” list for the Primary. Of her we said the following :

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 definitely her voice for the BTU is needed, even if the BTU itself sometimes misses the political bulls-eye.”

Everything we said of Essaibi-George then, we found to be just as true as we had observed of her. We met her in the home neighborhood, that part of Dorchester centered on St., Margaret’s Church. It’s where the late House Speaker John McCormack lived, and it’s where Marty Walsh was born and still lives. Essaibi-George was born and grew up here too — and keeps her campaign headquarters nearby as well. (And yes, it was open with volunteers busy when we met her.)

Despite the exotic name — her Father came from Tunisia; George is her married name — Essaibi-George is a total Dorchester kid. She has the accent and she knows the people. When we met her at the Sugar Box on “Dot Ave” she was just finishing an intense discussion with District Three Councillor Frank Baker, who also grew up close to St. Margaret’s and still lives there.

We and Baker said our hello’s, and he left for other business, and we asked Essaibi George (AEG below) the questions we always ask of Council candidates. The first question that Here and Sphere (HnS) asks is, “what unique qualities do you bring to the Council if elected ?”

This answer we already knew : as a Boston Teachers Union memeber and activist, she will be a voice for teachers : who are, after all, the focal point of Boston’s most costly and biggest single city department.

HnS : What school reforms do you see as needed ?

AEG : “A lot of Catholic schools end in the eighth grade. We need to ramp up what we are doing in our high schools so bthat parents feel better about sending kids to them. Not every kid gets the exam schools. Each of our high schools needs to be partnered with a union, a big business, or a university. To give the kids hands-on training connected to learning. Bio-tech firms need to be in this mix). More than once a year. Let our kids see what it’s like to work. Universities: let sophomores at BU (Boston University) come to the high schools and mentor our kids. Our kids need to know what it’s like to go to college. They need to see what it’s like to do the work (that’s expected of them) in college.”

HnS : The BRA — replace it or reform it ?

AEG : “Reform it.. Don’t get rid of it. Community opinion (should be) heavily weighted.”

HnS : Doesn’t that simply enable NIMBY ?

AEG : NIMBY comes from a neighborhood not being included. There has been undue dumping of low quality housing in some neighborhoods. And too many methadone clinics. These are often for-profit, and the more people they can run through their system, the more profit. And the neighborhood ends up having to deal with it.”

HnS : As for neighborhood development, what about liquor licenses ?

AEG : “Every neighborhood has different characteristics. Again, if the neighbors feel that a liquor license is needed or useful, then the City should be able to grant it. And if it isn’t needed, then not.”

HnS : Do you agree with what Marty Walsh said a couple months back, that there os a heroin epidemic in Boston ?

AEG : “There is a heroin epidemic and a mrthadone epidemic. We need to hold the methadone clinics resposnsible for the quality of their care. Care and supervision needed.”

That discussion that we mentioned her having with Councillor Baker was, so she told us, about when the Council hearing would be held to discuss the 25.5% BPPA arbitration award — Baker did not yet know when it would be held. The subject being mentioned, we of course had to ask — indeed, she insisted we do so :

HnS : “All right then, what IS your opinion of the BPPA award ? Can we assume it is the same as everybody else’s ?

AEG : “I support the award ! We’ve negotiated, and we should make the decision before it gets to arbitration. After 24 negotiating sessions we should be able to settle ! Otherwise why have negotiations ?”

On this resolution she and we disagree. But we were impressed to find her giving so forthrightly a contrary opinion to our own. She has a point : how can a labor negotiation not reach settlement after 24 bargaining sessions ? The question wants to answer itself. Besides, we actually prefer to see diversity of opinion on the Boston City Council. If all four at-Large Councillors agree on matters, why have four of them at all ?


^ the candidate in West Roxbury, meeting voters at ward 20 Precincts 10 and 14, on Primary night

Essaibi-George finished seventh in the Primary. We’ll be looking to see her in the areas she is now focusing on, including, of course, West Roxbury and Jamiaca Plan. She has the active support of Catherine O’Neill, who was on our “suggested” list as well but finished ninth and thus missed “the top eight cut.” O’Neill comes from the opposite end of Dorchester and, as a television hostess and published playwright, has a different following from Essaibi-George’s but one that complements it. Did we mention that the Firemen of local 718 also support her ? They do.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

NOTE : Our summer intern, Dave Morrison, contributed important research and reporting to this profile.




In the November 2009 election, Ayanna Pressley became the first woman of color ever elected to the Boston City Council. She was re-elected in 2011, finishing first in 13 wards and in the City as a whole. Her rise from unknown to the top has surprised many; but in the internet age, when candidates can become very known very quickly, and where a fresh face and articulate person can become liked almost as quickly, her rise seems less unique. There will surely be more Ayanna Pressley stories than not in Boston elections to come.

She grew up in Chicago and came here to attend Boston university. Until recently, growing up 1000 miles from Boston, and not being at least the child, or grandchild, of Boston residents, was an all but impossible start for any success at all in Boston elections. But the internet age has modified that; today one can grow up anywhere and have Boston voters feel close friendship to you. Pressley’s success proves it.

Granted that she did have some political experience here in Massachusetts, first as an aide to Congressman Joseph Kennedy II and then in the office of then Senator John Kerry.

We first heard her speak in person at a “community conversation,’ as a candidate house party is now called, at a house named “Ashmonticello” on Dorchester’s Adams Street hard by the Neponset River about a block from Lower Mills. There she answered questions from about 5 people, many of them schools or progressive-issue activists. She stood in front of the gathered, dressed in professional businesswoman style and, in a sweet soprano voice — her meet and greet voice too — gave detailed, evenly delivered responses.


Most of the questions addressed the proposal that has become her hallmark : a Home Rule Petition, to the legislature, to grant Boston control over its own liquor licenses.

Some background : under Massachusetts law, all Cities are state-chartered entities; and as such, they must petition the State if they desire to make changes in the state statutes governing their charter. Boston is thye only city whose liquor licenses require State approval. This was done over 100 years ago, when State and City were grievously at odds politically and ethically.

Pressley explained her petition at the “Ashmonticello” as something needed not just for its own sake but becaue the granting of liquor licenses enables restaurants to succeed; and restaurants, as she pouts it, create “destination neighborhoods.” She wants all of Boston’s major neighborhoods to have destination strength; and, as she adds, successful neighborhood restaurants give rise to successful neighborhood businesses of many other kinds.

Every City Council candidate in this year’s election hashad to state a position on Pressley’s Home Rule petition, the most significant home Rule reform presented seriously in many years. It also provides a specific example of the neighborhood-centered planning thaty she, like so many candidates running in this election, including the mayor candidates, call for as an overdue BRA reform.

Pressley has conducted as city-wide and active a street-level campaign as any Council candidate. We have seen her in Meeting house Hill, on Dochester Avenue, in Jamaica Plain, Roxbury, and downtown. She has endorsement of palnned parenthood and of several Democratic party Ward Committees. After the Primary we will focus in greater length on the focus and outreach of her seeking a third Council term.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ Jeff Ross ; has impressed a lot of activists already

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We met at-Large Council candidate Jeff Ross at Club Cafe, where a short while after our interview, he attended an affair for Marty Walsh and was introduced to the gathering.

This is what candidates for Boston’s four at-Large Council seats are doing, as often and as diversely as they can. Even as a veteran worker in Boston political campaigns, Ross must do the same, and as a practiced campaigner, he knows it. He’s also ready with detailed, though usually succinct, answers to the several questions that we ask of Council candidates. Not surprising that he has gained much good press in Boston’s media.

He currently holds office, as the Democratic State Committeeman representing the State Senate seat now held by Sonia Chang-Diaz. (All elected State Committee members are elected by State Senate District at the Presidential Primary every fourth year.) He lives in the South End part of Chang-Diaz’s district — in Ward 9, Precinct 2, for political junkies — and, as he tells us, is “the first LGBT person elected to the State Committee from this district.”

He will also, if elected an at-large Councillor, be (to the best of our knlowledge),the first LGBT person to hold that Boston office.

As he represents one of Massachusetts’s most progressive-voting Senate Districts, he too holds progressive views. But the range of campaigns that he has worked on these past seven years — Ayanna Pressley, Felix G. Arroyo, Gloria Fox, for example — has taken him to old-line politics (Fox) and business-oriented mainstream (Pressley) as well.

“I have lived in Boston for 20 years,” Ross tells me. “I grew up on the West Coast in a working class a family; my Mom worked for minimum wage; often we used an oven to heat our house.

“I was the first in my family to go to college. I was on the waiting list at U(niversity of) Penn(sylvania) but got into Northeastern. So to Boston.”

Ross’s bio answers Here and Sphere’s standard first question, “what about you uniquely qualifies you to be a City Councillor ? Thus we proceeded directly to our other usual questions.

Here and Sphere (HnS): What can you do as a Councillor to advance your concerns for the working wage that some have proposed ?

Ross : “We can propose home rule petitions and testify for them at the State House. I have testified at legislative hearings. I’m ready to do it again.”

HnS : Do you support Ayanna Pressley’s Home Rule petition (to give Boston control over its own liquor licenses) ?

Ross : “I do support it. Some neighborhoods have too many licenses, some too few. The point is to create destination neighborhoods. Many neighborhoods need supermarkets … that are within walking distance for people who go about on foot.”

HnS : Abolish the BRA or reform it ?

Ross : “reform it. Development should be neighborhood-driven. They should include affordable housing.”

HnS : Lift the charter school cap or not ?

Ross : “If we’re going to lift the cap it should be an innovation type of school, a school free of state-mandated curriculum. For the lowest-testing twenty percent of schools I support after-school programs in art, music and woodcraft. These help (a kid) to reconnect. And innovation around sports, because (these kids) need more student interaction.”

HnS : Do you favor an Elected school committee, as some are now proposing ?

Ross : “I do not support an elected school committee. The schools have improved a lot under the appointed committee

HnS : You live in the new Boston, thus we have to ask ; do you favor late night transport and a later closing hour than the current two A.M. ?

Ross : “(of course) there’s the need to extend the cloing hoyfrs in he Downtown area, Financial District, and Waterfront. The concern in other neighborhoods is the noise, though. Late night transport, yes; people who work late in the buildings need a way to get home.”

HnS : Do you agree with something Marty Walsh said, that there’s a heroin epidemic in the city ?

Ross : “There is an uptick in ‘STI’ and (as we know) Molly. And heroin (too). We need public health education in the schools, plus, (better) outreach to families. We need to have these conversations with young people. it gets back to what I said about early evaluations and early intervention as treatment and recovery. I have a family member, same age as me, who died (like that) and who needed that sort of social safety net…”

And so ended the Q and A, and both of us joined the Marty Walsh affair beginning in the next room. Jeff Ross to campaign, we to be the newsie in the room.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ Philip Frattaroli ; at a restaurant, of course….

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Not many candidates for Boston City Council come from the restaurant business. Indeed, it’s hard for me to think of even one. Enter Philip Frattaroli, who owns and operates Ducali in the North End, where he lives in a “fifth floor walk-up,” as he puts it, a living situation not at all uncommon in that ancient part of Boston. restaurants, too, are common in the North end, but not since Dom Caposella, who after losing a race for State Representative, opened a fine dining spot named “Dom’s,” on Commercial Street, decades ago has North End politics and restauranting come together, as Frattaroli has now done at age 31.

Frattaroli was born in the North End — “how different it was !” he recalls — into a family that, like so many North Enders since 1900, had come from Southern Italy : the town of Avellino (Dad) and the Abruzzese (Mom). And, as Frattaroli tells it, they soon opened up a restaurant — and moved to Winchester, where their son graduated from high school.

“I grew up in the restaurant business,’ he says. “it was something i wanted no part of as a career, though. and when my brother was killed by a negligent driver, it changed how I looked at everything. So after college, I went to Suffolk Law School and then to practice law.” But the restaurant business came back into his life anyway “I came up with an idea for a place and so decided to get involved in my own restaurant. Thus Ducali.”

Being a small businessman, says Frattaroli, makes him “a candidate who knows what it might be to lose money.” And as a restaurant owner, “I know what a small (food) business has to go through, all the licensing, the city departments…I’m a lawyer, and it’s hard for me. imagine what it’s like for an immigrant.” But, he continues, “I’ve created jobs in the city, I’ve been through the 1010 Mass Avenue (inspectional services department) process. (Don’t forget) “the North End turned around (and became what it now is) because of small business.”

Having heard this assertion, I felt the need to ask him an obvious licensing question : “So, do you agree with Councillor Pressley’s Home Rule petition to give Boston power over its own liquor licenses ?”

Frattaroli responded at gtreat length. After all, this is the issue he lives by:

“Not sure I agree. To go to an uncapped liquor license system (means that) all the small businesses that have played by the rules will suffer. Their licence is their chef asset. Her home rule proposal needs to be modified. Somerville didn’t go to an uncapped system when they revamped their licensing a few years ago; why should Boston ?

“The licenses aren’t the problem, it’s where they are given out. Some neighborhoods have too many, some have none. Ten percent of all people (employed) in Boston are employed in the restaurant business. The goal here is (to not hurt them). With me, you have somebody who knows the business (and I’m saying that an) uncapped system is going to hurt the current restaurants. Keep some cap on the total.”

It’s clear from the above conversation that Frattaroli’s unique quality as a Councillor is his experience in the restaurant business. thus went Here and Sphere’s first question to candidates. the conversation continues (“HnS” for Here and Sphere):

HnS : What are your two top priorities as a Councillor at Large ?

Frattaroli : “First, small businesses and how the City treats them. Second, young families. We need to make the city easier for them to stay. This involves, first, better assignment process for schools. Schools have to be neighborhood schools. Second, sports programs in the schools, such as Boston Youth Wrestling. it’s proven that kids involved in wrestling don;t drop out of school, and wrestling, unlike basketball or football, is for kids of all shapes and sizes. third, late night transit. it;s better for the city and for safety and for the businesses. Lots of younger people work late and can’t get home.”

HnS : What about the BRA ? Replace or rerform ? If reform, in what ways ?

Frattaroli : “reform it. My friend bought a condo and had to pay the BRA a percentage of the buy price ! he BRA should be treated just like a government agency.

“There should also be transparency. How did the Seaport area get all big-chain, nationally owned restaurants, and none locally owned ? (We still don’t know the process of that.) And to get there you have to have a car — it’s too far to walk. Who planned that ? It all has to be reformed. I’m on the local neighborhood council, and we can’t find out what is happening. (As for the Council having a say,) the budget for the BRA. that is where we come in.

HnS : School reform : what on John Connolly’s school agenda do you favor ?

Frattaroli : “There’s data on what works. We have to replicate (that.) Innovation schools (work). (Take) the Eliot. The teachers there have given up some of their contract perks. We can’t (just) hold on to a system that protects vested interests. (I think of) a school in South Boston (that) had a teacher who was teacher of the year, yet the school had to let him go because he was the last one in !

“A longer school day ? As long as its used the right way, yes. We have to take best practices that work, and apploy them here.”

HnS : Lift the cap on charter schools ?

Frattaroli : “Yes, i think I’d vote to raise the cap. Competition is good. Restaurants are a meritocracy. (why not schools ?) Charter schools (apply) a lot of innovations.”

HnS : Marty Walsh says there’s a heroin epidmeic in Boston. Do you agree ?

Frattaroli : “There’s a drug problem. Whatever the drug is — it’s in society in general. The sports thing that I mentioned is so important (here). As a wrestler, as a kid, I was saved. I made sure that I was never not ready. Kids in sports have mentors. Especially the young men; it’s an important part of their coming of age.”

Frattaroli has had success raising money for his first run at public office. He has raised $ 70,000, he tells me, with a smile. It continues. “You’ll see,” he says. “On Monday evening there’s a fundraiser for me at Ecco in East Boston. the State Rep, Carlo Basile, will be there. Come and see how we’re doing !”

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ 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 CITY COUNCIL RACE : Jack Kelly Makes Name for Himself, One Barbecue at a Time


^ Having Their Cake and eating It Too ; Allston-Brighton liaison Angela Holm enjoying cake with City Council at-large candidate Jack Kelly — outside a barbecue in North Allston this past Sunday.

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Because the highly contested Boston Mayoral Race commands most attention, the race for Boston City Council has, for the most part, been pushed to the side stage.

Jack Kelly hopes to change that.

He graduated  from the University of Massachusetts at Boston with a degree in Political Science. Most recently, he’s been working as a Community Liaison for Massachusetts General Hospital, helping to bring awareness to the plight of Substance Abuse and HIV in various high-risk sections of the City.

In our profile of Kelly, we noted his interesting bio. As his campaign has gained serious momentum, we decided to follow up. How is he gathering the strength that has become so evident in his run ?

Thus Here and Sphere caught up with Kelly at a neighborhood barbecue in Allston. We asked him especially about the response he has received so far, from Boston voters.

HnS: How is the Campaign going so far?

Kelly: The Campaign is going very, very well. We just picked up another endorsement today from State Rep. Carlo Basile (D-East Boston) amongst many. We’re here in Allston today. It’s not only diverse economically, but culturally as well as with history.

HnS: What has been the most important thing that you have learned so far on the campaign?

Kelly: Lots of things. I go to a lot of barbeques, and I want to eat, but I don’t (laughs). In fact, I think that I’ve lost about fifteen pounds, walking around, going from barbecue-to-barbecue.

HnS: Well, you do look great.

Kelly: Thanks (Laughs). I think that the issues for most Bostonians are universal. I think that sometimes people here see these issues differently because they are segregated in a sense. But if you do go into those neighborhoods, the issues are very, very similar.

HnS: Say you’re elected to the City Council, and regardless of who is elected Mayor, in four years from now, where do you see Boston?

Kelly: I think that there are several good Mayoral candidates, and whoever is elected Mayor, if I am elected to the City Council, my hope is that I can help steer the City in the right direction. I want to continue the good work that Mayor Menino has done. Boston is going to be very good. Not just because of its leadership, but because of its people.

HnS: What has been the most pressing issue in this campaign that you have heard from voters?

Kelly: I think it’s a combination of schools, public safety, and sometimes they sort of migrate into one big conglomerated issue. A lot of people are also concerned about public parking and development. It also depends on what neighborhood you’re in, as far as issues are concerned. If you wanted to pick one issue that is universally applied to all people, it would be the schools.”

The campaign continues. We expect to see Kelly often in the four weeks that remain till Primary day.

— Dave Morrison / Here and Sphere



^ Ramon Soto : from co-ordinator to candidate.

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We met RAMON SOTO yesterday, in the North End, as the celebration of St. Anthony’s day was winding down. Even at 5 P.M. the day was hot and sunny and the crowds lively as Soto talked to us in one of the many new bar-terrasses that offer a touch of Europe to those who live or visit Boston’s oldest residential neighborhood. Soto is making his first run for elective office, seeking one of Boston’s four city-wide Council seats. He’s had events in Jamaica Plain, South Boston, and among the city’s Latino communities, and he is pumped.

No sooner has our talk begun than he makes a headline.

“I live in Mission Hill,’ he says. “at 16 Parker Hill Avenue.”

“But that is the street that Donna Summer grew up on!” we exclaim.

To which Soto responds, “Yes ! She lived in the exact same house that I live in now ! The owner often talks to me of her. On the anniversary of her death he had the house all decked out in pink.”

“So tragic, her death vat age 63,” we say.

“Yes, and I can never forget her, can I ?”

Immediately we like Ramon Soto a lot.

Beyond being a Donna Summer fan, Soto enjoys a long resume of Boston-area political work at the center of power. “My first time (in politics), I worked for Michael Morrissey, who was running for state senator in Quincy – Braintree. In Braintree, he finished third, but in the part that I was in charge of, he was first. (He won the race and) brought me aboard.

“From there, i joined the communications staff of Mayor Menino. Job title ; “constituent service co-ordinator.” Which meant that I worked on his e-mails. There were hundreds of e-mails on every issue, so he said to me, ‘if i have to sign them, I want the answers to be what I am saying.’ And together we worked out the right answer for him, for each issue. These weren’t boiler plate answers. I rewrote them all. it taught me all about the broader issues and gave me a knowledge of the people to go to if the Mayor wanted an issue dealt with.

“That was only my day job, though,’ Soto notes. “I wasn’t making much just doing his e-mails, so at night I bartended. I learned a lot about (city) life doing that.”

Soto rose even higher in the political backstage. He took a leave to work on the 2008 Hillary Clinton campaign. As a Clinton delegate, he attended the Democratic national convention and, after Clinton released her delegates, he became known to the Obama people and was hired to work much of Eastern Massachusetts — “in reality, New Hampshire,” Soto notes — in the Fall campaign.

After Obama’s victory, Soto was back in City Hall, now as co-ordinator for resources going to the Boston School system. “Our goal was to gather all these resources into one arena, so that parents can do one-stop help at their kids’ schools.”

Yet for this tireless man being a schools co-ordinator was not enough. “I also was the City;s co-ordinator to the 2010 census process,” he says. “(My mission was) to go into the nail salons, bodegas, barber shops, and churches an d make sure the people knew that 400 million in federal dollars would come to the City if we counted everybody; those were the stakes. They got the message. We had the highest city census participation in thirty years.”

Such is the life of Ramon Soto, who can justly claim a nuts-and-bolts, working connection to every corner of Boston.

Because this bio fully answers our usual first question to candidates, “what qualities single you out as a potential Councillor,’ our interview moved directly to the other six questions. The questions and Soto’s answers follow.

Here and Sphere (HnS) : What are your two top priorities to work on if you’re elected ?

Soto : First, continue and expand the ‘circle of promise’ program. Second, youth violence. If we can get the guns off our streets — advocacy groups need to come together on this — maybe a gun buy back — we can end this scourge. Background checks for all gun sales, including between family members, which is how many youths obtain their guns.”

HnS : Casino vote — citywide or East Boston only ?

Soto : “East Boston only. It’s their neighborhood, it’s their autonomy.”

HnS : School reform — longer school day, yes or no ? Do you favor any of the other reforms in Connolly’s agenda ?

Soto : “Stronger Court Street structure. Everybody there is doing a great job, but it’s too centralized. more voices need to be heard. Bi-lingual education is a mistake — it delays a kid’s mastering English. Dual-language schools, that’s more like it, indeed vitally important.

“We need at least a five year plan to assess the state of our schools. A full scale, flexible but comprehensive analysis of where we are now. Today the assignment process puts school quality against assignment rules. We need to assure that kids have better options, closer to home. And (when we do this analysis) we need to engage the parents !

“Longer school day make sense. Bring the school day in line with the work day. But until we totally assess the schools we can’t decide what to do with the longer school day. (Also,) I’m a realist about the funds available. (Perhaps) we can get after-school programs (from outside the teachers’ time constraints.”

5. HnS : Charter schools — lift cap ? {Partial lift ?

Soto : “(I’m) against lifting the charter cap. If we want to get the public schools right, then we have to focus on the schools we already have.”

6. HnS : BRA — re[place reform (and, if so, in what ways) ? Should there be a separate board for planning ?

Soto : “the Council does not have the final word (here). The mayor has to sign off. But as far a i am involved, I do not want to increase the red tape. Developers fund the BRA. Just let’s have more transparency and a more comprehensive process that involves the neighborhood.

“Economic development plan ? (Maybe just) more red tape. Better to just open up more communication with the community.”

7. Hns : Marty Walsh says ‘There’s a heroin epidemic in the city now.’ Do you agree ?

Soto : “Yes there is a heroin epidemic. I had my wallet stolen the other day !

“Yes we can do something about it. talk to the kids out there — but it’s really about the family. Families in trouble tend to make bad decisions.

“Government has ways of encouraging families; there’s a billion dollars in the cit available to help families. (Much of it is) plugged into the schools. And it’s about treatment and therapy. You can’t (simply arrest your way out of it. The drug unit at the BPD does a great job, but it’s really about stopping (the drugs). (And) it’s not just Boston. it’;s everywhere.”

You can find out more about Ramon Soto and his agenda by visiting his website at

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere