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^ Seminar Day : much attention and then discussion at the Morning’s Education “Break-Out session”

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It has been a strange week in Boston City Politics. The Mayor-elect, Marty Walsh, has hosted an entire series of gatherings to discuss the eleven issue categories that his Transition Team has endorsed. Singly, night by night, these issues gatherings have taken place and will continue to do so well into January. On Saturday, all eleven issues gatherings held meetings again, all day long, in what Walsh’s Transition Website dubs “Mayor-elect Martin J. Walsh Town Hall Meeting.” The title misleads. The actual gatherings felt, to this participant, more like college seminars. Perhaps that’s because they were for the most part led by college educators.

That’s the strange part. The eleven issue categories — Arts and Culture, Basic City Services, Economic Development, Education, Energy-Environment & open Space, Housing, Human Services, Public Health, Public Safety, Transportation and Infrastructure, and Youth — all develop in a political context (some of the issues more than others. Arts & Culture seems appropriately collegiate, Basic City Services hardly at all); and political space is certainly where Walsh will have to decide how to structure them and choose priorities. So why the college-y format ? Yes, Boston’s a city plenteous with colleges. It’s nonetheless peculiar to think of Marty as Headmaster Walsh.

I attended the Morning Education seminar, then the afternoon Transportation/Infrastructure conference. At each, participants offered suggestions on what to keep — stuff that the City is already doing right; on what to implement — stuff that the Mayor can initiate without state legislation or huge budget outlays; and on what to dream about — a wish list for the future. Lists of each were made on large sheets of yellow art paper, and these were read from at the “general session” after all the seminars had ended. From the two sessions that I attended, I photographed both “keep” and “implement” lists. To see just how comprehensive these became, I invite you to peruse the “List” photographs below :photo (27)photo (28)^ the Education Session developed these ^ Lists of “Keep’ and “Implement”

Below —  the Transportation/Infrastructure attendees came up with this “Implement” List :

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After the seminars had concluded, each seminar moderator delivered a report — and the lists. It was a lot to digest. Walsh sat on stage, in their midst and made an heroic effort to pay attention.

Walsh delivered opening remarks and spoke after the session as well; he then did question-and-answer with the hundreds of citizens who more or less populated the Reggie Lewis Auditorium at Roxbury Community College, ground zero for the day’s discussing.

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^ school headmaster ? Marty Walsh addressed the gathered seminar goers after the day’s teaching

His opening remarks told of  a trip to the Nation’s capitol, from which, he said, he had returned only the night before: “The problems we face, the challenges,” said Walsh, “We’ll take them to Washington. Unemployment insurance must be restored…State and federal aid has been cut. we need to change the discussion.” The gathered citizens applauded. After the session ended, Walsh said in summation, “I was told by somebody that they had never seen a mayor and citizens have the kind of conversation we’re having today,” he said. “We need to continue this conversation after today too.”

Clearly Walsh has made a decision that stirring the pot of citizen petitioning the City is good politics. It continues the brilliant move that he made in his campaign, to engage hundreds of educators and public interest advocates in drafting 40 policy papers for future Boston governance. Those papers — 37 were actually completed — made Walsh look Mayoral, not just the Union guy he had been (quite correctly) seen as. No wonder that he is bringing such a thumbs-up campaign device into his transition work. Seminar and conference have much value convincing citizens that City hall is listening diligently. It can. Walsh has brought to his side an impressive group of Bostonians, many of them long known by me, with experience of the City as extensive as my own. And yet…

And yet I’m not sure that Walsh realizes that by keeping the issues pot boiling he is ( 1 ) raising participants’ expectations of his administration very high ( 2 ) will almost certainly disappoint some — maybe many ( 3 ) and thereby is setting the stage for a strong opposition candidate — surely a person of color — in 2017, a campaign that is likely to begin almost immediately after the 2015 Council elections.

Already the early moves are being made, as we see in the serious implications underlying the silly — and distractive — flap about “progressive” Councillor Michelle Wu supporting “conservative’; Bill Linehan for Council President. Already we see the formation of “monitoring’ groups which intend to hold Walsh to a variety of campaign promises — in particular, bringing people of color significantly into his administration at all levels — many of which he will be hard-pressed to keep, especially given the City’s $ 50 million budget deficit (which number is mounting even as I write). Eleven issues seminar groups can only whet the appetite of those with agendas to press.

Politically, it night have been wiser for Walsh to put a lid on politics during his transition — and beyond. This is what John Connolly has done, and most of his supporters. Few Connolly people have participated in the Walsh seminars; fewer still have been much heard from since election day, and John Connolly himself not at all, except to invite supporters to a December 27th “thank you” party. But perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps it’s a pleasant vacation from politics to hear a speech such as Professor (and Boston Globe columnist) Ed Glaeser, emcee of the Seminar, delivered, almost without notes, at session’s end; an eloquent, even stirring, history of The City, in America and elsewhere: what cities are about; why we need them; how they advance the human condition and shape our thoughts; in particular, the history of Boston, with its immigrants, universities, its “human capital,” which, as Glaeser noted, is more valuable than the coal, oil, and minerals that Boston does not have.

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^ History 307 — The City — Professor Glaeser tells it sweepingly

Glaeser’s narrative reminded me of the awe-inspiring History lecturers at whose podiums I studied at college. It was a thrilling experience to feel my mind carried back so many decades to when we students felt ourselves graced and awed by such narratives as Glaeser’s. hearing his speech, I almost forgot that this was a seminar about things to be done.

Talking is not doing. Silence often is.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

UPDATE : Marty Walsh badly needs to expand his reach beyond the team that has gotten him to victory. At the “Town hall” he was surrounded by all the familiar faces — hard working all, idealistic many — and accompanied by legislative and Council endorsers who strengthened his campaign. Of the rest of the City’s power players, however, I saw very very few. Some conspicuously had other plans. Clearly there is skepticism about Walsh’s readiness to the entire City. There’s also still a strong tide of continuance, of no giving up, by the “new Boston’ constituency that almost won on election day. It’s a constituency that doesn’t need City Hall to give it vision or goals to achieve and wants the Mayor to rethink the City, not merely improve it ; and will do so without him, if that’s how it is to be.  — MF

photo (40)^ drawing upon practical experience of the wise heads too :Marty Walsh conferred in a time-out moment with my old friend Pat Moscaritolo, of East Boston, who has managed much economic development work in Boston since the 1970s.



^ Boston’s City Hall : to be sold and razed ? Walsh says “do it !”

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Trapped in a Labor union suit by a week of editorial hits and campaign rivals’ debate points,. Marty Walsh today proposed as significant a single initiative as any other candidate has put forth.

He would sell the current City hall — as intimidating a foreboding palace of cold, cement bureaucracy as any structure I have ever visited — for about 135 million dollars and then develop all of City Hall Plaza for around-the-clock economic growth. “This area must evolve from a 9 to 5 weekday government-dependent culture to a culture economically driven to add value 24/7,” Walsh told the Boston Globe.

Unlike previous efforts to move City hall — Mayor Menino’s plan wanted to build it in the Seaport District — Walsh’s proposal would build the new Hall in the downtown area. The building would be privately built and leased to the city for 20 to 40 years, at a fixed rent; at the end of which term the City would buy it for one dollar ($ 1.00).

Some of Walsh’s rival candidates — but not John Connolly — criticized his proposal, and Rob Consalvo raised the point at today’s Back Bay Association Forum : “how would the city function while the present City hall is bull-dozed ?” asked Consalvo, a bit snidely. Walsh stated the obvious, that City hall would not be sold and razed until the new City hall was built.

I like Walsh’s idea a lot. As he said at the Back Bay Forum, “the next area of the City’s economic growth is Government Center.” His way of getting to it is bold, but the next mayor should be — HAS to be — bold if Boston is to move forward in an ever more complex and technologically fast-paced economy. Walsh’s proposal scopes smaller than John Connolly’s “school transformation,’ but it is a firmer step than anything Connolly proposes. All of Connolly’s school transformation goals have yet to be cast into shape; nor is it easy to envision them shaping up without huge controversy, with the BTU especially. Walsh’s proposal is specific — and achievable quickly.


^ Marty Walsh ; “this area must evolve from a 9-to-5 weekday government-dependent culture to a culture economically driven to add value 24/7 !”

The proposal makes clear just how significant Walsh’s “Construction Boom” candidacy is for the City’s future direction and look. Score a big one here for Marty Walsh.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ 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.


^ 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 ?


^ 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