BOSTON MAYOR RACE : A TALE OF TWO CITIES

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^ John and Meg Connolly — and an array of Boston Public School parents — at last night’s Elks hall rally

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The candidates for Mayor of Boston talk all the time about bringing the city together or about everybody, in whatever neighborhood, wanting the same thing. This is true. Yet campaigns are about differences. Campaigns don’t alleviate those differences, they emphasize them. Thus the differences magnified in the campaigns of this election’s two perceived leaders, Marty Walsh and John Connolly.

At his “Mondays With Marty” events — “community conversations” in the argot of today — Marty Walsh has drawn hundreds of listeners to his message of “best practices” education, improving the Downtown Boston economy, fighting the “heroin epidemic,” and setting up an office of diversity in City Hall so that the City’s departments “reflect what Boston looks like.” Walsh speaks passionately at these Mondays, if a bit quickly, and with a sincerity that touches everyone who hears him. Yet from East Boston to Dudley square in Roxbury and West Roxbury to Charlestown, Walsh’s Mondays seem to draw mostly people age 35 to 50 — the peak working years — who speak of, or look like, harried lives. He’s every bit the union workers’ candidate that he has been labeled as, and though he draws all kinds of work-age people, not only union workers by any means, the tones of voice of those who address questions to him is often gravelly, even anxious, the voices of people who work with their hands or whose work is always hands-on, and as hurried as is Walsh’s speaking.

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^ urgency : a full house at Marty Walsh’s Haley house “Monday” conversation (Council candidate Jack Kelly center top)

Walsh’s Mondays are front-line work. There’s an air of “now” in them. As much as Walsh speaks of future directions, his “Mondays” listeners want to know what is going to happen on Tuesday morning. The passion in Walsh’s listeners is palpable. You can feel it rumble. That passion arises from the urgency. Tuesday morning is just one night’s worry away. No candidate’s supporters show more angst than Walsh’s.

Is the urgency of Walsh’s supporters a bad thing ? Not at all. But it’s why his plan to sell City hall and begin the revitalization of Government Center as a “24/7 economic usage zone” moves them. His plan is for now, for immediate, doable action. Same with Walsh’s call that, “at my first meeting after I am elected will address the heroin epidemic.” Walsh knows that his voters can’t wait for improvements that may take a long while to bring about, or that may not happen at all. The difficulties that Walsh’s people want addressed will happen first thing Tuesday morning : traffic on Charlestown Neck, folks being priced out of their homes, how’s my son going to get a technology job, the lack of people of color in the higher-up Police department. And even if the last issue in this list seems like a task for another day, it isn’t. It’s something that Walsh’s supporters of color live with every day. (And Walsh does have many, many people of color supporting him and working in his campaign. He is seen as the candidate of burly white guys — and his stand-outs reinforce that perception — but he is much, much more than that.)

Walsh’s most recent “Monday,” at Haley House near Dudley square, drew an overflow crowd, standing room only and then some. Almost all were people of color. It was an event built on urgency and then some; on rescue.

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Marty Walsh : politics as rescue — for the folks at Haley House

Walsh spoke quickly. “Unemployment in Dudley is ten percent.,” he began. “This neighborhood lacks home ownership — a high percentage are renters. This neighborhood lacks education. We must make Madison Park High School work…as it hasn’t. Bring back ‘voke tech’ programs; they’re not here today.

“we are not preparing our kids for jobs,” he sprinted. “We have to do better… As mayor we’re going to strengthen our schools…turnaround schools..additional resources for ‘level 3’ schools. we need new school buildings !”

Walsh then jumped right into laying out his plan to sell City Hall and revitalize the Plaza area. And from there to “build work-force housing. Charge the buyer just the cost of construction, sell the buyer the land for one dollar. we have to do better…”

He spoke like a man being chased by demons, by wolves, of all sorts, every kind of clamoring need. “Violent kids ? We can lock them up all day, but it’s not working. We need to give kids a pathway to a job. More opportunities than just construction.”

The event was supposed to last only an hour,. It lasted two. Many questions were asked. Urgent ones. Walsh had sepcific answers to all of them. He has an agenda, and he knows every component of it and all are urgent. No wastage at all, no frills, no waiting.photo (81)

^ The questions and requests don’t stop : Marty Walsh “Monday”-ing in East Boston

And that is what his people are like too.

How different a city John Connolly lives in ! Last night we attended his “GOTV” — get out the vote — rally at the Elks Hall in West Roxbury. The room was almost as full as Walsh’s Haley House “Monday’ despite being much bigger.

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Like Walsh’s supporters, Connolly’s come in all colors — a city once torn by racism seems largely to have moved past that burden, at least among the politically attuned. Immediately evident, however, was that Connolly’s ralliers were of all ages and, so it seemed, of diverse life and economic status. Many men wore suits and ties : they might have come directly from a Back Bay Association meeting. Most looked like shopping mall folkss, but some looked recognizably  like politics junkies. I saw veterans of Kevin White’s and even Ray Flynn’s City hall following ; old Arthur Lewis and Bob Cawley people too (both were State Senators decades ago in Connolly’s home area of Roslindale.) I spoke to retired teachers, young students, mothers with babies and pregnant mothers-to-be. Connolly’s parents looked on — Lynda the retired Chief Judge of Massachusetts District Courts, Mike a former Massachusetts Secretary of State (but, as Connolly said, “to me they’re my parents who made me what I am today”). I’ve known Mike and Lynda for over forty years, and, I suspect, so had many in the room.

The people sounded confident, acted it. Tough s Connolly said, “the next six days you have to work harder than ever,” no one seemed harried. People stood and waited relaxedly for Connolly to arrive — he had attended an earlier, Transportation Issues Forum at Boston Public Library downtown — and when he did arrive, though everyone cheered, it was a relaxed cheer. Excited, but not impatient. Patience is a Connolly virtue.

Connolly has two campaign chairmen : State Rep Ed Coppinger and a radio announcer from 101.3. Coppinger is white, the radio guy Black. Both gave their introduction speeches after which spoke one of several Boston Public school parents on stage — a slender woman with nine children, she proudly announced — and then spoke Connolly’s wife Meg, who is pursuing a doctoral degree in Mental Health. She orated off written remarks. It all seemed very carefully planned, like a televised Victory night. Planning is a Connolly virtue.

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Planning : Meg Connolly introduces her husband John

And then the man himself spoke. “I am energized to meet people in every corner of this City,” he said. “We all want the same thing. we all care and want to have a bright future together.”

Connolly praised Mayor Menino, the man he had moved, back in February, to challenge : “We are a better city for his time in office and the sacrifices he has made.” I think we’ve all heard something like that being said about someone we are showing the door to. But i digress…

And then, finally, Connolly spoke with passion : “we are more and more a city of the very rich and the very poor. The task for the next mayor is to break that equity gap.

“It starts with a great job,” Connolly explained. “A great job makes that difference for a family. And then there’s housing. We have great plans for affordable housing and for expensive condos but we have no plan for middle level housing. We don’t have a pathway from renter to owner. I want a real pathway. A priority from day one.”

The gathered campaigners clapped. They appreciated Connolly’s remarks, agree with them. Appreciation is a Connolly virtue.

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^  “ready one day one” is the theme : John Connolly speaks

Connolly now rose to a higher plane : “Jobs and housing matter because they are directly connected to a safe neighborhood. The neighbors who live in the three neighborhoods where 80 percent of the crime occurs bear the burden of crime. They are OUR neighbors ! (Pause.) We have some children who will hear bullets as a regular part of their childhood. And children who will not.”

It was eloquent, it was true — too true, every word. the room was silent, because everyone present knew that it is sad as well.

The speech was peaking now. “I want a City hall with someone who comes up to you with an i-pad and says, ‘how can i help ?” I want to take everything that I have learned from all of you and give every child a quality education. That is the best way to bond this city together. WE NEED BETTER SCHOOLS !”

If in reading my report you are thinking, “Connolly sounds like Martin Luther King orating ‘I have a dream,'” you grasp my thoughts exactly. Connolly is running a campaign of dreams. Passionate ones, yes, and all good. Political dreams, however, take time to get to, time to accomplish. Connolly’s supporters feel that time is on their side; that they can make use of it and proceed upon it. Nor are they wrong. Because after the Tuesday morning that challenges Walsh’s people like a road hazard challenges a driver, there is Wednesday, and a week, month, year, decade. As for Boston people, so for the City itself.

And so Connolly’s campaign addresses time extended —  seeks, and has garnered, votes from Boston people who live in extended time, a time for setting forth a dream and moving — patiently — toward it.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

BOSTON MAYOR RACE : EDUCATION WILL PLAY A HUGE PART, AND THAT MEANS…

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^ John Connolly : says he’s the “education Mayor.”

The big talk in this year’s 12-candidate Boston Mayor race is education. Sure, there’s much heat being spoken of casinos, griping about traffic — especially in the new Seaport District and in Charlestown — and alarm at what candidate Marty Walsh calls a “heroin epidemic in the city.” Still, the really big talk is about education : what to do, to improve all Boston schools, thus to graduate a work-force capable of doing the highly technologized jobs on offer at most Boston companies ?

It’s the education issue that has raised candidate John Connolly to the top in recent poll. It’s also John Connolly who has lifted the education issue to peak pitch. He was the only City Councillor to vote against the current Boston Teachers Union contract because it offered not a minute more of additional school time. Connolly’s campaign slogan is “education Mayor.” Alone of the twelve — so far — he has a slogan that matters.

So, what does the “education Mayor propose ? It’s well worth quoting from the Schools page of his “Ideas for Boston” platform (delivered, let me add, in seven languages including Viet Namese and Albanian).

With regard to extended time school days, Connolly says this :

“A Longer School Day with Full Enrichment — Currently, Boston’s school day is one of the shortest in urban America, leaving hundreds of hours of potential learning time untapped. We must use every strategy available to extend learning time in the Boston Public Schools. Along with more time in school, every child in Boston should have access to science, art, music, social studies, and physical education taught by qualified and talented professionals. I have called for a “Quality Baseline” to establish a list of courses to be offered at every school and the amount of instruction time in each course, in order to guarantee that all students have access to full academic enrichment.

“As Chair of the City Council’s Education Committee, I held hearings on the Boston Teachers Union contract where families and students called for extending the school day. During BPS budget reviews, I advocated for creative partnerships that could extend learning time at our schools. When the new teachers contract came to the Council without a single additional minute of instruction time, I was the only Councilor who voted against it. As mayor, I will negotiate a contract that extends the school day at every Boston Public School.”

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^ BTU President Richard Stutman : showdown coming in this mayor race

That’s pretty detailed, and bold, and sure to confront the Teachers’ Union (BTU), a group often stubborn and no more so than on the variety of school improvement proposals on offer now. The BTU has set itself against all kinds of innovation and experimentation in curricula and staffing. It is likely to not like what Connolly says about assuring teacher excellence :

“Finding and Keeping the Best Teachers and Principals — Excellent principals are the key to excellent teaching: a highly effective school leader can transform a struggling school or keep a strong school on track. Talented and qualified teachers need to be recruited, supported, and retained in the Boston Public Schools. In the City Council, I pushed to pass a resolution supporting state legislation that strengthened teacher and principal evaluations. As mayor, I will establish partnerships with local graduate schools to develop a principal pipeline that can prepare and train new innovative school leaders.

“Empowering School Leaders and Communities — Highly qualified principals and dedicated teachers are professionals who should be encouraged to innovate and improve their practice. Our new evaluation standards can ensure quality across the board, so as mayor I will use every possible strategy to get more funds and decision-making power directly to our schools. Our Pilot, Turnaround, and Innovation Schools have demonstrated that well-resourced schools that have strong leaders and site-based autonomies provide excellent instruction to our children and are highly sought by families. I will work to create more such schools across our city.”

Nowhere in Connolly’s statement on teacher excellence does the term “charter school” occur, but it’s on everyone’ s mind. (And not only in Boston.) The BTU fiercely opposes lifting the current “cap” on the number of charter schools allowed. Chiefly, that’s because teachers in a charter school need not be union members. The Union also dislikes the extended hours and curriculum intensity of charter schools. The BTU has good reason to fear charters. They have a solid record for graduating students much better prepared than in many “traditional” schools. Parents will, if given an option, often choose a charter school.  The charter school movement isn’t waiting; advocacy groups are pushing amendment of state laws to eliminate the “cap.” If they are not already aiding the Connolly campaign with money and advertising, they are strongly rumored to have such plans fully in place and ready to launch.

In today’s Boston there is no room for kids graduating poorly prepared. There’s no economy for them either. Rents all over Boston range from $ 1400 for one-bedroom apartments in the outer neighborhoods to $ 5,000 and up for 2 to 3 bedroom places in the Downtown area. eating out in most parts of Boston rings up a $ 20 tab per person — at least. Parking is expensive. So are the “ultra lounges” that today’s young adults socialize at. Sailing — indeed, all water sports — is not cheap at all. And, most of all, there are no jobs — other than janitorial — in much of Boston that do not assume complete literacy in laptops, i-phones, social media, and website usage. Even a waitress or bartender needs know how to enter an order into a pc or laptop. these are the facts no matter who you are, what your last name is, or what neighborhood you come from.

It will be entirely OK in the new Boston — as it always was — to have a city or state job, or to work for Boston Edison, or to work a bar or restaurant in the “neighborhoods.” Rest assured on that score. In the new economy, however, people traveling this route will be constantly outgunned in elections by the six figure salaries, the technology people, the developers and investors, the CEO’s of education, hospitals, and finance — all of whom are spending aggressively to keep themselves on top and to promote the economy that has made them.

Their spending, and their demands upon employees, assure that no Boston Mayoral candidate is going to get there without an education plan that addresses these facts of modern city life. Right now, John Connolly appears far, far ahead of his competitors on this battlefield.

UPDATE : This compliment to John Connolly does not mean that he’ s home free. Marty Walsh, who seems running a very close second to Connolly, may be a voice for union workers — whom Connolly seems to have cornered on school issues — but as the political voice of Boston’s unions, Walsh credibly tell Boston voters that there’ll be no path to reformed schools that fights the BTU every step of the way.

Others of the twelve Mayoral hopefuls have yet to take hold of the school reform issue. Its time has come. The school busing crisis of 40 years ago — transporting kids all across the City to achieve “racial balance” in a school system which in the late 1960s was highly segregated — has scant provenance in today’s Boston, in which people of color live everywhere in it and are thoroughly respected politically. School reformers’ work now is to move beyond school assignments based on “deseg” guidelines; to rekindle neighborhood schools: flexible, innovative, and committed to the technology world.

Doubtless we will hear useful policy suggestions from at least a few of Walsh’s and Connolly’s rivals, and soon.

—– Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

UPDATE 08/23/13 : the school issue has indeed exploded to prominence thanks to an advocacy group’s statement that it would inject $ 500,000 into John Connolly’s campaign. Connolly had not choice but to reject that money, and the issue faded; but school improvement issue now tops every Mayor candidate’s agenda.