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

Image

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

—- —- —-

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 We need to move beyond outdated zoning laws).”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.

Image

^ 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 ?

Image

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

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

If i were he, I wouldn’t count on it.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

BOSTON MAYOR RACE : PRESSURE POLITICS TAKE OVER

Image

^ crunch time numbers cruncher : Charlotte Golar-Richie

—- —- —-

The City’s Black political leaders are gathering, it is reported, to try pushing some of the candidates of color out of the race for Mayor. This comes as no surprise. The surprise is that it didn’t happen sooner. Or even that it was needed at all. it should have been obvious to every one of Boston’s six candidates of color that if there were more than two, none would make it to November. Even with only two, it’s no guarantee. But with six ? And so the pressure begins to get to the obvious : have the “extras” drop out and endorse Charlotte Golar-Richie.

Good luck with that. Why should John Barros, her chief competitor within the Black community, drop out and endorse her ? His vision is very different from hers, his connections more like Connolly”s or Mike Ross’s. As for Charles Yancey and Charles Clemons, each has his own agendas that will seem better served by remaining in the race.

Image

^  John barros (on left) : crunched out ? probably not

The intended recipient of said endorsements claims no part in this effort. That’s wise. No voter likes having a candidate trying to limit a voter’s range of choices. Yet Golar-Richie has been making a dedicated effort of late to bring Boston’s Black political “heavies” into her campaign and has had notable success doing so. She knows better than anyone that if six candidates of color remain in contention on September 24, it will be next to impossible for her to get the 22 % of the vote that some wise heads say will be the November entry point. And so the pressure, by her key supporters, if not by her, cannot be avoided.

Golar-Richie is hardly the only contender using pressure right now. Marty Walsh used the Greater Boston AFL-CIO’s annual Labor day breakfast to make his Labor banner a must for as many union activists as possible. Walsh’s chief rival, John Connolly, has brought forth several endorsements of note, the latest being State Representative Nick Collins of South Boston, who just this morning announced his formal support for Connolly at a press conference in front of the Perry K to 8 school on east Seventh Street in South Boston. At that conference Collins and Connolly emphasized the pair’s long collaboration on Boston Public School reform. Both also emphasized the needed for much more transparent city administration and a dedication to safe neighborhoods — a topic gruseomely dumped into South Boston affairs this past year.

Image

^ John Connolly with Rep. Nick Collins’s brother and Charles Levin at a recent South Booston Leadership conference. His endorsement by Nick Collins seemed likely, soon after this.

Connolly has made much, too, of endorsement by State Representatives Jay Livingstone (Back Bay, Beacon Hill), Carlo Basile (east Boston), and Ed Coppinger (West Roxbury). As his main competitor, Marty Walsh, is a State Representative too, these endorsements hurt Walsh as much as they aid Connolly. (Walsh, meanwhile, has the open support of State Rep Liz Malia and former State Senator Jack Hart.) But the main effect of these endorsements — none of which have yet gone to Dan Conley, who polls a strong third on most lists; will he get any ? — is to pressure the voters. If the pollsters are right, that fully one-third of all who are likely to vote remain undecided about who to choose, endorsements by elected Representatives are intended to push those undecideds to make up their minds. It will surely do that, at least for some.

There will be much more of this pressure coming. Boston’s State Senators ( Chang-Diaz, Dorcena-Forry, Brian Joyce, Mike Rush, Petrucelli ) have yet to choose. Congressmen Lynch and Capuano may weigh in. So might past legislators and major Boston civic associations. As long as the undecided vote remains sizeable, endorsements will be asked for- and probably given. The pressure is on now — on the voters, to decide, once and for all, who to send to the November final.

Image

^ Dan Conley : strong third in polls, but no big endorsements yet

The pressure is also on the twelve contenders. Surely all of them know that they either have a good chance of making “the cut,” are losing ground, or are as out of the running as can be. The candidates out of the running can shrug it off and enjoy two and a half weeks more of forums and speaking on the issues. The candidates one feels for are those who are losing ground. Mike Ross, Felix Arroyo, and Rob Consalvo all, at one time, looked strongly in contention. All have found themselves blocked, however — Arroyo by not receiving union endorsements he might have won, Consalvo by too small a base, Ross by not having command of his own, zipcar-bicycle-restaurants base — and, in Arroyo’s case, passed over by leaders and political activists who made his father a political success and did the same, at the Council level, for the son. Arroyo, Consalvo, and Ross have had to learn, perhaps painfully, that when one is running to be Boston’s all-the-marbles Mayor, people make an all-the-marbles choice of whom to be with.

Image

^ Mel King : should, by all philosophical coincidence, be with Felix Arroyo, but it appears that he isn’t.

And so, as we head into the typhoon of pressure, four boats remain afloat : Connolly, Walsh, Golar-Richie, and Dan Conley. Boston’s next Mayor will be one of these. The voters are beginning to realize it and to decide just who it is that they like.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

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

Image

^ Local 26 Hotel Workers have endorsed Marty Walsh

—- — —-

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

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

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

Image

^ construction jobs galore — hotel workers too 

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

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

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

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

Image

^ Boston, as the BRA sees it 

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

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

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

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere