EVERYTHING WAS QUIET & BUSINESS-LIKE AT MATTAPAN TRANSPO MEETING, AND THEN …..

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^ the community has questions : last night’s Fairmount Line (MBTA) meeting in mattapan

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Last night “the community” filled much of the Mildred Avenue Community Center auditorium to hear an MBTA project team outline plans for a new Blue Hill Avenue – Cummins Highway T stop on the Fairmount Line. State Representatives Dan Cullinane and Russell Holmes were there, as was State Senator Linda Dorcena Forry. City Councillor Tim McCarthy came too. It was all set to be a very genteel, slide show presentation of the much-talked-of new Fairmount Line, featuring many local stops so that the line can serve Boston’s communities of color; through which the Fairmount runs and which, until recently, it had not served at all.

Genteel it was, as the project manager showed photos of new Fairmount stops at Newmarket, Uphams Corner, Four Corners, Talbot Avenue, Morton Street. Beautiful they were, and handsome, almost, the newly rebuilt bridges (there are 41 bridges on the Fairmount, said the project guy) over Columbia Road and Massachusetts Avenue. All of it done and the stations open, operating and doing just fine.

Then came the renderings of the proposed Blue Hill to Cummins Highway station.

Good-bye to genteel.

The audience was not happy to see what they saw : a T stop running between Woodhaven Street and Regis Road, all the way from Blue Hill Avenue (at SIMCO’s) to Cummins Highway (on the other side of Mattapan Square). Of course the line already runs that route and impacts those homes; the only new factor is the T stop. It seemed not that big a change, but to an audience waiting to pounce, it was big enough.

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^ They lined up at the microphone to ask questions. Well, not so much questions as to rant against the T in general.

“It seems to me that we’re always having stuff imposed on us,” said one woman. “We need honesty. we’re the abutters.”

Said another man, “We never get anything !”

“In 2005 they promised us cameras and a phone at the Morton street,’ said another. “Came 2007, the phone was in, but not the camera.”

“Why isn’t there even one station between Blue Hill and Fairmount avenue ?” asked a man. “Three mile stretch and you can’t do even one stop ?”

“i do not trust the T,” said an older woman, speaking to Russell Holmes directly next to her.

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^  St Rep Russell Holmes listens to grievances

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“Where were you when all this was being done,” a man asked of Holmes, who pretty soon had had enough. He stood up, addressed the questioner directly. “You’re for it,” he said to the man, who obviously knew Holmes — addressing him “Russell.” “And I’m for it. So what is the problem ?”

“If the community wants it, it should have it,’ answered Holmes’s friend. “if it doesn’t, then not.”

Holmes certainly was right to stand up a he did. the Fairmount has been in works for over three years now — as Senator Dorcena Forry pointed out in a fierce, extensive speech during which she challenged the nay-sayers and defended the project — which, as the T’s spokes-gal said, is wanted by at least 60 percent of local residents.

Her speech not only quieted the crowd but even garnered extensive applause. But then the questioning continued. There was much talk of the T stops being for “outsiders.” And so it went.

Silly me, I guess, for thinking that the Fairmount line’s addition of several local stops, to serve those who need public transit to get to work, was an unmitigated good thing. I should have realized that even indisputable benefits to a neighborhood look like an imposition to some when they are delivered from the State House by a government in which very few people of color have any direct voice.

The objectors were not, however, playing a race card. One woman loudly praised State Senator Jack Hart, of South Boston (who represented Mattapan before Linda Dorcena Forry) for his work with the neighborhood’s concerns. Rather, the race component lay far deeper in the anger than that. It was directed to the State House in general. And it was hard not to see that every one of the Fairmount Project staff was white — except for its “neighborhood outreach advocate.”

It was also hard not to agree with the woman who talked about promises made in 2005, when Mitt Romney was still governor. The disconnect between State plans and state performance is not Democrat or Republican. It is systemic. it arises from budget traffic jams, departmental conflicts, the constant buffeting, from one crisis to another, of governors by the public. It is very difficult for a complex, 21st century government to do anything quickly or well, and that is how it is with a democracy in which everybody votes and voters get listened to, as they should be.

Some call this performance traffic jam “waste.” I call it democracy in action. Community meetings and neighborhood input are now a core part of the process by which public improvements are brought from concept to built. Onward we go, anger and conflict and all that.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

below : “the community” gathers to listen and object

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A NIGHT OF DEFEAT : THE CHARLOTTE GOLAR RICHIE TALK

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^ Charlotte Golar-Richie gives a talk : ‘all the isms are alive and well…racism, sexism…”

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The Mayor of Boston campaign of 2013 may be over, but evidently it’s not over. Last night Charlotte Golar-Richie, who finished third in the September Primary, was the key speaker at a conference hosted by University of Massachusetts’s Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy.

NOTE : If there were any doubt about the institutional colossi that encumber Boston politics, the very length of that host name — “University of Massachusetts Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy” — should set our heads nodding, But I digresss…

The topic for discussion was “Opening Doors : Women’s Political Leadership in Boston.” It seems a timely topic, given the prominence of several women in elected office within the City. One thinks of State Senators Sonia Chang-Diaz and Linda Dorcena-Forry (and of former State Senator Marian Walsh), of Councillors Ayanna Pressley and (newly) Michelle Wu, of State Representatives Gloria Fox and Liz Malia. One might also think of Abby Browne and Marian Ego, school committee members back in the day, and even of Elvira “Pixie” Palladino and Louise Day Hicks longer ago — but Palladino and Hicks were severely incorrect politically and thus not “women’ despite being women; and one could even mention the late, fishwife-mouthed Katherine Craven, a City Councillor, and State Representative Katherine Kane (who died about two weeks ago), both women in politics long before there needed be an educational institution hosting said discussion.

One could have mentioned all of the above; and mentioned the significant involvement of women in Boston politics well before that, from Abolitionist champions to Progressive era women of conscience to civil rights and civic leaders like Susan Story Lyman, Melnea Cass, Stella Trafford, Alice Hennessey, and my own mother. Mentioning all of these, one wonders what sort of “doors” still need to be “opened.’ Are they not already wide wide beckoning ? But no. Evidently the failure of one woman candidate to become Mayor of Boston trumps all of the successes that women in politics have had, are having, and, likely, will have in Boston.

In any case, the night being given over to defeat, it was quite appropriate for Charlotte Golar-Richie to trumpet the notes of defeat’s song :

“The isms are still alive and well in Boston…racism, sexism…along with that misogyny thing.’
“For women the stakes are high. Women of color, the stakes are higher.”

To which lament many Forum pundits added their oboe and bassoon :

Priti Rao : “I think there’s a lot of voter fatigue in this state.’
Joyce Ferriabough Bolling : “Charlotte lost because her base did not come out.”
Paul Watanabe ; “Globe’s editorial op-ed was devastating.”
The entire discussion panel : “EMILY’s list failed her.”

Golar-Richie then summed up this Sonata of Defeat by saying that she “opened the doors, someone else will have to walk through.”

As you have doubtless surmised, I shrug both my shoulders at Golar-Richie’s speech. Not once did she allow that perhaps she was not exactly an authoritative candidate. Not once did she acknowledge that in a field of twelve, whence eleven candidates ended up losing, she was hardly alone in being among the eleven. Why was Golar-Richie entitled — I use the verb on purpose — to a better result than the other ten losers ? Were John Barros, Dan Conley, Mike Ross, and Felix G. Arroyo not equally worthy candidates  ? Not to mention John Connolly.

Fact is that, in the 17,000-odd Forums that i attended at which Golar-Richie spoke, I found her performance wildly uneven ; strong one day, out of focus the next; vague sometimes, insightful at others. There was no such vaguery about Mike Ross, john Connolly, John Barros, Dan Conley, Marty Walsh, and even Charles Yancey and Rob Consalvo.

But in assessing Golar-Richie as a candidate there is no need to measure her performance at Forums. When her crunch time truly came, after the primary, and she had to decide, quickly, whether to endorse John Connolly or Marty Walsh, she flubbed the role. She delayed her decision, hemmed and hawed; when after some days she finally endorsed Marty Walsh, all of her support group went the other way, to John Connolly. Compare her handling to the focus and unity that Arroyo and Barros brought to their Walsh endorsements..

So, to respond to Charlotte : no, I do NOT think that “all the isms are in place.” Nor do I think that the bar is doubly high for women of color. Tell me how Michelle Wu’s finishing second out of eight, for City Council, on her first run ever for public office, demonstrates either of Golar-Richie’s assertions. Golar-Richie is simply WRONG. She did not fail to become Boston’s Mayor because she is a woman. She failed because she wasn’t a strong enough candidate.

And finally, Golar-Richie’s assertion that she lost because “all the isms are alive and well in Boston” disrespects Marty Walsh. Did he beat Golar-Richie because he is male, or because he simply had a stronger base of votes, as a sitting state representative and respected union leader ? Golar-Richie’s suggestion tells me what she really thinks of Walsh. It’s not pretty.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

BOSTON MAYOR FINAL : THE COMMUNITIES OF COLOR COME OF AGE POLITICALLY

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^ a classic stump speech ; Clayton Turnbull saying it real for John Connolly

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Boston’s voters of color — black, brown, or yellow — have come of age in this campaign like never before. Whoever wins on November 5th, the breadth and sophistication of participation in it by voters Black, Hispanic, Caribbean, or Asian far surpasses anything that Boston has seen at least since the Abolitionist Era. Yes, you can say that these voters’ participation in the election of Barack Obama in 2008 (and in 2012) was strong, broad, and passionate. But Obama is himself a person of color. The participation this time is to the campaigns of two “white guys.” One man fairly well known, the other hardly at all.

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^ the way it’s done — but until this year, not so much : State Senator Linda Dorcena-Forry going all out for Marty Walsh (with Felix G. arroyo at his side)

Not only the community leaders have participated, though they have upped their game in this respect. The new development is the participation of every sort of voter of color : union activists, church congregations, business leaders, hip hop DJs, restaurant and club promoters, artists, social networks, political operatives, contractors, and just plain folks. And not only are they participating; they are doing so with an issues agenda. On twitter and at facebook I have read their posts about the contest. Their observations show a knowledge of what’s at stake, and what’s behind the scenes, that matches anything I’ve read by anyone who isn’t a media pro — and show as shrewd a knowledge of the politics as even some media people. Nor is the participation in communities of color merely social mediating. Large numbers of folks are door-knocking, doing meet and greets (i.e., house parties), phone-banking, even fund-raising — for these two white guys who would be Mayor.

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^ into the heart of the matter : Pastor Bruce Wall and friends stand with John Connolly

As one who, back in his political operative days in Boston, was often given the task of co-ordinating the City’s Black wards (in those days it was 9, 12, 14 and part of 13 and 15), I well remember when Black participation — the City then had few Hispanic or Viet Namese voters, and Chinatown was an entirely different matter — in a major city election consisted of paying hired volunteers “walking money” to pay to people who would stand at the polling places on election day and hold a sign or pass out palm cards. The candidate himself would rarely visit the Black wards, and what Black leaders there were did not protest this. They expected it. The candidate really had no reason to visit. “Covering the polls” on election day, if you could actually get it done in most of those 40 or so precincts, was usually good enough to win the day. And after that, it was usually good enough for a Mayor to hire a couple of Black ward leaders, to appoint one as an election commissioner, and, eventually, to hire Black youth workers. Even after the horrific crisis over school busing, in the mid-1970s, this situation prevailed.

Change began with Mel King’s campaign in 1983. King was then a state Representative, but not just that. He had a long history of involvement with progressive (indeed, very Left-wing) activism in Boston running back to the 1960s with the implementation, in Boston, of a local adjunct of President Johnson ‘s anti=poverty programs. King had a large following ranging from Robert Kennedy-inspired “white progressives” to activists in the black community, and, with their support and votes King reached the Final election — the first Mayoral Black candidate to do so. Ray Flynn, of South Boston, eventually won the election; but he made a serious effort to visit Boston’s Black neighborhoods and to connect with its leaders. Few votes for him resulted, but there were some; and there were activists who supported him, some quite vigorously. Once elected, Flynn brought those activists into City government. And more : he added Felix D. Arroyo — father of Felix G. Arroyo — into his administration at a high level and also connected as widely as he could with King supporters.

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^ what Ray Flynn started with Felix D. Arroyo, Marty Walsh has summed up with Felix G. Arroyo.

What Flynn began, Menino built upon; but his building work was administrative. It remained electorally untested, for the most part. That phase has now definitively ended. Boston’s communities of color — and communities of new immigrants — are stepping now into the contact sport that is election politics and are being wooed by both Walsh and Connolly with an intensity that assures that henceforth the “communities of color” vote will be as necessary a part of any City campaign as “the Italian vote” has been for the past 60 years.

The prejudice evident in the Sacco-Vanzetti crisis of the 1920s, and its tragic end, made integration of Boston’s Italian vote into city politics a necessary goal. It took 30 years to complete that process. It has taken the city almost 40 years, after the “busing” crisis, to integrate its “communities of color” vote similarly, but it has now been done.

If nothing else comes out of this intense and sometimes nasty campaign, the work of integrating communities of color into Boston’s political establishment is an victory the city can take pride in.

— Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

BOSTON MAYOR CAMPAIGN : RACISM INTERRUPTS

IMPORTANT UPDATE : Even as I wrote this story, the St. Patrick’s Day Breakfast issue was being settled. District Councillor Bill Linehan and Linda Dorcena-Forry issued a joint statement, that Senator Dorcena-Forry would, in fact, be hosting next year’ St. Patrick’s Day Breakfast. The dispute lasted all of two days.

However, the other half of this story — the Freedom House Forum for Mayoral candidates “of color” only, remains. And so I ask you all to read, below, what I wrote before news of the South Boston resolution broke…

The last thing that Boston’s Mayor campaign needs is an interruption by racism. Yet that is what has happened these past two days — through no fault of the candidates, let me make very clear. The 12 hopefuls running, and their campaigns, all speak for the new Boston, long since grown beyond a sadly racist past — 40 years ago and more — and have made this one of the most intelligent, forward-thinking issues conversations I have ever seen in the political arena. It has been citizenship at its high school, civics class best.

And yet the past intrudes. Some voters, and even some civic leaders, can’t help themselves.

First came the news that the committee that puts on South Boston’s annual St. Patrick’s day breakfast was divided on whether to invite its newly elected State Senator, Linda Dorcena Forry, to host the affair. South Boston’s State Senator has, ever since Bill Bulger’s time, done the honors; and all have been white and of Irish heritage; whereas Dorcena Forry is a person of color and of Haitian parentage; and lives in Dorchester Lower Mills. Of course, a case can be made that, as the breakfast is a South Boston event, a South Boston spokesperson should host it. Fair enough; and now, since the resignation of State Senator Jack Hart, South Boston’s City Councillor, Bill Linehan, has claimed host status. But that’s not at all the last word. Though never a rule of the breakfast, the area’s State Senator has hosted it for at least the last 20 years. Thus the problem of Linda Dorcena Forry.

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^ Linda Dorcena-Forry : South Boston’s next St Patty’s day breakfast host ?

Will she be invited to do what the District’s last three state senators have always done ? It would be next to impossible, were she not so invited, to avoid that race is the reason. It would be bad business indeed for the breakfast committee to accord any such prospect. Linda Dorcena Forry should host the 2014 St. Patrick’s day Breakfast. She will do just fine.

The above discussion was not till today on my task list. Indeed, I had intended not to mention the St. Patrick’s Day breakfast at all. To me it is a neighborhood affair, and that was that. And then came my discovery, at last night’s Mayoral Forum at the Reggie Lewis Center in Madison Park High School, of the Freedom House Mayoral forum flier pictured below. It forced me to set aside, for awhile, the excellent conversations at Madison park High about jobs, construction,l and schools. Please take a close look at it :

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Like you, I could not believe what I was reading. I was stupefied. “The First mayoral Forum for candidates of Color.” proclaimed the flier.

If the South Boston St. Patrick’s day breakfast is just a neighborhood affair, in no way a government-funded or public function — you have to buy a ticket — Freedom House’s Mayoral Forum is every bit a public function.

The flier adds insult to injury. “Free and open to all,” it proclaims. Open to all ? But not to all candidates ? What ARE they thinking ?

This is one Forum that Here and Sphere will, not attend. Nor should any of the candidates “of color.’ All should say “thanks, but no thanks.”

Then it will be time to address the matter of who will host the 2014 South Boston St. Patrick’s day Breakfast. After which the last strokes of old racism will, hopefully, fade away like what they are: the ghosts of failed, immoral attitudes.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

PROFILING THE BOSTON CITY COUNCIL CANDIDATES : CATHERINE O’NEILL

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cath O'Neill and Sen Warren

^ Catherine O’Neill with senator Elizabeth Warren

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

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

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

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

HnS : Your first priority as a Councillor ?

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

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

O’Neill: no, I do not favor it.

HnS : What school reforms do you favor ?

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

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

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

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

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

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

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

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