BOSTON : ON THE DEATH OF HERB GLEASON

Herb Gleason

^ aristocrat in Boston City hall : corporation counsel Herb Gleason, 1928-2013

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Herb Gleason of Beacon Hill died on December 9th. He was 85 years old and was, as Barney Frank recalls, “a man from the Boston aristocracy who deeply immersed himself in Boston politics in a wholly constructive way.” You should read the obituary that Bryan Marquard wrote for today’s Boston Globe and which features Frank’s quote. It tells Gleason ‘s life story and why — as Mayor Kevin White’s Corporations Counsel, most of all — he was important to the civic minded people of my generation.

My intention in this column is not to repeat that obit but to ruminate on Frank’s words and also on something that Gleason’s son David is quoted as saying of him : “He was very progressive in the real meaning of the word, the sense that government should benefit citizens.”

Today that “old Boston aristocracy” has almost disappeared. Those not yet born in its last glory days — the 1970s — probably have no idea what I’m talking about. No one uses the term “aristocracy” any more. “Child of privilege” — the term pinned on Jonn Connolly by Marty Walsh’s notorious AFL-CIO fliers — comes closest; yet A “child of privilege” can have parents who were themselves born into no privilege at all. The “Boston aristocracy” propagated its values (and its privilege) for many, many generations, one after another committed to the idea that wealth and privilege can never be their own justification; that being an aristocrat requires a man or woman to dedicate to the common good. The best-known Boston example of that aristocratic commitment is Robert Gould Shaw, son of Beacon Hill Brahmins, who coloneled the 54th Massachusetts Regiment of African-Americans and gave his life leading them into battle. Shaw’s life and death, thanks to the movie “Glory,’ now belong to the ages; but he was hardly the only exemplar, even in his own family : Barney Frank himself won his first elective office, State Representative from aristocratic Ward 5, with sponsorship by such as Shaw’s collateral descendant (by marriage) Susan Shaw Lyman.

There was much to criticize in the ways of the Boston aristocracy as it became defiantly snobby during the 1870s-90s. It was often anti-Semitic and hostile to Boston’s Irish. It was cruel to its own. Boys who could not shape up became “black sheep,” rarely forgiven. Its women had to suffer the unfaithfulness of husbands; many turned to hard liquor and spent days in a drunk. There was much ceremony — tuxedos and ball gowns to be worn — for the invited few, balls to be staged. Just as staged was the aristocracy’s speech. You knew immediately a Boston aristocrat by his or her pronunciations — consciously imitative of titled Britons. There was a list, too, of the accepted. Boston aristocrats proudly kept a copy of the “blue book” — the Social Register — on their desks or coffee tables; in it were the names, addresses, and current life status of those who “belonged.” And there was boarding school for every child — the most aristocratic of these quite consciously toff — a tumble into discipline for discipline’s sake which propagated itself all the way to the 1960, by which date  men like Herb Gleason (and women too) had reached adulthood.

For the majority of us, who were not Social Register, “that government should benefit citizens” was okay enough. It moved men and women to fight for child labor laws, women’s rights, slum clearance, hospital care open to all (there would be precious few Boston hospitals had not its aristocracy donated millions to their founding and expansion), pro bono legal work, libraries and books, the ACLU, racial integration, a city-girding parks system, bequests to the City for public purposes (think the George Robert White Fund), and service on all manner of City Boards. Taking a paid job in Kevin White’s administration, Herb Gleason went further. But so did John Sears — an aristocrat of aristocrats who also ran for mayor in the year that Kevin White won — when he accepted the job of MDC Commissioner. Yet the jobs taken by Gleason and Sears were a kind of civic-minded donation; each could have earned far more money in private law practice than they did as civic administrators.

All of this civic dedication by people born to great wealth or position seems so foreign to how we view the world today. We see people of great wealth now mostly as greedy self-seekers, or as celebrities fronting selfies. We cannot imagine today’s wealthy or famous sitting on library trustee boards, for example, or cleaning up Boston Harbor, or gathering signatures to raise the minimum wage, or protesting vote suppression — as so many did in the 1960s, even. And when we do encounter a “child of privilege” such as John Connolly was dubbed actually taking an interest in reform — in his case, school transformation — we’re not sure what to think.

Today when we hear of “children of privilege” in politics or civic affairs we’re as likley as not to think them out to serve themselves; to “skew the system” in their favor; to disenable, not enable, those in need. Perhaps that is one reason why John Connolly fell short of victory on November 5th. As said the AFL-CIo flier that i have already mentioned : “He’s trying to fool us.” There were plenty of successful people like that back in the day : but in those days they fooled no one — and didn’t try to. Yet always, from the decades of America’s founding right through the 1970s, critical numbers of civic-minded reformers of wealth and standing confronted the self-seekers at all levels. Today, when such a person appears on the urban horizon, he or she should be welcomed.

Civic-minded, progressive reform was never easy even in its aristocratic salad days. Machine politicians and those who kept them going — saloon keepers, contractors, industrialists, stock manipulators, work padrones, even criminal gangs — always pushed back. Only occasionally was urban reform successful. It was spectacularly successful, often, in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, and it was, finally, successful, after many failed attempts, in Kevin White’s Boston. Herb Gleason was a large part of that triumph, as were so many people from aristocratic Ward 5 — think Micho Spring,. Kathy Kane, Susan Lyman, Barney Frank, Stella Trafford, John Sears, David Morse, Joseph Lee, Parkman Shaw, Chris Lydon, Oliver Ames, and many many more. Is that spirit having a revival, with John Connolly as its vanguard ? I am hopeful that it will, and that Boston will advance once more, by the commitment to the City’s civic life of many more men and women like Herb Gleason. RIP, Sir.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

BOSTON MAYOR : A STUNNING SHIFT — AND WHAT PORTENDS ; THE CASINO PERPLEX

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^ New Boston versus a revolutionary “old Boston’ alliance : breakdown of Tuesday’s vote by WBUR

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Thanks to the superb interactive map posted by WBUR, my final article about the Boston mayor race that elected Marty Walsh two days ago is made simple. All of my readers should look at the WBUR map and study it. The whole story is in it.

But now to my final thoughts :

1.Marty Walsh achieved office by revolutionizing Boston’s political alliances.

Always heretofore, Boston’s communities of color had voted in alliance with the City’s patrician, high minded, urban reformers, based historically in Beacon Hill, Bay Village, and the Back Bay. This alliance was the core of the old Republican party grounded in Abolition, a GOP that has just about vanished from the scene. It had, until Tuesday, lived on strongly in Boston city politics, even though now entirely within the Democratic party, at least since the 2000 election.

Walsh succeeded at breaking this alliance. Though he won almost no votes among high minded urban reformers — Ward 5 (Beacon Hill, Back Bay, Bay Village) was his worst in the City, worse for him even than John Connolly’s home ward — Walsh won the City’s Wards of color decisively, every single one of them. (I can, in fact, find only one majority black precinct that Connolly carried : Fort Hill in Roxbury).

Never before in a city election had Boston’s wards of color voted with the City’s “old Irish’ wards of which Walsh is the epitome. An abyss of contention divided the two communities. To win one was almost to guarantee losing the other. Attempts were made; but none succeeded as did Walsh’s work. The divide transcended party. Walsh’s base is the most Republican-voting part of Boston, the wards of color the most Democratic. Yet on Tuesday the two areas joined up to give Walsh his unprecedented win.

Of course the Republican votes of today’s South Boston and “Irish” Dorchester are completely different from the Republican votes of forty, sixty, 100 years ago. This is pro-life, socially conservative Republicanism, not Abolition and high-minded reform. And of course, the voters of color who moved their wards to Walsh aren’t the old, high-minded, enterprising, church-based descendants of Abolition and reform; they are union workers and those who seek to be. And of course, that is the connection : it was union labor politics that has brought the two communities together — an achievement that Marty Walsh can claim as his unique contribution. I seriously doubt that any other labor union politician could have done it. None is trusted as profoundly as is Walsh, both within union politics and without.

2. High-minded urban reform is far from defeated; indeed, it is Boston’s fastest growing political movement.

Led by John Connolly, who practically created the new version of it by his campaign, high-minded, urban reform all but captured City hall on its first try. The movement forged a base more solid than even Walsh’s and moved to its side one part — Charlestown — of the old “Irish” Boston that would have once been Walsh’s for the taking. And in fact, though a smaller achievement numerically than Walsh’s, the move of Charlestown into the urban reform camp proved just as formidable. Only Ward 5 and one other ward of the City produced a larger percentage increase in voter turnout from the primary. (More about that ward later.)

The new urban reform movement — “NURM,” let us call it — with its agenda of school transformation, enterprise innovation, bicycles and parks, public safety, and the importance of listening to those who are crying out — has firmly taken hold of all of the Downtown core of Boston : ( 1 ) Chinatown ( 2 ) the Waterfront (3) the Seaport (4) the North End (5) all of the South End, including its extension beyond Massachusetts Avenue into what used to be called “Lower Roxbury” and (6) all of Ward 5. And, as I said, Charlestown too.

Add to this the half of East Boston from Day Square to the Harbor; Jamaica Plain west of the Orange Line; Allston and almost all of Brighton; and a strong majority of West Roxbury and a smaller but still majority of Roslindale, and you have a significant voting bloc. And please note : NURM Boston is growing, while the areas in Marty Walsh’s coalition are receding. Case in point : that Fort Hill precinct. Roxbury is changing. it is becoming more entrepreneurial, racially mixed, socially connected to itself. Four years from now — eight, twelve — much of Roxbury will be voting with the South End. The same can be said of South Boston. From primary to final, John Connolly improved his percentage of the vote in the South Boston precincts closer to the Seaport. Four to 12 years from now much of South Boston will be voting like the Seaport, not against it.

Entrepreneurs both white and Black were the vanguard of John Connolly’s urban reform voting bloc. They weren’t just donors to his funds. They took leadership roles on the front lines of getting votes. from Greg Selkoe to Darryl Settles, Clayton Turnbull to BostInno, Akrobatik to Phil Frattaroli, business innovators fought and often won the battle, in a way that I had not seen since the late 1960s.

Their numbers will grow. I suspect too that so will their front line activism.

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^ the Hyde park part of ward 18 : where the Connolly campaign was beaten

3. Ward 18 proved decisive, although it needn’t have.

The Connolly campaign got out-manoeuvered badly in ward 18 — 75,000 people, the largest ward in the City : all of Hyde Park and Mattapan and a part of Roslindale — and ended up losing every one of its 23 precincts.

Granted that none of Ward 18 is “new Boston” in any way, it was not at all assured to Marty Walsh.

Connolly’s problems in the ward began early. Because he announced his campaign while it still looked as if Tom Menino — who lives in ward 18 and was once its District Councillor — would run again, Connolly accorded the ward a lesser priority. Then, when Menino announced that he would not be running again, the area’s current Councillor, Rob Consalvo, stepped up. In the final, the area’s State Representative, Angelo Scaccia, endorsed Marty Walsh, along with several other local political leaders. And John Connolly ? He concentrated his effort so aggressively on the wards of color that, somehow, the power part of Ward 18 got back-burnered.

It should never have been thus. How can you plan to run for Mayor, even against a ward 18 man, and not assemble a ward 18 team early on ? Angelo Scaccia is not all-conquering. He has had many very close elections in his long career. So yes, you talk to Chris Donato, who almost defeated Scaccia not too many years ago. And yes, you pay a visit to Pat Tierney up on Fairmount Hill; you ask if her famous actress daughter Maura Tierney will consider doing a video in support of you. You go to Maureen Costello, Jack Scully, Paul Loconte, Bill Sinnott, Brad White, John Grady, Bill Broderick Jr., Tony Ferzoco, Al Thomas, Tim Lowney, Donny at the Bowling Alley, Joseph Pulgini (who ended up with Walsh, early too) — all whom I respected back in the day; probably I am missing many — and you say, “OK, I understand that you might not be with me if Tom runs but if he doesn’t run, are you with me ?” You do it early and you do it aggressively. And maybe many of the people I have named don’t join you; but some will. So, you build a team in the City’s largest Ward and you keep on building it.

John Connolly may have done some or even all of the above. But I saw no evidence of it. Connolly did, after the Primary, bring to his side Dave Vittorini, Councillor Consalvo’s aide; and Vittorini knows tons of people; but this was the Charlotte Golar-Richie situation all over again : the candidate’s workers went to Connolly, but the candidate him or herself either went to Walsh or stayed neutral.

Little wonder that Vittorini’s efforts were not at all enough to dent Marty Walsh’s Ward 18 campaign. Walsh brought Congressman Mike Capuano all the way from Somerville to Hyde Park to do his endorsement press conference. The Ward’s many BTU people — who loved Consalvo’s “the BTU agenda is my agenda” message — chose Walsh, of course. Thus it came about that on Tuesday Marty Walsh won ward 18 by at least 12 points. Won every precinct of it.

And now to the casino vote. Ward 1 — East Boston — almost doubled its primary vote total as 7324 voters cast casino yea or nay ballots. The nays had it. How was this possible ? How did a majority of people vote against jobs and money ? Who organized and paid for the “no casino’ campaign ?

The answer should be as obvious as the bad breath of a wino. Steve Wynn did it. I have no proof; nor do I need any. It was hugely in Wynn’s interest not to have a possible contending casino applicant right next door to his planned Everett casino — overwhelmingly approved by Everett voters. It would be malpractice for Wynn NOT to fund a “no casino” campaign in East Boston and, I have no doubt, to promise its organizers that there will be lots of juicy jobs in his Everett casino if the East Boston vote went to the “no” side. As it did.

Tuesday was a very very good day for Steve Wynn. Very good indeed.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

BOSTON MAYOR FINAL : WHAT THE TWO NEED TO DO, AND WHY

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^ John Connolly — Marty Walsh : two irish names but men who could hardly be more different

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Who will win on November 5th and become Boston’s next mayor ? The punditry has already begun. Most of what we’ve read talks about “communities color” and how on Tuesday Boston voted once again for two Irish white guys who now need to find a way to win said communities’ votes. True; but very simplistic. There are a lot more votes that Walsh or Connolly need to win. 64 % of those who voted on Tuesday voted for somebody else. Many November voters did not vote at all. Probably as much as 80 % of those who will vote on November 5th did not vote for the two white irish guys.

What must Walsh and Connolly do about it ? And how do I assess the obstacles they face ? Here goes:

1.Marty Walsh on Tuesday was pretty much a locally dominant winner; John Connolly on Tuesday was fairly much a broadly based vote-getter. Walsh’s vote was passionate, Connolly’s cool. Cool votes count as much as hot ones.

Despite his first place finish, Walsh’s challenge is immense. Though he swept cleanly the precincts of his seaside base — from South Boston to Savin Hill to Florian hall — he turned out 45 % to as much as 71 % of the voters in those precincts, by dint of a vast field organization of door knockers. That card is now played. He can increase his base vote by some, but not by a lot. Yes, he won as much as 77 % of the vote in his “base.” But 77 % of 80% of all voters in his base, say, isn’t that much more than 77 % of 71%.

As for outside his base, Walsh barely registered in some very key places. Take a look :

( a ) Ward 5 (Back bay, Beacon Hill, Fenway ) ——— Walsh 224 Connolly 1426
South End & Downtown (Ward 3 Pcts 6,7,8
and ward 4 Pcts 1-6, Wd 8 Pcts 1-3, ward 9 Pcts 1-2)………………………………………………………                               Walsh 545 Connolly 1909

TOTAL DOWNTOWN AREA ………….          Walsh 769 Connolly 3335

In the Primary, these precincts turned out an average of about 22 % to 25 % of their registered vote. In November these precincts always turn out in much bigger numbers. Even an increase from 25 % to just 40% — there will likely be more — would raise Connolly’s advantage over Walsh from 2564 votes to over 4000 votes. at 50% turnout the margin would increase to 5128 votes.

( b ) Ward 20 (West Roxbury and much of Roslindale)
………………………………………………………………… Walsh 1763 Connolly 4074

This doesn’t on the face of it look so bad for Walsh in Connolly’s home neighborhood. But looks deceive. Connolly faced a strong other candidate, Dan Conley, living in Ward 20 too and taking about 2500 votes (I am estimating, the City of Boston Ward and Precinct unofficial results for some reason leave Conley out). In addition, Ward 20 turned out 49% of its huge number of voters. In November, Ward 20 can turn out at least 70% — 17,000 to 18,000 voters — and Dan Conley will not be on the ballot. At 17,000 votes, a Walsh 3500 Connolly 13,500 result is entirely feasible. Even a more likely Walsh 5000 Connolly 12,000 result would give Connolly a larger margin than the entire vote turnout in Walsh’s home Ward 16.

Add a conservative Connolly margin of 5000 in the downtown areas, and he now has a bigger margin — 12,000 — over Walsh than the likely entire turnout from Wards 16 and 7, Walsh’s two strongest Wards.

( c ) East Boston, Brighton, Ward 19 (Centre Street, Jamaica Plain; plus a small part of Roslindale)

Even with the support of State Rep. Liz Malia, Walsh fared not so hot in Jamaica Plain. In East Boston, Connolly had the endorsement of State Rep. Carlo Basile. Basile delivered. In Brighton, to which neither he nor Connolly had any local claim, Connolly was the clear winner :

Ward 1 ………………………………………………….. Walsh 762 Connolly 1214

Curiously, in this once banner “Italian” Ward, Rob Consalvo did not dominate Tuesday. His vote total barely matched Connolly’s. Turnout, too, was shockingly small : about 28 % . In November, all this will change. Historically, East Boston has consciously “delivered” the bigger part of 6000 to 7000 votes to a preferred, usually Irish, contender. It was famously so in 1959, when Ward 1’s vote made the difference in John Collins’s upset win over the much favored John E. Powers. In 2013 it is unlikely that Ward 1’s top politicals can “deliver” the Ward to anybody; yet with a much higher turnout — that much the ward’s politicals can do — and Rob Consalvo out, plus a clear preference for Connolly, as it stands today he will carry “Eastie” by about 1400 votes : say 4200 to 2800.

Ward 21 …………………………………………………………. Walsh 362 Connolly 631
Ward 22 …………………………………………………………. Walsh 818 Connolly 832
TOTAL ………………………………………………………………..      . 1180                  1463

Brighton’s turnout was tiny. In Primaries it always is. In November, the turnout might double and still be small. Connolly’s advantage isn’t much, but it is an advantage and takes away from Walsh a possible chance to cut Connolly’s huge vote margins in the Wards I have already assessed.

Ward 19 ………………………………………………………. Walsh 542 Connolly 1007

Many Ward 19 votes went to other candidates on Tuesday. Still, unless they break decisively to Walsh, and adding a modestly higher turnout — to maybe 55 % — than Tuesday’s estimable 42 %, Connolly still stands to win the Ward by a good 1500 votes. Not a lot, but at this point Connolly doesn’t need a lot more.

All of the above leaves it — with one exception; see below — up to Boston’s “communities of color,” concentrated in Wards 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 14, part of 13 and 15, 17, and much of 18. It’s a lot of the City’s voters, maybe 25 % — greater, taken together, than Ward 20. On Tuesday, Walsh and Connolly won almost an equal share of what little vote in these communities did not go to Charlotte Golar Richie, John Barros, and Felix Arroyo. If on November 5th communities color divide their vote equally, Connolly almost certainly wins. What are the chances that Walsh can turn a palpable majority of voters of color in his direction ? As of today, I cannot tell. My friends think that a decision here will not be made until after one or two of the upcoming three debates. I think they are right.

But let us say that even after the debates, Boston’s voters of color poll equally for Walsh and Connolly. Does Walsh still have a chance ? Yes he does.

I’ve left one big region out of the discussion : the part of Ward 18 that Mayor Menino lives in. it is said that Menino cannot stand John Connolly, and Connolly’s loss to Walsh in Hyde Park and Readville bears out what is said :

Ward 18 Pcts 9, 10, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 22, 23)
————————————————————————– Walsh 647 Connolly 542

In Menino’s home precinct (20), Walsh beat Connolly 97 to 34. Of course the overwhelming majority of votes in the precinct went to local hero Rob Consalvo. He won about 2500 votes in the whole region. It is assumed, probably correctly, that Consalvo will support Marty Walsh. If I assign Consalvo’s 2500 local votes three to one to Walsh, and increase the turnout from 45 % to 60 %, Walsh wins Menino’s home area by about 1800 votes.

With this 1800 vote victory, a 10 point margin among communities of color, some increase of vote in his home area (South Boston especially), and a strong debate showing leading to a decent majority among voters who did not vote at all on Tuesday, Marty Walsh can win the day. But it will not be easy.

Marty is respected by all who know him, has a civil rights record second to no one, and has the utter loyalty of labor (other than the Teachers Union). He needs to run an almost perfect campaign. He needs to tell us about his 16-year record at the state House. He needs to show that he speaks the language of business, and its plans, as authoritatively as he talks that of labor.

Walsh needs badly to expand his reach at least into areas where he wasn’t blown out : Tom Menino’s half of Ward 18; Jamaica Plain; Brighton (Ward 22); the North End; and Ward 10 (Mission Hill precincts). He would be well advised to borrow from Dan Conley’s excellent, neighborhood-oriented recommendations list of administrative reforms. He needs to get Felix Arroyo and Rob Consalvo aboard.

John Connolly’s strategy should be “steady as you go.” Continue to do exactly what he has been doing, but also present a convincing plan for administrative reform — Dan Conley’s neighborhood by neighborhood list, but also reform of the Police and Fire Departments. Connolly needs to get some sleep before the debates and come out passionate and and in command as he already has shown he can do.

Can Walsh do it ? Yes he can. But John Connolly is no punching bag. He can do it too. He speaks as eloquently as Walsh does, seems to understand the culture better, and draws voters of all ages and both genders much more readily than Marty Walsh has so far shown.

It is going to be a terrific six weeks, isn’t it ?

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere