Take Your Damn Free Speech Elsewhere: T Public Property Not a Legal Public Forum

Friday, November 20, 2015

The MBTA, we learned this week, is reworking its already strict guidelines for advertising on T property. 

Metro Boston’s transit system wants to prohibit “ads concerning political issues or matters of public debate,” according to an agency spokesman.

Although that ban has not yet been formally adopted, it is, for all intents and purposes, already in effect.
You may wonder how the T does that.  Isn’t this America? Don’t we have something called a First Amendment with a guaranteed right to free speech? 

And didn’t the Supreme Court rule in the Citizens United case that you can’t put limits on campaign donations because cash is the equivalent of speech and speech cannot be limited?
Yes, but MBTA property is not legally considered a “public forum,” a status that was generically adjudicated and definitively settled years ago.  The Supreme Court has said that the First Amendment does not guarantee access to property “simply because it is owned or controlled by the government.”

As an official non-public forum, the T can make and enforce any reasonable guidelines it wants on advertising content.
There’s nothing stopping the T from opening the floodgates to political and issues advertising.  If it did, however -- as other public transit agencies have done -- it would permanently sacrifice its right to be considered a non-public forum in the eyes of the law.  Once a public entity makes a forum public, it can’t go back to being non-public. 

It would be messy, of course, if the MBTA allowed all comers to buy political ads or to advance their agendas on any issue of the day.  People would be constantly offended and outraged.  Lawsuits would grow.  Vandalism against “offensive” ads on the T would become common.
I’d take all of that in a heartbeat for the shot in the arm that no-holds-barred ads on the T would give to our public discourse, our democracy, and for the political maturity and equanimity it would necessarily foster in the citizenry.  The guy who said “the cure for offensive speech is not less speech but more speech” had it right. 

And the Supreme Court said it neatly in a 1969 case:  “It is the purpose of the First Amendment to preserve an uninhibited marketplace of ideas,” emphasis on uninhibited. 
It would be a noble thing for the MBTA to have its essentially prosaic purpose support the exalted purpose of the First Amendment.

Sarah Wunsch of the Massachusetts chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union won my heart when she told the Boston Globe, “I’m sorry they (the MBTA) are going in that direction because I think we need more public spaces where people can share their views, even if people don’t love those views.”
On a practical level, how can the T leave all that money for political and issues advertising on the table when it’s starved for cash and floating trial balloons about the need for yet another fare increase?

Let’s hope Charlie Baker, who stout-heartedly took ownership of the T’s problems during the mass transit melt-down this past winter, will step up again and impose some of that common-sense he’s renowned for on this issue.

Somerville Mayor's First Impression of Casino Footbridge May Not Be His Last

Friday, November 13, 2015

Now Steve Wynn has sweetened the deal for his Eastern Massachusetts casino with a pedestrian bridge over the Mystic River.  The span would lead from the casino site in Everett to the fast-rising neighborhood at Assembly Row in Somerville.

Though only a concept, it’s already a bridge too far for Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone. 
He was quoted in today’s Boston Globe as saying, “A footbridge would benefit Steve Wynn and Steve Wynn only.  Wynn is looking to tap into the success of Assembly Row to get more people to his craps table.”

There are a couple of reasons at least why the mayor might want to blow up this plan while it’s just an image on a computer screen.
First, he’s a longtime opponent of casino gambling.  Back in the fall of 2014, Curtatone explained his views on the subject in an interview with WBUR, Boston’s public radio station.  “I’m opposed to casinos because casinos don’t build communities,” he said.  “In fact, casinos abide to the economies of extraction.  They take monies out of downtowns like Chelsea and Charlestown and Somerville and other communities and put them at the craps table and roulette wheel.”

Second, Somerville is a plaintiff in a pending lawsuit against the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, which seeks to overturn the commission’s decision granting a casino license to Wynn.
It would have been a news-making surprise if, yesterday, Curtatone had called a press conference to announce, “I still hate casinos as much as ever.  They exploit their customers and run roughshod over communities.  I’m hopeful our lawsuit against Wynn Everett will succeed.  But, you know what, I love that pedestrian bridge Steve wants to put up.  The guy’s a peach.”

This bridge would make it easier for Somerville residents to apply for jobs at the casino and get to work there, should they be hired.  It would make it easier for people living in Everett and other communities north of the river to get to the jobs and attractions of Assembly Row.  It would improve access to the public parklands on both sides of the River.  It might even make life safer for the many bicyclists who pedal to their jobs in Boston every day from the north.  What bicyclist in his right mind wouldn’t prefer a walkway over the Mystic to the traffic-packed Alford Street (Route 99) Bridge?
Memo to Wynn’s handlers at Mintz Levin: Recruit the organizations that promote cycling into your bridge campaign; start by contacting the Boston Cyclists Union at http://bostoncyclistsunion.org

Lawsuits and bureaucratic inertia notwithstanding, it’s looking more certain that a casino will be built in Everett.  An extensive environmental clean-up of the site, formerly the locus of a chemical factory, has already begun.
To bring us an eye-popping mini-Vegas on the Mystic, Wynn is committed to spending something like $1.7 billion.  This will be a pleasure palace worthy of the next incarnation of James Bond. 

Until they get the world’s greatest singer, Van Morrison, there “for one night only,” I won’t go near the place.  The gambling gene is practically non-existent in my bloodline.  I’d rather go to the dentist than go shopping.  I cringe at high-end restaurants where they put a little bit of food in the middle of a large white plate and charge you extra for the sides.

I do, however, get excited at the notion of an Everett-Somerville pedestrian bridge. 
If we’re going to get a casino there, I hope our leaders will make sure that bridge is part of the deal.  If it is, I predict it will be heavily used by the public, in ways we cannot yet anticipate, and for purposes that have nothing to do with enriching Mr. Wynn.

I also predict that, if the kill-Wynn suit against the Gaming Commission fails, Mayor Curtatone will endorse the bridge -- but not before extracting from Wynn a commitment to build the mother of all pedestrian bridges.  Joe knows negotiating.




My Favorite [Stolen] Insight: Chastity of Intellect Must Be Preserved in Public Affairs

Friday, September 18, 2015

When the spirit of George Will, that great god of conservatism, is upon me, I cannot resist the urge to begin a post with a quotation from some intellectual giant, past or present.  The urge is accompanied by the hope I’ll be thought a scholar if I am able to call forth so effortlessly the words of this or that Great Mind.   

In that spirit, I entreat you: ponder the words of George Santayana (1863-1952), the once celebrated Boston Latin- and Harvard-educated philosopher, essayist, poet and novelist, who said (or maybe wrote; I’m not sure):
“Skepticism is the chastity of the intellect, and it is shameful to surrender it too soon.”

They don’t make men of letters like George Santayana any more.  Or maybe they do.  I wouldn’t know.  I’ve never read a book by him and probably never will.  Philosophy, essays, poems and novels -- they’re so much work, you know.
I glommed onto the “skepticism” quote the other day when reading an article in a New Yorker magazine I borrowed from a doctor’s office because I was headed to the subway and needed something to distract me from the pain and misery of riding the MBTA.

The article explored the troubled history and eventual sale of a failed and foreclosed-upon casino in Atlantic City.  One of the parties involved was a university president, described as “a leading scholar of Santayana,” who had dreams of converting the hollowed-out casino to academic uses.  The author cleverly worked in this quote because it underlined the president’s ironic lack of skepticism when he got involved in the deal.  (Not long afterwards, the president had to resign.)

Anyway, it’s a good quote.  I especially like how Santayana connects skepticism to virginity.  A pronouncement with a sex angle always has more impact. 
As chance would have it, right after I read that New Yorker piece, I happened upon two quotations from notable figures in Massachusetts politics touching upon the subject of skepticism.

One, by Charlie Baker, was in a State House News Service article, dated September 11, concerning the governor’s thoughts on a meeting he’d just had with two of his predecessors, Bill Weld and Mike Dukakis.  The former governors were educating their successor on the virtues of spending at least a couple of billion public dollars on an underground rail link between Boston’s South Station and North Station.
“This is a lot of money, taxpayer money,” said Baker, “and a lot of people call me skeptical when I get into these conversations.  I’m not being skeptical.  I’m being cautious.  There’s a difference.”

(Question: If you are the Bill Weld who served as political godfather to Charlie Baker, is it better to be greeted by your protégé cautiously or skeptically?)

The other quote was by that machine of memorable quotations, Barney Frank, who retired not long ago from the U.S. House and recently published a book: Frank: A Life in Politics from the Great Society to Same-Sex Marriage.
Frank was being interviewed in the online version of the best publication on Massachusetts public affairs, CommonWealth magazine. 

Reporter Gabrielle Gurley asked, “Now that you’re working in the news media, how does that affect your view of journalists?”
Frank said, “I don’t like journalists.  I like them personally.  They frustrate me though.  They are among the most intelligent people I deal with.  But there’s been a negativism that has suffused the profession for so long that I resent that.”

Gurley asked, “What do you mean by negativism?”
Frank said, “It was best summarized for me by a very good (retired) journalist named Robert Kaiser of the Washington Post.  An editor friend of his once said a few years ago, ‘I wish young journalists today were as skeptical of bad news as they are of good news.  If you tell them something good, they can’t wait to debunk it; if you tell them something bad, they can’t wait to push it into print.’ “

Charlie and Barney, and all those who aspire to follow in their footsteps, May they be forever chaste.





High Rollers Are Fine but Resort Casino Needs Orange Line Riders to Thrive

Monday, September 14, 2015

On the sidewalks of Everett, I have heard it said that Steve Wynn is quietly planning to lure planeloads of nouveau riche from the People’s Republic of China to his new “Wynn Everett” casino on the banks of the Mystic River.

According to this theory, there are millionaires galore in China who’ve experienced the Wynn treatment at his fabulous casino in Macau and who’d be eager to combine a stay at the Everett pleasure dome, the long-planned resort casino for eastern Massachusetts, with an extended weekend of shopping, sight-seeing and culture mavening in Boston.  
“You watch!” a friend of mine says. “Wynn will be doing charter flights from China every other weekend.  He’ll have yachts picking up his most loyal Chinese customers at the Logan Airport dock and whisking them to the casino.  These high rollers will be dropping Franklins at the tables as soon as they recover from the flight.  And when they’re not betting in the casino or eating at Wynn’s restaurants and shopping at the high-end shops in his luxury hotel, he’ll be sending them in his fleet of limos to the best that Boston offers: restaurants, shows, art galleries, you name it.”

Little known facts that bolster this line of thought: (a) Macau is one of the world’s richest cities; (b) Macau is the most densely populated city in the world.
The China-Wynn Everett connection also makes sense, as my friend sees it, because of the affinity China’s movers and shakers already have to Boston.  “They have business connections here,” he says.  “They’ve invested money here.  They’re sending their kids to Harvard and MIT.”

He asks, “Can’t you see it?  If you’re a member of China’s wealthy elite and you’re a regular at Wynn Macau and your kid is at Harvard, you’re going to stay at Wynn Everett when you come to visit the kid.  Hell, you’ll want to visit more often because you’ll have the casino as your base camp.”
I’m the last person to say if this is a valid theory.  I don’t know gambling from gamboling.  I can’t tell the difference between international markets and the International Houses of Pancakes.

But, but, if you read the recent, required environmental impact report on Wynn Everett by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, you’ll see evidence that Wynn will be depending heavily on familiars from Massachusetts, rather than foreign nationals, for the success of his resort casino near Sullivan Square.
“The MBTA’s Orange Line is a key component of the project’s transportation strategy to maximize patron and employee use of non-automobile travel modes,” the report states.  “A significant proportion of patrons and employees are expected to travel on the Orange Line.”

Wynn is going to make an annual contribution of about $382,000 to pay for additional service on the Orange Line to accommodate his employees and customers, according to this report. A little more than a grand a day isn’t that encouraging to anyone who rides the T and knows how inadequate and outdated Orange Line service really is, but it ain’t pocket change either.
As I thought about how critical the Orange Line will be to Wynn Everett, my mind wandered back to my days as a Northeastern student riding the Blue Line (1968-73).  I grew up in Revere.  That was the line you rode if you had to get to Boston.  On many afternoons in the spring, if I had no afternoon classes and no hours at my on-campus work-study job, I’d head home, taking the Blue Line to the Revere Beach or Wonderland stations, where I’d catch an Everett Station bus to home.  (We lived off Park Ave., near the Revere-Everett line.)  

When the racing season was under way at Suffolk Downs, Blue Line trains would sometimes be filled in the early afternoons with horse fans heading to the track. I was always fascinated by how intently they studied their racing forms as the trains rattled their way out of the tunnel to the Suffolk Downs stop.  Most of them held sharpened pencils in their right hands and stared closely down at their pencil points as they marked their forms.  God, did they need their horses to come in.

It’s weirdly reassuring, in a deja vu all over again kind of way,  to think I’ll soon be spending time in the company of casino patrons on the Orange Line as I spent my college years with racetrack patrons on the Blue.  The gamblers who take the Orange Line to Wynn Everett in 2018 will be no more likely to rise from the ranks of the desperate-for-a-windfall than the gamblers I watched on the hard benches of the Blue Line in 1968.  Yet I shall find some inspiration in the example of their blind persistence. 


Connector Failure and Its Aftermath Will Weigh on All Future IT Procurement in MA

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General is investigating the failure of the Governor Patrick administration and its chosen information technology contractor to adapt the state’s health exchange to the complex requirements “Obamacare” back in 2013.

The U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts may also be conducting a full-blown investigation of the massive and costly failure of The Connector, as the exchange is commonly known, during the latter part of Patrick’s second term.
We should wait for those investigations to be completed before grappling with the specifics of how to prevent another public technology disaster like the one that engulfed The Connector.

But we don’t have to wait to acknowledge that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, like most public entities in the U.S., is not really set up to be a high-functioning, equal-to-the-private-sector procurer of cutting edge technology. 
This is not to disparage anyone on the public payroll now doing tech procurement.  I’m sure most of them are intelligent, honest, dedicated, diligent, etc.  I’d be surprised if our state procurement units have enough people to do the work as thoroughly and as quickly as it needs to be done.  And they probably lack adequate resources and support from management above.

Given how long The Connector failure and its costly remediation have been in the news, I suspect that Charlie Baker began to take stock of the problems in tech procurement before he was even inaugurated.  I hope that, now, he’s as eager to make changes in that area as he is in mass transit.
The cost of The Connector failure has been estimated from a quarter of a billion to a billion dollars, or more.  And the tab's still open!

Just this week, the Center for Health and Information and Analysis (CHIA), a state agency established under health care cost control legislation in 2012, cited the failure as a major reason the cost of operating the Medicaid program jumped 19% in 2014.
Some 200,000 Massachusetts residents who were unable to enroll in private health plans due to technical problems at The Connector were put on Medicaid as a stopgap, meaning taxpayers had to foot the bill in 2014 for millions of dollars in care provided to persons who otherwise would have gotten private insurance coverage.

Connector: The gift that keeps on taking.
Back in May, during debate in the Massachusetts Senate over the state budget for Fiscal Year 2016, Minority Leader Bruce Tarr tried to get an amendment through that would have allocated $2.6 million for assisting the Attorney General in recovering funds from the private vendor involved in The Connector failure and appointing a special prosecutor to investigate the failure.

Tarr’s amendment gained the support of only 8 of the 39 senators in attendance at that point.  Several senators argued against it.  They said the AG was already investigating The Connector; therefore,  the $2.6 million appropriation was not needed.
“Hardworking people are working to address the systemic dysfunction of The Connector site and to remediate something that has been a disaster,” said Senator Tarr.  “We need to try to bring to justice and hold accountable the people responsible for the expenditure and the loss of those hundreds of millions of dollars.  We know the federal government is underway in that task and the U.S. Attorney has subpoenaed records.  The level of dysfunction has brought the attention of the federal government’s chief prosecutor in Massachusetts.  It would seem that the U.S. Attorney’s client would be the federal government and the federal government might seek compensation for acts on behalf of the federal government.  Who will stand for the citizens of the Commonwealth?…We can’t just let go by the waste of hundreds of millions of dollars and inappropriate acts by people representing the Commonwealth.”

This was an instance, common in the annals of our state and federal legislatures, where the best argument didn’t win.
Boston’s Pioneer Institute has taken some of the most critical looks at The Connector disaster.  For a good sample  of what the Institute has said on this issue, go to:

As MassPort Boss Reminds Us, Boston Wouldn't Be The Hub without Fishing, Seafood

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Tom Glynn was careful to describe Boston’s hottest new neighborhood as the South Boston Waterfront at the outset of an op-ed piece he wrote for the Boston Globe the other day.  You would expect nothing different from the CEO of the politically-attuned Massachusetts Port Authority.  From Glynn there will be no harping on the “Seaport District.”   (Why send all who call Southie their hometown into paroxysms of pain and anger?)

Anyway, it was a heck of a piece, that column by Glynn, which appeared Sunday, Aug. 23, under the headline, “Boston’s future depends on a thriving seafood industry,” for it contained a much-needed reminder that new apartment buildings, new office towers, and trendy new bars and restaurants are not the only key ingredients for a city striving for vibrancy in the 21st century.
“Long before the biotech firms, cool restaurants, and law firms made a home there (the South Boston Waterfront), seafood companies were doing business in that part of town. It is important that there be room for the industry going forward,” wrote Glynn, a Ph.D. from Brandeis, a former general manager of the MBTA in the Governor Dukakis administration, a former President Clinton administration labor official, and a former chief operating officer of Partners Health Care.  (If you can find a better resume, blog it.)

The only state where the value of caught fish exceeds that of Massachusetts is Alaska, Glynn pointed out. 
While the catches in New Bedford and Gloucester consistently exceed Boston’s, Glynn trumpeted the “rare ingredients” that position Boston as an “epicenter of the state’s seafood processing industry.” Those would be its “dockside access to fishing boats and seafood processors, an international airport, the interstate highway system, and a global shipping container facility.”

The annual Port of Boston fish catches have grown – “despite federal policy restrictions” -- by 80% in recent years, according to Glynn; and, today, some 58 seafood businesses are located within a 1.25-mile radius of South Boston.
As one who performs work for a great Massachusetts-based non-profit, Fishing Partnership Support Services, a kind of human resources agency for commercial fishermen, I was nodding vigorously as Glynn informed Globe readers that:

(a) the Boston Fish Pier remains the very active home of the city’s working fishing fleet, with 21 vessels currently berthed there, and
(b) six fishing boat owners/operators have their names on the waiting list for a Boston Fish Pier berth. 

Commercial fishing is far from dead in Boston and the other ports of the Bay State, although fishermen are, for the most part, experiencing hard times because of federal limits on days they can fish, competition from cheaper, less-regulated imported seafood, the high fixed costs of owning and running a fishing boat, (fuel, maintenance, repairs, insurance, etc.), and the high cost of living in Massachusetts.
If we want to keep a homegrown fishing industry, a distinctive feature of Massachusetts since the 17th century, and if we want local, independent fishermen catching local fish 10 or 20 years from now, we have to adhere to policies that help the commercial fishermen of Massachusetts and their families.

If you haven’t read Tom Glynn’s “Boston’s-future-depends” column, please do so.  It may be found at:

…and for information on Fishing Partnership Support Services, please go to:


Wynn Everett's Environmental Virtues Are Yin to the Yang of Casino Profits

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The site in Everett where Steve Wynn wants to build a resort/destination casino at a cost of more than a billion dollars has got to be the most run-down, contaminated, crummy looking oceanfront property in Greater Boston.  I speak as a witness.

It was a warm and humid summer day three years ago when I walked the entire site with a group that was thinking of putting a casino there before Wynn came along.  “My” group saw the potential in the site and was briefly intrigued with the idea of having the "Boston casino" in Everett, but it never actually took the proposal beyond the brainstorming stage.  This theme recurs often in my life:  I get the dreamers; other consultants get the guys itching to drop a billion-plus on a deal.
Anyway, the property on the Mystic River where a Monsanto chemical factory once stood, and where Wynn envisages a casino, is covered with fill -- a mixture of dirt, gravel, broken bricks and stones, and God knows what else, which was used to encase and smooth the land when the factory was demolished.  Some tall weeds have sprouted there but do not seem to be thriving as they do in most vacant lots. These weeds actually look malnourished. 

The property comprises 33 acres.  One acre equals roughly three-quarters of a football field.  So imagine 24 to 25 football fields of sheer ugliness standing in the shadow of a power plant and a terminally congested Sullivan Square.

Then visualize that property ending at a deserted, pollution-bombarded shoreline -- a place of rotting piles, broken concrete slabs from vanished buildings, crumbling revetments, and unidentifiable debris exposed in the black, oily muck of the outgone tide.   I’m surprised the Massachusetts Film Bureau hasn’t used this place as a permanent set for horror movies.

So give Steve Wynn credit.  He’s willing to spend tens of millions of dollars to decontaminate the site so that it's suitable for building upon and occupying.  And he’s willing to spare no cost to build what he vows will be a five-star hotel and a spectacular, self-contained mini-world, a Vegas-on-the-Mystic, a pleasure dome shamelessly dedicated to round-the-clock wining, dining, shopping and entertainment.
Monsanto closed up shop in Everett over 20 ago. No one, with the exception of Mr. Wynn, has come along since who has the resources, the vision and the willingness to redevelop the site.  The City of Everett has naturally embraced the man, his Revere roots notwithstanding.

Wynn knows environmental remediation is his strong suit in this nerve-ripping, high-stakes game of licensing Massachusetts’s first casino.  He seems to delight in pulling a new “environmental ace” from his sleeve every few days. 
On August 13, there was the announcement that the project, officially dubbed Wynn Everett, will include “a public harbor walk for pedestrians and bicycles that will extend the length of the resort’s shoreline and connect to a park.”

Robert DeSalvio, president of Wynn Everett, said, “We envision our harbor walk to be brimming with activity day and night, year round, both from a recreational and transportation perspective. Connecting (the new harbor walk) to the (existing) Gateway Center Park means more people can enjoy the Mystic River and access our resort without having to drive here by car.  It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to unlock a beautiful urban waterfront that very few people today know exists.”
On August 19, there was the announcement that Wynn Everett “will exceed state regulatory requirements for environmental sustainability and feature advanced green initiatives, including the use of solar power and rainwater harvesting.”

Said DeSalvio: “The $30-million waterfront site cleanup and transformation (of the former Monsanto site) will have an historic impact on the entire region…The Wynn Resort in Everett will be a model of sustainability and energy efficiency when we begin our day-to-day operations.  It will bring to life Wynn’s deeply rooted principal of being an environmentally conscious and responsible leader in every community that we’re part of.”
Wynn’s long-range plan, I have learned, now extends beyond the casino site proper.  Sources in Everett say that a Wynn representative recently approached the operators of the Mystic Station power plant, which is located directly across busy Route 99 (Broadway) from the casino site, to explore the possibility of acquiring and demolishing three old and disused components of the facility (Mystic 4, 5 and 6) and of building a parking garage for casino patrons in their places.  The plan includes a pedestrian walkway spanning Route 99, garage to casino.

If the final license for Wynn Everett is granted, and if Winn ever gets to replace a part of the Mystic Station with an environmentally friendly and visually unobjectionable parking garage, the entire appearance of that industry-heavy part of Everett would change for the better, and dramatically so.  It would be so good that the people of Charlestown and Somerville, though they might remain opposed to the casino, would like the new look of things from across the river despite themselves.