So This Is Why Elizabeth Warren Will Be a Candidate for President in 2016

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The other day, a friend of mine told me that Elizabeth Warren would be the Democrat Party nominee for President of the United States in 2016 and that she would have an excellent chance of winning against the Republican nominee, no matter who it is.

I said that I found her to be an implausible nominee because of her background as an academic at an elite eastern university (Harvard) and her total lack of experience in foreign policy and in matters of national security.

 “The world is a very dangerous place,” I said. “The U.S. has enemies working night and day planning attacks on us.  They want to inflict casualties in ways that would make 9/11 look mild.  This is going to be a national security election.  Warren has zero experience in that area, zero credibility as someone who could take on our enemies.”

I added, “She’s all but sworn an oath not to run.  She has repeatedly denied any interest in running next year.  How’s she going to get past those denials?”

My friend, per usual, was not impressed by my stab at punditry.

“What’s national security experience got to do with it?” he asked. “Obama had none and he got elected easily against a guy who was a war hero.  That will not disqualify Warren.  As for her repeatedly denying she will run, there’s a long history of people saying they wouldn’t be a candidate and then became candidates when circumstances supposedly changed or their thinking 'evolved.'  There are lots  ways she could explain her change of heart.  She explains it once, with conviction, and moves on quicker than Belichick to Cincinnati.”

He added, “Warren’s candidacy against Hillary would get a tremendous boost from all the Dems on the left who are disenchanted with her and see her and Bill as extensions of Wall Street.  Warren’s base in the party is highly motivated.  They’re begging her to run.  If she gives even a hint she’s thinking of doing it, they’ll go wild.  Warren could catch a tremendous wave.  She could lock up the nomination fairly early, giving her lots of time to raise money for the final.”

I am so suggestible that only my wife hiding the credit cards prevents me from buying every device sold for $19.95 on an infomercial. I was now captured by my friend’s logic. 
 
I visualized the women Scott Brown loved to address as “Professor” raising her right hand on Jan. 20, 2017, at the Capitol, our first “Madame President.” 

“OK,” I said.  “Tell me more.”

He said, “In politics, as in life, it’s all about timing.  You have a moment and you have to grab it.  Obama is the best example in recent times.  Less than two years in the Senate, almost a complete unknown when he started -- a blank slate really -- and he becomes this unstoppable candidate.  It was his time, his moment in history.  The stars were all lined up for Obama.  He obviously knew his chance might never come again, so he went for it. Chris Christie is the worst example recently, but you have to think about Mario Cuomo, too.  Christie had his moment back in 2011 when all the attention was on him.  There was this buzz about him.  He should have run because, you know what, I think he could have beat Romney for the nomination.  And I think he could have run a better campaign than Romney did in the final.  He would have been better at punching Obama in the nose.  He would have connected better with people than Mr. Aloof, Obama.  Now the excitement about Christie has faded.  People aren’t really interested in him anymore. His moment has passed.  I’m sure he’s kicking himself.”

I asked, “So what would you say to Elizabeth Warren if you bumped into her tomorrow at Logan?”

He said, “This is your moment. Better go for it.”

In 10th grade English, I had a nun, a Sister of St. Joseph, who loved Shakespeare.  She had us memorize patches of dialogue from his most famous plays.  I still remember the following from “Julius Caesar,” so I recited it to my friend, trying to sound intelligent and hoping to recover a bit from his demolition of my Warren-is-implausible argument.

“There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads onto victory.  Omitted, all the voyages of their life are bound in shallows and miseries.”

My friend said, “Shallows and miseries, yeah.  Mario Cuomo no doubt became an expert on that. ” 

 

 

 

 

 

    

Reflection on Famine Memorial: Where Was Hibernian Caucus When We Needed It?

Friday, March 20, 2015

Yesterday afternoon, before the Massachusetts Senate got down to business, which consisted of a long discussion and votes on multiple proposed amendments to a supplemental budget bill, the Boston Police Gaelic Column of Pipes and Drums played some music in the Senate chamber in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, a holiday that now requires a least a week to accommodate all of the celebrating that folks want to indulge in this time of year.

In welcoming the Gaelic Column, Senator Michael Rush of West Roxbury said, “The enormous contributions the Irish have made in our culture, our history and our state are profound.”
Senator Rush also introduced Brendan O’Caollai, Consul General of Ireland in Boston, calling him a “very special guest, a guest of the Senate President and those who have identified as the Hibernian Caucus.”

I had never before heard the many members of the legislature who have Irish roots described as the “Hibernian caucus.”  It’s kind of a nice formulation, although it appears to be strictly an honorary or unofficial name. There is no door or letterhead at the State House emblazoned with those words.
If the members of this caucus actually convened in a hearing room and tried to achieve a distinct goal, I am fairly certain their efforts would quickly devolve into stalemate.  We Irish are rightly known for argumentative tendencies and monumental stubbornness.

Speaking of monuments, I wish the Hibernian Caucus could do something about that one at the corner of School and Washington Streets, the Irish Famine Memorial. 
This is one of the best locations in Boston for a monument, and the event it commemorates, perhaps the greatest catastrophe of the 19th Century, is worthy of remembrance and reflection for all time, especially in a city that absorbed tens of thousands of refugees from the famine.  The eight bronze plaques at the site, which bear texts explaining the famine, the million deaths it caused, the mass exodus it set off, etc., could not be more appropriate or helpful.  

The memorial goes awry, however, in its main sculptures, two groupings of three persons each, which are mounted on wide, cylindrical, rock pedestals. The problem is a lack of art.

On one pedestal, the figures we see are emaciated, rags barely covering their bodies.  A man sits on the ground, his torso curled painfully forward.  A kneeling girl stares down at an empty basket and a kneeling woman looks up at the sky; her lips are parted, as if she’s crying, “Why us, Lord?”  Her left arm is raised and the long, thin fingers of her left hand are raised in supplication to the heavens. The whole thing shouts, VICTIMS!     
On the other pedestal, several feet away, there is a young handsome man, his young handsome wife and their handsome little boy.  They have some meat on their bones and are wearing pretty good clothes.  They are striding forward confidently, with the woman glancing sideways at the trio in torment.  She has a stern but somewhat oblivious expression.  Why didn't they just slap SURVIVORS! on this thing?

The look and feel of an old Saturday Evening Post cover is not the only regrettable aspect of this memorial -- or even the most regrettable.  Worse is the missed opportunity to make a larger point, a universal point. 

The potato famine was one of the first recorded instances of a government (the British in this case) using an existing famine, or of a government deliberately bringing about a famine (as Stalin did in Ukraine), to effect a political purpose.  In the Ireland of the 1840s, the purpose was to drive off the poor tenant farmers so that the British owners could create large, remunerative estates on the rich, newly vacant land.
I am not an art expert, nor am I a sculptor.  I can’t tell you how the creators could have designed the memorial in ways that would have suggested the complicity of the powerful in the extinction of the weak or have made one contemplate the serious defects of human nature that play out when food is used as a weapon of policy or war.

But if a Bostonian or a visitor to the city wants to experience the power of art in a public place to startle us with a new insight into an old truth or to send us on a deep journey into our own souls, all he or she has to do is take a short walk from the Irish Famine Memorial to the New England Holocaust Memorial, near Faneuil Hall, or to the Armenian Heritage Park on the Rose Kennedy Greenway.

For a Public Office Holder, Nothing Can Spell Trouble Like Wanting to Help a Relative

Friday, March 13, 2015

There are many ways to get in trouble when you hold a public office or a place on the public payroll.  Not too surprisingly, that trouble often begins with a relative or friend.

In public life, friends can get you into trouble faster and worse than your enemies can.  The same goes for relatives.  It’s always been that way.
The records of the Massachusetts Ethics Commission are rife with accounts of appointed and elected officials who should have resisted the normal human impulse to help someone they knew or were related to.

As cautionary tales, consider the fairly recent cases of (a) Henry Richenburg, a member of the Salisbury Board of Selectmen, (b) Stephen Hyde, Sr., the former chief of the Southampton Fire Department, and (c) Elizabeth Gorski, a member of the Groveland Board of Selectmen.  The Ethics Commission hit them with fines of $2,500, $7,500 and $2,500, respectively, for violating the state’s conflict of interest law, Chapter 268A of the Massachusetts General Laws. 
Here are some of the details of each case, as excerpted from separate press releases issued by the Ethics Commission on March 3, and on Dec. 17 and Dec. 11, 2014:

Henry Richenburg
“…in March 2013, Richenburg’s son-in-law filed an application for a general license with the BOS (Board of Selectmen) to operate a poultry business to raise and sell poultry and eggs.  The business was located both adjacent to, and on a portion of, Richenburg’s property.  The property adjacent to Richenburg’s property is owned by Richenburg’s daughter and son-in-law…the BOS, on June 10, 2013, unanimously voted to approve the license application.  Richenburg participated as a Selectman in the decisions to table the application and then to approve the application.  Richenburg also signed the license along with the other BOS members…at the time he participated in these matters, Richenburg knew that both he and his daughter, a member of his immediate family, had a financial interest in the proposed poultry business.  His daughter had a financial interest because she was directly involved in the poultry business and owned property on which the poultry business was to operate; Richenburg had a financial interest because he was an abutter to the business and a portion of his property was being used to operate the business.”

Stephen Hyde, Sr.
“…Hyde’s son was an SFD (Southampton Fire Department) firefighter and emergency medical technician in 2011.  As the Chief, Hyde was the only full-time employee of the SFD.  The other employees, including Hyde’s son, were hourly employees who responded to fire and ambulance calls or provided station coverage duty.  Firefighters would fill out a ‘call sheet’ in order to be paid for the hours they worked.  The call sheets were then placed in a locked box to which only Hyde had access, and Hyde would submit them to the Town every two weeks for payment.  The Commission found that in 2011, Hyde used his position as chief to check off or add his son’s name on as many as 47 call sheets for days and times when his son had not responded to ambulance or fire calls, or performed station coverage duties.  The Decision states that Hyde presented false payroll records to the Town for his son to be paid at least $200 for ambulance and fire calls to which his son did not respond, and approximately $6,172 for 336 hours of daytime station coverage that his son did not perform.  Hyde testified that the payments he caused to be made by the Town to his son were for repair and maintenance work that his son performed on SFD vehicles and equipment, primarily at Hyde’s garage at his home.  His son testified to having performed roughly 193 hours of repair and maintenance work, although neither he nor Hyde documented any of the work that Hyde’s son performed for the SFD.  In 2011, based on altered payroll records, Hyde’s son received at least 16 payments of substantial value, which is $50 or more.”

Elizabeth Gorski
“…the Commission found that Gorski committed a single violation of section 23(b)(2)(ii) of the conflict of interest law by, on one occasion, threatening negative employment action against the Chief and Deputy Chief of Police, but that the Commission’s Enforcement Division failed to prove any of its other claims against Gorski…the Commission found that Gorski improperly used her position as a Selectman in an attempt to secure her son’s return to active duty (as a Groveland police officer) when she spoke with Deputy Chief Jeffrey Gillen during a chance meeting in a Georgetown restaurant on January 26, 2012.  During that conversation, Gorski discussed her son’s leave and noted that the Deputy Chief and Chief’s employment contracts were coming up for renewal.  Although Gorski previously had abstained in her position as Selectman from acting on police matters, during this encounter, she threatened to take negative action with regard to their contracts.  The Commission found that Gorski violated section 23(b)(2)(ii) by attempting to use her position as a Selectman to threaten the Deputy Chief and Chief’s contract renewals in connection with her expressed desire to see her son reinstated as a police officer.”

If I were in a position to give advice to every newly elected or newly appointed public office holder, this is what I’d say: regard the impulse to help a friend or relative in need, or a request for a special favor from a friend or relative, as you would a mysterious package dropped with a thud on your doorstep at 2:00 a.m.
For more information on the Ethics Commission, go to: http://www.mass.gov/ethics

 

 

You Know Budget Season's Started When the Storm of Prepared Statements Erupts

Friday, March 6, 2015

With all the wild shots going off this week, the new budget season in Massachusetts sometimes felt more like hunting season.

Members of the opposing party, advocates for various causes, and all-purpose critics were firing away at Charlie Baker Wednesday, just minutes after he unveiled his budget plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Matt Fenlon, executive director of the state Democratic Party, said, “The key to a budget for Massachusetts voters is how painful cuts made by Republican Gov. Baker will be balanced with maintaining needed services.  Because of key investments made over the past eight years by Gov. Deval Patrick and the Democratic legislature, Massachusetts is No. 1 in education, clean energy and veterans services…Now it’s up to Gov. Baker to work with the Democratic legislature and deliver us a budget that allows Massachusetts to stay a national leader.”

The Massachusetts Teachers Association found the governor’s budget “troubling for its lack of vision and absence of meaningful investments in education and other vital community services.”  
The budget, said the MTA, “is ultimately a proposal that shortchanges students, families and our cities and towns by including cuts to kindergarten expansion programs and providing inadequate funding for our public schools, colleges and universities.”

A group called Raise Up Massachusetts asserted that the governor’s budget “fails to make needed investments” in priorities like “good public schools,” “affordable higher education” and “a transportation system that lets people get to work and customers get to businesses.”
Noah Berger, once a top aide in the Massachusetts Senate and now president of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, said, “Governor Baker has wisely identified investing in education, transportation and local communities as budget priorities to help working families and strengthen our economy.  This budget does not, however, make significant new investments in those areas.”

Two big reasons for putting out an immediate statement on a  governor’s budget are to signal one’s displeasure to the members of the House and Senate, who will soon be coming up with their own versions of a budget, and to lay the groundwork for a mini-campaign in the legislature aimed at shaping the budget more to one’s liking.
For the parties who pretty much like the governor’s budget as is and who worry about the factors pushing state spending ever higher, budget-roll-out day is also a time to reach out and try to influence a legislator.  They become dervishes of prepared statements as fast as any naysayer.

House Minority Leader Brad Jones noted that “Governor Baker inherited a sizable deficit from the previous administration, but he has risen to the challenge by forging ahead with a creative budget plan and accompanying legislation that seeks to address a myriad of key issues, including ongoing service problems at the MBTA, slowing the growth of Medicaid, and providing much-needed relief to working families by doubling the Earned Income Tax Credit over a three-year period.”
Jones said, “I look forward to working with my colleagues in the House Caucus to ensure that Governor’s Baker’s initiatives are fairly considered as components of the House budget in the weeks and months ahead.”

A group called Building on What Works said it wanted to applaud the governor’s “targeted approach to improve education in Massachusetts through the Partnership Schools Network Fund included in the Administration’s FY 2016 budget request.”
Health Care For All’s executive director, Amy Whitcomb Slemmer, said her group “welcomes” the governor’s budget proposal because it “maintains the Commonwealth’s long-standing commitment to providing access to affordable health care.”  She was “particularly pleased that the budget extends this year’s decision to restore MassHealth (Medicaid) coverage for full dentures.” 

The Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance said, “Governor Baker’s FY ’16 budget represents a welcome and continued break from our state’s recent economic policies, particularly since it does not seek to raise taxes.”
I always nod admiringly at statements that are careful not to rough up the governor, because where does that get you, while inviting the legislature to correct the governor.  Take the words of Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants, for example: 

“Although we recognize the financial constraints facing the Governor and the very difficult choices reflected in this budget proposal, we are deeply disappointed with the funding allocated to the Judicial Branch…We look forward to working collaboratively with the Governor and the Legislature to ensure that the Judiciary is funded at a level that ensures that justice is effectively delivered, and that basic criminal justice and public safety needs are met.”
Suffolk County Sheriff Steven W. Thompkins called Baker’s new budget “an encouraging start” and, in the next sentence, expressed concern “for programs that target the root causes of incarceration” because he thinks the governor has shortchanged those programs.

As the budget process continues, Thompkins said, he is looking forward “to working with the Suffolk County delegation in the Legislature to make sure that the corrections community has a voice in this important discussion about Massachusetts priorities.”
In the sheriff’s world, folks don’t scream bloody murder about budget items, they just hold a lot of important discussions. 

The best immediate statement on the Baker budget, in my opinion, came from Senate President Stan Rosenberg.  No coincidence, it was also the shortest statement I saw.
“The Senate is committed to making government work more effectively and more efficiently for working families across the Commonwealth.  As we study the Governor’s budget proposal, we will be looking for clear cut evidence that this budget is intended to fulfill these same objectives,” the President’s statement said.

It was respectful of the governor, but not fawning.  It enunciated a goal no one can quarrel with, a government that works better for working families, but committed the Senate to no specific course of action or to a certain programmatic agenda.  It pointed to what the budget process is fundamentally about: evaluating a mountain of facts and making countless hard decisions.  All that in 44 words.
An honorable mention goes to the sum-up line from the top lobbyist for the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, the estimable John Regan.  “The governor’s proposed budget takes constructive steps toward ensuring that the Commonwealth lives within its means,” he said.

Leave it to those persnickety business types to bring up limits when we’re talking about spending public dollars.  Party pooper.

 

If Birmingham Had Won 2002 Nomination, Romney's Life Might Have Changed Big Time

Friday, February 27, 2015

Tom Birmingham made the news this week when the word got around that he’s joining the Pioneer Institute as a senior fellow in education.

Birmingham, a former president of the Massachusetts Senate, is a lifelong Democrat, and the Pioneer Institute is traditionally a haven for Republicans, so the story was shot through with the cliché of the “strange bedfellows.”
I was not much surprised by the news.  Birmingham’s mind is extraordinarily capacious and subtle.

“It was clear to me that we have a substantial area of common ground on education issues that does not extend to a variety of other issues where we have to agree to disagree,” Birmingham said of his relationship with the institute in an interview with the State House News Service.   
If Birmingham thought he could do something to elevate the quality of public education in Massachusetts even a tiny notch or two by joining the conservative scrum at the Pioneer Institute, he would not have dithered over the offer.

The Pioneer Institute’s newest recruit is a decisive fellow, indeed.  Otherwise, he never would have ended his Senate career at its apogee in 2002 to try to gain the Commonwealth’s highest office. 
It is worth considering that, if Birmingham’s gubernatorial quest had succeeded, Mitt Romney’s two presidential campaigns would not have happened, and the recent history of presidential politics would be quite different from what it is.

Starting in 1990, Birmingham was in the Senate for 12 years.  Kind of remarkably for modern times, he was president of the Senate for half of the time he served there.
No doubt, Birmingham learned a great deal about legislating from his patron and predecessor, Bill Bulger, but he obviously ignored the lesson on longevity.  Bulger’s presidency lasted for 17 years.

For Birmingham in 2002, it was up or out.  This is a philosophy more should adhere to.  The courage of it becomes a man.
In 2002, Birmingham was one of five Democrats who sought the nomination for governor.  The others were State Treasurer Shannon O’Brien; Robert Reich, an academic and former U.S. Labor Secretary; State Senator Warren Tolman; and Steve Grossman, a businessman and a former chair of the national Democratic Party, (and, until early last month, our state treasurer).

Birmingham came in third in the primary, fewer than 6,000 votes behind second-place finisher Reich, and far behind the winner, O’Brien.  If Reich had not been in the race, I believe Birmingham could have taken the nomination from O’Brien. 
Reich was the darling of the liberals that year.  Had he not been in the race, most of Reich’s votes would have gone to the next most liberal person in the race, Birmingham.  Reich’s vote total, 185,315, added to Birmingham’s, 179,703, would have produced 365,018 votes, a number far beyond O’Brien’s, 243,039.

O’Brien was a good candidate but ultimately did not match up well against Romney.  She had a big early lead in the polls and faded at the end, losing by nearly five percentage points.
Birmingham certainly would have had a tough time with Romney, who looked on the surface more like a governor than he.  And Romney would have bloodied Birmingham on account of his status as a protégé of Bulger and a State House insider.

Yet Birmingham would have prevailed, in my opinion, because (a) he’s Chelsea tough and can take a punch, (b)  he is every bit as smart as Romney, if not smarter, (c) he is much more knowledgeable about politicking and governing than Romney, (d) he has the gift of being able to explain on the stump why a principles-driven, activist government is better for the average person  -- Birmingham’s scarily articulate when worked up -- and  --most important -- (e) Birmingham’s genuine passion for action and leadership would have formed an appealing contrast to Romney’s cool, superior, master-of-management style.      
Romney wasn’t governor two years when it became obvious he was mainly interested in the job because it could be a stepping stone to the presidency.  There’s nothing terribly wrong or unusual with that.  If wild ambition were a hanging offense, we’d have to install a permanent gallows on the grounds of every state capitol.

This may qualify as a stupendous delusion, but I’ll always believe that the candidacy of Robert Reich, a liberal’s liberal, opened the floodgates for the national ambitions of Mitt Romney, who presented himself expediently as a “severe conservative” when he was actually a severe moderate, an act of contortion that likely spelled the death of his oval office dream.  
The Pioneer Institute describes itself as an “independent, non-partisan, privately funded research organization.”  It says that its mission is “to improve the quality of life in Massachusetts through civic discourse and intellectually rigorous, data-driven public policy solutions based on free market principles, individual liberty and responsibility, and the ideal of effective, limited and accountable government.”

Birmingham will be good for the Pioneer Institute, and vice versa. 

 

 

 

 

Can't Take Excitement, Post-Snowpocalypse? Don't Dare Read a Blogster's Miscellany

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

YOU SAVE MONEY ON T BUT LOSE YOUR MIND:  Last August, the American Public Transportation Association issued a press release saying the average Bostonian who used public transportation to get to work, rather than operating a car for that purpose, saved $1,087 per month and $13,045 per year.  Given the recent nonfeasance of the MBTA, the average Bostonian can be forgiven if she says, “Please, Lord, let me stop saving money this way!”

IF YOU HAVE TO ASK HOW MUCH OLYMPICS COST, YOU CAN'T AFFORD ITThe Boston Globe reports that organizers of Boston’s 2024 Olympics bid “are wooing wealthy business executives to join an elite group of private financial donors known as the ‘Founders 100’ ” and that getting into the group will cost an individual at least $50,000 and a company at least $100,000, (“Olympics group calls on wealthy executives,” 1-23-15).  Some experts on philanthropy in the Hub subsequently opined that fundraising for a putative Olympics would not have an adverse impact on giving to other, more established worthy causes. Apparently, these prospective donors are so well off that they have multiple checks of the $50,000 variety to toss around. Not one of them ever says to the president of small non-profit who comes knocking on his door, “Sorry, I’m all tapped out for this year.”  Sure.
EXAGGERATE IF YOU WANT TO RESONATEWho knew you can’t believe someone who sends you an email looking for a donation?  A recent Harvard faculty working paper (whatever that is) found that fundraising appeals from political candidates were more effective when they told recipients they were behind in the polls.  A news release on the working paper provided this example of a “message that resonated” with prospective donors: “BREAKING: A new SurveyUSA Poll has Democrats LOSING to Rick Scott in Florida, 41-42!!!  Now is the moment to DETHRONE the king of voter suppression and his allies in key battlegrounds.”  The authors of the working paper said, “Emails emphasizing that the preferred candidate was barely losing raised 60 percent more money than emails emphasizing that he was barely winning.”

NO ONE WILL EVER LOVE YOU, AMERICA, LIKE RUDY: Do you recall how, in 2002, when Mitt Romney was running for governor, his handlers brought in former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani to put a shine on the campaign, and how Giuliani had just the right touch with the man (and the woman) on the street, semi- famously responding to a North Ender who offered to buy him and Mitt a cannoli by wrapping his arm around the guy and saying, “No, let me buy you a cannoli,” while Mitt stood awkwardly by, seemingly anxious about messing up the campaign schedule?  Now “America’s Mayor” has become the pol with the opposite of touch: he infamously told a dinner gathering in Wisconsin last week, “I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America.  He doesn’t love you.  And he doesn’t love me.  He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.” No doubt those words sent a jolt of excitement through every Democratic operative in the land.  Obama will be sending Rudy a love letter every week if he keeps talking like that.
NEVER MIND THE AQUIFER, WHAT ABOUT HIS LUNGS?  Speaking of the Globe, did you happen to see the story last month about the folks on Cape Cod who are up in arms about NStar using herbicides to kill vegetation below its power lines, (“Cape residents protest NStar’s use of herbicides,” 1-20-15)?  The director of Protect Our Cape Cod Aquifer was quoted as saying, “NStar’s cocktail of herbicides, with their unknown long-term side effects, has no place on Cape Cod with its fragile environment.”  The story was accompanied by a photo of a worker spraying herbicides from a big device strapped to his back.  He wasn’t wearing a mask or any protective clothing that I could see.  I surmised that (a) the worker was a person of at least normal intelligence, and (b) the “cocktail” he was lugging around can’t be all that toxic if he’s willing to breathe in its particles all the live-long day.

OUR VALUES NOT STRENGTHENED BY ANONYMITY:  Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Associate Justice Robert Cordy was right: Being a citizen means there are times when you have to stand up and be counted.  Formerly Governor William Weld’s general counsel, Cordy authored the opinion for the majority in a case decided in favor of the Boston Globe, which had sued to obtain the names of jurors in a murder trial.  Access to information about jurors, he wrote, “promotes confidence in the judicial system by, among other things, providing an independent nongovernmental verification of the impartiality of the jury process, and educating the public as to their duties and obligations should they be called for jury service.”  Chief Justice Ralph Gants dissented.  “We have had few instances in this Commonwealth where jurors have been threatened or harassed after their verdict, but many jurors fear the possibility, especially where they reside in or near the communities of the litigants or the litigants’ families,” wrote Gants.  “I also fear that the creation of a juror list to be included in the case file may, over time, diminish the fairness and impartiality of jurors.”  We ask young men and women to risk their lives in the defense of our nation and its values.   Is our state asking too much if it publishes our names should we be called to serve in relation to the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution?
FIVE YEARS LATER, A SLAP STILL STINGS: In a guest column in CommonWealth magazine, former Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation Jim Aloisi pulled the curtain back on a sharp disagreement he had with the Senate chairman of the legislature’s Joint Committee on Transportation in 2009, (“Aloisi’s fixes for the T: Get rid of MassDOT board, 2-11-15”).  “The MassDOT board is a vestige of a political battle, not of thoughtful public policy,” Aloisi wrote.  “The 2009 Transportation Reform bill that I filed with the legislature did not include a MassDOT board – that was an invention of the Senate, and its former transportation chair, Steven Baddour of Methuen.  He and I were feuding about my opposition to his ‘reform before revenue’ approach to the bill, an approach that I feared (rightly) would lead to reform without much meaningful net new revenue.  Creating the board was meant as a slap to me; its entire rationale for being was a way to reduce my power as secretary.  Even after I received assurances from both the then House and Senate chairs that the secretary would be on the board as an ex-officio member, that did not happen.  The change in the law placing the secretary on the board took place several years later, after it became clear that the construct enacted into law in 2009 freezing out the secretary was untenable.”  The art of governing is only made better when a public servant, or a former public servant, tells us candidly  what happened when an important piece of legislation was created -- or rather, his version of what happened.  I hope Steve Baddour will now avail himself of the CommonWealth franchise to share his version -- or to slap back, as the case may be. 

 

 

Revere Does Not Have to Sit Still for Being a Cog in the Olympic Dream Machine

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Right now, after enduring weeks of cruel and unusual punishment on the rolling gulag that is the MBTA, I kind of like the idea of Boston hosting the Olympics.  It might be the only reason we’ll ever fix the T.

On the other hand, I will with any luck be retired by the time the Olympics rolls around in 2024. By then, my concerns about wait times at Oak Grove Station should be strictly academic. 
Also, how can I embrace the idea of a Boston Olympics as long as the Games seem to be at odds with the best interests of the City of Revere, where I was raised and where my heart lies?

The Boston 2024 Committee is eyeing Suffolk Downs as a back-up site for the Olympic Stadium if its first choice, some land off the expressway in South Boston, falls through. 
I guess that means the folks in Revere who are hoping to turn the no-longer-necessary racetrack into something new and exciting, something that capitalizes on the site’s proximity to the Blue Line and Revere Beach, something welcoming and good for hard-working families, something that permanently widens the tax base, will have to put their hopes on indefinite hold.  Or maybe not.

If you’re Revere Mayor Dan Rizzo, you are probably not going to allow one of your city’s biggest potential assets to lie fallow because persons who will never live and vote in Revere might need it to realize their dreams of international glory.
Mayor Rizzo at least has to consider the possibility of scoring political points at the expense of outsiders who presume to decide the best way to use some prime real estate in his city.

It would be easy for Mayor Rizzo to convene a news conference and announce that (a) the city is working closely with the owners of Suffolk Downs to come up with the smartest and most productive new uses for the site, (b) it is impossible to determine at this time if an Olympic Stadium would be either smart or productive, and (c) you are recommending that the owners of Suffolk Downs avoid any agreement with Boston 2024 until all viable proposals are carefully considered and compared to one another.   He might want to throw in a comment to the effect of: “The chairman of the Boston 2024 Committee is welcome to call our City Planner at any time.”
Meanwhile in East Boston, a group of activists has promulgated a “vision statement” for their community that addresses the redevelopment of Suffolk Downs, a good portion of which lies in East Boston.

The statement, entitled “Overarching Principles for Development in East Boston,” is the work of East Boston 2020, a group mainly composed of elements that defeated a pro-Suffolk Downs casino referendum in November, 2013.  It contains “five principles by which all future significant development proposals in East Boston – and Suffolk Downs in particular – should be measured.”  Those principles are: permanent job creation, community inclusion and a transparent process, environmental impact, transit-oriented development, and economic feasibility.
East Boston 2020 is fortunate to have at its disposal the energy and intellectual firepower of Attorney Jim Aloisi, an East Boston native and a former Secretary of Transportation in the Governor Patrick administration.  He was quoted in a recent press release from the group, (“Olympic Stadium at Suffolk Downs? Any Plan for the Site Must Meet Community Principles, Approval,” 2/2/15), as follows:

“Although Suffolk Downs is privately owned, it is supported by a highway and transit system owned and operated by the state and paid for by the taxpayers of Massachusetts.  It is only fair and just that any major development on its grounds be thoroughly vetted by local citizenry and surrounding communities.  We hope these principles, which express a positive and forward-looking vision for the future of this site and community, will be embraced by a broad spectrum of state and local decision makers.  Ours is a constructive vision, and we are eager to engage with those who appreciate the potential for this site to bring transformative change to the community, the city and the region.”
Long before the great athletes of all nations parade into an Olympic stadium in Massachusetts, average citizens will troop into meeting after meeting to “thoroughly vet” the sites proposed for the various Olympic events.  That will be as it should be. 

Greece gave the world both the Olympics and democracy.  Of those two wonderful ideas, it’s not hard to say which is the most important.