Sounds Like a Plan: Sell T Station Naming Rights, Then Put 'Massachusetts' Itself in Play

Friday, December 27, 2013

When you ride the MBTA, as I do every day, you can’t help but notice the bad shape our transit system is in. 

The Orange Line, for example, is often brought to a halt at rush hour by a “disabled train up ahead.”   The cars on this line should have been replaced at least ten years ago.

Unfortunately, the T never has enough money.  We’re talking about a public authority that practically invented the term “deferred maintenance.”

Imagine my relief then as I read today that the MBTA will soon earn up to $20 million by selling the naming rights to some of its busiest stations: South Station, North Station, Downtown Crossing, Park Street, Back Bay, State Street, Airport, Boylston, and Yawkey.

I can fault the T only for limiting the initiative to a select group of stations.  In the name of profit, why not put every station name in play?

If there are big bucks to be made in converting a big station like Downtown Crossing to something like Starbucks Crossing, there’s short money in turning a small, quaint station like Brookline Village into something like Acme Check Cashing Village.

For every Trader Joe’s Corner that replaces a Coolidge Corner we should have a Tattoo Island replacing a Wood Island and a Wally’s Roast Beef Station replacing a Wollaston.

It will all add up fast.

If we can double the expected $20 million dollar yield from this project by untethering the names of all the T stations from the history, culture, geography and neighborhoods of Boston, I say do it.

Do we really need stations like “Symphony” and “Museum of Fine Arts” on the Green Line, or “Revere Beach” and “Bowdoin” on the Blue Line, or “Harvard” and “Quincy Adams” on the Red Line?

Yes, it’s nice to have names that pay homage to the unique features of our region and that actually help riders know where they are.   But in these days of austerity we have to ask, Are these old names worth what they’re costing us in lost ad revenue?

The T station naming rights initiative is so in tune with the times that it’s sure to be wildly successful. It will lead in short order, I predict, to a county naming rights sale.

Suffolk County is so old-fashioned, Apple County so next-gen.

And why this blind attachment to “Massachusetts,” an antiquated handle if ever there was one?

Think how much we could make by rebranding our state Wal-Mart Land, Verizon Province, or Burger Kingdom?

The possibilities are endless.

Chronicle of a Judgeship Denied: a Switched Vote, Two Defeats, and a Plea to the Supremes

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Governor’s Council has twice rejected Michael J. McCarthy’s nomination for a judgeship in the Southern Berkshire District Court in Great Barrington.

The first time was on September 26, 2012.  With one Council position vacant and one Council member abstaining, the Council voted 3-3 to confirm McCarthy.  A tie goes against a nominee.

Were it not for the absence that day of then Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray, who was on a trade-related trip to Europe, McCarthy would have been confirmed. 

The LG is normally the presiding officer at Council meetings and is allowed to vote if there’s a tie.  Murray would have voted for McCarthy because McCarthy had been nominated by Murray’s boss, Governor Deval Patrick.

Three weeks after that vote, Mary-Ellen Manning of Peabody, the Governor’s Councilor who abstained on September 26, went to the State House and recorded in an official register her wish to be counted as voting in favor of McCarthy’s nomination.

No one really knew what to do about Manning’s unusual move. 

McCarthy thought Manning’s notation in the Council register so significant that he took the judge’s oath of office in private somewhere.  I think he got some notary public or town clerk to do the job.  There was no public announcement of it.  

Having served as Pittsfield city solicitor and built a good practice as a family law attorney there, McCarthy is a fixture in western Mass legal circles, a known and respected commodity.  Among those who went on the record with the Council in favor of McCarthy’s nomination were Francis X. Spina of Pittsfield, an associate justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court; Superior Court Judge Daniel A. Ford, and all seven members of the Massachusetts Academy of Trial Lawyers who practice in Berkshire County.

Said Pittsfield state rep Tricia Farley-Bouvier to the Berkshire Eagle newspaper: “Mike McCarthy is a very good man and an outstanding jurist, and he had gone through a comprehensive vetting and interview process before being nominated by the Governor.”

Governor Patrick, who has paid closer attention to the western part of the state than any governor in modern times, really wanted McCarthy on the bench.  So he nominated him again this past January. Four new members who’d been elected to the Council in November, 2012, had just taken their seats at that point.  McCarthy’s second nomination came up for a vote on February 13 and he lost outright by two votes, 5-3. 

Two different Councils in succession had thus found his candidacy underwhelming.

On July 18, McCarthy filed a civil lawsuit in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court against Governor Patrick and Secretary of State William Galvin.  He was joined as a plaintiff in the lawsuit by Mary-Ellen Manning, who is no longer a member of the Governor’s Council, and by former Springfield Mayor Michael Albano, a member of the Governor’s Council whose district includes Berkshire County.

“I take no pleasure in this action,” Albano told the Berkshire Eagle, “but I can’t sit back and not represent my constituents in western Massachusetts.”  

The suit asks the Supreme Court to grant McCarthy the judgeship on the grounds that Manning’s vote switch was legally binding and that the governor wrongfully “deprived” him of the office by refusing to swear him in after Manning changed her mind.  Galvin was named as a defendant because the Secretary of State has the legal responsibility to issue a “judicial commission” to someone duly confirmed as a judge.

When Manning’s vote switch was first brought to his attention, Governor Patrick consulted his chief legal counsel, who did some research and informed him that only votes taken during Council meetings can be considered valid.  That’s only common sense, no?  Otherwise, everything the Council did would remain forever up in the air.

Through an attorney on the staff of the Attorney General, Patrick filed a motion to dismiss the suit.  Supreme Court Associate Justice Margot Botsford heard arguments for and against that motion on Oct. 24.  Her ruling is pending.  If she allows the suit to proceed, the entire Supreme Court could end up deciding the matter. 

District court judgeships are like rare, shining gems in the drab, unforgiving, post-recession, dog-eat-dog world that most lawyers inhabit.  They are highly-paid, secure positions: a judge practically has to be caught on camera committing a crime to be fired.  Judges in these courts are paid $159,694 a year and collect more than ample pensions when they retire.  McCarthy lost the opportunity for all that on a fluke because the Lieutenant Governor could not attend his confirmation hearing. 

That must hurt.  Bad.

I think that the Governor’s Council on a good day is two clicks away from a kangaroo court and that Mike McCarthy is qualified to be a district court judge.

Manning’s I-didn’t-vote-no-I-did routine is yet another argument for the abolition of the Council, a dysfunctional relic of the government Massachusetts had when it was a British colony. 

I wonder if McCarthy’s pain and anguish have blinded him to the fact that his quest to alter the outcome of his nomination, post facto, looks kind of desperate and sad.

That pain and that anguish do not justify throwing under the bus the gentleman who gave McCarthy two clean shots at the job of his dreams.  The cliché* applies, eh Governor? 

Out there in the Berkshires, life must be hell for a good, old-fashioned family lawyer.

*No good deed goes unpunished.

Advantage Walsh: Waiting to Decide on the Pseudo-Issue of Partners in Somerville

Friday, December 13, 2013

On Dec. 5, the old pros at Partners HealthCare System managed the news that they’re moving several thousand workers to new office buildings in Somerville with deft political hands.  No one would have expected otherwise.

Partners knew it would take a beating from Mayor Tom Menino, who had been pushing them for months to relocate the employees to a site in Roxbury.  And so it did:  on Dec. 6, Menino body-slammed the kings of our health care world on the front page of the Boston Globe.

“I’m very disappointed,” he said. “Partners has an obligation to this city, where they have acres and acres of tax-exempt property.  This could have been their opportunity to help revitalize Roxbury.  Every time they had a problem, they called me and I was there for them.  The social conscience has gone out of Partners.  This is all about their bottom line.”

Menino leaves office in less than a month; his ability to wreak vengeance on anybody is extremely limited. Partners knew it could ride out a storm stirred up by this lame duck. 

(That Partners was able to inflict this pain precisely because he’s in no position to retaliate will torment Menino no end.  Like that of all good politicians, his life has been a never-ending quest for the upper hand.)

Partners recognized other advantages, as well, in taking their best shot at a minimally painful news rollout now: it’s after the Boston mayoral election and before the new mayor takes office. 

Under no circumstances would Partners have allowed the Somerville story to become an issue in the Boston mayor’s race, when two fully loaded candidates could have outdone each other in the outrage department.   

Regarding the winner of that race, Mayor-elect Marty Walsh, Partners probably hoped he’d be so busy planning the transition and assembling his administrative team he would not have the time and energy in December to take a major bite out of their backsides.  A reasonable hope.

Also, Partners knew that, if it made the announcement on Somerville in early December, it would give Walsh a month to settle down and calmly assess the downside of going to war against the largest group of hospitals and related health care enterprises in Massachusetts.  The Partners board, for example, is a who’s who of the smartest, most successful and most influential people in Greater Boston. 

Why, hello there, Anne Finucane and Jim Manzi!

This is not to say that the Mayor of Boston has to avoid taking Partners on or that he’s bound to lose such a fight, only that the start of a new administration, when a mayor is getting his bearings and trying to establish a positive vision for the next four years, may not be an auspicious time for it. 

The Mayor of Boston has screws enough to turn on all those Partners’ thumbs, as Menino demonstrated whenever he got the urge to talk about more “community benefits” and payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT) from this and other Boston non-profits.

Partners put Menino in the rearview mirror and the ball in Walsh’s court on Dec. 5.  Now it is waiting, no doubt nervously, to see how Walsh will swing.

Shirley Leung wrote a good column on this topic today on the Business page of the Globe: “Is Somerville gain really a Boston loss?”  It seemed to indicate that Walsh is taking his sweet time in deciding what to do next.

“You don’t want to lose 4,000 jobs out of the city of Boston. I’m not happy about it,” Leung quoted Walsh.  “When I talk about regionalization, I don’t talk about it from taking one business from one city to the other.  I talk about attracting new businesses to a region.  There is a very big difference here.  I wish Partners made a different decision.”

Maybe those will be Walsh’s final words in public on the issue.  It wouldn’t be a bad way to leave it behind him.  It’s not as if there are people marching every day on city hall demanding that Partners build its new offices in Boston.  This has been kind of a manufactured crisis from the beginning.  No new jobs are involved in the move to Somerville. Partners is merely consolidating a bunch of offices in one location, 10 minutes by subway from downtown Boston.

Maybe Walsh has decided it would be good to keep Partners in suspense until well into his first year in office, or later.

There’s an advantage in his holding his fire until the day he really needs something important, say a five-figure, multi-year commitment to a new program benefiting a large Walsh voting bloc.   Then he can dispatch to the Partners board room an emissary who’ll have a psychological advantage.  (When you’re the mayor of what we like to think of as a "world-class city," the messy stuff is best left to others.)

“You know, the mayor could have killed you guys on that Somerville office thing,” the emissary might say.  “But did he do that, even when Tom Menino – Tom Menino, the most beloved mayor in the history of this city! -- was screaming for your scalps?  No. No. No. He deliberately chose not to make your lives more difficult.  Now he needs you to make life a little easier for the good people of Boston.” 

If Partners improbably declines, Walsh can always reach for the PILOT thumbscrew.

The Squirming Will Be Widespread When the Defense Goes Ballistic at Probation Trial(s)

Friday, December 6, 2013

If you were Brad Bailey, a noted defense lawyer at Denner Pellegrino, and you were representing Elizabeth Tavares in the federal courts, you’d be doing what he’s doing now: trying to put her in a position where she’s more likely to evoke sympathy from a jury.

Toward that end, Bailey filed a memo Nov. 1 in the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts supporting his motion to sever Tavares’s case from that of the other persons charged in connection with an allegedly rigged hiring system in the Probation Department.

A deputy commissioner in the department, Tavares was indicted in 2012 along with Probation Commissioner John J. O’Brien and Deputy Commissioner William H. Burke, III.  The government intends to try all three together.

The indictment said, in part:

“Between 2000 and 2010, the defendants…devised and intended to devise a scheme and artifice to defraud and to obtain money and property by means of false and fraudulent pretenses and representations, in that the defendants and their co-conspirators did award employment and promotions to individuals who were solicited from and sponsored by members of the state legislature and others when those sponsored individuals were not the most qualified candidates who had applied for the employment or promotion.”

Keep in mind that “and others.”

While arguing now on grounds related to the Sixth Amendment, Bailey has a strategy seemingly designed to exploit the advantages of having Tavares face the jury as a woman alone.

If she’s tried separately, prosecutors will not be able to buttress allegations of a group criminal enterprise by constantly pointing to the actual group accused of leading the enterprise.

At a stand-alone trial, it will also be easier for Bailey to imply that she lacked the power, the heft, to make a substantial contribution to any such putative scheme.  Bailey would have Tavares sitting there, all meek and mild.  Under his tutelage, she would do her best to appear small, ordinary, and lacking in guile.

Most of the jurors would come to such a trial with the notion that men have more power in organizations than woman because that’s the way it’s always been.  They would be inherently susceptible to the suggestion that Tavares could not have been a real force in Probation.

Whether he wins a separate trial for Tavares or not, Bailey will try to get as many women on the jury as possible.  Women will be more likely to see Tavares as a pawn, not a queen, in a man’s game.

Bailey’s memo of Nov. 1 argues that “A joint trial would violate her (Tavares’s) Sixth Amendment rights and prevent the jury from making a reliable judgment.”

The motion continues: “At trial, the government would introduce sworn statements made by Tavares’s co-defendant, William H. Burke, III (‘Burke’).  The government would use these statements to support its case against the defendants.  However, these statements are admissible only against the declarant (Burke), and their introduction at a joint trial would violate Tavares’s rights to confront her accusers as guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment.”

The above-cited sworn statements are found in Burke’s testimony before what is commonly referred to as the Ware Commission.  The name comes from the independent counsel, Paul F. Ware, Jr., who was appointed by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to investigate Probation after The Boston Globe published an expose on the department: “An Agency Where Patronage is Job One,” 5/23/10.  Ware is a partner at Goodwin Procter; he’s a lawyer’s lawyer, widely respected in Boston legal circles.

Here’s an excerpt from Burke’s testimony before the independent counsel, as quoted by Bailey in his Nov. 1 memo, where he argued that Burke’s Ware Commission testimony, if introduced as evidence during a joint trial, would hurt his client, Tavares, and violate her constitutional rights:

Q. Did you have conversation with Mr. O’Brien in which he personally recommended to you candidates?

A. No

Q. On no occasion?

A. On no occasion did Jack O’Brien ask me to put anybody on a list…If I thought somebody was good, I would tell Liz or Frannie and say, this guy is outstanding; this lady is outstanding.  But he has never, never.

Q. When you were given names which you understood to have come from the Commissioner, that came through principally Liz Tavares?

A. Frannie or Eddie Ryan.

Q. Ed Ryan?

A. Fran all.

Q. And Liz Tavares?

A. Liz Tavares, right.

Q. Those were the individuals who passed along names from the Commissioner to you or to Regional Administrators or to interview panels, right?

A. Correct.

Q. Did you ever have any conversation with Commissioner O’Brien with respect to his meetings with legislative leaders for funding?

A. No.

Q. You understood, didn’t you, that while it wasn’t written down, the legislature was funding Probation generously because Probation was responding to legislative requests for hiring, among other things, isn’t that right?

A. I’d say yeah.

Q. So you understood that one of the reasons Probation under the auspices of Jack O’Brien could get the funding it needed was that Jack O’Brien was being responsive to the hiring requests of legislative leaders?

A. And judges.

Bailey’s Nov. 1 memo provides a clear picture of the strategy that he -- and no doubt the lawyers for the other defendants -- will use at the trial or trials (whatever the case may ultimately be).  It will consist of an aggressive attack on the Ware Commission, and on the government for bringing charges only against the three executives in Probation, and not also, for example, against any legislators, judges or upper- echelon court officials.

The order authorizing Ware to investigate the Probation Department empowered Ware “to compel ex parte sworn testimony from witnesses and to issue a report regarding wrongdoing by Probation employees,” the memo states.  “The inquiry was the quintessential Star Chamber – the order contained no provision for Probation employees to cross examine witnesses or to respond or present contrary evidence or conclusions.”  (Ex parte actions are those taken for the benefit of one party only in a legal proceeding; here, it means testimony that could have solely helped the investigators, as opposed to, possibly, both the investigators and the investigatees.)

The memo continues:  “The order limited the investigation to Probation and judicial branch employees, exempting the judges themselves from scrutiny.  The language and timing of the press release (announcing Ware’s appointment) and order suggest that the results were pre-ordained – scapegoat agency bureaucrats, while glossing over or ignoring their judicial overseers.  It is not surprising that the interrogation of witnesses (before the commission) consisted of primarily leading and badgering questions targeted at creating grounds to terminate O’Brien and Tavares, who were still employed by Probation.”

Bailey quoted the commission transcripts at some length in his Nov. 1 memo.  Here’s an illustrative snippet, re: leading questions, from the questioning of Deputy Commissioner Burke:

Q. And so your understanding is that Commissioner O’Brien would meet with legislative leaders and would present the financial needs of Probation or desires of Probation?

A. Mm hmm.

Q. The legislature would respond, and they would respond in part because Commissioner O’Brien in turn would meet the legislature’s job needs, is that correct?

A. Ask the Commissioner.  I mean, I didn’t hire one person.

Q. I understand that, but you’ve been around a long time.

A. Yes, I have.

Q. You’ve been Deputy Commissioner a long time.

A. Yeah.

Q. You know politics; you know the real world; you know Massachusetts.

A. Yeah.

Q. The way in which it worked was one hand, you know, washed the other?

A. Washes the other.  Yeah, I know.  I know what you’re talking about.

There’s an axiom of politics often cited when a candidate who seemed so attractive and compelling at the beginning of his campaign goes down to defeat:  “The rationale for your campaign is never as strong as on the day before you announce your candidacy.”

I wonder if a variant of that will one day apply to John J. O’Brien, William H. Burke, III, and Elizabeth Tavares: “The rationale for the charges against them was never as strong as on the day before the grand jury indicted them.”

It Feels Different When You Know the Person in Government Who Runs Afoul of the Law

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Prior to March 11 of this year, I would have said that I knew Mark LaFrance well.  Mark was not a personal friend but we had a friendly, professional relationship.

He was the manager for the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicle (RMV) of the state’s vehicle emissions and safety test program, which is overseen jointly by the RMV and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP). 

From 1999 to 2008, I was responsible for producing a quarterly newsletter called “Inspection Update,” working as a subcontractor to the company that administered the program under a long-term contract with the state.  In that capacity, I reported directly to Mark LaFrance and to the program manager for the MassDEP.

I always found Mark, who is 51, to be an intelligent, reasonable, competent and likeable individual.  He knew the vehicle inspection program backwards and forwards.  He was decisive and he communicated well. He seemed to be a popular and respected guy within the RMV.  I always appreciated the help he gave me, which was substantial and continual.   Also, Mark has a sly, off-beat sense of humor, the kind that can make you burst out laughing at improbable moments.  I often left his office smiling and shaking my head.

In 2008, the company administering the vehicle inspection program lost its bid for a new state contract.  My company, Preti Minahan Strategies, was working for that company.  So when that company lost its bid, we lost the “Inspection Update” work.  After that, there wasn’t a reason for me to be in touch with Mark and the folks at MassDEP, although I called him on occasion through the years when I needed information on one thing or another related to the RMV.  He was unfailingly polite and helpful.

On March 11, Mark LaFrance was arrested by agents of the Boston Field Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation outside the office building on Newport Road Extension in Quincy, where the RMV rents a lot of space.  I was told that eight agents in four different cars swooped in as he was leaving work.  They surrounded him in the parking lot, slapped the cuffs on him, and spirited him away for booking.  That struck me as overkill.  One or two agents would have been more than enough.  Mark is not a wise guy or a tough guy.  I never knew him to carry a weapon more dangerous than a ballpoint pen. 

LaFrance was subsequently indicted on charges related to an ongoing scheme whereby he allegedly took money from service station owners in exchange for getting them into the network of stations that conduct the state-mandated annual inspections, a program currently known as Massachusetts Vehicle Check.

Because there are more stations that want to do inspections than there are licenses for performing inspections, the state maintains a waiting list of qualified applicants.  Applicants are taken from the list in the order in which they were put on it and issued licenses that have become available on account of the retirement of an inspection station owner, an owner’s voluntary decision to quit the program, or some other reason. 

Massachusetts Vehicle Check is a mature program with about 1,600 participating stations.  Station owners generally make money on the program, mainly through incidental repairs that come their way when defects are identified during inspections.

Stations on the waiting list can wait years to get into the program.  For stations way down on the list, there’s virtually no chance they’ll ever be chosen because there’s so little turnover.

According to the documents filed in the case by federal authorities, LaFrance worked with Simon Abou Raad, a station owner from Tyngsboro, in identifying inspection stations that might be willing to transfer their licenses to stations on the waiting list through sham mergers.  Abou Raad would allegedly negotiate prices for facilitating the deals.  According to the authorities, when a price was agreed upon, Abou Raad would transfer the inspection equipment from one station to another, and LaFrance would use his authority and computer access to make the new owner’s entry into the program appear to be a routine matter.  By these and other means, it was alleged that LaFrance and Abou Raad collected some $657,000 over six or seven years.

Mark’s arrest made me realize again the hubris it takes to make some everyday conclusions, like when we assume we know somebody well.   Do we ever know anyone well, or really well?

When somebody I know gets in trouble with the law, my first reaction is usually, “What was he thinking?”  That’s probably the wrong way to put it.  When I read or hear the details of such a case, I’m usually struck by the flaws in the scheme and how obvious the flaws are.  So I should be saying, “Why did he think he could get away with it?” Not: “What was he thinking?”

I got a copy of the affidavit filed by one of the FBI agents involved in the LaFrance-Abou Raad case.  It’s a public record; anybody can get it.

“On February 6, 2012,” the affidavit says, “an FBI confidential human source (‘CHS’) informed the FBI that it had knowledge that individuals were paying bribes in order to receive a license to perform Massachusetts motor vehicle safety inspections.  CHS, who owns two Massachusetts service stations (only one of which is licensed to conduct vehicle inspections), was informed by an acquaintance and fellow service station owner that if the CHS wanted to acquire an inspection box (and license to conduct inspections) for an additional service station, the CHS would have to negotiate with and pay Abou Raad.”

The agent who wrote and signed the affidavit stated that it was based, in part, on his “review of intercepted electronic communications, records, documents, business records and recordings of consensually monitored conversations.” 

In other words, the FBI was bugging LaFrance’s phone and prying into his email whenever they felt like it.

The fall of Mark LaFrance has obviously been a disaster for him and his family.  The feds have made an example of him.  In August, he pleaded guilty to mail fraud and conspiracy to extort money “under color of official right.”  On Nov. 22, he was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge George A. O’Toole to three years in prison, two years of supervised release, a $12,500 fine, and forfeiture of $50,000 in illegal proceeds.

Abou Raad has also pleaded guilty to the charges lodged against him.  I’m guessing that, when he’s sentenced on Dec. 12, Abou Raad will receive a much lighter sentence than LaFrance.  After all, the station owners who paid him were eager to make a deal.  They obviously thought the prices were worth it to obtain the benefits of doing inspections.  Abou Raad did not have any authority to abuse.

LaFrance made a big mistake and is paying a big price.  He’s not the devil and is not a threat to anyone.  I can only hope they keep him in a safe, minimum-security facility.  This is about punishment and deterring corruption in government, I understand, but a non-violent, first-time offender should not have to fear being harmed when in prison.

This has been a tough case for the RMV.  In the final analysis, however, it’s more like a small blemish than a large stain.  Authorities estimate that the entire caper involved 10 or so inspection licenses and/or inspection machines.  Those 10 represent 0.625% of all the inspection stations in the state.

The arrest of Mark LaFrance no doubt felt like a terrible setback to the people in the RMV when it happened.  With the passage of time, its actual negative impact has been negligible.  Today, the Massachusetts Vehicle Check program is stronger and better, with more safeguards and more integrity, than it had on March 10, 2013.  

ADDENDUM:  The sentencing of Simon Abou Raad was postponed to Tuesday, Jan. 21.  According to the Office of the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts, Abou Raad was given three years in prison and two years of supervised release, and was fined $10,000.  He was also ordered to forfeit $360,000 in illegal proceeds.

Obamacare 'Disaster' Has Implications for MA Politicians and Bay State's National Sway

Monday, November 18, 2013

The problems with the roll-out of Obamacare have most members of the Republican Party salivating.

They believe Obamacare is the key to winning big in the mid-term congressional elections next year and expanding their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Greg Walden, the congressman from Oregon who chairs the Republican campaign committee in the House, calls Obamacare a “Category 5 political hurricane,” the defining issue of the 2014 elections.

In a recent New York Times analysis, (“As Troubles Pile Up, a Crisis of Confidence,” Friday, Nov. 15), Michael D. Shear wrote:

“The difficulties have put Mr. Obama on the defensive at exactly the moment he might have seized political advantage in a dysfunctional Washington.  If not for the health care disaster, the two-week shutdown of the government last month would have been an opportunity for Mr. Obama to sharpen the contrast with Republicans.  Democratic lawmakers expressed growing frustration on Thursday with the opportunities the party had missed to hammer home the ideological differences between the two parties.  The lawmakers say there is intensifying anxiety within the Democratic caucus that the poor execution of the health care law could bleed into their 2014 re-election campaigns.”

Most observers, I guess, wouldn’t bet a dollar today that the Democrats will win enough seats to displace Republicans as the majority in the House and take the power that comes with majority status.  An awesome power it is.

Republicans and Democrats now hold, respectively, 231 and 200 seats in the 435-member House.  (Four seats are vacant.)  If every seat in Congress were filled, Democrats would need at least 218 to form a majority.  Can the number of Democrat reps possibly grow at that rate, 9%, when their party leader, Obama, is struggling to stay on his feet?

There are two Democrat congressmen from Massachusetts, Jim McGovern and Richie Neal, who devoutly wish it to be possible.  Every Massachusetts citizen who votes as if his self-interest is his compass should wish similarly.

There’s plenty of time, as it is measured in politics, for Obama to turn things around, and for his fellow Democrats to gain fortitude and standing from such a feat.  But history is not on the side of the Democrats.  Usually, the president’s party loses House seats in the mid-terms.  When that party does defy the norm and gain seats, it does not usually increase its numbers by 9% or 10%.

If that were to happen, McGovern and Neal would almost certainly become the chairs of two of the most powerful committees in Congress, House Rules and House Ways and Means, respectively.

According to a government-operated website,, the Rules Committee is “amongst the oldest standing committees in the House” and is “the mechanism that the Speaker uses to maintain control of the House Floor.”  The committee, it says, “has the authority to do virtually anything during the course of consideration of a measure.”

If you wonder how power like that translates in the real world, go to Boston and tour the magnificent John Joseph Moakley federal courthouse on the South Boston waterfront.  While you’re at it, take a walk across the nearby Evelyn Moakley Bridge, the federally subsidized span that Moakley had named for his wife. 

Joe Moakley, the late, beloved congressman from South Boston, served as chairman of the Rules Committee for years (1989-95) when the Democrats held sway in the House.  He put a young Jim McGovern on his congressional staff and tutored him in the art of politics.  Jimmy was a quick learner.

When McGovern ran for Congress himself, at age 37, from a Worcester-based district, Moakley was an unofficial campaign advisor.  He welcomed his protégé to the Congressional club by telling him, “Don’t do something stupid, like run for Senate.”  Moakley knew the advantages of remaining patiently on the ladder of the lower branch -- and the (largely hidden) value of those advantages.

The aforementioned government website notes that Ways and Means is the oldest committee of the United States Congress, and is the chief tax-writing committee in the House. 

Taxes equal money.  Money equals power. 

Every item of revenue in the U.S. government must originate in House Ways and Means.

At, it also says that the roster of committee members “who’ve gone on to serve in higher office is impressive. Eight Presidents and eight Vice Presidents have served on Ways and Means, as have 21 Speakers of the House of Representatives, and four Justices of the Supreme Court.”  

If you object to House pooh-bahs acting like royalty, if you don't like their indulging their egos by doing things like naming bridges after their wives, I get it.

But if you object to your home-state congressmen skillfully beating congressmen from other states at The Capitol games, if you get squeamish when our pooh-bahs deliver the goods to Massachusetts, as Tip O’Neill did the federal funds for the Big Dig, I don’t get it.

It may not be pretty.  Not much in politics (or human nature) is. 

Practiced within the bounds of law, politics is infinitely preferable to the other ways power is seized and used in this world.

Consider Yon Rocket Ship, the Brief and Amazing Political Career of Katherine Clark

Friday, November 8, 2013

Few people ever go as far and as fast in politics as Katherine Clark has.

In the fall of 2001, she was elected to the Melrose School Committee on her first try for public office.  She’d lived in Melrose barely a year then.

On Dec. 10, barring an upset of incredible dimensions, Clark, a 50-year-old Democrat, will be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from the 5th Massachusetts District.

When she takes office shortly thereafter, the youthful Clark will have gone, in just under 12 years, from representing 28,000 people in one community to 700,000-plus citizens in 24 communities -- and from the obscurity of an unpaid school board post to the bright lights of the national stage and a $3,346-a-week congressional paycheck.

Of course, there were some interesting stops for the Cornell Law grad in between.  She was a key policy advisor to Attorney General Martha Coakley and a state rep in a district that included her city, Melrose, and half of the neighboring town of Wakefield, before moving up to the Massachusetts Senate in the Fifth Middlesex District, [Malden, Melrose, Wakefield, Stoneham, Reading and Lynnfield].

Clark was beginning her second senate term earlier this year when she declared an interest in succeeding Ed Markey in the event Markey ran for the U.S. Senate seat of John Kerry, who was emerging as President Obama’s preferred choice for Secretary of State.  Markey soon jumped at Kerry’s job, and Clark at Markey’s.  She was the first candidate in the Democratic primary, which proved to be a key advantage in a long race that eventually attracted six other candidates.

The primary election was held Oct. 15.  Clark won going away.  Her vote total of 21,983 put her 6,680 votes ahead of a very formidable, tested, regional candidate, Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian. In the order of finish behind Koutoujian were: Medford-Somerville state rep Carl Sciortino, Belmont state senator William Brownsberger, Framingham state senator Karen Spilka, Paul Maisano and Martin Long.  (Maisano and Long have backgrounds in business.)

The 5th Congressional District stretches from Winthrop and Revere in the east to Framingham and Ashland in the west, from Woburn and Lexington in the north to Waltham and Weston in the south.  It contains at least nine communities with populations larger than that of Clark’s Melrose.  Some of them, like Arlington, Framingham, Medford, Malden, Revere and Waltham, are much more populous than Melrose.  Also, politics in these places can be much rougher than the brand usually practiced in the Melroses of the world.  

So when a sophomore state senator from out of town manages to top the ticket in places where she’s never appeared on the ballot before, as Clark did in Arlington, Medford and Woburn, and to come in second where she's never been on the ballot before, as she did in Revere, Holliston and Winthrop, she’s showing a political IQ and a charisma that are almost off the charts.  

It has been said that a candidate for President of the United States demonstrates his capacity for the biggest, most difficult job in the world, in part, by running a successful campaign. If that is true, a Katherine Clark has done something similar in her soon-to-be-victorious march to D.C.  She designed and put together a large, expensive campaign apparatus.  She raised a ton of money.  She crafted a campaign theme and message that positioned her well in the field.  She enlisted a legion of newfound allies.  She spoke persuasively at countless rallies and debates. She provided constant inspiration to her campaign team.  She used her time and her physical/mental/spiritual capabilities to the max.  She executed the game plan.  Otherwise, she would have lost. 

We can believe Clark has the stuff to be a good congresswoman.

When Clark wins on Dec. 10, she’ll be moving to an elite level of Massachusetts politics.*  Today she's one of 40 state senators and of 200 state legislators overall.  By mid-December, she’ll be one of only 9 Massachusetts members of the U.S. House.  It has not been an entirely smooth progression.  Therein lay clues as to why Clark prevailed in that seven-person, 24-community Democratic primary.

In 2004, when she’d been on the Melrose School Committee just two years, Clark ran against the savvy, long-term Republican incumbent in the Fifth Middlesex senate district, Richard Tisei.  She didn’t win but did respectably well.  Most significantly, she demonstrated audacity, (fortune favors the brave), and the wits needed to wage a sprawling, prolonged, uphill battle against a powerful and popular incumbent. What Clark learned in 2004 obviously helped her to be an effective candidate when she ran for rep in 2007 and senator (again) in 2010.

In 2009-10, Clark put her talents at the disposal of her former mentor, Martha Coakley, in Coakley’s campaign for U.S. Senate.  On the night of the election, Jan. 19, 2010, when Coakley was sunk under the wave of the Scott Brown campaign, it fell to the telegenic Clark to be Coakley’s spokesperson to the broadcast media. 

Given the shock and gloom of the occasion, she handled the task better than anyone had a right to expect.  Clark was composed, gracious, upbeat, articulate and credible over the course of multiple, live, on-air interviews.  She never wilted, even a tad, in the heat of the television lights or the awkwardness of explaining the loss to the well-groomed media bulldogs. 

There were certainly pressure-packed occasions for Clark in the race for the Democratic nomination in the 5th District, but I can’t imagine many of them matching the media grinder she serenely entered on 1-19-10 for Coakley.

Ernest Hemingway famously defined courage as “grace under pressure.”  Clark has it.  If you want further proof, consider that she personally borrowed $250,000 and loaned it to her congressional campaign just before the primary, as she was allowed by law to do. When she’s a congresswoman, Clark will not have great difficulty raising the money to pay off that loan; had she lost on Oct. 15, the opposite would be true.

Courage like that helps to explain the velocity of Clark’s career.  If she maintains her current speed, it’s not unrealistic to see the governor’s suite or the U.S. Senate in her future.

*The Massachusetts delegation to the U.S. House has been a veritable breeding ground of House Speakers since the birth of the nation.  In the 20th Century alone, four Speakers were congressmen from Massachusetts: Frederick Gillett (1919-25), Joseph W. Martin (1947-49 and 1953-55), John W. McCormack (1961-71), and Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill (1977-87).

INTERESTING FACT:  Clark will be the first non-resident of Malden to represent the 5th Massachusetts District in 69 years.  Ed Markey held the seat from 1976 to this June, and the late Torby Macdonald had it before Markey, from 1955 to 1976.  Markey is, Macdonald was, a lifelong Malden resident.

ANOTHER INTERESTING FACT: Clark will be “returning” the 5th District seat to Melrose. The person who held it before Torby Macdonald was Angier L. Goodwin (1881-1975), one of the most prominent Melrosians of his day.  Goodwin served as Melrose’s mayor, state rep and state senator before going to the U.S. House (1943-55).

God Knows Why, but People Apparently Give More Credence to Married Candidates

Friday, November 1, 2013

It has been said that the television camera is a kind of character x-ray.   Candidates submit to unscripted video at their peril!

If you’re a fake or a lightweight, you will reveal yourself on camera no matter how hard and skillfully you dissemble. Most people who see you on the tube will become a little uneasy and will form a negative opinion of you, if only at the subconscious level.

I subscribe to this theory, which is why I was not surprised to see Marty Walsh do well in a recent online video of a conversation with Boston Globe columnist Larry Harmon at a Jamaican restaurant in Dorchester, Lorenz Island Cuisine.  He's the opposite of fake. You can watch it by clicking on:

Rep. Walsh is locked in a tight race for Mayor of Boston with City Councilor John Connolly.  The best pollsters are going sleepless, trying to figure out who’ll win, with less than a week to the election.

In the “My Dinner with Larry” interview, Harmon cites data indicating that Walsh “polls much better among men than women,” and asks Walsh why.

Walsh, 46, says he cannot give a good answer and is trying to even out the popularity disparity.  He speculates that not being married, and not having any children, may have something to do with it.  He adds that he loves and cares very much for his girlfriend of eight years, Lorrie Higgins, and her daughter.

“Would it kill you to marry her?” Harmon asks.

No, it wouldn’t, Walsh says, but if he’d asked Lorrie to marry him at any point in the last half year or so, she might have thought he was asking just to bolster his appeal as a mayoral candidate, and he would never want her to have a doubt like that.

One would think that a male or female candidate, in the second decade of the 21st Century, in a society devoted to personal freedom and personal expression, would not have to give a second thought to his/her marital status.

One might even think that Walsh could present his bachelor status as a positive thing, as a sign, for example, of the serious approach he takes to holy matrimony.  But he’s probably wise to play it affably low key and trust people to take him as he is. 

Wrongly, I think, people tend to view married people more favorably, at least people they don’t really know.

For an hilarious take on this phenomenon, consider the scene in the 2006, Boston-based movie “The Departed,” where George Ellerby, the character played by Alec Baldwin, congratulates Colin Sullivan, the character played by Matt Damon, on his pending marriage because “marriage is an important part of getting ahead.  For anyone who loves the way Baldwin can deliver an outrageous line, it’s an exquisite 30 seconds of film.  You can find it on YouTube at:

WALSH FRONT-PAGE NEWS IN BIG APPLE: The New York Times ran an excellent story this week on Marty Walsh’s recovery, now in its 18th year, from alcoholism; on how he has helped other alcoholics stop drinking; and on how so many of the people he’s helped are now working hard to get him elected mayor, (“In Recovery From Addiction, Backing Candidate With Past,” 10/30/13).  “…what is especially unusual about his (Walsh’s) story is how his candidacy has motivated others in the wide universe of recovery to shed their anonymity to support him,” the article notes. “Former alcoholics and drug addicts are not typical voting blocs.  Most do not want to be identified.  Because of privacy issues, they are hard to recruit…But those who have stepped forward for Mr. Walsh bring an evangelical fervor to their mission.  It is the least they can do, some say, for a man who saved their lives.”  The article may be found at:

As Results in the 5th Again Showed, Not Voting's a Good Way to Affect the Outcome

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

There are 34,007 registered voters in Waltham, Mass.

Of those, 18,695 are Independents (Unenrolled), 12,102 are Democrats, 3,009 are Republicans, and the rest belong to low-voltage parties, like the Green and the Socialist.

Waltham is part of the state’s 5th Congressional District.  On Tuesday, Oct. 15, a primary election was held for the purpose of choosing the Democrat and Republican nominees for the district’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.  This was a special election made necessary by the election in June to the U.S. Senate of longtime 5th District incumbent Ed Markey. The final election will be on Dec. 10.

At 19%, voter turnout in Waltham that day was low, as it was throughout the district.  Folks in Waltham are like folks everywhere in the U.S. today.  They do not think their vote matters much.    

Of the 34,007 eligible to vote there on Oct. 15, only 6,461 did.  Of those 6,461 voters, 5,622 cast Democratic ballots. 

Most of the Democratic votes went to the hometown favorite, Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian.  He represented Waltham in the Massachusetts House for 14 years before becoming sheriff in early 2011.  His family has been entrenched politically in the community for decades.

Koutoujian got 4,148 votes, 73% of the Democratic ballots.

Let’s take Waltham as an example of Anytown USA and play a game of what if. 

What if 80% of Waltham’s registered voters went to the polls on Oct. 15? Is that asking too much? 

What if that 80% turnout rate had applied equally to Independents and Democrats? 

What if Koutoujian were equally popular among Independents and Democrats by virtue of his local origins, popularity and effectiveness as a local legislator and a county official?  In partisan primaries, the Unenrolled may participate by requesting a party ballot.  The law makes it easy for them to put on Democrat or Republican clothes for the occasion, so to speak, and change back to their Unenrolled wear right away.

An 80% turnout would have produced 9,681 Democrat and 14,956 Independent votes. 

If Koutoujian captured 73% of both the Democrat and Independent votes on an 80% turnout day, he would have had 7,068 and 10,918 votes, respectively.  Those figures add up to 17,986.

The difference between his actual vote of 4,148 and his what-if vote of 17,986 is 13,838.

Koutoujian was the runner-up in the primary.   He lost by 6,680 votes to State Senator Katherine Clark of Melrose, who’s a shoe-in to beat her Republican opponent, Frank Addivinola, on Dec. 10.

District-wide, the actual vote totals were: Clark, 21,983; Koutoujian, 15,303; State Rep. Carl M. Sciortino, Jr., 11,160; State Senator William N. Brownsberger, 10,163; State Senator Karen E. Spilka, 9,088; Paul J. Maisano, 1,520; and Martin Long, 398.  When you throw in the blanks and write-ins for stray candidates, the total vote in the 5th came to 69,786 -- less than 10% of the population of the average U.S. House district today, which is about 710,000.

Under our what if scenario, where Koutoujian gets an additional 13,838 votes in Waltham, his district-wide total climbs to 29,141, he beats Clark by 7,158 votes, and he starts looking for an apartment in Washington. 

Of course, this rests on an assumption of impossibility, i.e., 80% turnout in Waltham and sub-20% turnout everywhere else in the district. 

Regardless, the point stands that Waltham voters had it within their power on Oct. 15 to send one of their own into the heart of national and international affairs and, potentially, the history books.   By declining to act, enough of them demonstrated the inverse of the old truth that a small sub-set of highly motivated voters can dramatically affect the outcome of any election.

History May Prove Charlie Baker Right When He Mused on 'Trying One Casino First'

Friday, October 18, 2013

It will probably be two or three years before Massachusetts has three casinos and one parlor for slot machines up and running.

So Charlie Baker, who has recently embarked on his second campaign for governor, will have to wait a while before he can say, “I told you so.”

Remember what Baker said about casinos during his first campaign, four years ago, when the casino bill had not yet been enacted by the legislature?

He said no one could say for sure how multiple casinos would affect our economy and society, and that perhaps we should license just one casino and see how it went before licensing more.

The day may come when we learn that Baker was right.

Although Baker never offered an opinion on where that single casino ought to be, the obvious choice was Boston, the biggest city in New England.

It’s in the nature of big cities to offer all kinds of attractions to all kinds of people.  You do not have to partake or approve of everything available in a big city to see the wisdom of providing so many options for self-expression and self-gratification in one place.  Let freedom ring.

Baker’s common sense approach never had a real chance in a political system designed to respond, correctly so, to different constituencies and different parts of the state.  We thus have a law that will give us casinos in the western, eastern, and southeastern parts of the state and a slot parlor not legally tethered to a particular region but likely to end up somewhere in the 495 belt.

Considering the crying need for new state revenue, the perennial truth that all politics is local, and the knowledge we have (and don’t have) of how casinos impact populations, communities and governments, the legislature did an outstanding job in crafting the casino legislation, Chapter 194 of the Acts of 2011, An Act Establishing Expanded Gaming in the Commonwealth.

The only problem was, lawmakers had to take a shot at a moving target.  Then, as now, the casino industry was rapidly expanding.  It remains on a fast evolutionary track leading to places we cannot fully see or understand.

In 2011, Massachusetts became the 17th state to allow standard casinos by state law.  Twelve other states allowed slot machines at race tracks at that point, and Indian tribes operated gambling facilities in 28 states.

The Institute for American Values, in a recent report titled “Why Casinos Matter,” noted that casinos “began to enter the mainstream of American society” around 1990.

During its post-1990 expansion, the report says, “casino gambling itself changed dramatically.  A national market headquartered in Nevada and Atlantic City has been joined by dozens of new regional markets across the country.  Table games catering to high rollers have largely given way to slot machines catering to middle and low rollers.  Casino gambling as a once or twice a year vacation has largely given way to casino gambling as a once or twice a month or once or twice or more a week pattern of life.”

As more states permit casinos in the hope of capturing the revenue their residents generate on visits to neighboring-state casinos -- as Massachusetts has done with an eye on Connecticut, Rhode Island and New York -- the competition for the spoils of state-sponsored gambling gets hotter and hotter.

“Casinos may begin by making lots for money for the state government,” the Institute for American Values report laments, “but the economic dynamics over time tend to become increasingly negative and zero-sum, as politicians try to solve the problem of sagging gambling revenues by sponsoring more gambling, and as every state tries harder and harder to poach gamblers from other states.”

The report perceives a connection between the nation-wide expansion of casinos and the definition by the American Psychiatric Association in 1980 of gambling as a specific medical problem “for those individuals uniquely susceptible to its appeal.”  This definition had three significant consequences, according to the Institute for American Values:

  • One, it divided the American public “into two separate and unequal groups: on one side is the great majority of the population who can enjoy gambling as healthy fun; and on the other side is a small clinical population that fits the specific diagnostic criteria of gambling addiction.”
  • Two, it allowed the gambling lobby to use the new definition “to promote the idea that the harms of gambling are limited and manageable and that the gambling industry itself – the producer of the harms – is also the best source of research and investigation into limiting those harms.”
  • Three, it exempted states “from their traditional public health responsibility to prevent the known harms of gambling” and, instead, allowed “government to shift responsibility for treatment onto the gambler herself and onto mental health professionals.”

When a number of states allowed casino gambling to spread beyond its traditional bastions in the Nevada desert and the Jersey shore, they instigated a social experiment of vast and historic proportions.  Massachusetts is about to become a guinea pig in that experiment.

Maybe it will work out fine…or maybe not.  We may not know for sure until 2020.

You can find the Institute for American Values report on casinos at:

Meeting Boston's Transit Needs Is as Crucial Today as Finding Water Was in the 1930s

Friday, October 11, 2013

My brother Stephen, who lives out in West Brookfield, took me for a ride down Route 9 and into the Quabbin Reservoir on a Saturday afternoon not too long ago.

The Quabbin is the largest inland body of water in Massachusetts.  When you first glimpse how big and beautiful it is, you can’t help but go, “Wow.”  I’ve lived in Massachusetts my whole life but I’d never seen it before.  It’s like those historical sites in Boston I walk by every day and have never visited.  We take the wonders in our backyards for granted.

The Quabbin is a place of natural splendor but it is not a work of nature.  It sprang entirely from the calculating mind of man. 

Before it could be built in the 1930s, the Republican-dominated legislature enacted a law that allowed the state to dis-incorporate and take over four towns, order the relocation of everyone who lived in those towns, and dam the Swift River, a tributary of the Chicopee River, which runs to the Connecticut River. 

The Swift had to flow for seven long years before the reservoir reached its intended breadth and depth.  From just below Route 2 in the north to just above Route 9 in the south, the Quabbin covers 38.6 square miles and contains more than 400 billion gallons of water. 

The towns of Dana, Enfield, Greenwich and Prescott were obliterated, and the natural patrimony of that region was expropriated, so that the City of Boston, 65 miles to the east, could have a reliable source of clean drinking water.

It was all about the economy.  The legislature understood that metropolitan Boston could not continue to grow without more water.  To get that water, it was willing to make some tough decisions, and to face some very strong and impassioned opposition.

The townspeople of the Swift River valley challenged the eminent domain takings in court. The case went all the way to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court before being decided in favor of the Commonwealth.  And the state of Connecticut sued the state of Massachusetts, claiming that water naturally intended to supplement the flow of the Connecticut River would be illegally diverted to the new reservoir, threatening navigation on the Connecticut, New England’s longest river.  That lawsuit failed, too.

I don’t know what’s more amazing, the engineering skill and prodigious labor that built the reservoir or the political will that allowed it to be built.

Some eighty years ago, the elected leaders of Massachusetts faced up to, and solved, a critical infrastructure problem, a lack of water in the east, the growing metropolitan area that propelled the state’s economy.

Today, our elected leaders are confronted with a challenge of comparable historic importance: a public transit system that does not have enough money to maintain and improve its ability to move people quickly into and around the City of Boston. 

The problems are obvious to anyone who rides the T on a regular basis: overcrowded subway cars and buses at every rush hour, old trains and track switches that are prone to breakdowns, frequent mystery glitches that cause full trains to stand by between stations for “scheduling adjustments,” slow and inadequate service during off-peak hours, too many employees who are indifferent, unhelpful or surly (particularly to tourists), non-existent overnight service, and prohibitively expensive commuter rail fares. 

And those are just a few of the problems…Don’t get me started on the escalators that are broken more often than not, the pedestrian tunnels that smell like urinals, and the drivers who scream like Nazis when your train is unexpectedly being put out of service:  “No passengers! No passengers!  This train is out of service! OUT OF SERVICE!”  Wouldn’t it be delightful if restaurants announced they were closing in similar fashion before you finished your dessert?  “No diners!  NO DINERS!”

If you want a snapshot of what I’m talking about, try squeezing onto a jam-packed, in-bound train at Wellington Station at 7:45 a.m., or an outbound train at State at 5:30 p.m.  Then imagine what the Orange Line will be like when the T opens a new station at Assembly Square late next year.   That station is a nightmare waiting to happen: many hundreds of new passengers a day on a line served by the same number of rusty, worn-out, sticky-floored, 40-year-old cars.

Paul McMorrow, one of the editors of the estimable Commonwealth Magazine, summarized what the wretched state of the MBTA implies for the future of our economy in a column published Tuesday, Oct. 8, in the Boston Globe, “Starving MBTA will stunt Boston’s growth.”

“Boston is growing at a pace not seen in the better part of a century,” McMorrow wrote.  “The city has more residents than it has at any point since the 1970s, and has arrived at the renaissance moment city leaders have been chasing for 60 years.  There’s no reason the city can’t keep up with the growth it’s seeing now, as long as it can build places for all these new people to live.

“New homes equal new residents, and new residents equal growth.  It sounds like a straightforward equation, but it isn’t.  Boston doesn’t control its own development fate.  As tough as many of Boston’s neighborhoods can be on developers, the biggest threat to the city’s growth lies with legislators on Beacon Hill.  Lawmakers are starving the MBTA of funds the transit agency needs to support the Boston region’s growth.  And as long as the T’s finances remain anemic, robust growth in Boston will be unsustainable.”

The MBTA is being “starved” for the simple reason that there are no easy or politically appealing ways for lawmakers to get the money needed to bring the T into the 21st century.  I don’t envy them for their options: cutting the wages and benefits of the agency’s unionized workforce, abrogating costly pension commitments, and/or raising taxes. 

Creating a freshwater sea in the middle the state almost looks like child’s play by comparison.

For This Candidate for High Office in MA, Only a New Political Party Would Do

Friday, October 4, 2013

If you like someone who dreams big, you may develop a soft spot for Evan Falchuk. 

The question is, Will you vote for him?

Falchuk is a 43-year-old resident of the Auburndale section of Newton and the married father of three children.  He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Lehigh University and earned a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League school, in 1994.

He has worked as a lawyer in Washington, D.C., and as an executive in leadership roles at Best Doctors, Inc., a Boston-based global health company.

In January of this year, Falchuk founded the United Independent Party in Massachusetts.  A press release describes the party as committed “to moving from ‘small government versus big government’ debate between Democrats and Republicans to one focused on greater accountability to voters, stronger protection of social freedoms, and more innovative, fiscally pragmatic solutions that improve the day-to-day lives of individuals, families and communities.”

The party stands for “socially progressive ideas and fiscally sensible solutions for Massachusetts.”  This is a “pragmatic combination” that neither Democrats nor Republicans offer the voters, Falchuk believes.

If you go to the party’s web site -- -- you’ll see that Falchuk credits his late grandfather, Solomon Falchuk, with inspiring his willingness to challenge the status quo.

Solomon Falchuk, the web site says, “escaped from Russia at the end of World War I, where as a boy he saw members of his family killed because of their Jewish faith.  With next to nothing to his name, he set off for America but was sent instead to Cuba.  After several years, he moved to Venezuela, where he started his own successful business.  Solomon lived to be 101, having realized his dream that his family would one day have better lives in America – lives that included education, healthy children, security, and the freedom of self-determination.”

It seems to me that Grandson Falchuk has also been inspired by the example of Deval Patrick, circa 2005.  Up to then, Patrick had never sought or held elective office.  Evan Falchuk has never held elective office. 

Now, he's a candidate for Governor of Massachusetts.

ROBOTIC SURGERY BILL UPDATE:  In a blog post three weeks ago this date, (“Legislation Poses the Question: Are Surgical Robots Automatically Good?”), I wrote about Senator Dick Moore’s bill, SB 1069, which would create a special commission to investigate and review the use of robotic surgery in Massachusetts.  The legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Health conducted a hearing on the bill on Sept. 24.  On Oct. 1, the committee issued a favorable report on it, a first necessary step toward enactment.  SB 1069 has a long way to go still.  I hope it picks up momentum, and keeps moving all the way to the governor’s desk.