Of Casinos, Senate Leaders, Mayoral Legacies, etc. Some Wayward Friday Thoughts

Friday, September 20, 2013

Dan Conley, the Suffolk County District Attorney who’s running for Mayor of Boston, stuck his neck out early in the race by saying the entire city should vote on accepting a casino at Suffolk Downs, and not just East Boston, as the casino enabling legislation allows, as the owners of Suffolk Downs want, and as outgoing Mayor Tom Menino prefers it to go.  Polls now show a majority of Boston voters agree with Dan Conley.  Questions: Will Conley emphasize that position in the closing days of the preliminary election campaign? Will voters reward Conley by making him one of the two finalists in the November election?...Stan Rosenberg of Amherst, the Majority Leader of the Massachusetts Senate, has the votes sewed up to become the Senate President in late-February, 2015, when Therese Murray’s allotted four terms are up.  He will be following in the footsteps of another illustrious politician from the Pioneer Valley, Calvin Coolidge, the Northampton lawyer who went from Senate President to Governor to Vice President to President of the U.S.  Lest you think there are no parallels, other than the geographic, between Rosenberg, a liberal, pro-activist-government Democrat, and Coolidge, a small-government Yankee Republican of the old school, consider that both Rosenberg and Coolidge were carpetbaggers who captured the hearts of their adopted communities in Western Mass.  Both moved to the Pioneer Valley as young men from places far different from Amherst and Northampton.  Rosenberg was born and raised in Revere, a densely settled haven for immigrants on the Atlantic coast, while Coolidge was a product of the small, insular, mountain village of Plymouth Notch, Vermont…To paraphrase Robert Frost, who advised John Kennedy at the start of his presidency to "be more Irish than Harvard," I hope Stan Rosenberg is more Revere than Amherst when he's leading the Senate…They’re going to tear down and relocate Malden City Hall, which is not even 40 years old.  Will Boston City Hall be the next to go?  The problem with Malden City Hall, originally known as the Malden Government Center, is that it sits in the middle of what was once the community’s main east-west thoroughfare, Pleasant Street/Route 60.  When it was built in the mid-Seventies, pedestrian malls were the rage. The new Government Center was designed as the western anchor of a mall extending east three blocks to the intersection of Pleasant and Main Streets, where a now-long-gone Jordan Marsh department store stood at the time.  The mall was supposed to revive the fortunes of downtown Malden, once a diverse retail center that drew shoppers from many neighboring communities and then a shadow of its former self, having been eviscerated by the new shopping malls in roomier suburbs.  It just never worked out.  The blocking of Pleasant Street to vehicular through-traffic slowed commerce, rather than intensifying it…From the outside, the city halls in Malden and Boston could not be more different.  The one in Malden is a square, brick-covered box with identical rows of square windows on all of its six floors.  The one in Boston is constructed mainly of concrete, and tapers outward, like a wedge, as it rises.  Malden City Hall is a predictable cube; Boston City Hall puzzles the eye with different levels, planes and angles.  But they share a common architectural vice in that both make a visitor feel small and isolated.  Malden and Boston City Halls are almost totally lacking in humanity and warmth…It’s hard to see many people shedding a tear when they implode that monster that’s squatted in Pleasant Street, Malden, all these years.  Yet I will wince to see a part of the Walter Kelliher legacy blown to bits.   He was the longtime mayor of Malden who championed the plan for that mall and pushed it through the City Council.  And that’s not all he did in 16 years as mayor.  Kelliher was an absolute master at winning state and federal grants for redevelopment projects: new and rebuilt roads, schools, parks, playgrounds, apartment buildings for the elderly, parking garages, etc.  He traveled regularly to the State House in Boston and the Capitol in Washington to shake the government money trees.  He was big stuff.  There was no mayor anywhere in Massachusetts, and maybe all of New England, who was better at obtaining state and federal grants in the Sixties and Seventies than Walter Kelliher.  But if you walked down any street in Malden today and asked people at random, “Who was Walter Kelliher,” most would probably say, “Who?”  It’s not Kelliher’s fault, that’s just the way things are.  Legacies are fragile, short-lived things.  Anyone knocking himself out in a publicly elected position, and making headlines as easily as falling out of bed, should keep that in mind…About ten years ago, I had a meeting at Malden City Hall with an at-large member of the City Council.  I went out to Malden early on a summer afternoon just to walk around and see how all those changes made downtown twenty years before had stood the test of time.  When I entered the meeting, I mentioned that I had enjoyed my visit to his city because it gave me the opportunity to walk the lanes I’d walked as a young reporter at the Malden Evening News (1974-84).  “It’s amazing to think,” I said, apropos of nothing, “that there were years when Walter Kelliher won all of the discretionary Chapter 90 (road-building) funds in the state.  He could put together an application faster than anyone.”  I expected the councilor, who was anything but dull-witted, to nod and say something like, “Oh, yeah, Walter was incredible.”  Instead, he looked at me blankly and said, “He did?”  Kelliher hadn’t been dead ten years at that point…Speaking of Malden, former U.S. House member and newly minted U.S. Senator Edward J. Markey, who grew up in the Edgeworth section of the city and still has a home there, issued a press release yesterday on the passage in the Senate of a bill to keep the federal helium reserve open.  This was important, Markey noted, because helium is used in MRI machines, the manufacture of computer chips, and NASA rockets, not to mention those nifty balloons that float to the heavens when you let go of the string.  “This legislation is proof that we can work together to keep important government services up and running,” Markey said, “not shut them down over ideological battles.  As co-author of this bill in the House, I know this bill can pass and get signed into law, which is more than we can say for most bills these days.”  I love Markey for his optimism.  But anyone who thinks Congress can avert a government shutdown over the budget as easily as it will keep the helium flowing has been taking too many whiffs of another kind of gas, nitrous oxide, a.k.a. laughing gas.  Come to think of it, I'd like to administer a powerful dose of that to every Tea Party Republican every day Congress convenes…We’ve seen this kind of story too often. “Rides to Nowhere, for No One: Owner of Medical Transportation Company Allegedly Billed Taxpayers for Rides Under Dead People’s Names.”  That was the headline on a press release today from the office of Attorney General Martha Coakley.  The case concerns the owner of a medical transportation company in Webster, MA, who stands accused of defrauding the state’s Medicaid program of more than $470,000 by billing for services under the names of deceased individuals, and for other medical trips that were never provided.  As we used to say in Revere, crime does pay.  Well.  For a time.  And often much longer.

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