Amazon May Not Be Serious at All about Boston -- and that's a Good Thing

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

If a guest columnist for a major national newspaper is to be believed – and I hope he is – Boston is out of the running to be Amazon’s second headquarters city (HQ2).

This would mean that the old, seldom-used Suffolk Downs horse racing track, the prime intended Boston location for Amazon’s HQ2, can be redeveloped in a better, less intense way for East Boston and Revere, and for the state as a whole.
The proposal by the state, city and a private developer to build Amazon’s H2Q at Suffolk Downs includes housing, hotels and open space, but it is primarily about eight million square feet of new office space and a technology-driven business operation requiring the services of approximately 50,000 employees.

Creating jobs is, as it should be, a governmental priority in all times and seasons. 
As enticing as H2Q at Suffolk Downs seems, however, there’s something scary about having so many jobs materialize in one swoop at a 161-acre site amidst densely populated neighborhoods and busy industrial/commercial enterprises -- a site in the figurative shadows of a booming Logan International Airport and a built-up/heavily used Revere Beach. 

How are all those workers going to get to work on time every day when the roads in the area are already often at capacity or over capacity?  What will happen to the already high (and constantly climbing) price of a home in Revere, East Boston and nearby Winthrop when so many of those employees start looking for homes there?
If you share such worries, you may be encouraged by an op-ed piece that appeared this past Monday, January 29, in the Wall Street Journal, “Mayors, Say No to Amazon,” by Richard Florida, a professor at the University of Toronto, a distinguished fellow at New York University, and editor at large for the Atlantic Magazine’s City-Lab.

Florida contends that Amazon’s HQ2 quest, conducted as a nationwide competition among cities, has never been completely on the level and that Amazon basically has its sights set on two metropolitan areas on the East Coast, neither of which is Boston.
“At heart the HQ2 competition is a ruse.  Amazon without a doubt already has a very good idea of where it wants to put its new headquarters,” Florida wrote.  “The map of the 20 cities on the short list has clusters that give away the game.  New York City and Newark are next to each other.  So are the District of Columbia, Northern Virginia and Montgomery County, Md.  Clearly, Amazon wants to be in either the New York metro region or Greater Washington.  (Jeff Bezos [Amazon founder], not coincidentally, has homes in both.)  Those five options are in four separate states, plus the capital – and states are the entities likely to contribute the most money to incentive packages.”

You may find Florida’s column, behind a pay wall, at:
Appearing before the legislature’s Joint Housing Committee yesterday, Governor Charlie Baker said that the gap between housing demand and supply in Massachusetts “poses the most serious long-term hurdle to continued economic growth.”   

Testifying for a bill that would allow municipalities, by simple majority votes of their governing bodies, to change zoning laws to facilitate construction of new housing, Baker said, “It has been decades since this state produced enough housing to keep up with demand.  The result has been predictable.  A limited supply creates overheated demand and rising prices.  Young people, seniors, young, working and middle class families can’t afford to rent or buy a home here in the Commonwealth.” 
Baker’s right:  We need much, much new housing –homes, apartment buildings and condos – throughout eastern Massachusetts.

It’s a no-brainer to make a redeveloped Suffolk Downs a part of the Commonwealth’s housing solution as quickly as possible. 
Do it organically, with first-class design and construction. Have it complement aesthetically, rather than overwhelm, its adjoining neighborhoods and business uses.  Exploit to the fullest the race track’s contiguity to two very walkable stops on the MBTA’s Blue Line, which provides, on most days, the easiest and quickest rapid transit link to downtown Boston.

With a sigh of relief, abandon the dream of our singular Hub as one hub of Amazon.




With Ayanna Wanting to Retire Mike, Marty Will Inevitably Be on the Spot

Within a few hours of Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley announcing she would challenge  incumbent Michael Capuano of Somerville in the Democratic primary for U.S. Representative in the 7th Massachusetts District this fall, the Teamsters put out a press release endorsing Capuano.  That’s when I realized that a gigantic hot potato had landed in the lap of Boston Mayor Marty Walsh.

The 7th District includes a large part of the City of Boston.  (Capuano divides the federal representation of the city with Stephen Lynch of the adjoining 8th District.)  Pressley, age 43, has lived for years in Dorchester and has served as an at-large member of the City Council since 2010. Pressley was the first African-American woman ever elected to the Boston City Council.  The last three times she ran for re-election, she came in first, first and second, respectively, in the at-large races.
Capuano, age 66, is a lifelong resident of Somerville, where he served as mayor from 1990 to 1999, and has been in the Congress ever since.  He won the seat when Joseph P. Kennedy, II, son of the late Robert F. Kennedy and nephew of the late President John F. Kennedy, chose not to seek re-election.

During Capuano’s time in the Congress, his district has been significantly redrawn.  It now has a majority of residents who are minorities. 
In a written statement accompanying her announcement, Pressley said, “Today I humbly announce my candidacy for the Democratic nomination in the 7th Congressional District.  I have made this decision after much prayer, deliberation, and thoughtful conversation with my family, friends, and those I hope to have the honor to represent in Congress.”

The statement continued:  “Our country is facing a critical moment.  While the cruel and dangerous tenor of the national political debate is new, the issues we are struggling to address – income inequality, systematic racism, and lack of economic opportunity – have dogged our nation for years.  We have not yet delivered on our nation’s foundational promise of equality.  Not everyone is granted the opportunity each of us deserves to fulfill our God-given potential.  Making progress on longstanding challenges requires a different lens and a new approach.  I will be a bold voice in Congress, as an advocate for the entire district and as a champion for opportunity.  This moment in time demands nothing less.”
Today, I could not find anything online regarding how Capuano reacted publicly, if at all, to Pressley’s decision to take him on in the September 4 primary, the day after Labor Day.  (This could reflect nothing more than my sorry skills in Internet research.)

I did find a good commentary in the online version of CommonWealth Magazine by Jack Sullivan, titled “What does Ayanna Pressley know that we don’t?” 

Sullivan believes Pressley will have a hard time taking the Democratic nomination, in part, because Capuano is very popular in the district and starts with big campaign funding advantage.
“Pressley is challenging someone who is as progressive on issues as she is and who has been considered an ally of minorities throughout his tenure,” Sullivan wrote.  “It’s tough to see how replacing a veteran lawmaker with seniority helps her cause.  In the House, seniority matters.”

Teamsters Local 25 President Sean M. O’Brien, offering his union’s endorsement yesterday, said:
“Mike Capuano is a true champion for working men and women in Massachusetts and across this great nation.  With corporations taking calculated actions to weaken unions and strip workers of their rights and benefits, we need an experienced leader who will hold employers accountable and never make concessions that weaken the position of unions and all workers.”

While Teamsters Local 25 “has great respect for Councilor Pressley and has enjoyed a good working relationship with her on issues within the City of Boston,” O’Brien said, “we strongly support the re-election campaign of Congressman Capuano.  In today’s environment, Mike Capuano’s leadership is needed in Washington now more than ever.”
Before he became mayor, Marty Walsh was a state representative, a president of Local 223 of the Laborers Union, and head of the Boston Building Trades Council. He won the mayoralty, in large part, because of the extensive support he received from unions and union members, and his success in persuading many influential African-American and Latino leaders in the city to unite behind his candidacy after the primary. 

Pressley’s decision to challenge Capuano puts Walsh in a major bind.
To state the obvious, there are a lot of votes in Boston.  The incumbent mayor is, almost automatically, a major player in other people’s elections where Boston voters vote.  If the incumbent is popular, as the late Tom Menino always was and as Walsh is now, the mayor’s endorsement and the support of his organization are highly coveted.     

Perhaps Walsh will try to remain above the battle.  He could say that he’s a dear friend of both Capuano and Pressley and cannot possibly be expected to choose between them.  Or, with his eye on a third term in 2021, he could make the hard and necessary political decision to endorse Ayanna Pressley.



New Senate Transportation Chair's Career Is on a Fast Track

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

On April 12, 2016, two-and-a-half months shy of his 34th birthday, Joseph Boncore of Winthrop beat six other candidates in the Democratic primary special election for the vacant seat in the First Suffolk and Middlesex Senate District, which encompasses Revere, Winthrop and East Boston, the North End and Beacon Hill sections of Boston, and one ward and four precincts in Cambridge.

The seat was open due to the Jan. 21, 2016, resignation of Anthony Petrucelli, the Senate Majority Whip from East Boston, who had left the upper branch to join the lobbying firm of Kearney, Donovan and McGee. 
Boncore’s primary victory meant he would automatically be elevated to the Senate in the final special election, on May 10, 2016, because there was not a single Republican in the race.

The night Boncore won, the needle on the Richter scale of Massachusetts politics jumped.
A first-time legislative candidate, Boncore defeated two more seasoned Democrats: Revere Mayor Dan Rizzo and Jay Livingstone, then a two-term state rep from Cambridge, who came in second and third, respectively, in the race.  The other candidates, in order of finish, were: Lydia Marie Edwards, Diana Hwang, Steven Morabito and Paul Rogers.

Boncore had relatively little political experience – the only elective office he had ever held was on the Winthrop Housing Authority -- and his hometown has a population (17,497) significantly below that of East Boston (41,683) and Revere (53,157).  Political pros instantly adjudged him a talent, a comer in the ranks of Beacon Hill.
The day he took the oath of office, May 18, Boncore was still in campaign mode.  The regular biennial elections for the legislature were coming up in the fall of 2016 and he would, of course, be standing for re-election.  There was no time to work on his scrapbook or savor the thrill of being a senator, one of only 40, and of having earned a place in the historic halls of the Massachusetts State House. 

Instead, Boncore had to devote himself to building a good staff, learning how to be an effective senator, winning over those who may have voted against him, and keeping his profile high in the district.  The president of the Senate, Stan Rosenberg, was impressed enough to appoint Boncore to six committees and to make him the Senate co-chair of one, the Joint Committee on Housing
Those who hold elective office are often most vulnerable to defeat the first time they try to get re-elected.  This is especially the case when an official is serving the remainder of somone else’s term, as Boncore was with Petrucelli’s, and when the regular election cycle begins within six months of the special election cycle, as happened in 2016 in the First Suffolk and Middlesex Senate district.

But if Boncore, perhaps reflecting on the crowded field he fought his way through in the primary, was ever seriously concerned about keeping his Senate seat, he need not have been.  His was the only name that appeared on the district ballot in the fall.  No one wanted a piece of him.  On Nov. 8, 2016, he sailed to a full term.
Last Thursday, Acting Senate President Harriette Chandler appointed Boncore the Senate co-chair of the Joint Committee on Transportation, one of the most coveted leadership jobs in the legislature.  He took the place of Tom McGee, (son of a former House speaker) who had recently departed from the Senate after being elected mayor of the City of Lynn.  The scope of the Transportation Committee’s responsibilities is immense, as are the policies and budgetary decisions it must shape every session.

It certainly was not lost on President Chandler that Boncore has within his district one of the state’s most important transportation facilities, an engine of the entire New England economy, Logan International Airport.
In a formal statement, Boncore accurately described what’s at stake in this committee.  “The Commonwealth’s transportation system is the driver that ensures our economic success,” he said.  “Whether by road, rail or water, our infrastructure connects us to jobs, homes, schools and goods, ensuring continued growth.”

The longtime House co-chair of the Transportation Committee, Bill Straus, had this to say about his new Senate counterpart: “Senator Boncore is a great choice by the Senate to co-chair the Transportation Committee.  He was already the Senate vice chair, and we worked closely in 2017 on his legislation to provide safety training and response improvements at Logan Airport.  He has quickly established himself as a thoughtful and effective advocate on transportation issues since being elected in 2016, and we will waste no time in getting to the pending matters before the committee with our first hearing together next Wednesday the 24th.”
What struck me about Senator Boncore when I first met him, in February of 2017, was his composure, and his perfectly balanced confidence and energy.  He has neither too much nor too little ego.  He doesn’t try hard to make you like him nor does he have to.  You just do.

Boncore is 35 years old and holding one of the most responsible and influential positions in the legislature.  You have to figure that, for him in politics, the sky’s the limit.




Foe Tries to Put the Heat on Secretary Galvin but the Sparks Seem Absent

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin had the task of selecting a date for the statewide primary elections to be held this fall.

By law, Galvin had to schedule the primary within seven days of the second Tuesday of September, which falls this year on September 11.  He thus had to choose a date within the fourteen-day span beginning on Tuesday, September 4, and ending on Tuesday, September 18.
By longstanding practice, our Secretaries of State aim to hold a statewide primary 49 days before the final election in November, which is always scheduled on the first Tuesday of the month.  The first Tuesday this year is on November 6.  If you count back 49 days from November 6, you get to September 18.

September 18 this year was deemed infeasible by Galvin because the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur will be observed that day.  Likewise, Galvin ruled out September 11 because of the observance of the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah.
That left only one possible Tuesday within the allowable two-weeks: September 4, the day after Labor Day this year.

Galvin settled on September 4 after a formal public comment period and after consulting with Robert DeLeo, Speaker of the House, and Harriette Chandler, Acting President of the Senate.  When announcing the primary date, Galvin proposed that the state institute a five-day early-voting period before September 4, and that the legislature make allocations to every city and town to cover the costs of early voting.
A former member of the Massachusetts House, Galvin was first elected Secretary of State in 1994. Many folks, myself included, consider him the single most knowledgeable person on election and securities laws – and on basically any matter pertaining to state government.  He’s a walking one-man governmental/political encyclopedia. 

Like anyone who’s been in office a long time, Galvin has his share of detractors.  But there’s no one who says he’s lost his stuff.   At age 67, his political fastball still flies low across the outside corner of the plate in the high 90s.
Boston District 8 City Councilor Josh Zakim, who will be a candidate against Galvin in the Democrat primary in September, harshly criticized his opponent’s scheduling decision.

“It is outrageous and unprecedented to schedule a statewide primary for the day after Labor Day, when people are just returning from their summer vacations and haven’t had time to focus on the upcoming election.  And scheduling an early voting period during the last week of August is equally ridiculous,” said Zakim, the son of Joyce and the late Lenny Zakim, who was the New England director of the Anti-Defamation League and the man for whom the I-93 Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge over the Charles River was named.
For good measure, Zakim asserted, “This is a brazen example of the Secretary trying to depress voter turnout.”

Candidates trying to make an issue out of something for attention and votes is like the sun coming up. Candidates have to try something.  On a scale of one to ten, I’d give Zakim’s try a two at best.
Come September, maybe we voters will be so distracted and so enervated by summer’s end that we’ll be incapable of cogitating on the primary election candidates. But I don’t think so.  And rather than considering as “ridiculous” the opportunity to vote early on any of the five working days leading up to the primary, I think many of us will see it a serious convenience.

I take a dim view of projects that would coddle voters in the hope of increasing turnout.  Voting is a privilege.  Voting is a responsibility, an obligation of citizenship.   Ask not what your Secretary of State can do for you.  Ask what you can do for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.