Thursday, February 28, 2008

Beacon Hill's Latest Thoughts On Suffolk University

The Beacon Hill Civic Association (BHCA) submitted its written concerns regarding Suffolk University's Institutional Master Plan Notification Form (IMPNF) in a letter to the BRA yesterday. Translation: The largest and primary civic organization on Beacon Hill has noted some issues it has with what Suffolk has said about expansion plans for the next 10 years.

I am sure the letter will be posted soon at the BHCA website, and as a board member to the group, I was involved to some extent in the creation of the document. Here are some interesting observations:

1) The letter notes a few areas where Suffolk didn't really follow the plans laid out in its previous Master Plan, which has expired. It notes how Suffolk grew a lot faster than it was expecting when the plan was accepted, among other things. This is important since Suffolk states in the IMPNF that it is capping enrollment for the next ten years at 5K students (well, they call them full-time-equivalent students, but let's just say it's the same). I was not on the BHCA board when the previous Master Plan went into effect, so I tend to believe Suffolk when it says it will stop at 5K students. I can see how some of my fellow board members, who have served much longer, are skeptical.

2) In general, the letter from the BHCA asks for a lot more detail. More detail about enrollment projections. More detail about the expected changes and alterations to buildings on Beacon Hill that Suffolk already owns. More detail about specific community relations programs that Suffolk is planning to mitigate the impact of students living, studying and playing on Beacon Hill.

The letter leaves a window open to Suffolk. The letter concludes: "While Suffolk has fully expressed its desire for expansion, the IMPNF is not adequate to support the proposition that its rapid growth can be accommodated in and near existing residential areas, without substantial harm to the residential communities. The additional information, disclosure and analysis that we request will assist in review of Suffolk University's proposals."

The IMPNF is "not adequate." My understanding is that the document Beacon Hill is responding to is a notification form-- not a full Master Plan. It's just the beginning. It follows that if Suffolk makes the Master Plan "adequate," the Civic Association *might* support it.

That being said, at its board meeting 10 days ago, which I attended and noted previously on this blog, the BHCA passed a policy of standing opposition. The mountain to climb for Suffolk is tall.

On the other hand, as someone who is always optimistic, it's to be noted that the BHCA submitted a separate letter to the BRA today that expressed non-opposition (which in Beacon Hill speak is not the same as support) for Suffolk's dormitory project in the Downtown Crossing area, near the Modern Theater and Suffolk's 10 West Street dorm space. This is also a residential area, by the way.

Other town-and-gown watchers in Brighton have praised what Suffolk has done in Downtown Crossing as a model for other institutions, such as Boston College, to follow. They have noted how Suffolk has paid close attention to the residents since its plans for the dorm at 20 Somerset Street were squashed amid the concerns of the Beacon Hill community and others. [The IMPNF proposes that the 20 Somerset building be used as a new location for an existing art school-- The New England School of Art and Design.]

If Suffolk were to work with the BHCA in response to the letter issued today, is there a chance the BHCA's board could ultimately support the final Master Plan? As a board member and someone who believes Suffolk has a place in my neighborhood, I say, "why not?"

NOTE: Letter excerpt taken from "Re: Suffolk University Institutional Master Plan Notification Form dated January 11, 2008," signed John Achatz, Chairman, Beacon Hill Civic Association and dated February 27, 2008.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Sec. Galvin Should Have Stuck to His Hunches

In May 2007, Massachusetts was set to hold its primary on March 4, 2008. Mass. Secretary of State William Galvin admonished his counterparts at certain states, such as Florida, since they were moving up their primary dates (as Massachusetts ultimately did). This is what he told the New York Times:

Though Florida meant to pump up its importance in the primaries, it might have done better sticking to March, said William Galvin, the secretary of state in Massachusetts and leader of a National Association of Secretaries of State committee that opposes the movement toward earlier primaries. If no candidates emerge as clear front-runners after the ''super-duper'' primary on Feb. 5, Mr. Galvin said, states that vote later could prove pivotal.

''This is kind of like the track touts trying to figure out what's going to happen at the Kentucky Derby,'' he said.

Here we are in February 2008, and Galvin was right on the money. As much as I liked to vote on Super Tuesday, how neat is it for voters in Texas and Ohio, who could possibly participate on the last primary day that means something this election season?

EDITORS NOTE: Text pulled from: New York Times, "Seeking an Edge, Florida Changes Its Primary Date," May 4, 2007
The Today Show Visits Sugarbush

I learned to ski at Sugarbush back in 2001, thanks to the generosity of my good friend Tom Hopcroft. Many have commented to me since then that Interstate 89 (which runs diagonally through New Hampshire) is the highway that connects Boston to Sugarbush.

It is exciting that the Today Show decided to visit. Take a look at one of the broadcasts below.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Thoughts from the Beacon Hill and National Trails

I was in Austin, Texas this week for a few days for some work meetings. Along the way, I mentally put together a post that updates everyone on what I have been working on as well as gives my current thinking on this amazing election we're in the middle of.

Before I talk about the national campaign, I want to note for a second a debate that is raging in my neighborhood of Beacon Hill in Boston.

It's about Suffolk University. A week ago, the Beacon Hill Civic Association, of which I am a board member, passed a policy that notes specific concerns regarding Suffolk's proposed expansion in downtown Boston. I supported the policy, and I am happy the board passed it, since things could have been far worse. A bit of background:

-- Suffolk is in downtown Boston, and it is trying to grow. A few of the University's buildings are located in Beacon Hill. The neighbors on Beacon Hill are wary of Suffolk's plans to expand, given the stressed nature of "town-and-gown" relationships in other Boston neighborhoods. It follows that every loud party on Beacon Hill over the past few years has been blamed on Suffolk.

-- Suffolk is in the middle of laying out for Boston its plans for the next several years, in a document called an Institutional Master Plan. The process has been rocky, primarily because no one on the Beacon Hill Civic Assocation belives Suffolk and vice versa. I have been trying to formulate my own opinion, and I have found that means listening to the civic association, and listening to Suffolk, and then shooting for the middle of both arguments.

-- Many in the neighborhood simply want Suffolk to leave. Literally, they want Suffolk to sell their properties here and move to some other part of Boston. I saw a draft policy that discussed this last week. Umm. This is a tad scary. What would be next? My neighbors decide that they also want renters like myself to move on, preserving the neighborhood for property owners?

All this being said, here's what I think: Suffolk is an asset to Beacon Hill in many ways. I want the institution to grow and continue to contribute here. That means Suffolk must detail in a very comprehensive way how its expansion will impact the neighborhood. Which means Suffolk needs to admit there will be an impact. Suffolk must use additional drafts of its new master plan to lay out specifics. And I am happy to help them in this process. Finally, I don't think it's a good idea for Suffolk to just leave the Hill. I for one would miss the institution.

Well there you have it. Now I move on to my points about the national Presidential race:

1) You know everyone is engaged this election season when my football-watching former roommate, Blake, called me on Super Tuesday evening and asked to come over to watch election returns, as if we were watching the Super Bowl. A native of Texas, Blake is always a good one to speak to for a level-set on the election, since he has perspective from outside of the liberal bastion of Boston.

2) The campaign has clearly moved to Texas. There were many ads on TV for both Obama and Clinton that I saw while in the hotel room in Austin. Also, a few people spoke of the debate this week on the University of Texas campus and how there are only 100 tickets. (But there is a debate watching party for all candidates at the Hyatt hotel.)

3) I met with a work-related friend for coffee, and she told me that on Super Tuesday evening, she and her husband went to a wine bar to watch returns. The atmosphere seemed more like a big college football game; when the announcers called a state for a given candidate, cheers would erupt, as if Obama or Clinton were scoring touchdowns.

4) I was up in Vermont this weekend, and at my ski house, debate inevitably moved to the campaign. I have spoken with quite a few women who are not fans of Hillary, which leads me to my next point, a crititque of the media:

5) I think Hillary has gotten a bad rap from the press (and I say this as someone who is supporting Obama). I have heard repeatedly that Obama "has the momentum." In reality, what has happened over the past few weeks is exactly what everyone was expecting. It just so happens that Obama has benefitted from a few states that have his "type" of voters. So he has been victorious. But momentum? Have the pundits seen the latest polls out of the states voting on March 4? Hillary is ahead. If those polls do change, it will only, in my opinion, be because of the so-called momentum they are placing behind Obama.

At the same time, I don't think the media's favoring of Obama is because Hillary is a female. I think it's because she is the "establishment" candidate. How amazing is it that even though she is a woman, Hillary is often picked by those who make up their minds in the voting booth? The reason? As David Plotz noted in last week's Slate political gabfest, it's because Hillary is the "safe" pick. She's the establishment candidate. Unfortunately for her, the media like underdogs or "mavericks." In addition, voters tend to be romantic. They like fresh faces and discussions of hope and change. I have a general theory that voters will pick hope and change over practicality every time. It's a core Amercian fundamental. But that's the topic of another blog post.

Finally, what the heck is wrong with Bill Clinton? Yesterday, I heard that he blamed the recent losses by his wife on well-off voters participating in caucuses who "don't really need a President," but rather have bought into needing change or hope. Is that how he classifies me, an Obama voter here in Massachusetts? I don't understand what is wrong with him, but I am kind of embarrassed.

Kudos to everyone who is acknowledging that today is in fact my 32nd birthday. It's raining here in Boston. Is that a sign? : )

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Election Hangover

Ward 5 Democratic Ballot, Boston, February 5, 2007

I am pleased that the voters in my ward elected me to the Ward Democratic Committee (there were 35 names on the ballot running for 35 slots, but I am pleased in any event). By the way, don't worry: I did vote for all 35 of the ward committee candidates nominated by my ward (the vote cast above is just for effect).

I wonder how many people actually saw my name?

So what's next? Well, for me, it's back to watching Chris Matthews. My brother Brett gets to vote on Tuesday in Virginia, and he's still undecided.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Obama Has Caught Clinton

(Editor's note: I have endorsed Barack Obama in the presidential race. My reasons are in an earlier post on this blog.)

A new 7News/Suffolk poll has the Massachusetts democratic race a dead heat as we head into election eve. Obama leads by two points, within the margin of error.

Also, I am not sure if it was smart for Senator Clinton to make a remark related to the Pats loss yesterday.

Slate's "Today's Papers" is the first outlet I have seen that notes Obama has caught up to Clinton in national polls.

I should mention that the polls I trust the most are the Reuters Zogby polls. A great story from the 2000 campaign that is more myth than reality (I heard it from a friend so I am not sure if it's true, but it is interesting.) Rogby had been showing in its overnights up to the election that Gore was seeing a late surge. The morning of the election, they calculated their final numbers, and gave Gore a slight win in the popular vote. Seeing this was counter to all other polls, Zogby told his peeps to redo the numbers. They came out the same, and Zogby released them. They ended up being right on the money with the outcome of the election. This part is true, the Zogby poll did correctly predict the outcome of the popular vote.

That being said, some very encouraging signs for Barack Obama in the recent batch of overnight polls. He has pulled into the lead in California. He has pulled into the lead in Missouri. It looks like his victory in Georgia may be of South Carolina proportions. The latest New Jersey poll has the race a tie.

The crowds he is drawing are significant. Thousands yesterday in Delaware. Today, he's in New Jersey, Connecticut and here in Boston.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Endorsement: Barack Obama

I am a sucker for hope.

My 11th grade history teacher, Dorothy Agranwitch, made her students keep journals to reflect on world events. After observing a semester's worth of remarks in mine, she inscribed a statement that I will never forget. Written in her elegant, Radcliffe-inspired script, she said, "Your prose and interpretation brings one word to my mind: hope."

It follows suit that I quickly fell in love with Bill Clinton, since he made me believe in sappy things like hope and change. President Clinton ushered in change at a time when we needed it; breaking from the Reagan and Bush years to reinvigorate the country. What follows was laudable: a booming, if not irrational, Internet economy; and a general feeling that this country was the best country in the world. When I authored a column for The Daily Free Press while at BU, my last entry discussed the huge crowds that greeted Clinton when he visited Northern Ireland. Citizens there saw him, and the U.S., as a beacon. It's hard to imagine any foreign entity seeing us in such a light today.

At a time when change is once again needed, and for other reasons I detail in this post, today I announce my support for Senator Barack Obama to be the next President of the United States. I will vote for Senator Obama this Tuesday in the Massachusetts Democratic primary.

Let me say that for many (also sappy) reasons, I am proud of the way things have transpired this primary season. Turnout in the early primaries has been overwhelming. Younger voters, and many previously uninterested, have come out in large numbers. The country is engaged in a way I have never seen before.

We also benefit from a field of impressive Democratic candidates. As the New York Times led its endorsement of Hillary Clinton: "This generally is the stage of a campaign when Democrats have to work hard to get excited about whichever candidate seems most likely to outlast an uninspiring pack. That is not remotely the case this year."

To be sure, Hillary Clinton and Obama share many overall policy objectives, and among the ones I support:

*Universal Healthcare: The healthcare system in the U.S. is healthcare for the affluent. An excellent way to cut overall cost from the system is to encourage routine care, and routine care has to be available to all. Government has a role to make this happen, since the market favors profit-- and that doesn't necessarily mean healthier people. The problems with the system have also subjected doctors to role players, rather than industry leaders. This is a problem.

*Focus on the environment. Having worked for Al Gore, this is a big deal for me.

*Recognizing that the Al Qaeda that attacked us on September 11 is based in Afghanistan and Pakistan, not Iraq.

Given the similarities in positions offered by Clinton and Obama, the choice on paper was difficult for me. But a couple of distinctions between the candidates in recent weeks have provided clarity.

First, Obama believes strongly that everyone should have a seat at the table. He understands that the world is more complicated than "with us or against us", and that there is no harm in asking for help to combat the world's problems. Hillary believes this too, but not enough, in my opinion. Her vote to support designating Iran's politics a part of terror is a case in point. The harder answer-- and more accurate one, in my opinion-- is to keep Iran at the table. Cutting them out of the discussion only emboldens them. And that starts the cycle we all witnessed leading up to the Iraq war.

Senator Edwards impressed me with his commitment to restore America's standing in the eyes of the world. I think Barack Obama is more committed to that than Hillary Clinton.

Second, I think the American political scene needs a refresh. President Bush has so damaged America's stead in the world, that I find it hard to believe any connection to politics as usual will be acceptable in the eyes of our International allies. Hillary Clinton to many in the U.S. and abroad is more of the same. We need a clean break to start over.

Finally, as much as I loved Bill Clinton, I can't figure out why he's involving himself in this race. This is Hillary's campaign, and I was impressed by her ability to run the campaign and not rely on the involvement of her husband. The Onion Magazine ran a headline in this week's issue that read: "Bill Clinton: Screw it, I am Running!" In recent weeks, Bill Clinton has shown me that he will be involved in Hillary's campaign and her presidency. Which brings into question: Which Clinton will call the shots in the White House?

I am very disappointed in Bill's words. The inspiration provided by Hillary as the architect of her own success now seems shallow, or at least hollow. Moreover, to relate Senator Obama's success in South Carolina to Rev. Jesse Jackson's success there is disingenuous at best.

Bill Clinton inspired me in 1992. He did so again in 1996 when he ran for reelection. I volunteered for that campaign. Clinton represented the "Bridge to the 21st Century." Bob Dole was Clinton's opponent then. He could not avoid talking about the past. His service in WWII. His years in the Senate. Everyone admired him but yearned for the future.

Ironically enough, in 2008, part of Hillary's Clinton's message is a return to the past. As much as I liked the Clinton years, I am not a fan of looking back. Not in 1996, and not now.

Thank you, Senator Dodd, Senator Biden, Congressman Kucinich. Thank you Senator Edwards. Thank you Senator Clinton. The primary season was phenomenal. But my choice is Obama.