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? : )

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