Sunday, May 31, 2009

Signature Drive Complete

The signature collection period for the young election season is complete. To get on the ballot, a candidate needs to collect a certain number of signatures on nomination papers, and the number required varies depending on the office sought.

With few exceptions, I will sign anyone's papers, even if I don't agree with their candidacy. I believe that pretty much everyone has the right to be on the ballot. This year, I didn't get the chance to sign that often, primarily because I was traveling for half of the signature phase, so I wasn't around to be stopped by candidates or their volunteers on the street.

For the record, here are the candidates for whom I did sign nomination papers:

Mayor of Boston
Mayor Tom Menino

Boston City Councilor At-Large
Ayanna Pressley
Scotland Willis

Boston District City Councilor
Councilor Mike Ross

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Ups and Downs of My Ward Committee

It been a see-saw couple of weeks for Boston's Ward 5 Democratic Committee, which I am a member of.

Just this past week, I attended a great event hosted by Ward 5-- a fundraiser headlined by Massachusetts Lt. Governor Tim Murray (I am pictured with him on this blog at the DNC last August in Denver, by the way).

The room at Lir Restaurant in the Back Bay was crowded with candidates. Three out of the four candidates running for Mayor attended, as well as numerous individuals vying for an at-large seat on the Boston City Council.

It was a good event, and it stood as a contrast to a couple of weeks that have been not so hot for the Ward 5 Committee.

Just a few weeks ago, it surfaced that one of our own committee members, herself an elected official, passed on questions for a planned candidates' forum to one of the forum's participants. The only problem being that she only sent the questions to one candidate-- the candidate she was supporting in the election-- and the questions were sent before the forum took place.

We're not talking a major offense here. However, it doesn't smell good. And from a PR perspective (an industry I hope I know well), it looks pretty bad for the committee. The group is supposed to be a bunch of enthusiastic (one would hope innocent) democrats that want to encourage party members to run for office. Instead, with the recent controversy, we could seem to some as just a part of the old Boston political machine.

My friend and fellow Ward 5 Committee member Josh Dawson (who happens to be an elected member of the Mass. Democratic State Committee) has a good post over on his blog on this matter.

For what it's worth, I sent my own recommendations to the Chairman of the committee, Rob Whitney, and I hope they are considered promptly. They are pretty simple recommendations and involve clearly stating and following candidate forum rules and procedures (especially regarding the handling of questions). I would hate to have this issue discourage potential participants in future Ward 5 candidates forums. I am sure Rob and other members of the Ward 5 Executive Committee will rectify the situation.


On a related topic, I have been thinking a lot about the role of the Ward Democratic Committee in general. I joined the committee well over a year ago now, and I must say I have enjoyed the experience far more than I was expecting. I think most of the reason is the people. Committee members are pretty eclectic.

Mr. Dawson and I liken the committee meeting experience to the infamous Mos Eisley Cantina scene from Star Wars. Imagine your walking into the bar in the excerpt below, except it's actually a Ward Committee meeting and you are one of the characters (I must admit we've never had a band at our meetings):

I admire the fact that on the committee, we are all committed Democrats, and I truly believe we all have the best interests of our communities in our minds as we act (and I still believe that despite the recent incident regarding the candidates' forum).

At the same time, though, does the committee really matter? We endorse candidates, and we raise money as a committee, but do we really matter? Looking at the numbers of recent Committee actions since I joined, our record from an endorsement perspective is clearly mixed.

As a group, we endorsed incumbent Senator Dianne Wilkerson last summer, and she went on to lose the state primary to Sonia Chang-Diaz -- more importantly she got trounced in Ward 5. Personally, I ended up not supporting the candidate the Ward endorsed in that race. More recently, the Ward endorsed Aaron Michlewitz in his race to the be the State Rep for the Mass. House 3rd Suffolk seat, and Aaron went on to win.

Endorsements aside, there's no question that the Ward committee members themselves are among the only people who care, non-stop, about politics. So I guess if you are an aspiring politician, they are vital. And if you are just starting your campaign, Ward committee members are a lifeline. Who else would listen to you several months ahead of an actual vote; more importantly, who else would remember you when you come back? I have come to the conclusion that for this and many other reasons, the Ward Committee clearly does matter, though we tend to put way too much emphasis on the endorsement votes. However, the endorsement votes have become a tactic for the committee to attract candidates and get them to speak, collectively, to the group.

My best reason? Ward 5 paid for and organized three bus trips to Manchester, New Hampshire last year to help Barack Obama win that state. A bus load is 60-70 people. I can tell you, as someone who had to organize those trips-- that's a lot of people. So much so that my boss in the organizing game told me at one point, "We need to do those bus trips every week." To which I responded, "Whoo hoo, Ward 5!"

Yes, whoo hoo Ward 5! Let's put in place procedures regarding our forums so we don't end up with egg on our face again like a few weeks ago. And then let's continue our mission and serve our important role in the political process.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Neighborhood Meeting on Beacon Hill Crime

A recent spate of robberies on Beacon Hill led to a crime meeting, hosted by the Beacon Hill Civic Association, at the Firehouse on Mt. Vernon Street tonight. I attended along with at least 50 or 60 of my neighbors. Boston Police Captain Bernard O'Rourke, Sargent Tom Lema, the BHCA's Paula O'Keefe, and City Council President Mike Ross were at the head table and addressed the recent incidents.

Some very interesting points from the meeting:

o There are indications that the perpetrators of recent robberies on Beacon Hill (there have been four this year) are members of the new MVP (Most Violent Prophet) gang of high school students. The Boston Police Department has been tracking this group, which tends to focus on the Downtown Crossing area. In the case of the Beacon Hill incidents, it is possible that members of this group came to Beacon Hill.

o Capt. O'Rourke referred to cell phones--especially iPhones and Sidekicks--as a kind of currency for younger individuals. He called them big "status symbols." In many cases, the perpetrators see someone talking on an iPhone and steal the phone from behind.

o While crime overall on Beacon Hill is down this year, compared to last year, there is a sense of unease in the neighborhood of late, certainly represented by those who attended the meeting. Unlike previous robberies in the neighborhood, which were isolated incidents, the recent robberies are unsettling because they could be connected to the issues in Downtown Crossing.

o The best advice I heard from Captain O'Rourke: Most people can sense when "something is wrong" on their street--when people are congregating that "just don't belong"--and residents should not hesitate to dial 9-1-1.

o The most alarming thing I heard came from one of the owners of Charles Street Liquors, who noted that he regularly thwarts shoplifters (he said once a week someone attempts to steal something from his store). In almost all cases, he doesn't call the police, primarily because he often is able to retrieve the stolen merchandise. For this reason, it's pretty clear the neighborhood crime statistics (for shoplifting, at least) are low. The stats are only for crimes that are actually reported. Given that Captain O'Rourke makes changes to patrols based on the data, I find that very worrisome.

Of note, also at the meeting were City Councilor Sal LaMattina and the newly minted Democratic nominee for the 3rd Suffolk Mass. House seat Aaron Michlewitz.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Saying Goodbye to the House I Grew Up In

This weekend I said goodbye to the house I grew up in. Until a few years out of college, it was home, even though I had moved out of the house. Then when I started calling my apartment in Boston home, it became "12 Southgate." [The address is 12 Southgate Circle.]

"I will be at 12 Southgate on Saturday afternoon," I would say, meaning I would be going to my parents' house.

My parents are downsizing, moving to a condo they own in Mystic, after a few weeks squatting at my brothers' homes or at my family's beach cottage in Old Lyme (where I am now).

I spent one final night at 12 Southgate on Saturday, sleeping in the room where I wrote my first research report. Honestly, it was not as sentimental as it probably could have been.

Maybe it hasn't set it yet. Since college, the holidays were the times that I spent the most nights at 12 Southgate. Maybe it will hit me in November, when I drive to Connecticut for Thanksgiving. Where will I go?

I won't go to Franklin. My hometown. In fact, I might not go to Franklin again for a long time. The 1200 plus residents there can now live in peace. My parents move out on June 3.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I Don't Know

A Boston University professor once told me that you can gauge the intelligence of a person by the types of questions they ask, and that you can spot an ignorant person if they ask no questions at all.

A parallel theory of mine is those who profess to have all the answers are either ignorant or preying on ignorance.

As an extension to both statements, I thoroughly enjoyed a speech given by my brother this past weekend as part of commencement exercises for a program he completed at William & Mary. A transcription of the speech, as delivered, is available on his blog.

Congrats Brett! I am proud of you.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

One Roomate at the White House, Another Walks at Commencement

My BU college roommate Scott Lauber went to the White House this past week. He's the Phillies beat reporter for the Wilmington (Del.) News Journal, and President Barack Obama honored the Phillies for winning the World Series last year.

Scott Lauber in the White House Briefing Room
Washington, D.C.
May 15, 2009

Meanwhile, my other college roommate, Ian Menchini, has the honor of walking with faculty and staff at today's Suffolk University commencement. Ian works in the Suffolk Law School admissions department.

As for me, I am catching up after a week on the road for work, while watching the Yankees.

My Niece Madalyn Visits American Girl Boston

I guess I should mention that I don't have any kids. However, I have a niece and three nephews (with another nephew on the way), and being an uncle is the best job in the world.

My niece Madalyn came to Massachusetts yesterday with her parents and two brothers. Her birthday is Monday (she's turning 8), and she wantd to vist American Girl Boston (which happens to be in Natick).

American Girl is quite a franchise. For starters, everyone who went brought at least one of the American Girl dolls they owned (My brother and Madalyn's dad Mark says they'd better, given how much they spent on the dolls).

I bought Madalyn a hair brush, a pair of glasses and a hair styling. Except the items weren't for her. They were for her doll. Yep, 25 bucks to have Madalyn's doll's hair done. Pretty wild.

Things did get pretty tense at one point, as Madalyn was overwhelmed by her choices and had trouble making up her mind. She was persuaded by her brother, Jack, to think about the decision over lunch.

Madalyn Levanto at American Girl Boston
Natick, Mass.
May 16, 2009

You can hear Jack's enthusiasm for lunch in the background. No matter what Madalyn's options were, it was pretty definite that Jack thought lunch was the answer.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Keeping an Eye on the Back Bay

My friend, fellow community organizer, and all around good guy Josh Dawson has a personal blog up and running. It's called "Boston Cordon Bleu," and for his first post, Josh talks about dog owning and-- separately-- the need for people to take off the iPod headphones and breathe in life.

Josh lives in the next neighborhood over from me, which is called the "Back Bay." He also has the distinction of being an elected party official, and I am one of his constituents. As an elected member of the Massachusetts Democratic State Committee, Josh is responsible for representing the interests of Democrats in his district, serving as a conduit between the State party and local Democrats, and helping to get Democrats elected. Josh and I also serve on Boston's Ward 5 Democratic Committee together.

If you like what you read here (and at least six of you do), you will like Josh's blog as well. Happy reading!

Saturday, May 09, 2009

My Report Card on President Obama

I give him an A.

I remember listening to the state of the union address back in 2002 (George Bush gave the talk). I listened to the whole thing, and at the end, I realized I didn't agree with anything the President said.

What a difference seven years has made.

After 100 days in office, I give President Obama an A. Considering all the challenges he has faced, and with only a couple exceptions (which I detail below) I have been beyond impressed with his performance.

The overarching reason for his success? I believe it's because the President is doing everything he can to be outside the bubble of Washington. In an interview with 60 Minutes a few weeks back, Steve Kroft asked him about many on Wall Street who were not happy with him (Obama at the time was attacking excessive bonuses). Obama's response was right on the money. When he talks to those on Wall Street, he says, "They need to spend a little time outside of New York."

The President has spent time outside of New York. He's even held town hall meetings in republican friendly areas (Orange County, Calif.). And the questions from the audience are not even scripted. Even his process of reading 10 letters from ordinary Americans every week (I saw a CNN segment on the person who picks the letters) represents his attempt to connect to regular Americans.

The list of my reasons for liking the job Obama is doing is long:

-- Ending torture. Waterboarding is torture. Period. I agree with the President that we can get intelligence from key detainees through respected interrogation methods. More importantly, by not torturing we greatly enhance our image in the world.

-- An honorable ambassador. It's great to see the President received so warmly abroad. He has been both firm but also compromising on his international trips. The bottom line is while I love America, we can't solve our the world's problems by ourselves. And there are a lot of people out there who want to help.

As a side note, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also gets an A from me. It's great to see her abroad with the President. Further, I have been impressed by the entire group of U.S. emissaries, from Dennis Ross and Richard Holbrooke to George Mitchell. All of them are former Bill Clinton advisers/appointees.

-- Admitting mistakes. We live in a time of petty corruption. The public has had enough with politicians making excuses. President Obama to this point in his Presidency has already said "I screwed up." And you know what, even though he admitted a mistake, the country didn't fall apart and the Presidential office retained its authority.

-- Fixing the economy with an eye on the future. One thing I have definitely learned over the past several months is that green technologies are not cheap. Moreover, more efficient energy creation doesn't necessarily mean cleaner energy creation. President Obama is right to direct the government's role in recovery so that it leads the country where it must go. His focus on greentech and cleantech technologies, and his emphasis on electronic medical records and other healthcare reforms as a prelude to more significant healthcare changes is just what the doctor ordered, no pun intended.

-- His budget. Most of the priorities outlined in the previous bullet are emphasized in the President's budget. Announced shortly after the stimulus package passed, the budget will be Obama's permanent mark on this country. It is what will make him the next FDR. Marking the official end of the supply-side, trickle-down failure of the last nearly 30 years, Obama's budget recognizes that government may not be perfect, but at least it can be somewhat transparent, which is more than I can say for the greed of the average human.

-- His focus on an urban agenda. It's refreshing to have a President who understands the importance of this country's cities. As I live in Boston, you can imagine this concept resonates especially well with me.

-- Focusing the war on terror where the terrorists are. The Al Qaeda that attacked us on September 11 has reconstituted itself in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the Taliban that supported that Al Qaeda is controlling large swaths of Pakistan. That is the epicenter in the global (yes, global) war on terror.

Given all of the above, there are two areas where I do, in fact, disagree with the President, and it's important to outline them below.

1) Certain aspects of his energy initiatives. Cap and trade has had a troubled history, and I am not convinced it will actually encourage energy companies to invest in cleaner energy creation techniques-- I am also not convinced it will reduce CO(2) output.

2) Guns. Why the Brady bill was never renewed is beyond me. The fact that a normal average citizen can go out and buy a semi-automatic weapon is beyond scary. The President has decided not to tackle gun control. I understand the political reasons why, but it is disappointing.

In summary, there's no question to me that the President and his family represent this country superbly. And that just might be the most important box in my report card. While we still have a long way to go together, I say to my President, "Keep up the good work."

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

David Levanto Visits The Public Garden

David Levanto in the Public Garden
Boston, Mass.
May 3, 2009

He called every bird he saw a duck and said, "Quack, quack." Even the pigeons on Beacon Hill. I was happy he got to use the Myrtle Street playground in my neighborhood, since it's a nice spot I walk by a dozen times a week.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Taking it to the Streets

I spent a good deal of time in my neighborhood this past week, and I spoke to a number of my neighbors.

The 2009 local campaign season has started. The first step for a candidate (even one running for re-election) is getting on the ballot, and this is done by filing nomination papers. A nomination requires a certain number of signatures from voters, and the amount depends on the office sought. So starting on Tuesday, various candidates and their volunteers have been on the streets of Boston looking for signatures from eligible voters. If you see someone with a clipboard approaching you this weekend, chances are they are not trying to sell you something. They just want your "John Hancock." The signature period ends in about two and a half weeks.

On Tuesday, I was on the streets in Beacon Hill collecting signatures for Mayor Menino. Earlier today, I went door-to-door asking for signatures for my City Councilor, Mike Ross.

In between those two activities, on Thursday I went to a Beacon Hill Civic Association Founders Club event, where I listened to my State Senator, Sonia Chang-Diaz.

Collecting signatures is hard, but it gives one a chance to talk to people one-on-one (to the extent they don't think you are a sales person). I also spoke to a number of active neighbors at the Founders Club event.

I learned quite a bit about the general attitude of the neighborhood. Here goes:

-- Trash, trash, trash. I have commented here before that the neighborhood looks pretty good right now. Yet many people I talked to cited with disgust the trash problem on Beacon Hill. Last month at the Beacon Hill Civic Association it was reported, based on a recent new-members event, that trash remains the number one issue in the neighborhood.

-- What about us? I get the sense that everyone on Beacon Hill feels as though elected officials, in general, have forgotten about them. I must say that Beacon Hill can be overlooked; many campaigns I have been a part of lump Beacon Hill in with the Back Bay, which I dare say is a faux pas. Given the relatively small size of each neighborhood, such a grouping makes sense, and certainly demographically Beacon Hill and Back Bay are similar, but the geography of the two areas is different, and the two neighborhoods differ in their policy priorities.

-- Petty corruption is bad, bad, bad. I am not really sure what progressive means or whether I am one, but certainly Beacon Hill yearns for a clean political process. And for that reason, residents here tend to clump anyone in office with the petty corruption they read about in the papers. Isn't "Throw the bums out?" one of the primary themes of a progessive? I sense a lot of this emotion lingering from the overwhelming enthusiasm for Chang-Diaz last November (She was the candidate who ousted the tarnished former Senator Dianne Wilkerson). The now-Senator Chang-Diaz, who as I noted previously came to an event I attended on Thursday, cleaned house on Beacon Hill in the election results.

By the way, while I am very biased, I was very impressed by Senator Chang-Diaz. She spoke with authority backed up by a thorough understanding of the issues, even specific figures related to the budget. The crowd (which included some Republicans) received her warmly.

NOTE: I don't necessarily agree with what I observed in the neighborhood, as noted above, but it's what I heard and witnessed. Don't shoot the messenger!