Saturday, June 27, 2009

City Council Forum: My Thoughts

Thirteen of the fifteen candidates for at-large seats to the Boston City Council appeared at a forum held this past Tuesday, sponsored by Boston's Ward 4 and Ward 5 Democratic Committees.

Adam Gaffin of Universal Hub was there, and David Bernstein of the Boston Phoenix was the moderator. They both filed nice summaries and stories based on the forum. I figured I would jot down my observations here, primarily so that I do not forget them later as the election gets closer.

For those that are interested, the Boston preliminary election is on September 22. The field of 15 will be slimmed on that day to eight. The final election is on November 3, when the four at-large seats will be filled from among those eight.

This year's election is a municipal election only; there are no state or federal offices on the ballot. Municipal elections in Boston are non-partisan. That's why there is a "preliminary" election and not a primary.

OK, enough with the primer. Here goes on my thoughts.

I voted to endorse four candidates. Two of them are incumbents: John Connolly and Steve Murphy. I also voted for Ayanna Pressley and Scotland Willis. Based on the votes cast, the Ward 5 committee officially endorsed Connolly and Pressley, as they both earned a vote from more than 2/3 of the Ward 5 members present (It took 17 votes to earn an endorsement).

Now, I know what you are thinking-- Why with so many candidates did you vote for the incumbents? Much has been written about how Boston is an incumbent-protected town; but the bottom line is, both Connolly and Murphy were the most educated candidates in the room. That's certainly because of their tenure. It might not be fair to the others, and this was the *first* forum of the campaign, so the others will only improve.

I was impressed by John Connolly's answer on education. He stressed the need for creative approaches that I have been looking for. And he somehow summarized his thoughts in 30 seconds (candidates were given 30 seconds only to discuss education, kind of like curing cancer by Monday).

I was impressed by Steve Murphy's reality check on the BRA. Everyone wants to change it; some want to get rid of it. But getting rid of it would require a change to state law. I don't like how Murphy says this is "impossible." It's not impossible, but of course it will be hard.

As for Ayanna Pressley, she is an incredibly exciting candidate on paper. She grew up in difficult circumstances. Her mom raised her while her dad was in prison. She became policy director for Senator John Kerry. She used to live in Ward 5 and served on the Democratic Committee.

The problem is the expectations for Ayanna, unfortunately, are sky high. While she performed fine on Tuesday, the sizzle of her resume was missing in her presentation. I still think she deserves the job (hence she got my vote), but the expectations' battle she faces might cause her problems down the road.

As for Scotland Willis, well, he touched me with his life story (raised four boys on his own), and he impressed me with his knowledge of the issues-- especially neighborhood development. And I really appreciated seeing him on the T on a random Sunday weeks ago collecting signatures to get on the ballot.

To be sure, there are many other impressive candidates. Tomas Gonzales performance was admirable. Felix Arroyo left his campaign kick-off early to attend, which is admirable, and he spoke with a passion that will remind many of his dad (a former councilor). Also, most of the candidates support an ultimate move to neighborhood schools, and a careful look at the way Boston plans its development, which are among my priorities.

Lastly, every campaign has its comic relief. And in this campaign, it has to be Doug Bennett. I caught myself chuckling at his colloquial, almost folksy style. He started the forum by noting that he's running for city council at large, almost as if that's his knee-jerk first line to any question. He pumped his fist and gestured to the other candidates when urging for a round of applause to congratulate them all.

I am not in agreement with Bennett's politics, but I have to say I eagerly awaited his answers on Tuesday.

No comments: