Sunday, June 28, 2009

Absolutely No Requirements

Jen Mehigan at "The Landing" Bar
June 27, 2009

The city came alive yesterday, thanks to a couple hours of sun.

Drinking a summer beer on the wharf during a sunny Saturday. And having absolutely no requirements. The lack of sun for so long in Boston made it even more enjoyable.

Unfortunately, now it's cloudy again.

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.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

First City Council Debate Tuesday Night

On Tuesday of this week, the Boston Ward 4 and Ward 5 Democratic Committees are hosting a forum for the candidates running for the four Boston City Council at-large seats.

Given that the Mayoral race in Boston has attracted two current at-large City Councilors, and by running for Mayor those two cannot also run to be re-elected as Councilors, this year's race has attracted a regular bevy of candidates.

Tuesday's event will be held at the Community Church of Boston, 565 Boylston Street, in Copley Plaza (over the Globe Bar and Restaurant). Beginning at 7 p.m., it is the first time the candidates will debate.

Following the debate, the committees will consider endorsing candidates. As a member of the Ward 5 Committee, it will be a tough choice. As of right now, I have decided to vote to endorse one candidate (I can pick up to four). And that's one of the incumbents, John Connolly.

Councilor Connolly has done a good job since he took office less than two years ago. I am impressed by his dedication. I hear he is often in the office very late at night and very early in the morning. He also called me personally to ask for my vote, which means a lot. To be fair, candidate Tomas Gonzales has also called me, but I have not decided if I will support him or not.

I am also hearing that the forum will feature new rules regarding how the forum will proceed. Candidates will receive the questions in advance, and the forum will be moderated by David Bernstein of the Boston Pheonix.

Here's what I am looking for at the debate:

-- Candidates that understand the limitations of the Boston City Council. Boston has a Mayoral form of government, and city councilors are not really given much power. However, given their staffs, they can greatly assist with constiutent relations and as feeton the street for pressing day-to-day challenges. I will be watching for candidates who know that a city councilor cannot effect sweeping change.

-- Candidates that have done their homework and know the issues of concern to Ward 5 residents. Given that Ward 5 includes portions of Beacon Hill, Back Bay, South End, Bay Village, and Fenway, we certainly have our hot-button issues.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

38,000 Feet

38K Feet Somewhere over the United States
Aboard United Airlines Flight 179
June 15, 2009

I am back in San Francisco for work this week, albeit a short trip. Celebrity sighting: I ran into Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa at Logan Airport before I left. I recognized him and went over to shake his hand while I was waiting at the gate for my flight to San Francisco. He was quite pleasant. I wonder if anyone else knew who he was.

Mayor Villaraigosa was in New England for the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which took place this week in Providence, R.I.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

A Car Salesperson is Not Your Friend

My friend Jen Mehigan bought a car this week, and I am very proud of her, because she did a good job negotiating. When I was in college, I took a persuasion and propaganda course, and we spent one entire lecture talking about car buying. We reviewed the common persuasion techniques used by car salesmen. The three tips that I most often talk about are below:

1) Do not test drive the car until you are sure you can buy it. Often I say, don't even bother to test drive the car. You know it's going to run fine if it's new. The reason you should resist is because the salesperson desperately *wants* you to test drive the car. When you drive the car, you start to feel ownership for it. That means you are willing to pay more for it. Car dealers know this; it's one of the reasons it is very easy to drive a car you don't even own and have not even indicated any interest toward buying.

It's funny sometimes to see how badly the salesperson wants you to take a test drive. If you resist, they will say they can't get you a quote on the car or negotiate a deal until the test drive is out of the way, almost as if your check will not cash otherwise. To be sure, a test drive is somewhat of a commitment from you, the buyer, to show that you are serious. But there's no reason why you need to test drive the car in order to buy it.

Since you you really should be ok with the feel behind the wheel before you drive the car off the lot, I concede it does probably make sense at some point to take the potential new car for a spin. Here's the key: Do not test drive the car until you are absolutely certain you can afford it. Literally, have everything else taken care of-- dealing with financing, making sure the monthly payment is one you can put in your budget, knowing what initial payments will be necessary, etc.

2) You don't have to buy the car *TODAY*. The car salesman wants you to buy it today. They don't want you to go home and "think about it," which is why you should go home and think about it. You will hear that the deal you were guaranteed today may not be available tomorrow. Something tells me it will be, if you show up ready to sign the dotted line.

My college professor used to say that you never want to make a difficult decision without a good night's rest and a good breakfast. The same goes with buying a car. Tell them you will be back tomorrow. And while you are at it, wait until tomorrow for that test drive, too.

3) In general, the more badly the salesperson wants you to take an option, the less likely you need it. My friends will tell you I am not a fan of warranties or insurance. Think for a second about why insurance exists. You probably don't realize this, but the main reason you have car insurance is not to fix the car if you are in an accident but so that you can pay to fix the car of the other person you hit, and as protection if that other person decides to sue you if it happened to be your fault. This is why so many people drop "collision" from their insurance when they own the car and have paid off any loans. The car at that point isn't worth too much, so it makes sense to get rid of coverage to fix it.

The insurance company is a business; it makes money by betting on the fact that you won't actually file a claim. And the system works pretty well. As car owners, we are protected if something really bad happens, and as businesses, the insurance companies are doing pretty darn well.

Given the model, let's look at the classic extended warranty, which is insurance in case something goes wrong with the car not caused by routine wear or neglect. The salesperson *really* wants to sell you it. And that's because it's a cash cow. You will pay an additional fee every month, and chances are you will never have a claim to file. Any repairs you have will be in the variety of routine maintenance, which is not covered. And if something catastrophic
happens, chances are you will no longer like the car and will want a new one.

The key here that I always point out is the salesperson will try very hard to sell you an extended warranty. Generally speaking, if they really want to sell it to you, I don't want it. The salesperson is not out to help you; they are out to help the dealer and themselves. Remember that. And that applies to other "offers" beyond insurance, including offers made to you by the finance team, etc.

So there you have it. Three tips courtesy of my persuasion and propaganda course taught at BU back in 1997. My college education at work.

Have a super Sunday.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Team Sonia Chang-Diaz

Team Sonia Chang-Diaz
(I am second from left; Senator Chang-Diaz is in center in white suit.)
Before the start of the Boston Pride Parade
Boston, Mass.
June 13, 2009

I attended my first pride parade in Boston today, and it was a lot of fun. Of course, it helped that the weather was perfect. I walked with my state senator, Sonia Chang-Diaz, and a number of volunteers I worked with during Sonia's campaign last year.

During the parade, I saw Representative Byron Rushing, Representative Marty Walz, and Aaron Michlewitz, the Democratic nominee for 3rd Suffolk State Representative.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Early Kudos for State Senator Chang-Diaz

The letter below was published in the Beacon Hill Times last week (June 2, 2009 issue):

It certainly has been a successful start for Beacon Hill's new State Senator, Sonia Chang-Diaz. She came to a Beacon Hill Civic Association Founders' reception a few weeks back and dazzled us with her knowledge. She understood many specifics about the state budget as well as the complicated questions surrounding regressive and non-regressive taxes.

More importantly Senator Chang-Diaz is not afraid to listen. She turned her presentation into a forum with the audience so she could hear our priorities for the district.

Given how impressive her appearance was, it is not surprising that her performance has been exceptional in the State Senate chamber. Budget battles are tough, and the recently completed budget discussions were no exception.

Senator Chang-Diaz stood up for what Beacon Hill cares about; she supported strong campaign finance measures as part of a Senate ethics bill, and she supported the local option for a meals tax, which will bring significant revenue into the city.

Kudos to Senator Chang-Diaz for a job well done.

Ross Levanto
112 Myrtle Street, Apt. 2

Sunday, June 07, 2009

A Final Picture

The house I grew up in.
Franklin, Conn.
May 23, 2009

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Live From Springfield

Josh Dawson (right) and Mass. Lieutenant Gov. Tim Murray
McCaffrey's Public House, Springfield, Mass.
June 5, 2009

Josh Dawson and I are in Springfield, Mass. at the State Democratic Convention. The convention is today, Saturday, but last night we attended two receptions. The first was sponsored by Mass. Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray, and the second was sponsored by the Young Democrats of Massachusetts.

I got the chance to meet up with Oscar, the most passionate community organizer I have ever met. We first met in Denver at the DNC last August.

Thanks to the Sheraton Sweet Sleeper, we are ready for the day.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Endorsement: Mayor Tom Menino

Sometimes change is good, and sometimes change is not necessary. In Boston right now, we don't need radical change; we need leadership. That's why I am supporting Mayor Tom Menino's reelection this year in the Boston Mayoral race.

One cannot find a more trendy word in politics than change, and Barack Obama defines it. Based on his success, change is not scary; it's preferred. Except change can be a slippery slope. Ironically enough, Obama's election only reinforces my belief in Mayor Menino's candidacy. With a President now carrying an urban agenda, I want my Mayor to provide a seasoned voice at the table.

I am supporting the Mayor because I really do not have much to complain about. I have done what I can to contribute to my neighborhood over the past several years to clean the streets, provide my input on an agreement with a local university, and to debate the merits of additional liquor licenses. I played a minor role with my neighbors creating a new program to replace and prune trees, I assisted with the transition to new trash pick-up schedules, and I participated in neighborhood "welcome wagons" to greet new neighbors in September. Each and every step of the way, I felt as though Mayor Menino acted in concert with the interests of the city and supported my efforts.

Boston is a safe, liveable, attractive city. I travel around the country for my job; I have visited many airport bars in my time. Without exception, when I tell a new friend and fellow airport bar patron that I am flying home to Boston, they smile broadly. Those that have been to Boston deluge me with praise for the city; those that have not visited want to go.

Sure I have complaints. I think the payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) program needs to be changed. I don't understand the full role of the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA). I think the City could be doing more to encourage cross-neighborhood cooperation (Believe it or not, Beacon Hill shares similar problems with other Boston neighborhoods). But the sum of all these and any other concerns does not come close to outweighing the great things that are going on in Boston. It certainly does not justify a "grassroots campaign for change."

I like the fact the Mayor is a morning person (I am, too). I think he works incredibly hard for the people of Boston. I remember watching him calm fears at a televised press conference during a snow storm while I was squatting in a friend's apartment at Boston University in January 1996. He seemed to me to be the type of guy that would finish up the press conference and then hop into the driver's seat of the snow plow. I like that in a Mayor.

Plus, I know very well many people who work for the Mayor, and I can say unequivocally that they are among the hardest working individuals I have ever known. They are Boston residents who are committed to this city, love it, and are passionate about it. They take calls at every hour of the day and every day of the week. They care about every constituent, even those that call quite often. They understand and trust the vision of their boss. In many ways my pledge to support the Mayor is a vote of confidence for the many members of his team who I have stood alongside for the past ten-plus years.

Now, there are a couple of things I see as broad challenges for the city. I know the Mayor shares my thoughts, and I am eager to work with him and his team. Among the challenges, which I hope to detail more on this blog in the coming months, are:

o New energy for the focus on education. The number one reason why young families leave Boston, in my opinion, is for reasons related to education. I certainly don't have the answers, but I am willing to support creative ideas.

o Highlighting vibrant neighborhoods. In a city of neighborhoods, Boston doesn't do a good job introducing its recent college graduates to them. Its initiatives to reach younger residents are admirable, and I think they should be expanded so that a steady stream of graduates receive renewed incentives to rent or buy properties in the varied Boston neighborhoods.

o Truly planning for Boston's future. While I don't think the BRA should go away, we should certainly discuss what it needs to fully fill its role safeguarding the long-term interests of the city and its residents.

Given the economic reality of today, and the unsettling future we all face, it's important to appreciate what one has. Boston should appreciate the good state it's in right now and the many things that are going right. We should understand the need for leadership, and we must resist the impulsive desire to press for change for the sake of change. Certainly we have challenges to overcome, and Mayor Menino shows the vision and energy to get us there. He deserves four more years.