Wednesday, August 29, 2012

States With No Destination Cities

I am in Connecticut this week at the Levanto beach compound in South Lyme. Earlier this week, my college friend Lauren and I were discussing the bad rap that New Jersey gets (she's from there). I must admit I know New Jersey in two ways: The large oil and gas containers that are alongside the New Jersey turnpike on the way to D.C., and, of course "The Jersey Shore."

Lauren and I think that New Jersey's problem from a PR perspective is the state really doesn't have a "destination city," or a city that people associate in a positive way with the state. Massachusetts has Boston. Maine has Portland. What does New Jersey have? Newark? You don't hear excitement when someone says: "I am going to Trenton!" And let's face it, Atlantic City just doesn't cut the mustard here.

Of course, Connecticut has the same problem. Hartford isn't really high on the list of vacation hot spots, and few realize that Connecticut's largest city is actually Bridgeport, and you don't want to go there.

Yet there's nothing really wrong with Connecticut and New Jersey. They are fine states. And those from each will talk passionately about them. Lauren says the water in New Jersey creates exceptionally tasty pizza, so much so that certain restaurants have their water imported. As for Connecticut, I must say there are many days in Boston when what I really want is a nice large Italian grinder to go, from a grinder shop in Norwich. But they don't deliver to Boston.

Ironically enough, in my adult life, I have more connections to New Jersey than Connecticut. Which is why there will be a day when I travel there, and venture off the New Jersey turnpike into the real New Jersey. Let's hope Snooki and her baby are out of state.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Mass. Primary September 6-- I already voted

As many of you know, I am off to Charlotte in about a week for the Democratic National Convention, where I am honored to serve as a delegate.

It a crazy twist of irony, while I am in Charlotte there will be an election in Massachusetts-- the state primary is scheduled for Thursday, September 6.

Now don't get me started on why the primary is on a Thursday. Long story short, many objected to holding the primary on September 11. The Tuesday before, is right after Labor Day, and waiting later than September 11 would interfere with religious holidays. [In case you're wondering, I think the election should be held on September 11; there's nothing more patriotic than voting!]

Since September 6 is the day President Barack Obama will address delegates in Charlotte, for the first time since moving to Massachusetts, I am voting in the primary by absentee ballot. I guess you could say it's part of my preparations for the trip to the convention.

Among the contested races on my Democratic ballot, here were my choices:

Clerk of Suffolk County, Civil Division
I voted for my friend Mike Dash, a fellow Boston Ward 5 Democratic Committee member. Mike is a good guy and will be a fresh face for the office.

Clerk of Suffolk County, Criminal Division
As much as I hate to do it, I left this race blank. I don't know enough about the challenger to make a good judgement on the race.

Suffolk County Register of Probate
I voted for Sal LaMattina, the current Boston City Councilor. As many have pointed out, it's strange that this post is elected by the people, given it's not really a political office. However, I have known Councilor LaMattina for a long time as a hard working public servant. I believe he will do an excellent job in this role.

The other races on my ballot were uncontested, though for the record, I did cast a vote for Elizabeth Warren to be our next U.S. Senator.

Don't forget to vote on September 6!

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Endorsement: President Barack Obama

The funny thing is, before he ran for President the first time, I kind of liked Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. I did not vote for him when he ran for Governor here in 2002. But mid-way through his term, I was seriously considering voting for him when I assumed he would run for re-election in 2006 (which would have been my first vote for a Republican candidate, ever).

Governor Romney supported the rights of women and was pro-choice. He argued passionately for universal healthcare in Massachusetts, and he convinced me as to its merits. He was a moderate reformer who in many states would have been considered a Democrat.

Then Mitt decided to run for President. And ever since then, I have not been able to recognize the man. He's suddenly pro-life. He's suddenly closed off even to the idea of same-sex marriage. His universal healthcare law here is suddenly no longer the right prescription for the country's healthcare system.

Most of Mitt's changes on policy are not explainable. But his strategy from a PR perspective is to keep repeating his new, Republican-friendly policy positions until everyone will forget to ask why he's changed his mind---on all of them.

But we have not forgotten here in Massachusetts, and perhaps that's why Mitt trails President Obama here in polls by 20 points or more. Think about that. A Presidential candidate this year is not only going to lose his home state, he's going to lose in embarrassing fashion. Perhaps that's why, like on so many other issues, Romney waffles on which state is actually his home. It's Michigan ahead of the primary there. It's Utah when he's there. It's New Hampshire when he's interviewed on TV. But make no mistake, on election day, Mitt will have to travel to Belmont, Massachusetts to cast his own vote.

It baffles me that anyone would even consider voting for a man who has flip-flopped so much, who insulted world leaders on a recent trip abroad, and who claims to not even know when his own wife's participation in the Olympics will take place. Vice President Cheney was proud of his daughter's marriage to another women---even with the political consequences. But because his wife is associated with a sport that is positioned as elitist, Romney is programmed to not care about the sport, or his wife's involvement.

I would be laughing if it were not for the fact the polls are close. And that's why I will be working my butt off this Fall to earn re-election for President Barack Obama. I will be voting for President Obama in November. I will also be voting for him in early September when I serve as a delegate at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte.

Trust me, I am wary of some of the things the President has done. I wish he would have done more when he had the chance to pass climate change legislation, as an example. But when it comes to this election, and this time, there's just no question among the candidates who is better equipped to lead our country.

As the President would say, "so, let's review":

-- President Obama reformed our healthcare system, including codifying many rules that are just human: eliminating the proclivity of insurance companies to deny coverage for those with pre-existing conditions, mandating coverage for young adults on their parents' policies, and eliminating lifetime caps on insurance benefits. This is NOT a government takeover of healthcare, and if you look at the monetary estimates, the law as written will reduce government spending. (I know, that's not what we've heard repeated many times from Republicans, who again believe if you say it enough times, people will assume it's true.)

-- President Obama killed Osama Bin Laden. He has been focused since day one on taking on those who wish to harm the United States where they are actually located (in Afghanistan as opposed to Iraq).

-- President Obama fully supports equal protection under the law for all Americans, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation. This is in lockstep with where our country is headed. We are a diverse, supportive bunch. As President Clinton famously said in the 90's, our diversity is our strength. We must embrace it and not go backwards. On women's rights, I was frankly embarrassed by some of the views Mitt Romney had to stand next to during his party's primary fight. No doubt he will change his views this summer. He has to, as the Republican stances are out of step with where the country needs to go.

The biggest criticism of the President from voters at large is his handling of the economy. The problem with the economy right now is uncertainty. The ironic truth is that the President has been certain in his prescription for the economy. However, since Congress is not doing anything, it's creating uncertainty. The further irony is that Mitt Romney has not said anything about how he would help the economy. If anything, his election would create more uncertainty for businesses of all sizes.

When I first thought to write this column, I was going to relate this year's election to that of 1996. Then, as now, a Democrat was seeking re-election. That Democrat had ideas that would move the country forward (remember "the bridge to the 21st century"?). His opponent was a respected Republican who preferred the nostalgia of the past. I was going to talk about how elections are not times for nostalgia; they are times to look forward.

Except comparing Bob Dole to Mitt Romney is an insult to Bob Dole. Mitt Romney is a caricature of a candidate, saying what he needs to say so people will like him. He said what he needed to say when he was my governor to potentially convince me to vote for him back in 2004. I urge you: Don't be fooled now.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

On Healthcare, Massachusetts Leads The Way, Again

Amid the hoopla about local Massachusetts star Aly Raisman, the Massachusetts legislature this past week wrapped up its session with a frenetic pace, passing dozens of bills in a matter of hours Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning. The local papers really don't care much about what happens at the State House, and the majority of that attention was focused on a new crime bill, which imposes mandatory strict sentences for multiple offenders of certain laws.

In the meantime, Massachusetts legislators passed (and Governor Patrick is expected to sign) an amazing new healthcare bill that has slipped under the radars of almost everyone. The law is focused on healthcare cost containment, and it sets limits as to the growth of healthcare costs.

There's a paragraph break here to let that sit in. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has taken on squarely the challenge of controlling healthcare costs, opening the new chapter in my state's healthcare experiment. Round one was universal healthcare. Check. Round two is reining in spending.

I could not be more proud of the legislature, and my Governor, who worked on the healthcare cost control legislation. Unlike their counterparts in Washington, they actually get things done. The healthcare cost containment law contains many controversial parts. It may not work. But it is addressing what in my opinion is the biggest problem with our healthcare system today-- runaway costs. And it's happening here in Massachusetts, which has already shown it can lead the way with regard to healthcare. (Footnote: This bill passed without the help of a Governor named Romney.)

I don't know for a fact, but I am sure various industry groups were lobbying their brains out around this bill. To be sure, I am not entirely clear how the law will work. The state government is dictating a maximum level of growth for an industry that historically has been ruled by supply and demand. I will be investigating this more among those who are in the know.

The law also encourages the entire healthcare apparatus-- hospitals, doctors, etc.-- to look at their jobs from the standpoint of keeping people healthy, rather than just ordering tests and procedures. The healthcare system in the U.S. makes money by ordering tests and procedures (and prescribing medication), so it follows that the system orders a lot of tests and procedures (and arguably prescribes too much medication). Incenting the system to focus on keeping people healthy-- and rewarding the system for doing so-- will cut out costly procedures and lower costs.

There are many parts of the law that are ambitious and could very well work; one part of the law that in my opinion just won't work encourages end users to evaluate the costs of their own healthcare options. By providing transparency to the healthcare consumer about available procedures and options, the law believes the consumer will become a bargain shopper and pick the less expensive-- and still effective-- option. The problem with this thinking is two-fold. First, as the lion's share of costs are still covered by insurance, there's no real incentive for the end user to pick a cheaper option. Second, and more importantly, most consumers believe more expensive healthcare procedures are better procedures. One is not likely to go on the cheap when it comes to their healthcare.

Still, I applaud my state, its legislature, and Governor Patrick for accomplishing this momentous legislation. One of the biggest failures of universal healthcare in Massachusetts (in my opinion) is the fact that healthcare costs here are still rising. In theory, if everyone has access to basic care (which they now do in Massachusetts), the number of costly emergency room visits will be reduced dramatically, among other circumstances that would bring down costs. Unfortunately, the overall cost of healthcare has not gone down.

Governor Patrick and others realized this. No question about it, the universal healthcare experiment in Massachusetts has worked. Now on to round two. And if history is an accurate judge, we will be debating the same healthcare cost containment ideas on a national stage in the not-so-distant future.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

You Get What You Pay For

It's a pretty simple theory. If you pay more for a product or service, the product is... well better.

Take my little Weber grill.
Grove Circle
Beacon Hill, Boston
May 5, 2012

I bought this grill a long time ago. I can't even remember when. It must have been at least ten years ago. And I know I haven't used the thing since 2006 or so. Today, I pulled it out from cold storage, dusted it off and it started right up. On the first click of the self starter. Which is a good thing, because my little Weber is an important guest to a cookout scheduled for tomorrow.

Why is it not a surprise that the grill has withstood the test of time? It's a Weber. A good brand. And the darn thing wasn't cheap.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Speech That Was Never Given

Yesterday, I was elected a delegate to the Democratic National Convention at a district caucus held in Braintree. The rules for the caucus allow each delegate candidate to give a two-minute speech.

Our caucus actually moved to waive speeches yesterday, so for the reading public, I am posting below the speech I would have given.

April 21, 2012

I first want to recognize my parents, Bonnie and Dave Levanto, who are here today. One fond memory I have is when I drove with them to Manchester, New Hampshire in the fall of 2008 to canvass there for then Senator Barack Obama. My mom-- I think she ended up finding more than 10 solid supporters, and secured a record-setting five requests for lawn signs. So I am hoping that most of you spoke to her today and not my dad.

Democrats, I don't need to convince you here today how important it is for President Barack Obama to be reelected. I do however, need to convince you why I would be a good delegate to the Democratic National Convention. Part of my reasoning is based on the numerous months I have spent volunteering-- in many cases shoulder to shoulder with people in this room-- for candidates and causes that represent Democratic ideals. I have coordinated downtown Boston democrats for President Obama, Governor Deval Patrick, Mayor Tom Menino, Sheriff Andrea Cabral, Boston City Councilor John Connolly, and many other Democrats.

The people I talk to during these efforts are all deeply concerned about the quality of our schools, the security of our streets, and the rapidly widening income gap. In all cases, I have found that the best solutions to their concerns are in President Obama's policies.

I humbly ask for your vote today. A vote for me isn't just a vote for President Obama in Charlotte. A vote for me is a vote for values that we all share. Values reinforced by my experiences working for Democratic candidates, my experiences organizing to make my neighborhood clean, safe and green, and my experiences in the private sector representing growing companies who are changing the world we live in today. Vote for Ross Levanto to support President Obama, and vote for Ross Levanto to support our Democratic values.

Victory: A Delegate to the DNC

Yesterday, I was elected a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. To the 164 people who came to the East Middle School in Braintree yesterday and cast their votes for me, THANK YOU!

I was honored to run yesterday as part of a slate of candidates who will now travel to Charlotte, together, to represent the new 8th Congressional district in Massachusetts. As a member of the slate, I asked those at the caucus who attended on my behalf to vote for the other members of the slate in addition to me.

Thank you to the other members of the slate, including Braintree Mayor Joe Sullivan (who hosted the caucus), Norfolk County District Attorney Mike Morrissey, State Representative Jeff Sanchez, Weymouth Mayor Susan Kay, Kathleen Manson, Shaynah Barnes, Susanne O'Neil, and Ossie Jordan. I look forward to serving with all of you as delegates in Charlotte.

I am FOREVER grateful to those who came to the caucus to support me. You got out of bed relatively early on a Saturday morning, and-- in the case of those who came from my neighborhood-- had to drive nearly a half hour to get to the caucus. Then you sat in a room for a long time. All for one reason-- to cast a vote for me.

I am also thankful to my parents, Bonnie and Dave, who drove up from Connecticut to stand outside, greet voters, and ask that they support me.

Finally, a very special thank you to Mayor Tom Menino and Boston City Councilor John Connolly for their tremendous support during this campaign.

Now, I have begun my preparations to go to the convention. I promise to chronicle my thoughts, as well as activities at the convention, on this blog.

The memory I will have forever from yesterday? How about watching my congressman, Congressman Lynch, voting for me and using the back of my literature to make sure he spelled each slate member's name correctly? The front of my literature is below.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Running to Be a Delegate to the Democratic National Convention

I am running to become a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. Four male delegates and four female delegates are selected from each congressional district in Massachusetts, according to the newly drawn congressional district lines. I live in the new district 8, represented by Congressman Lynch, and to become a delegate, I need to be selected at the district caucus, which is scheduled for Saturday, April 21, at 10 a.m. at East Middle School, 305 River Street, in Braintree.

Any Democrat living in Congressman Lynch's newly drawn district is eligible to come to the caucus and vote, and I humbly ask for your support.

As a delegate, I would bring an important perspective to the national delegation. I am not an elected official, and I do not work for the public sector. I have spent the past nearly 15 years working for innovative private companies---many of them spawned from ideas created by students at Massachusetts colleges and universities. I have worked directly with the founders and CEOs of these companies, providing guidance as to the best way to shape their messages and earn visibility for their technologies.

Along the way and especially over the past four years, I have seen the important role government plays in how these companies grow, prosper and contribute to the economy. Simply put, for a period of time during the middle of the Great Recession, the government's role was vital. My experiences can help shape the dialogue within the party, given that this Presidential campaign features an ongoing national discussion about the role of government in our lives.

When I am not helping entrepreneurs and promoting their ideas, I am helping Democratic causes. This past Tuesday, I was re-elected the Secretary of the Boston Ward 5 Democratic Committee. During my first term, I met dozens of dedicated community organizers and passionate citizens. They believe, like I do, that getting involved in local civics is pivotal to the vibrancy of our communities and the future of our country. Like me, many of them volunteer to support the candidates and campaigns they believe best represent their values.

I am very proud of the Democratic causes I have worked for and the candidates I have supported. This past November, I spent election day on the streets of Jamaica Plain here in Boston (and within Congressman Lynch's new district) making the case that City Councilor Ayanna Pressley should be re-elected.

In 2009, I organized my neighborhood for Mayor Tom Menino during his most recent re-election campaign and believe he is doing a great job for the city.

I have also volunteered for City Councilor John Connolly, who is the hardest working politician I have ever met, Governor Deval Patrick, President Barack Obama, State Representative Marty Walz, Sheriff Andrea Cabral and State Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, among others.

What I like the most about working in local civic politics is talking to my neighbors, who I find are often quite candid about what bothers them. As someone who lives near them, it's nice to be able to help them and to better understand what they like and don't like about what's happening in their neighborhoods.

I believe passionately that the combination of experiences in my life---the energy that comes from helping shape messages and programs that bring new innovations to life in the private sector, and the first-hand accounts provided by those I meet while supporting Democratic causes---would make me an excellent delegate to the DNC. And I ask for your vote and your support.

East Middle School, Braintree, Mass. Directions

For those planning to attend the caucus to select delegates from Congressman Lynch's district to the Democratic National Convention, below are directions to East Middle School in Braintree, Mass. The caucus is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. on Saturday, April 21.

I am running to be a delegate to the DNC, and this caucus is when delegates will be selected. For those who are attending, I humbly ask for your support.

East Middle School
305 River Street
Braintree, Mass.


Whether you are coming from downtown Boston, or from southern parts of the city, the key is to ultimately get on Route 3 south in Braintree. This can be done either by taking 93 South from downtown Boston or by taking 93 North from the Canton area. In either case, take the exit for Route 3 south in Braintree.

Once on Route 3 South:

Take Exit 17 off of Route 3 South for Union Street. You will exit onto a rotary. It's not too far from when you get on Route 3 from Route 93.

Take the third exit off the rotary, which will put you onto Union Street heading toward Braintree. The rotary exit isn't really marked, but it's about 270 degrees around the rotary.

You will take an immediate left once you get off the rotary onto Cleveland Avenue.

You will stay on Cleveland Avenue, which changes into Middle Street, for 0.6 miles. Take a right onto River Street. If you go over the T tracks, you've gone too far on Cleveland/Middle.

Follow River Street to East Middle School. The road splits at the Middle School, leading you to a parking lot in front of the school.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

U.S. Senate 2012: SO Angry To Get Started, Here We Go

The 2012 campaign season has begun, and the headliner in Massachusetts is a U.S. Senate race, as Scott Brown's seat is up this year and he's facing stiff competition from Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard law professor best known for inventing the concept of the federal consumer protection bureau.

I have been out and about collecting signatures for Ms. Warren---As discussed previously on this blog the first step in an election here is to get a candidate on the ballot by collecting signatures on nomination petitions, or "papers," as they are called.

Some early observations:

1) You are either REALLY with Elizabeth Warren, or you're just fine with Scott Brown. I have met two types of voters this year. The first is so overly enthusiastic about Elizabeth Warren defeating Scott Brown that they stop in their tracks and rush over to sign my nomination papers. The second is just kind of like-- "I am fine with Scott Brown." People who are "fine" with someone can be swayed. While current polling shows Scott Brown ahead, I think that's because people don't care about the race yet and haven't thought about the differences between Senator Brown and Elizabeth Warren on the issues. The good news for the Warren camp is that pretty much everyone signing her papers is a supporter and is willing to do a lot more to help her get elected. Typically I find that the majority of people who sign nomination papers don't really have a strong opinion of the candidate but agree that everyone should have the chance to be on the ballot. That's not the case this year.

2) A lot of people are fine with Scott Brown. I was also surprised how in the liberal bastion of Beacon Hill within this liberal city of Boston so many voters are ok with Senator Brown. This early in an election season, voters think in line with favorability, and Senator Brown's favorability numbers are currently high. People like him, and for that reason there's no rush to instinctively vote for someone else.

3) The most enthusiastic Elizabeth Warren supporters are women. I guess this is not surprising, but compared to men, women in general were more likely to have a very negative impression of Senator Brown. As a group they also were better-read about Elizabeth Warren.

4) Why am I knocking on doors in January? Granted, I have not volunteered for a lot of campaigns, but I have never been a part of a campaign that has gotten started so early in the year. I was out knocking on doors in January, which is a little ridiculous. It's a long way from January to November, and that's a lot of time for voters to change their minds. So supporters in January-- well, who knows what they are thinking come November.

This is going to be a very tough fight for Elizabeth Warren, but based on initial impressions, there is a path to victory. The key for Warren supporters like me is to convince those who are towing the favorability line that Senator Brown's views are not good for the country. You might want to have a beer with the guy, but Elizabeth Warren's ideas are better for America. I also think a lot of voters who haven't yet started paying attention yet think Elizabeth Warren's personality is the same as Martha Coakley's (she ran against Senator Brown last time). I say this because, truth be told, Elizabeth Warren would be a cool person to have a beer with, too.

I have never been a part of a campaign that has assembled so many volunteers so early in the race. I have also never seen a group of volunteers so eager to do something and so angry that there really isn't anything to do, yet.

Strong Elizabeth Warren supporters should be resting up. Because come this summer, we're going to be speaking 24/7 to anyone who will listen (and even those who won't), explaining to them that Elizabeth Warren is a brilliant success story who has already successfully created policies that are in the best interests of us all. The more they hear, the more voters will be persuaded that liking Scott Brown is just not good enough.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Shame on Boston University

I guess I was just too naive. The godlike college sports culture that has infected campuses like Penn State, my beloved UCONN and others... That couldn't happen at Boston University.

BU still plays basketball in a venue that looks like a high school gym. Making the NCAA tournament for almost all athletes there means missing a few critical days of classes. Even the decentralized composure of the BU campus-- elongated down elegant Commonwealth Avenue-- it just doesn't lend itself to campus pep rallies.

But I can't hide behind my ignorance anymore. The influence of college athletics is evident at Boston University. And this school year, the influence is rearing its head publicly. Two Boston University hockey players have been arrested in recent months for alleged sexual assault charges against female students.

In response to the most recent arrest, which happened last weekend, Boston University President Bob Brown has established a task force to investigate whether the hockey team has created a culture that supports activity unbecoming the university, including violence against women. It's noble that President Brown took this action even ahead of resolution of the charges against each player--at this point they are still alleged to have assaulted female students. However, President Brown's action does not go nearly far enough.

I work in the PR business, and when I hear "task force," I translate that to mean an institution trying to sweep something under a rug. According to a letter from President Brown, the task force will render judgement this summer. This summer? It's a brilliant PR move, so that next summer the task force can issue a slap on the wrist. The players allegedly involved in the recent incidents will be long gone from campus; chances are the women involved will be, too. Ironically enough, I provide this perspective based on practices taught to me while I was a student at BU.

Even more disturbing than the pathetic task force are comments from BU's hockey coach, Jack Parker, in response to Brown's actions. My jaw pretty much hit the floor when I read this portion of a recent Boston Globe story:

“You can’t change the culture that’s evolved here; we’re not going to be able to step into people’s lives and change them drastically,’’ he said, referring to heavy drinking, casual sexual encounters, and co-ed dormitories.

What "culture" exactly is Parker referring to? If it's the culture created by his hockey team then isn't there a clear way for the University-- and he more specifically-- to step in and change their lives?

To President Brown and Coach Parker, it's crunch time. The veneer over college athletics has been pulled back. Penn State made sure of that. As was the case in College Park, we are dealing not merely with a culture created by college athletics that supports illegal activity; we are dealing with alleged crimes supported by that culture that are beyond horrific. The mere allegations should prompt a swift and decisive response from the university.

President Brown, I call on you to immediately take the following actions:

1) Enact the recommendations made by BU's Center for Gender, Sexuality and Activism, according to the Boston Globe, and hire someone who can provide counseling to the alleged victims. Provide immediate, mandatory training to all athletes regarding potential sexual activities that are not acceptable within the BU community.

2) Impose a zero-tolerance policy on all BU athletes regarding their conduct. Extend rules of conduct to involve multiple areas of their lives-- drinking, social activity, even dress code. It is a privilege for these students to wear the uniform, and no doubt the vast majority of the athletes know this. Enforcing the rules related to that privilege-- and creating rules that do not exist-- merely supports the good standing of the vast majority of the athletes. If athletes break the rules, they will be immediately suspended from their respective teams.

3) Lean on experts in the areas of violence toward women, and accept and implement any and all recommendations from them so that BU can create a culture where women feel comfortable talking about situations where they are threatened or are victims. I am not an expert on the topic, but I fear there are many other women who have been victims that don't have the extraordinary courage necessary to come forward.

Above all, I don't want to hear anything more about a task force.

Even today, many years after leaving campus, I often gather with fellow alumni and we pontificate about how former President John Silber would have reacted to certain events on campus. If he were President today, BU's college hockey season would be over.

Editor's Note: Pull-out quote from: "BU to Investigate Hockey Culture," by Mary Carmichael; Boston Globe (online version), February 24, 2012.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Spirit of the Rivalry

With good friend (and BC supporter) Sarah McNeeley at the Beanpot
TD Garden, Boston
February 14, 2005

The Beanpot is a uniquely Boston event. Every year, during the first two Mondays in February, the four local Boston college hockey teams: Boston College, Harvard, Northeastern and my alma mater, Boston University, face off in a round-robin tournament. The games don't count toward conference standings (even though three of the teams play in Hockey East), and in the minds of anyone outside of Boston, the tournament in reality means nothing. Yet a ticket to the Beanpot is one of the most sought-aftern items in town.

I have been fortunate enough to attend the Beanpot tournament each year since I was a freshman at Boston University in 1995. For the majority of the past 10 Beanpots, I have sat nearside good friend Sarah McNeeley, pictured above, a loyal graduate of Boston College, BU's Commonwealth Avenue rival. The Beanpot would not be the Beanpot unless a fan of your arch rival is sitting a few feet away.

Tomorrow night, BU and BC play for the Beanpot title, and yes I will again be sitting somewhere near Mrs. McNeeley. In preparation, I just made a trip to the BU Bookstore to garb up. Apparel is crucial.

BU fans take the Beanpot very seriously because it's the only sporting event that the Terriers can actually win. The Beanpot turns 60 this year, and the BU team has carried the Beanpot championship trophy back to campus 29 times.

If BU wins tomorrow, the tally climbs to 30, 1/2 of all Beanpots played. Hopefully Sarah doesn't spill a beer on me.

Ross Levanto, Known Scotch Drinker

Yesterday I watched "Safe House."

During one scene, CIA agents tracking the protagonists noted another individual who had just entered the plot, a gentleman named Villar. They described him as "Carlos Villar, known document forger." One of the main characters, played by Denzel Washington, visited Villar, who happened to be an old friend, to get a new fake passport.

It got me thinking of what the CIA says about me, in that short descriptor that would follow my name. "Ross Levanto, known PR practitioner," doesn't exactly have a furtive ring to it. Maybe in Boston they would say "Ross Levanto, known Yankee fan."

One excellent point made by a good friend following the movie: If Villar is a "known document forger," why don't the police just go arrest him? I guess the whole point with the descriptor is to be known as someone who, while on the lam, is not really worth paying attention to---unless Denzel Washington shows up.

I have decided I would like to be described this way: "Ross Levanto, known Scotch drinker." And I welcome Denzel for a pour anytime.

Local Democratic Caucuses: Cardboard, Glue and Scissors

I was watching CNN coverage of the Presidential caucuses in Minnesota and Colorado this past week, and the announcers were somewhat amazed at the crude nature of the proceedings. Votes made on paper, tallies counted by hand, and oftentimes results written on a chalkboard. CNN rushed to deliver the counts from the inside of the caucus room: Romney 9, Santorum 8. Early momentum!

I have helped lug poster board to local political caucuses for a few years now, so the low-tech nature of these gatherings is not a shock to me. And yesterday, all across Massachusetts, Democrats began to gather in local caucuses to conduct business with sharpies and easels.

In American politics, caucuses are where the process comes closest to the people. While those who help organize the caucuses-- myself included-- typically have an agenda and course of events in mind, the reality is a caucus is run by the people who attend. It's an opportunity on the most local level for voters to influence the course of their party.

The Massachusetts Democratic Party identifies a window of a few weeks this time of year for the party's most local bodies-- ward committees and city and town committees- to host caucuses. That window opened yesterday and continues through February. My local committee, the Boston Ward 5 Democratic Committee, hosts its caucus on Saturday, February 18 at 10 a.m. at the First Church in Boston in the Back Bay.

Within the party organization, the caucus serves at least one very important function, selecting delegates to represent the local committee at the state party convention, which is typically held the first Saturday in June. Most don't know this, but the state convention is where candidates for state-wide office are selected. This year, Elizabeth Warren and Marisa DeFranco are vying to become the party's nominee in the U.S. Senate race against Senator Scott Brown. If both candidates do not earn at least 15-percent of the delegate vote at the state convention, then only one of them will move on, and there will be no need for a primary in the race. So those delegates are important.

There are a lot of intricacies to the process, but the reality is, it all does start with the caucuses, with individual party members (aka registered Democrats) getting their chance in a public forum to influence party business. For all the talk of insider baseball and party favors, we often lose sight of the fact that fundamentally, the Democratic party must return to the people each year and organize the local caucuses.

If you are a registered Democrat, I encourage you to find your local caucus and participate. Those who live in Beacon Hill, Back Bay, Fenway, Bay Village, and the part of Chinatown in Ward 5, I will see you on the 18th.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

It's America's Big Party Sunday

Now I admit I like football, but really what's not to like about the Superbowl?

There's a lot of food. There are celebrities and even red carpets. Oh, and yes, there's a football game.

They say that today's game will be the most watched television event ever. And not everyone is watching for the football. There are the new commercials. Most are available online, but it still is something to see them live.

Many restaurants in Boston are having football parties, but the Superbowl is really about gathering with friends and/or family. Going to house parties where the crock pots have been on and where the betting chart is on the wall.

And then there's the halftime show.

There won't be anyone on the roads in Boston between 6 and 10 this evening. And many restaurants are closed too, including one of my favorites Panificio on Beacon Hill (which is closing at 5).

To everyone enjoying this great American holiday, I wish you the best. And since according to the Wall Street Journal some 1.25 billion chicken wings will be consumed today, does anyone have any TUMS?

Oh, and go Patriots!

Sunday, January 08, 2012

What Casinos Will do in Mass.: A Profile of Norwich, Conn.

Norwich, Conn.
November 20, 2011

Few people know this, but Foxwoods Casino wasn't always Foxwoods. Before it became the wonder in the Connecticut woods, Foxwoods was a bingo hall. I remember driving past it each summer when I was a kid sitting in the back of my family's station wagon, on the way to the Connecticut shore. A short road off of state highway 2 led to a low rise building. It looked pretty depressing, but at least it meant we were more than halfway to the coast and the family boat.

Foxwoods Casino opened in late 1992, when I was a junior in high school. The region was still struggling through a tough economic recovery, as the recession of the early 90's took away the demand for the region's defense-industry-driven technology and manufacturing. Foxwoods promised to be part of the answer, bringing jobs and revitalizing the beleaguered towns surrounding it. A sister casino, Mohegan Sun, came a few years later, located roughly ten minutes or so by car from Foxwoods, within the village of Uncasville, nestled by the Thames River at the site of the former United Nuclear Corporation, which was a victim of the aforementioned recession.

Uncasville, as the crow flies, is only a few miles from downtown Norwich, an area of the state that has struggled for decades to shake off an economic shroud suffocating its own development. It was one area the casinos were supposed to help.

It would make sense that to see what we can expect here in Massachusetts, now that casinos are on the way, one would travel to Norwich to see what has happened there in the 15 or 20 years since casinos first arrived. I warn you, it's a pretty depressing trip, for the depression that still grips downtown Norwich is a reason I don't live there.

The weekend before Thanksgiving, I took the trip back to downtown Norwich with my brother Brett and his wife Holly. We drove from my parents' house after celebrating the 90th birthdays of both of my grandmothers, who were born in Norwich.

So I write this post with quite a bit of trepidation, because I love the area of Connecticut that I grew up in. The Norwich Free Academy, my high school with cheery blossoms, a museum and a sprawling campus befitting a small college, is only a short jog away from where I took the pictures and the videos for this post. It is my love of the area that fuels my frustration now, and I feel this post (as well as those sure to follow it on this topic) is necessary to show my neighbors in Massachusetts what to expect, and to explain why I am so definitively opposed to casinos here. So let's begin our tour.

All the pictures below were taken on Main Street in Norwich, Conn. on Sunday, November 20, 2011.

Not sure what Brett is looking at, as the shop is empty.

Last time I was here, this was a nightclub, which gave me hope, as this building was previously empty. It's empty again.

Pretty uninviting. Probably not best to be here at night.

Just one of many condemned buildings.

A pawn shop. Not that I needed to write that.

Just scary images all around.

The only businesses that have survived in downtown Norwich are those related to the courthouse there. There is a large law firm and a bail bond agency. Oh and then there's Billy Wilson's, the local watering hole.

We stopped in at a newer pub, The Harp & Dragon, for lunch. Amazingly, it was actually a pleasant experience. The football games were on, and the bartenders were wearing football uniforms. I spotted one of my high school classmates there.

"This place is pretty cool," I shouted out.

"Yeah," he shrugged. "Makes you forget you are in Norwich."

Next time I go there, I will report back if the Harp & Dragon is still an option.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Why The Charles Street Market Matters

Charles Street Market
January 7, 2012

A zoning decision at Boston City Hall scheduled for February 28 could have a significant impact on the vibrancy of the Beacon Hill community in Boston. And in what could only be called ironic, protecting the neighborhood involves, as one neighbor pointed out in a community meeting this week, defending 7/11 community markets.

The issue involves a local supermarket, called the Charles Street Market, which sits at the corner of Charles and Mt. Vernon Streets on Beacon Hill. Many would call that corner the geographic epicenter of the community. There's significant foot traffic from residents and visitors. Mt. Vernon is one of the few two-way streets within Beacon Hill, while Charles Street is essentially the neighborhood's main street, and the market is located where they intersect. The community selects that corner each year as the location for its Christmas Tree. Local groups, such as the Beacon Hill Civic Association (BHCA), have significant plans for the spot, including a potential outdoor "mall" where traffic is prohibited.

Capital One Bank, which only recently entered retail banking, would like to take over the space occupied by the market. The bank has outbid the owner of the market to rent the space. The current building owner bought the property from the 7/11 market chain a year ago. He found a tenant willing to continue the market, and the shop changed names to the current Charles Street Market.

The possibility of losing the market has neighbors very upset. I attended community this past week on the issue. Representatives from Capital One and the owner of the building appeared before the Beacon Hill Civic Association's Zoning and Licensing committee. You see, in order for Capital One to move in, they need a variance from Boston's Zoning board, because the property in question is licensed as both retail and residential. As part of that process, they must appear before the community.

BHCA zoning & licensing committee meeting
74 Joy Street, Boston
January 4, 2012

I have never been to a better attended community meeting, including during the recent debate about the future of Suffolk University. The room was packed (others told me today the count was about 180). And in a manner that is somewhat atypical for my neighbors, we didn't pull out the pitchforks and torches. The reasoning for universal opposition to losing the market was quite rational.

One neighbor noted how the market is the only place on the street she can visit late at night when she feels threatened. Another talked about the over saturation of banks on Charles Street. Another noted how the neighborhood is being victimized by the bank--Capital One is placing branches in other strategic locations in downtown Boston, including in the Back Bay-- as part of a broader marketing strategy.

Perhaps the most sensible, and passionate, part of the meeting came when two well-known members of the local business community, Babak Bina (who owns two restaurants near Charles Street) and Ivy Turner (a local real estate agent), took the floor. Bina said it pained him, "as a fellow business owner, to oppose another business owner," but that Capital One's takeover of the corner would "hurt other businesses" on the street. He noted how several of the past presidents of the Beacon Hill Business Association (himself included) opposed the variance (e.g. they don't want the bank to come).

Turner's plea was conciliatory, and in my opinion, effective. She asked the owner of the building to work with local business owners, who would be willing to help to find an appropriate tenant for the space. Turner summarized the sentiment of the room-- that we all believe losing the market would hurt the neighborhood--in a way that provided the building owner an escape hatch. I only hope the owner will take it.