Saturday, September 14, 2013

Boston Mayoral Endorsement: John Connolly

With Mayoral Candidate John Connolly
August 7, 2013

If you could not figure it out from reading this blog, I kind of like Boston. I like clam chowder, and I like seasons. I like how the city is close to the beach and the ski slopes. I like how its skyline is welcoming to a weary traveler. I like how Boston is a city of neighborhoods, each fiercely unique.

The Boston I live in today is in its heyday. Perhaps the best barometer is the number of cranes visible across the city. Atop a Beacon Street roofdeck recently, I counted 20. People want to work, live and play here.

But Boston has problems. Some are small but clearly visible---the hindrances that are tradeoffs for the conveniences of city life, like the rats that sneak into the garbage left outside at night. Others demonstrate visible symptoms today, and will have serious consequences down the line if left untreated.

For me, the biggest Boston problem is young professional flight. Earlier this year, a couple I know well that lived in the South End moved out of town, ahead of the birth of their second child. They now live in some random "H" town on the south shore.

With their move, they took with them the enthusiasm they had for Boston, the commitment they would have brought to their community, and the energy they could have contributed to the fabric of the city.

They left Boston because they couldn't afford to live here. Most eviscerally, they could not afford the larger apartment in the South End. But from a more abstract perspective, they couldn't afford to gamble on the city's education system, and they couldn't afford to send their kids to private school as an "out."

I do not mean to pick on my freinds for leaving. I don't blame them. It's a scene I have seen repeated often in the years since my matriculation from Boston University. And the departure of so many young couples and families is a drain for the city, one that threatens the vibrancy of Boston's communities over the long term.

Their departure represents the convergence of a few challenges facing the city. Young professionals (like me) do not know there are strong, growing (and safe) neighborhoods throughout Boston---not just in the downtown neighborhoods. Many of those neighborhoods are affordable and are much further along than the "up-and-coming" label typically given them. At the same time, Boston needs to encourage mid-market housing. Developers need incentives to build with the young family in mind, in all parts of the city.

And then there are the schools. Whether they have a bad PR rap or not is the subject of another blog, but the perception is they are just not very good.

John Connolly shares my concern for the problems I see, and he has plans to address these challenges, among a long list of progressive programs he has outlined. And that is why I am voting for him on September 24 to be the next Mayor of Boston.

Before I go on, let me just say that if you had told me just a few months ago I would be writing this blog post, I would have told you to get out of town. We're in the midst of one of the most dramatic election seasons in the city's history. Over the next several weeks, the entire government of the city will change. For that very reason alone, this is a crucial election. Add to that the fact that the newly elected Mayor might keep that office for a long period of time, and the stakes seem insurmountable.

I first met John Connolly when he was running for Boston City Council at-large back in 2005. Since then, I have never met a harder working politician. I was floored when he actually lost in 2005. It was no surprise he tried again in 2007 and was victorious.

Beyond the fact that he's a hard worker, and he has a plan to address what I feel is the biggest challenge facing the city, John Connolly is not afraid to take a stand. Most recently, he turned down a $500,000 independent expenditure---telling the organization offering to support him that he didn't want it. John believes strongly that Boston's decision on our next Mayor should be left to the citizens of the city. He feels there is no place for outside money in this election.

He turned down $500,000 worth of support. That takes guts.

On education, John is betting his tenure as Mayor on the issue. He has made it such a central part of his campaign that he has to deliver change and improvements if elected, or he will face serious consequences down the line. I like that he's willing to go "all-in" on schools, and I like his ideas. He wants to cultivate the innovation within charter schools and bring the ideas incubated there to all other schools. He's willing to stand up to the teacher's union if it makes sense to make our schools better. I am the son of an elementary school teacher who taught me Kindergarten. I know first hand that public schools work if communities and teachers have confidence in them. John Connolly has a plan to make that happen.

On a variety of other issues this election, John Connolly and I also see eye-to-eye. He agrees that the Boston Redevelopment Authority needs to be reformed to make it more transparent---that the planning and development processes should be separated.

John Connolly understands that Boston must continue to be a city that supports innovation. He wants to make it easier for small businesses to get their start. And he sees strength in the budding innovation district as a place where new technologies will come to market. He plans to bring significant technology to City Hall, which will among other things remove red tape in the permitting process for residents and businesses alike. I would love for City Hall to feel like the Apple Store.

Don't worry, we do disagree on issues. I would like John Connolly to have a more aggressive stance on casinos---specifically in opposition to them. As I have written on this blog, casinos suck economic oxygen out of the areas around them. But that debate has come and gone and the reality is, casinos are coming to Massachusetts.

As exciting as this election cycle has been, it's also personal. I know Mike Ross and Felix Arroyo, two other candidates. Ross was one of the first politicians I ever met after moving to Beacon Hill in 1999, when he was running for City Council. I have heard nothing but good things about Councilor Rob Consalvo, Representative Marty Walsh, and Bill Walczak. Trust me when I tell you I have thought about my choice for a long time.

With elections on September 24 and November 5, Boston residents will elect a new government for the city. The newly elected Mayor will have huge shoes to fill. That person will have to keep Boston's momentum going, without any hiccups. I want someone who will work hard, and someone who agrees with me on the challenges Boston faces. I want someone who would like for me to stay in the city and raise a family here.

For me, that someone is John Connolly.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

VOTE May 28: State Rep Race in Downtown Boston

Josh Dawson and Jay Livingstone have put their lives on hold for the Boston residents of Beacon Hill, Back Bay and the West End. They are running to be the State Representative for those neighborhoods. A race that began in late January, with the resignation of the previous representative Marty Walz, reaches its presumptive end on May 28, when voters will pick either Livingstone and Dawson in a special primary.

The district they seek to represent at the State House, the 8th Suffolk, is heavily Democratic-- and both Livingstone and Dawson are Democrats. Whoever wins the primary on the 28th will ultimately win the final election on June 25.

All candidates say their races are important; most even say their elections are "the most important." It's a cliche. And I am not going to argue that this election on May 28 is more important than what might be going on Memorial Day weekend. However, elections without an incumbent are very rare in Massachusetts. The winner on May 28 may be our State Representative for a long time. So I am asking anyone reading this who lives in Beacon Hill, Back Bay or the West End in Boston to vote on May 28.

When I speak to voters, they express concerns about what is going on next door. Here on Beacon Hill, a major effort is under way to earn a local public school (even more local than the school proposed for a site near North Station). Residents also worry about local development; a relatively recent proposal to build a large structure where a garage is near City Hall met fierce opposition. Voters also worry about trash and safety. They care about the Esplanade and traffic created by construction on public road ways.

These are local concerns. Our local elected officials impact them. Which is why you should vote in your local elections, such as the special primary for the 8th Suffolk State Representative on May 28.

State Representatives vote on budgets that give money to local municipalities, helping them provide education, public safety and public services. They protect the pubic parks owned by the State. They make sure values the voters care about are reflected in state legislation.

If you live in the 8th Suffolk district, you might not know that your district has a long rich history of representation. Former Congressman Barney Frank held the seat. As did a man with the last name Roosevelt. It's considered an activist seat; it's owner is known for being particularly loud in representing its constituents. Representative Walz often spoke on issues that the State House doesn't even have jurisdiction over, including local education and development issues. Voters in the 8th Suffolk district have come to expect-- even demand-- to see their State Rep everywhere.

State Representatives matter. This Tuesday, May 21, the Boston Ward 5 Democratic Committee will host an event to talk about how they matter. The 7 p.m. panel at the Community Church of Boston at 565 Boylston Street will feature former State Rep Paul Demakis and current State Reps Aaron Michlewitz and Byron Rushing.

The polls will be open on May 28 from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. There won't be a line. Take a few minutes to review the websites for the two candidates, Josh Dawson and Jay Livingstone. They differ on key issues. Download a free voters' guide from the Boston Ward 5 Democratic Committee. Make a decision and get out there and exercise your right to vote.

Experts I have spoken to say the turnout on May 28 will be about 1500. That ridiculously small number will decide who represents the West End, Beacon Hill and Back Bay on what most voters say are their number one issues. That small number will pick the person who we will expect to be omnipresent in local affairs. That small number will help define the political feelings of this area in Boston for months to come. I urge you to be one among that small number.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

What the Governor Has in Common With Simpson/Bowles

You probably don't remember this, but long before the sequester there was the Simpson/Bowles Commission. The same agreement that created the sequester created the Commission. President Obama and the Republican leadership ended the debt ceiling debate during the summer of 2011 by asking the commission to come up with ways to reduce the debt, ideas that would be passed by Congress so that the cuts demanded by the sequester would not be needed.

Simpson/Bowles stands for former Senator Alan Simpson (a Republican) and former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles (a Democrat). The commission they led submitted ideas late in 2011. The ideas were pretty universally derided. Why? Because they included things Republicans hate and things Democrats hate. So everyone pretty much hated it.

The Simpson/Bowles Commission recommendations included a lot of things I liked. They talked about changing the tax code, dramatically, so it would both be more progressive and would create more revenue. They talked about reforming many entitlement programs so they would last, without their being destroyed or ruled insolvent in the years ahead.

Defenestrated in 2011, almost everyone agrees now the Simpson/Bowles ideas were good ones.

Which brings me to this year's budget plan, proposed by Governor Deval Patrick, to raise revenue in Massachusetts. A lot of people don't like it, because the plan both raises taxes and reduces them. The plan lays bare the reality that to deal with transportation and infrastructure issues, the state needs money. And it goes about raising that money in a way that's fair.

I like the Governor's plan because it makes taxes fairer. It raises income taxes while lowering the sales tax. Everyone needs to buy things, so the sales tax universally benefits all residents and businesses. Meanwhile, the income tax is progressive, as you make more and experience more wealth, you are asked to contribute more. And in the end, those who make the least benefit the most, which makes sense as they have the least to give.

The initial reactions to the Governor's plan from many state legislators was pretty negative, because it includes ideas anathema to today's political discourse--namely taxes. I am hoping that, like with the ideas from the Simpson/Bowles Commission, time will ease initial passions, and the Governor's plan will ultimately pass.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Race to Fill The 8th Suffolk Seat-- Update

The sprint to fill former Representative Marty Walz's Massachusetts State House seat-- the 8th Suffolk-- is underway across Back Bay, Beacon Hill and the West End in Boston. Two of those neighborhoods-- Back Bay and Beacon Hill-- sit within Boston's Ward 5. This race could not get more local... or personal.

Ten days ago, the three announced candidates running for the seat-- Nils Tracy, Jay Livingstone and Josh Dawson, appeared before the Boston Ward 5 Democratic Committee. They each spoke for a few minutes in front of the committee.

Here are a few observations on the race, to this point:

It's a sprint, but it certainly feels like a long sprint. 

The first step in the process of running for office in Massachusetts involves gathering signatures for a petition to place a candidate on the ballot. This process is well underway. However, only 150 certified signatures are required to get a candidate on the ballot (certified meaning the petition was signed by a registered voter living in the district [and for the appropriate party, as necessary for the primary]).

While gathering signatures is not easy (trust me), 150 is not a lot. By contrast, those running in the special senate race here need 10,000 certified signatures. Moreover, candidates still have well over a month to collect signatures. There still is plenty of time to decide to run.

The candidates are not shy about crossing the river.

All three declared candidates live in Boston (two on Beacon Hill and one in the Back Bay). The 8th Suffolk district includes a nice portion of Cambridge, including MIT and, fittingly, Cambridge's Ward 5. I have heard of the candidates making the trek across the river quite frequently. It not only makes sense from a standpoint of retail politics, but everyone is waiting to see if a Cambridge candidate emerges in the race.

Don't hold your breath waiting for a Republican.

The district is heavily Democratic, and in certain areas, it's very progressive. Whoever wins the Democratic primary will win the final election.

Discussions of issues have yet to emerge.

It's probably not worth dissecting the candidates stances on the issues. There will be time for that later in the race, and it's fair to give the candidates room to learn more about the district and to cement their own views.

It is fair to say at this point that no candidate has made one issue the central focus of their campaign. For example, no one is the "anti-casino" candidate. Of course, this could change as the campaign runs its course.

The special primary in the 8th Suffolk Representative race is scheduled for May 28, and the final election is scheduled for June 25.

NOTE: I have decided to stay publicly neutral in this race. Two of my close friends are running.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Want State Rep. Marty Walz's Seat? Read Here First

Yesterday, my state representative, Marty Walz, resigned her seat to take a position with the Massachusetts Chapter of Planned Parenthood. To say this news was a surprise is a massive understatement. Representative Walz was re-elected just this past November, and as recently as earlier this week she was active on her Facebook page, posting data to support a cause she believes is right for her constituents.

But alas, Representative Walz's seat will be open soon, which means a special election to fill her seat. Numerous would-be successors are contemplating a run to replace her. Some of them are my friends, which will no doubt put me in an awkward situation very soon. And the issues the candidates will address are equally personal to me.

Former House Speaker Tip O'Neill said, "All Politics is local," and the politics of a Boston state representative cannot get any more local. A state representative's district in Boston includes fewer constituents than any other elected office (including Boson City Councilor).

To those considering running for Representative Marty Walz's seat, here are the big issues needing your immediate attention. I apologize that these issues have such as Boston tilt, given the district includes part of Cambridge, but it's the reality based on where I live.

1) A downtown neighborhood school.
With the recent attention to Mayor Menino's school section reform committee, and competing initiatives from Councilor Connolly, the first question to any candidate for Rep. Walz's seat will be: "Do you support the need for a downtown neighborhood public school?" Heck, given how almost everyone downtown wants a neighborhood school, the follow-up question might end up being the first question: "How are you going to make a downtown neighborhood school happen?"

A few neighborhoods that currently do not have a public school, the West End, Back Bay and Beacon Hill, all fit nicely and neatly in Rep. Walz's district.

Merely advocating for a downtown school overlooks the far more complicated and important challenge of making Boston's schools better, which I agree is probably the City's number one priority. If you build a local school downtown, how do you decide who gets to go there? Certainly it cannot just be for kids living downtown. And how does the provincial issue of a downtown school address the need to make all of Boston's schools more community-centric?

While the issue of schools is primarily one for the City and not the state, the local state representative can use the position to be a strong advocate for the community.

2) Potential elimination of the BRA.
Many progressive voters in Rep. Walz's district don't like the Boston Redevelopment Authority. They will eagerly vote for a candidate supporting the BRA's destruction. But the BRA isn't going anywhere, and the popular answer overlooks the larger issue of transparency with regard to Boston development.

If you really ask people why they don't like the BRA, they tend to point to transparency. The irony of course is the BRA exists to make the development design process as transparent as it can be, given that no project will earn 100-percent support of all affected constituents.

3) The casino.
In my opinion, there hasn't been enough talk about how a casino built in East Boston will affect economic activity in Back Bay. I saw first hand how a casino can have a dramatic, negative impact on local business, based on my formative years growing up in Connecticut. Per state law, only East Boston gets to vote on whether a casino should be built there, which dramatically under-represents the impact the casino will have on other Boston neighborhoods. Large droves of would-be Newbury Street shoppers will go to the casino instead of downtown. Anyone who thinks otherwise is just plain wrong. Therefore, downtown interests must be weighed within the casino debate, and the state representative for Back Bay and Beacon Hill needs to lead this advocacy.

4) Institutional expansion
Beacon Hill is surrounded by big entities hoping to get bigger. Suffolk University and Mass General are two examples. Some of my neighbors believe the mere presence of these institutions is detrimental to the neighborhood. Certainly left unchecked, their desires could run afoul to the best interests of residents. However, it would be equally detrimental if the institutions picked up and left. There has to be a balance.


I have been to many local political debates where the oratory stays high level. Candidates will uniformly talk about clean parks, safe streets and good schools. But in the upcoming special state representative race, the devil is in the details. Many voters will look for black and white answers to one or more of the issues above as a litmus test for their vote. I fear that many of my fellow residents will ignore the nuanced nature of each of issue, casting aside candidates who consider alternatives to a downtown public school, for example, or those who try to extend an olive branch to local organizations like Suffolk.

I admit it will be hard for me to vote for a candidate who supports the casino. But I will try to avoid a litmus test in this race. From what I am hearing so far, I might have several candidates to evaluate.

To the candidates, now is the time to study up.