Turnout at polls lowest in decades
Arroyo loses City Council seat
By Donovan Slack and Matt Viser, Globe Staff | November 7, 2007
Boston's voter turnout plummeted to its lowest level in more than two decades yesterday, especially in the city's predominantly nonwhite neighborhoods, a tide of apathy that swept the City Council's only Latino member, Felix Arroyo, out of office.
Only 13.6 percent of registered voters cast ballots yesterday, less than half of the average turnout in similar elections since 1985, in which council seats were up for grabs but there was no mayoral election. Turnout in those elections ranged from 23 percent to 32 percent.
Reversing a trend of increasing voting by minority groups set over the last five years, turnout was especially low in nonwhite communities and disproportionately strong in traditionally white, Irish enclaves of South Boston, West Roxbury, and Dorchester. The shift propelled West Roxbury lawyer John Connolly onto the council, replacing Arroyo.
Community leaders and voting advocacy groups blamed the low turnout on a number of factors. A cold, gray drizzle blanketed much of Eastern Massachusetts for most of the day. And for the first time, there was no preliminary election this year to take the temperature of the electorate and inspire voters to rally behind vulnerable candidates. More broadly, it marks a further decline in Boston's storied culture of local political involvement, in which ward-level politics has been a crucial part of the community fabric.
"This is a very disturbing and discouraging turnout, coming almost a year to the day that we had a record gubernatorial turnout," said Secretary of State William F. Galvin, referring to an election in which turnout was so high that many precincts in Boston ran out of ballots. "It's a lack of a campaign and lack of inspiring messages."
Some observers say there has been an apathy among Boston residents that has been growing for years, the result of a transient population, younger demographics, and more diverse residents who are less likely to vote.
Although certain elections have increased voter turnout in nonwhite districts - fueled largely by excitement around candidates such as Deval Patrick, the state's first black governor, Sheriff Andrea Cabral, and Councilor Sam Yoon - the minority communities that comprise a majority of the city's population have not yet become fully politically engaged in the same way as the Irish ward bosses and the mayor's political machine, observers say.
"There was a genuine interest in Boston politics, and now it's about as moribund as it could be," said Michael McCormack, who ran for City Council in 1981 against 40 opponents. "If it were any more moribund, it would be a cadaver."
"In some of the suburban communities, there seems to be more interest than in the city," he added.
Voter turnout for mayoral elections yesterday in Quincy, Fall River, and Brockton hovered around 50 percent.
Along with Connolly, incumbents Michael F. Flaherty of South Boston, Stephen J. Murphy of Hyde Park, and Sam Yoon of Dorchester will fill the council's four at-large seats.
In the district races, Maureen E. Feeney of Dorchester, Charles C. Yancey of Mattapan, and Chuck Turner of Roxbury successfully fended off challengers. In Allston-Brighton longtime city employee Mark S. Ciommo beat Assistant District Attorney Gregory J. Glennon to win an open district seat.
Five district councilors ran unopposed, the most since at least the 1990s, another factor that might have contributed to record no-shows at the polls yesterday.
The larger shift away from civic engagement that some say has been occurring over decades is due to massive shifts in the city's demographics. Immigrants now account for more than 1 in 10 Boston residents, and one third are between the ages of 20 and 34, according to data compiled by the city. Those populations traditionally don't vote, which shifts the focus of get-out-the-vote efforts to other blocs.
Arroyo's loss marks a dramatic fall for the councilor, who was elected in 2003 and had such a trajectory that he was frequently mentioned as a mayoral candidate.
But several nonwhite leaders said his political capital began to wane, and he did a poor job of mobilizing his supporters.
In June, he did not gain endorsement of the Ward 5 Democratic Committee, which includes Arroyo's liberal base on Beacon Hill and in the Back Bay and in 2005 gave him its only endorsement.
Over the past year, he has been criticized for spotty attendance at City Council meetings, few legislative items passed, and a general lack of interest in the council. Some councilors began referring to his chief of staff, Jamie Willmuth, as the "shadow councilor" because he attends so many meetings on Arroyo's behalf.
Never a prodigious fund-raiser, Arroyo raised even less this year than in previous elections. He had $1,101 in his account on Oct. 31, while his opponents averaged around $60,000.
After the results were in, Arroyo said the lack of interest in the race, and the elimination of the preliminary election hurt his candidacy.
"It really created problems for people who are not traditional voters," he said. "But, hey, you put your record on the line and see what happens."
Arroyo gathered with supporters at Slades Bar & Grill in Roxbury and said he accepted the people's "verdict" and was grateful he had the privilege of serving them for four years.
There are only a handful of cases in recent memory in which Boston incumbents were unseated.
Flaherty unseated Dapper O'Neil in an at-large race in 1999; Diane Modica lost her seat in 1997; and David Scondras was ousted in 1993, by 27 votes.
At polling places yesterday, voters trickled in carrying umbrellas and wearing rain slickers. As turnout reached only 7 percent at 3 p.m., city officials began to worry.
"There's a lot of lonely poll workers out there," Boston Election Commissioner Geraldine Cuddyer said. "It's very, very sad."
Boston Politics = Machine Politics
LOW VOTER TURN-OUT NUMBERS IN BOSTON's 11/6/2007 Local Election, especially by minority voters, who make up a majority of Boston's residents.
My thoughts on the matter are that local government has traditionally been for the masses or "have nots". If you were poor or middle class, (not part of the upper 10%'s Corporate Elite), you were encouraged to participate at City Hall.
I don't understand what has happened to the democratization of local politics in America. Would someone out there please explain to me what has changed over the past 50 years?
The Boston City Council Results
A Boston GLOBE EDITORIAL
CPR for Boston politics
November 8, 2007
THE DISMAL turnout in the election for Boston City Council Tuesday - the lowest in 22 years - requires action to end the inertia that afflicts all the elected offices of city government. Despite what Mayor Menino and the other incumbents might want to believe, the lack of vigorous challenges does not mean that voters are happy with the status quo. Boston's political system is rigged against change, and it needs a major rethinking.
One big obstacle to movement among the 13 city councilors is that they can't challenge the mayor, or (for the nine district councilors) even try to move up to an at-large council seat, without jeopardizing their own positions. That's because they stand for reelection every two years, always co-terminous with the mayor.
Why not consider one simple alteration: Lengthen the term of the councilors to four years, but stagger their elections so they are not the same year as the mayor. That way, ambitious councilors could seek the top spot at City Hall without losing their seats. Mayor Menino hasn't had a tough election since 1993. He's past due for a strong challenge.
Councilor John Tobin of West Roxbury has another idea to end the grip of incumbency on the council and the mayoralty: limiting terms to 12 years. He would also make the council seek reelection every four years, instead of the current two, to eliminate what he considers mayoral meddling in off-year council elections. (He declined to say who was helped or hurt this year.)
Tobin plans to introduce his proposal in the council this month. It is guaranteed to offend the mayor, who hasn't announced for reelection but looks likely to try to extend his current 14 years in office. Tobin's plan will probably not find favor with the two councilors who have already served 12 years in office. And a limit on terms is a blunt instrument that doesn't necessarily improve government. It's important to retain officials who have learned from their experiences.
In a telephone interview yesterday, Tobin said he was open to changes in his proposal. He might consider delaying the effective date until 2011. But this wouldn't change the system's resistance to what remains an assault on incumbency.
Any revision in the city election rules requires approval of the council, mayor, both houses of the Legislature, and the governor. This process is designed to discourage change. But the 86.4 percent of the voters who skipped this year's election need the attraction of a vigorous mayoral campaign to get them back to the polls in 2009. The City Council has an opportunity to initiate an innovation that would energize the predictable politics of Boston. It's important to begin the discussion now.
Blight on the Boston police
November 14, 2007
BOSTON POLICE Commissioner Edward Davis still subscribes to the "few rotten apples" theory of police corruption. He used it yesterday to explain the activities of three officers who pleaded guilty in recent weeks to cocaine trafficking after getting caught in an FBI sting operation. But cases of drug-related police corruption in New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, and elsewhere suggest that the barrel itself may be moldy.
The three-year investigation of disgraced former officers Roberto Pulido, Nelson Carrasquillo, and Carlos Pizarro provide the department's internal affairs investigators with numerous leads. Pulido has been linked to allegations of steroid sales, identity fraud schemes related to traffic stops, immigrant smuggling, and protection services for after-hours parties where officers consorted with known drug dealers and prostitutes. Davis predicts that the number of additional officers connected to Pulido or his corrupt crew will not be large. But the department's history doesn't warrant such confidence.
The convicted officers were boastful and contemptuous of their oaths, which played into the hands of the FBI. It will be harder for Davis to uncover how many officers are poised on what criminologists call the "invitational edge of corruption." Drug-related police corruption usually involves just a small number of hands-on officers. But the larger and potentially more destabilizing problem stems from officers who know about criminal activity on the part of fellow officers but fail to report it.
That tarnished sense of loyalty has infected the Boston Police Department before, notably in 1995 when dozens of officers fled behind a blue wall of silence rather than testify against colleagues who had nearly beaten a fellow officer to death after mistaking him for a fleeing suspect.
Some signs are encouraging. Davis says the department displayed its capacity for self-policing by bringing the Pulido crew to the attention of the FBI in the first place. And two officers, he says, reported the illicit activities allegedly taking place at the Hyde Park after-hours club to their superiors.
Other signs point in the wrong direction. Pulido tested positive for cocaine back in 1999 under the department's mandatory drug testing policy. But overly lenient accountability measures gave him a chance to return to duty after a 45-day suspension. In New York or Los Angeles, he would have been out on the street, where he belonged.
An underlying corrosion of standards - weak control of evidence lockers, sloppy documentation by detectives, poor recruitment practices - has been linked to prior corruption problems in the Boston Police Department. This case is likely to be no different. Maybe Pulido and his crew are rotten apples. But the public still needs to know how the decay got in them in the first place.
The reaches of police corruption
November 19, 2007
WHAT WAS the Globe's motivation and logic in its lead Nov. 14 editorial "Blight on the Boston police"? Why tar the whole department with the same brush used on former officers Roberto Pulido, Nelson Carrasquillo, and Carlos Pizarro? Why imply that some, perhaps many, officers are on the "invitational edge of corruption," and conflate that with a "sense of loyalty" that you assert to be "tarnished"? The Globe needs something more substantial than innuendo before it starts implicating the rank and file of the police force.
more stories like thisThe Boston cops I know, including my son, are disgusted with Pulido and company. They may function on the edge of corruption so that the rest of us don't have to, but they know where to draw the line. They exhibit group loyalty - who wouldn't, given editorials like yours - but they think the perpetrators in the 1995 beating case that you cite should have done the honorable thing.
You express concerns over departmental supervision and oversight. Perhaps that is where the focus belongs, not on vague allegations of corruption among street cops.
PAUL M. WRIGHT
RE "EX-OFFICER blames steroids, police" (Page A1, Nov. 15): So, the sister of convicted former Boston Police officer Robert Pulido is saddened that his former colleagues no longer visit the house, and that they shun his family members when they see them on the street. Does she expect otherwise? Does she expect no resentment from officers toward a family whose member affected the reputation of the entire police force? It would be disturbing if the police remained friendly with this family.
THE BOSTON GLOBE
A sample of Google's Street View feature. The company says it will not blur faces and plate numbers in its US street images.
Get ready for your close-up
Google's acclaimed, criticized Street View bears down on Boston
By Robert Weisman, Globe Staff | December 11, 2007
Google Inc.'s controversial Street View feature, which offers 360-degree, street-level images of urban life so clear that passersby often can be identified, is set to make its Boston debut this morning.
Starting at around 10 a.m., Internet users who click on the "Street View" box on Google Maps (maps.google.com), will be able to peek at images from streets in Boston and surrounding communities. The views were stitched together from images taken by Google employees over the past year from cars and vans equipped with cameras.
The feature, which already captures street scenes in 15 cities across the country, has become popular among people planning vacations, searching for shops or restaurants, or checking out landmarks such as Wrigley Field in Chicago or the Empire State Building in New York. But it drew howls of protests from privacy advocates when it was launched last May in San Francisco, where people complained about everything from photos of recognizable men entering adult bookstores to an image of a cat in a window.
"We take privacy concerns seriously," said Stephen Chau, product manager for Google Maps. "All these images are taken on public streets. It's exactly what you could see walking down the street."
But while Google has developed technology that can obscure faces and license plate numbers in Street View images, the Mountain View, Calif., company has said it will blur faces and plate numbers only in countries where it is required to do so, not in the United States.
Street View's rollout in Boston is part of a larger debut of the feature today in eight more cities, including Providence, Dallas, Fort Worth, Indianapolis, Detroit, Minneapolis, and St. Paul. Google officials yesterday said they could not specify which Boston or suburban streets would be visible. The service covers only certain streets and neighborhoods in the cites where it's now available, although in some locations, such as San Francisco, the majority of streets have been photographed. Google plans eventually to extend Street View to cities and towns of all sizes worldwide.
Google is also introducing a "mashup" service today that will enable Internet users to import Street View panoramas from particular streets or neighborhoods to their own websites or blogs. The service is intended to make it easier for people to use Street View to recommend sights, locate coffee shops, or design cyber-walking tours.
While those might be legitimate uses of Street View, the feature also has the potential to be used for more questionable pursuits, such as compiling digital dossiers on individuals, critics warned.
"As Google gets closer and closer to its stated goal of indexing all the world's information, more and more issues arise," said John G. Palfrey Jr., executive director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School. "In the privacy realm, Google is asking people for a lot of trust. The ball is really in Google's court to prove they're not going to violate people's privacy."
Other companies also have released products in the drive-by image space, including EveryScape Inc. in Waltham and Povo Inc. in Boston. EveryScape moved up its launch to the same day as Google's to capitalize on the publicity generated by the larger company.
"Street View does what it's intended to do very well," said Jim Schoonmaker, the EveryScape chief executive. "But they're focused on streets. We've been up and down ski mountains, on beaches, and in and out of businesses like restaurants and dental offices."
Images from Street View and similar services are not live. They capture a point in time when sections of city streets were photographed, typically over a period of months, by small teams of Google employees driving in company cars with roof-mounted cameras equipped with global positioning technology that digitally matches the images with their locations on a map. The company hopes to refresh its images to document changing streets, but its highest priority has been expanding to new cities, Chau said.
Internet users visiting Street View are shown a map of the United States and can click on icons shaped like cameras to view cities Google has photographed. From there, they can type in a street address or call up blue-outlined streets to view images that can be rotated and zoomed in.
Google, in refusing to blur faces in US cities, has faced a chorus of critics in cities already catalogued in Street View, such as San Francisco, New York, and Chicago, who have called on the company to install technology that will make people pictured more anonymous. One of Street View's critics, Kevin Bankston, staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a public interest group focusing on technology issues, was photographed on Street View smoking on his way to work in San Francisco.
"That was of concern to me because not all of my family knew I smoked," Bankston said. Google ultimately removed the image at his request, but Bankston said the incident demonstrated the potential for worse abuse if other people were photographed going to Alcoholic Anonymous meetings, health clinics for sensitive procedures, or other places that could compromise their privacy. He said he felt the Google feature was part of an ominous trend that included people taking pictures of others with camera phones and posting them on the Internet.
"Rather than a Big Brother scenario, we're looking at a Little Brother scenario where more and more of us are surveilling each other," Bankston warned. "That is a trend that is fraught with a level of privacy risk that we as a society have not yet come to grips with."
Google's Chau, however, said that while Street View critics have been vocal, the company has received no more than a couple of dozen requests from people seeking to remove pictures of themselves since the Street View feature was launched last spring.
"This hasn't been a big concern among our users," he said. "The biggest complaint is the service isn't available in their city yet."
Robert Weisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
'I guess this shows that the union leadership is really not committed to change,' Fire Commissioner Roderick Fraser said.
"Fire Dept. reform committee falls apart: 5 from union quit in rift with chief"
By Donovan Slack, Boston Globe Staff | December 14, 2007
The latest push to overhaul the Boston Fire Department dissolved in acrimony yesterday, spelling trouble for Mayor Thomas M. Menino's efforts to adopt changes such as random alcohol and drug testing.
Just two days after Menino formed a special committee to implement changes at the department, the president of the firefighter's union announced he was quitting the panel in a bitter dispute with the fire commissioner. Four firefighters immediately followed suit, eviscerating the 13member committee.
The resignations upended the mayor's efforts to bring random testing and other long-sought changes at the department after the deaths of two firefighters in a West Roxbury blaze in August.
Edward Kelly, Local 718 president, said he resigned from the committee because he believed Fire Commissioner Roderick Fraser, a former Navy commander, was trying to seize control of the process and dictate terms to the union.
"This is not a ship!" Kelly wrote in a letter to Fraser posted on the union website. In the letter, which misspelled the commissioner's name as "Frazer," Kelly said he lacked confidence in Fra ser's leadership.
In a sign of how hard feelings are running: Kelly accused Fraser of excluding union leaders yesterday from the mayor's annual Christmas party for fire officials.
Menino formed the special committee on Sunday, following the recommendation of a three-member panel that had said the Fire Department needed to quickly implement changes, including the introduction of random alcohol and drug testing of firefighters.
"I'm very, very disappointed that the union president has withdrawn from the committee and forced others to withdraw," Fraser said yesterday in a telephone interview. "I guess this shows that the union leadership is really not committed to change."
Menino's spokeswoman, Dot Joyce, said last night that the mayor "supports the fire commissioner, and it is his hope that this committee can move forward with all of the Fire Department's support."
The Fire Department has been under intense scrutiny following the autopsy reports on firefighters Paul J. Cahill and Warren J. Payne, who died in the Aug. 29 fire. The results showed that Cahill had a blood-alcohol content of 0.27, more than three times the legal limit to drive in Massachusetts, and that Payne had traces of cocaine in his system, according to two government officials who described the results to the Globe.
The roots of the current dispute lie in a disagreement over whether the union could appoint members to the special committee.
When he announced the formation of the committee, Menino said it would be led by Fraser and would include four fire chiefs, a medical officer, two City Hall representatives, the union president, and four firefighters "appointed by the commissioner." Fraser had the authority to appoint all members except for the City Hall representatives.
At the time, the mayor said the committee would make sure that recommendations from the outside panel would be implemented. The Globe reported in October that 50 of 82 recommendations from three earlier outside reviews of the department had not been implemented, and city officials said union opposition had stymied their adoption.
Formation of the new committee - and the union's participation in it - had been seen as a tangible sign that city and union officials were committed to overhauling the Fire Department this time.
Kelly, however, said Fraser should have consulted union leadership on the four firefighter appointments. In his letter to Fraser, Kelly contended that appointing the firefighters without input from the union exhibited "an underlying disrespect for the membership of Local 718, which spawns doubt in my confidence of your ability to lead this Department."
Kelly said in an interview yesterday that when the new panel's recommendations were announced at City Hall on Nov. 30, the fire commissioner began dictating to them what was going to happen rather than "partnering" with union leadership on the overhaul.
"I don't think he has any true desire to work with the union to move forward," Kelly said.
Fraser said that as chairman of the committee, he had the authority to appoint whomever he wanted. He responded to Kelly in a letter of his own yesterday.
"Just as I do not dictate to the Union who should be appointed to various Union roles, I find it inappropriate for President Kelly to demand the appointment of certain persons to this Department's committee," Fraser wrote.
Fraser said Kelly had demanded that the makeup of the committee be subject to collective bargaining, something that could delay its formation for months. Fraser refused, but said he offered Kelly two seats on the committee.
"I find these attacks to be, not only unproductive but very unprofessional," Fraser said. "We should be working together." The remaining members of the committee are scheduled to meet next week, with or without union participation, he said.
The commissioner also said union officials were invited to yesterday's holiday party for the Fire Department with the mayor, but they didn't show up.
Donovan Slack can be reached at email@example.com.
Letter from Fire Commissioner Roderick J. Fraser Jr.
December 14, 2007
Dear President Kelly and Members of the Boston Fire Department,
I was very disappointed to receive President Kelly’s letter of December 11, withdrawing the support of the Union membership for the Strategic Planning Committee. I had hoped that the establishment and actions of this committee would be a bold step for progress in the Boston Fire Department. I am also disappointed that President Kelly believed that the IAFF Local 718 was not fairly represented on the committee. I took great pains to ensure fair representation. Of the 13 members on the committee, 5 were from Local 718, including President Kelley, 6 from the Department Command staff, including Dr. Mike Hamrock, our Department’s chief medical expert, and 2 members from the City.
As this is the Boston Fire Department’s Strategic Planning Committee and I am the Commissioner of the Boston Fire Department, it is fully within my authority to appoint to this committee whomever I feel would best fit its mission. Just as I do not dictate to the Union who should be appointed to various Union roles, I find it inappropriate for President Kelly to demand the appointment of certain persons to this Department’s committee.
As a department, I believe that we have collectively worked to support the values of proper and effective training. Since becoming Commissioner, I have worked with the city and the membership to make training and the improvement of the department’s apparatus top priorities, including dramatically increasing its financial commitment, especially with the construction of a new $4.6 Million tactical building at Moon Island. Additionally, external funding was obtained for a flashover trainer, also at Moon Island, and a Fireground Rehabilitation Unit, which directly impacts firefighter safety. Together, we secured over $4 Million for an apparatus replacement program that has already purchased two new ladder trucks this year and 6 more pieces to be delivered in 2008.
But beyond the accolades and the achievements we have earned together is the raw proof of our shared commitment. We all go to work everyday with one goal in mind; to make this the best Fire Department possible for the people of Boston and the men and women who proudly serve this Department. I had hoped and I remain hopeful that we can find the same common ground in our efforts and participation in the Strategic Planning process. I look forward to your response and I hope that you see fit to join me in this endeavor. I believe that our Department and the people of Boston deserve that much.
Roderick J. Fraser Jr.
Date: December 11, 2007
From: Edward A. Kelly, President Local 718
To: Roderick Frazer, Fire Commissioner
Subject: Strategic Planning Committee
more stories like thisCommissioner Frazer,
I am writing to inform you that Local 718 is regretfully withdrawing support for the Strategic Planning Committee due to a lack of respect for our membership, and their elected leadership. The Strategic Planning Committee, as recommended by Mayor Menino's Review Panel, called for “including the framework for a joint health and safety committee”. This framework, defined in Article XIX, Sec. 4, of the collective bargaining agreement between the Boston Firefighters Local 718 and the city of Boston, states “The Fire Commissioner and the Union shall establish by mutual agreement a joint …committee consisting of representatives of each party for the purpose of recommending sound…practices and rules.”
Clearly your appointment of a 13 member committee, without input from the Union and only one seat designated for a Local 718 appointee, abandons the Review Panels intent for “institutionalized strategic planning that supports open communication” and “that fosters the development of a consensus agenda ”. Although not a reflection of any member previously named, you're appointing four rank and file members of Local 718, without input from the elected leadership, is weak attempt to circumvent the Panels recommendation that the committee consist of “ representatives of the Boston Fire Department's Leadership, the Union, and the City of Boston.” How you conclude that a member appointed solely by management is considered a Union representative is an insult to our intelligence. This is not a ship!
Your assertion that any Local 718 appointees would be “stooges” for the Union is insulting not only to the elected leadership, but the membership as a whole.
I take this time to remind you that any progression of this Department toward improving the delivery of fire and emergency response services to the citizens of Boston has been through the hard fought efforts of Local 718 members- often in spite of those charged with that duty! Look no further than the hazardous materials training which was provided by the International Association of Firefighters; and the Special Operations training facility which was donated through the efforts of Local 718 members; including the extensive renovations which made that training facility adequate. Those renovations were done with donated labor and materials by the Ironworkers Union, Carpenters Union, Sheet Metal Workers Union, and Sprinkler Fitters Union, at the request of Local 718. And the used furniture and materials that Local 718 members scrounged from sympathetic friends at Donohue Furniture, State Street Financial, the Hynes Convention Center, and the Home Depot. Or the Rapid Intervention Training Program developed voluntarily, on their own time, by Local 718 members and whose props were built by off duty Local 718 members.
We are forced to resort to these survivalist methods for training because neither the City nor the Department deems firefighter training a worthy expenditure. Apparently you seem to have forgotten the hard fought lobbying efforts by Local 718 and the Professional Firefighters of Massachusetts, whose efforts are solely responsible for the $2.25 Million in state funding awarded in 2007 for hazardous materials and firefighter training in Boston (a figure which dwarfs the city's investment).
Your approach to the establishment of this committee exhibits an underlying disrespect for the membership of Local 718, which spawns doubt in my confidence of your ability to lead this Department.
On Behalf of 1500 Proud Boston Firefighters,
Edward A. Kelly
Boston Firefighters Local 718
12/18/2007, Boston Globe Editorial
City Hall: Unlovable but transit-friendly
Please, Mayor Menino, don't keep talking about moving City Hall to the faraway South Boston waterfront, as you did again last week before the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. You don't like the building, and the plaza even less, but its location in Government Center means Bostonians can easily access it from Dorchester (Red Line), Brighton (Green Line), Jamaica Plain and Charlestown (Orange Line), Roxbury (Silver Line), West Roxbury (commuter rail, with a transfer at Back Bay Station), and Hyde Park, your own neighborhood (Fairmount Line, with a walk of less than a mile from South Station). You spoke of promoting a "green workforce," but what could be greener than keeping the center of city government in a place that invites the use of public transportation?
"The overlooked issues of 2007: Boston Globe columnists and contributors name the big stories that most people didn't read about this year"
December 29, 2007
We all know the Israel of wars, oppression, and precarious security, but what about Israel of the humming economy with 90 Israel-related companies on NASDAQ? What about Israeli films garnishing honors around the world: "Jellyfish" and "The Band's Visit" at Cannes, "Beaufort" in Berlin, "My Father My Lord" in Tribeca, "Sweet Mud" at Sundance, and "Aviva, My Love" in Shanghai?
What of Israeli solar power in California that has been saving 2 million barrels of oil annually for nearly 20 years? What of Arava Valley high-tech agriculture, with exports exceeding $100 million? Natafim, the drip irrigation system patented by Kibbutz Hatzerim, is now a multinational conglomerate selling millions of systems throughout the world. What of the Israel that is taking in Darfur refugees, and what of the first Israeli-initiated UN resolution, calling upon countries to share agricultural technology with developing countries, adopted overwhelmingly this month?
It's this other Israel that's underreported.
H.D.S. Greeway's column appears regularly in the Globe.
Over the last few years, hundreds of cities and local governments across the country partnered with Wi-Fi vendors to set up wireless Internet connections for public safety, municipal use, and to help bridge the "digital divide" with cheap or free public Web access. The business model looked like a win-win for all involved; cities would get techified, and the Wi-Fi companies would recoup their massive build-out bills by retailing high-speed access.
But over the course of this year, we saw the rollouts unravel - the costs ballooned, the access was patchy, the retail sales disappointed, and one of the biggest players, Earthlink, announced this summer that it wouldn't sink anymore dough into big metro-level projects (see: San Francisco, Houston or Philadelphia, where it all began).
The story is playing out everywhere on the local level, but the larger narrative hasn't really captured national headlines. What's at stake? Wider access, streamlined government, another line between the public and the private. We read about the wonders of Web 2.0 all the time, but who, in our society, really gets to plug and play? Are we tech-happy, or could government sans wires really be more efficient? We'll have to stay better tuned into this story to find out.
Elise Waxenberg is a senior at Dartmouth College and executive editor of The Dartmouth.
DERRICK Z. JACKSON
In a lifetime where as a child I saw the segregated schools of cousins in Mississippi, and used the outhouse of my grandparents, the 2008 presidential race is not an unsung story. Yet one cannot sing enough about it.
Going by the latest polls in the key early caucus or primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, either a black man or a white woman will win the Democratic nomination. It is happily hilarious to see the black man, Barack Obama, tout the white women who support him and the white woman, Hillary Clinton, parade the black people who will vote for her.
It is pure delight to visit small towns in Iowa and hear independents say they could go for either Republican John McCain or Obama and hear white women and black people say it is hard to choose between the candidates regardless of gender or race. Every time I scribble down the consternation of the voters, I hear an America struggling in the best sense to live up to its promise.
Derrick Z. Jackson's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
To my mind, poverty in the richest country on earth was the most underreported story of 2007, as it has been for many years now.
It should have been on the front page of every newspaper once a week. Every day, we should hear radio and TV news announcers reminding us that some 35 million people live below the poverty line; that 10 million Americans - 3 million of them children - experience hunger.
We should flip through the cable channels and find preachers exhorting the people in their stadium-sized churches, "Help them! Share with them!" Political figures should be making pickup-truck tours of the dirt roads of New England, where families live behind plastic-covered windows in temperatures that drop to minus-20 degrees.
But we've come to accept it somehow, as if there is nothing we can do or say, as if it's too much of a disgrace even to read about.
Roland Merullo's latest novel is "Breakfast with Buddha."
Sixty percent of Americans think the tax code is skewed to benefit the rich, according to a new poll. Considering how often politicians and populists inveigh against the well-to-do, it would be surprising if the public thought anything else.
The very rich may be different from you and me because they have more money, as Ernest Hemingway said, but they also pay a far higher share of their income in taxes. The media make much of income inequality and the high salaries earned by celebrities and CEOs. Rarely do they report on the tax burden borne by the highest earners. According to the latest Congressional Budget Office data, the top 1 percent of American households earned 18.1 percent of all income in 2005. Yet they paid an unprecedented 27.6 percent of all federal taxes and nearly 39 percent of income taxes.
By contrast, the bottom 80 percent of households, which earned 45.6 percent of all income, paid 31.1 percent of the federal tax take - and a paltry 13.7 percent of income taxes.
You think the super-rich should pay their fair share of taxes? Rest assured, they do. And then some.
Jeff Jacoby's e-mail address is email@example.com.
Volumes have been written concerning the "subprime mortgage crisis," predatory lending practices, and skyrocketing foreclosure rates. While corporations are losing money now as these loans sour, they made billions of dollars for the years they were on the books.
Government officials, who should have protected the public from this disaster, are now a day late and a dollar short as they attempt to rationalize their neglect by pointing fingers. The combination of corporate greed and inept government has misled hundreds of thousands of homeowners to believe they could afford a home they could not. Before it is over, millions of people will be displaced.
Little has been written about government's failure and even less written about the social impact this will all have, particularly on uprooted children. Once again, it is the children paying the price for adults' mistakes, and no one seems to be paying attention.
David D'Alessandro is a former CEO of John Hancock Financial Services.
This was a year in which education reform clearly lost some steam in Massachusetts.
As a 2006 gubernatorial candidate, Deval Patrick said that before raising the current cap on charter schools, he wanted a new funding formula to eliminate tension between charters and the traditional public schools. But as governor, Patrick let the year pass without proposing a revised formula. (Dana Mohler-Faria, the governor's special adviser on education, says he expects funding recommendations as part of a broader educational-readiness report coming in the spring.)
In Boston, the February 2006 agreement between the schools and the teachers union proved to be worthless. That deal allowed for seven new pilot schools by September 2009. But with the union quietly discouraging conversion efforts, only the Gardner Pilot Academy has been approved.
Education reformers will need to rededicate themselves to the cause in 2008.
Scot Lehigh's e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org.
Psst. Governor Deval Patrick is doing what he can to keep a campaign promise and advance the controversy-plagued Cape Wind project. Opponents are still trying to block a developer's plan to construct an offshore wind-power farm in Nantucket Sound and litigation still looms. But recent proposed changes to state environmental-protection laws could help speed up the 130-turbine Cape Wind project, as well as another plan for a 120-turbine wind farm in Buzzards Bay.
No one in the Patrick administration wants it to look like the fix is in. State officials prefer to cite their commitment to renewable energy. But they are also putting serious wind behind Cape Wind, via changes to the state's Chapter 91 waterways protection laws. One major change would stipulate that cables conveying power from wind farms and hydroelectric generating units are water-dependent. That would would make it faster and easier to get the green light from department regulators.
The Romney team did all it could to blow Cape Wind off course. Patrick has a lot riding on a change in direction. If his Cape Wind support is just hot air, he will disappoint a key constituency.
Joan Vennochi's e-mail address is email@example.com.
Boston: The state of the city
A Boston GLOBE EDITORIAL
"Batterers with badges"
December 30, 2007
POLICE OFFICERS who physically abuse their spouses or intimate partners too often elude justice. That certainly would apply to Boston Police Lieutenant David Murphy, who returned to work last week after spending eight months on paid administrative leave.
In May, a Maryland judge ordered Murphy to serve 18 months probation for punching his wife in a Baltimore bar. The officer's conviction for second-degree assault will be expunged when he fulfills the conditions of his probation. The plea deal was sadly typical of domestic violence cases involving police officers.
Prosecutors and judges need to put an end to the inside game that favors batterers with badges. Strong federal laws forbid anyone, including police officers, to own a gun if convicted of a misdemeanor or felony domestic violence offense. But officers routinely avoid such career-ending consequences through favorable plea bargains.
Some cases never come to light because fellow officers look the other way. And spouses often refuse to testify, fearing possible physical or economic consequences. Yet police are no strangers to domestic violence, on or off the job. Last year, the journal Police Quarterly cited several studies in which 24 percent to 41 percent of male officers and their wives reported some level of physical violence in their relationship. That's roughly three times the national average.
The Murphy case is especially galling because the plea deal appears to handcuff Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis, who would like nothing more than to fire the officer. Davis terminated three officers for domestic violence-related offenses when he led the Lowell Police Department. He says flat-out that batterers are "unsuitable" for the job. But he also says that Murphy would almost surely be reinstated by an arbitrator or the Civil Service Commission after his sentence is vacated in Maryland. So Davis is loath to enter into a lengthy termination battle with Murphy - one that would likely end with an award, based on Murphy's annual salary, of almost $170,000 in back pay, overtime, and police details. Davis calls that a "burden to the taxpayer." Instead, he issued a short suspension, disarmed Murphy for the duration of his probation, and stuck him on a desk away from the public.
Davis's take on the likelihood of reinstatement is probably accurate. There is a long history of arbitrators overturning sound terminations or punishments of police officers. But the public wouldn't have objected if Davis rolled the dice. There would be a chance, at least, that Civil Service or an arbitrator might reinstate Murphy, but with partial or even no back pay. Also, Davis should have found a way to send a stronger message. One possibility would be to demote Murphy in rank. The disgraced officer, at least, would have to fight to win it back.
Unlike many major police departments, the Boston police boasts a comprehensive written policy on officer-involved domestic violence, including restraining-order protocols and precise responsibilities of police supervisors. But the Murphy case reveals the holes in even the most carefully crafted policies.
Many police officers are especially wary of domestic violence calls, because the perpetrators are often both emotionally unstable and drunk or drugged. It requires great skill to control the batterer. But it shouldn't take one to know one. All efforts to rid the police force of domestic abusers, even failed efforts, are in the public's interest.
BOSTONIAN OF THE YEAR
The Boston Globe's Magazine: Editor's Note
By Doug Most, December 30, 2007
This is our fourth year picking a Bostonian of the Year, and we've learned a few things by now: There will be years like 2004 (Theo Epstein) and 2006 (Deval Patrick), when our decision is so obvious that we can make it over our morning coffee. But there will also be years like 2005 (Edward Ginsburg) and this year, when no one stands out in such singular fashion and our decision takes about a month's worth of morning coffees.
Looking back at 2007, we had plenty of big stories. Casinos moved closer to reality. Harvard tapped its first female president. Celebrities turned Newbury Street into our very own Rodeo Drive. A UMass professor tried to broker an Iraqi peace. Shoppers rejoiced as Nordstrom arrived. Our local teams were so dominant, they owned the cover of Sports Illustrated for a stretch. A cop finally caught a killer he had chased for 12 years.
But in all the stories we reviewed, one word kept popping up: homes. Across Massachusetts, real estate prices dropped, sales slowed, and a tidal wave of homeowners found themselves in trouble when their mortgage payments ballooned and their lenders came knocking. Pay up or move out. The sad result was a record number of foreclosures.
It was a trend that one man had seen coming. Bruce Marks has made his share of enemies in his relentless push to get banks to provide fairer loans. But what is inarguable is that his tactics kept many people in their homes and convinced some mighty big lenders to change their ways. He's showed how one very determined person can make a difference. Neil Swidey's portrayal of Marks reveals a man who fights for those feeling overburdened and outmatched. And for that he is our 2007 Bostonian of the Year.
Bruce Marks in front of a Hyde Park home whose owner was trapped in a high-interest subprime mortgage. Marks’ group restructured the loan. (Photo by Tim Llewellyn)
2007 BOSTONIAN OF THE YEAR
Guarding the House
Wall Street made billions off the backs of homeowners. But when the mortgage crisis blew up, a pit bull named Bruce Marks stood up for the Average Joes and, incredibly, got some of the biggest banks to bend.
By Neil Swidey, December 30, 2007
There are guys you'd want to talk Sox trades with over a beer, guys you'd want to deliver the toast at your wedding, guys you'd want by your side if some goateed knucklehead took a swing at you because you accidentally bumped into his girlfriend. Bruce Marks is none of these guys.
But if you should find yourself up against one of the nation's most powerful banks, feeling abused by a maddening loop of automated messages, threatening letters, and buck-passing paper pushers, if you should feel powerless to reassure your little daughter when she tearfully asks you if you're going to lose the only home she's ever known, well then, there's nobody you'd want in your corner more than Bruce Marks. And sadly, a whole lot of desperate people had to turn to Marks for help this year, and a whole lot more will need his emergency services in the year ahead.
Marks is a 52-year-old man of slight build, a harmless-enough-looking guy. He has dark, narrow eyes, a brown beard threaded with gray, and lonely swirls of brown hair scattered atop an otherwise bald head. He rarely departs from his uniform of casual shirts emblazoned with the menacing slogan of his housing organization ("Financial Predators Beware!"). The CEO of the nonprofit Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America, or NACA, Marks works out of a stripped-down office above an electrical-supply store in Jamaica Plain. Yet over the years he has become one of the most feared men in the corporate boardrooms of the nation's leading financial institutions.
How can this be? It starts with an approach best summed up by a nickname some friends gave Marks years ago: The Junkyard Dog, because once he gets his jaws around somebody, he's not letting go until he gets what he wants.
When Marks began his housing work two decades ago, banks were still largely operating in a yes-or-no world, lending only to those deemed creditworthy. Some banks were still redlining whole neighborhoods of low-income people they dismissed as not worth the risk. Marks came along and argued that people of limited means and imperfect credit could, in fact, become good mortgage bets if they were just given a proper education and a fair deal. Over time, he succeeded in shaming a host of big banks into committing millions to NACA so his organization could write reasonable loans for the banks, getting tens of thousands of working-class people across the country into the ranks of homeownership. Today, NACA has commitments, principally from Bank of America and Citigroup, totaling $10 billion.
"No matter what you think of Bruce," says Jim Mahoney, director of public policy for Bank of America, "there are thousands of people who are successful homeowners who otherwise would not have been without him."
And had he stopped there, he would have had quite a record to rest on. But events this year catapulted Marks to the forefront of a national crisis.
We're in the midst of a mortgage meltdown, one we're told was caused by something called "subprime." That opaque term suggests discount steaks but turned out to be a scheme through which the rich became richer by hoovering people - often of limited means and with poor credit - into cynical loans that were really ticking time bombs.
Now that those bombs have begun to go off and the shrapnel is hitting people up and down the economic ladder, there is panic all around us. Homeowners are trying to stave off foreclosure, lenders are trying to stave off bankruptcy, and everybody else is bracing for a recession. With many of the players engaged in a heated blame game, Marks is, once again, standing apart. Whether testifying before Congress or staging takeovers of lending-company offices, he is making the case for average homeowners by keeping the pressure on the big banks.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, he is offering a sophisticated solution that may well make the most sense for borrowers and lenders alike. He's already persuaded the nation's biggest mortgage lender, Countrywide Financial, to let NACA restructure many of Countrywide's bad subprime loans with reasonable terms based on what the borrower can pay. And now other big-name banks appear poised to follow Countrywide's lead.
It is for his relentless advocacy and sensible innovation in working to find a way out of this mortgage mess that affects so many that Bruce Marks is our 2007 Bostonian of the Year.
IT MAY SEEM LIKE AN UNUSUAL CHOICE, given that Marks is a controversial character who once infamously called himself a "bank terrorist." But this is no ordinary time, and it seems uniquely suited to Marks's curious blend of in-your-face activism, customer-focused service, Machiavellian angling, and social-justice passion.
Over the years, as part of his permanent campaign to browbeat banks into giving fair loans to low- and moderate-income people, Marks and his yellow-T-shirted followers have swarmed shareholders' meetings with enough force to shut them down. They have picketed outside the schools attended by the children of bank CEOs, pressing the youngsters in signs and chants to answer for the actions of their daddies. And they even once distributed scandal sheets to every house in one CEO's neighborhood, detailing the affair he was allegedly having with a subordinate. In time, that CEO, like most of the others that NACA targeted, sat down with Marks and signed a deal.
To those who found his tactics an outrageous invasion of bank executives' personal lives, Marks refused to acknowledge any line between home and work. "What you do is who you are," he says. "It's all personal."
There is no such distinction in Marks's own life. His wife, Marissa Landrau-Pirazzi, a former public defender, began working at NACA four years ago, partly because she believes strongly in its mission and partly so she could see more of her workaholic husband. Their 11-year-old daughter, Gabriela, has also figured out the score. Many afternoons, she can be found doing her homework not at the family's home in Jamaica Plain but at the nearby NACA office, where she has her own desk.
As to what makes Marks tick, even his own mother is still a bit mystified. "I'm very proud of him," June Marks tells me. "But how you put Bruce together, I don't know. As soon as you figure him out," she says, chuckling, "please let me know." She insists he was a nice, quiet boy who never gave her any trouble or any hint of the aggressive street fighter he'd become.
He grew up in a middle-class family living in the moneyed towns of Scarsdale, New York, and then Greenwich, Connecticut. The family was culturally Jewish, but non-practicing. His father, who died three years ago, was a toy-company salesman and a competitive tennis player. A birth injury deprived him of much of the function in his right arm and leg - but remarkably he never spoke about it and refused to let it hold him back. Bruce insists he never realized his father had a handicap until he was a teenager and other kids asked about it.
His father was also an alcoholic, though a highly functioning one. Bruce's mother thought she managed to shield her husband's disease from her two children. In fact, it gnawed at Bruce. "I would hide the bottles on him," he says.
Only now does June Marks wonder if her husband's alcoholism exacerbated Bruce's most obvious problem as a child: a severe stutter.
Because Bruce inherited his father's talent on the tennis court, he spent lots of time at the country club and even worked as an instructor. But he realized how little he fit in once he stepped off the court. He was surrounded by the sons and daughters of privilege. To him, they carried themselves with arrogance and entitlement even though their only obvious talent was getting lucky in the birth lottery. And here was Bruce, the stuttering son of a salesman. He says he learned to appreciate what people went through when they were judged by things out of their control, "like the color of their skin or their accent or where they were born."
It's not surprising that so much of his work over the years has been in minority communities or that NACA's nationwide staff of around 300 is more than 90 percent people of color. Marks's longest-running partner in NACA is the Rev. Graylan Hagler, a onetime Boston mayoral candidate and prominent black minister who now lives in Washington, D.C. "People who face some kind of disability in life, they get discounted. It's the same kind of thing that people of color often feel," Hagler says. "Part of what burns our desire is to have nobody disregarded, because we know what that feels like."
That anger at entitlement that has fueled so much of Marks's advocacy was clearly born in his boyhood. All these years later, it remains undiluted, even after he has largely conquered his stutter and has managed to outnegotiate some of the most powerful executives in the country. I ask Marks, who now makes a healthy $150,000 a year, if he remains automatically suspicious of anyone who is wealthy.
He pauses and smiles. "Absolutely."
IT'S NO MYSTERY WHY MARKS HAS BEEN SO disliked by bank CEOs. But his lack of popularity among fellow soldiers in the battalion of affordable-housing advocates is more puzzling. There are a few specific complaints, notably his refusal to make public the standard performance data of NACA loans, leading some to suspect he's been hiding bad numbers. Yet after I repeatedly pressed him to release this data, the numbers he provided turned out to be impressive. (See chart.) Why, then, did he resist all these years?
Well, that gets to the bigger problem some people have with Marks: his personality. In a nonprofit world built around coalitions, Marks, apart from working with his rank-and-file NACA members, prefers to go it alone, cutting the best deal for his members regardless of the interests of other groups. While he is tireless and can be quite charming, like many driven people, he can also be tiresome and theatrically stubborn. Tom Callahan, who heads up the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance, puts it this way: "Bruce doesn't play well in the sandbox."
Marks doesn't disagree. He says he learned early on that playing nice is often a waste of time, and sometimes the people you think are your allies in the sandbox can stymie you as much as your foes. Not long after he arrived in Boston in the early 1980s, he made history, hatching a first-in-the-nation plan to negotiate through collective bargaining a housing benefit for members of Boston's local hotel workers union, so that waiters and maids might have a shot at living in the city where they worked. But first the union had to get federal labor law changed. When Marks and union president Domenic Bozzotto tried to do that, they found their biggest obstacle was not big business, but rather big labor, namely the AFL-CIO, which did not want to rock the boat for a bunch of hotel workers from Boston. Against the odds, the local union eventually prevailed.
From that achievement sprang NACA. And even though Marks was soon running a mortgage business, NACA never departed from its street-activist roots. Homeowners who get a NACA loan are required to participate in five actions a year, whether stuffing envelopes or storming a shareholders meeting. Marks continues to approach negotiations with Bozzotto's philosophy foremost in his mind: "You only get what you're strong enough to take."
Bozzotto says part of what makes Marks so effective is that he is beholden to no one, having resisted all overtures to join the insider crowd. After Bozzotto left his union position, he went to work for the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, a job he acknowledges he took to help pay his kids' tuition bills and which he received largely because of his past support for Republican governors. In a way, he says, "I co-opted myself." As for Marks, he says, "I don't know anyone who's managed to stay as pure."
Marks credits his deep-seated anger for keeping him barking from behind the same chain-link junkyard fence for two decades. During that time, Marks watched as many of the world's most powerful financial institutions went from ignoring people of modest means to coveting them, realizing they could make billions by catering directly to that mortgage market. But instead of doing it through the tedious, disciplined work of a group like NACA - which offers extensive education before qualifying borrowers for a below-market-rate, 30-year fixed mortgage with no down payment or closing costs - they opted for the subprime route. Suddenly, virtually anyone could qualify for a loan. It was just a question of how much they'd be charged. Subprime loans generally come with a rate at least 3 percentage points higher than the going prime rate, but they are often masked by lower "teaser" rates and have nooselike provisions slipped into the fine print, such as penalties for prepayment and timed resets to extremely high rates. Wall Street fell in love with all this subprime "product," because loans were bundled into huge funds, theoretically minimizing risk - but in reality pushing it downstream - while producing hefty returns for investment firms. As the players all along the lending process got rich, from mortgage brokers to servicers to investment bankers, the demand for more borrowers exploded. Before long, the normal safeguards for underwriting loans got tossed faster than losing scratch tickets outside a convenience store.
It got so bad that some lenders began offering what they called "no-doc" loans, where borrowers didn't need to provide even the most basic documentation for their income. One 41-year-old Brockton woman named Tammy told me that even though she made no more than $15,000 a year as a part-time newspaper delivery person, she watched as her mortgage broker put down her income as $44,000. "I was smart enough to know what was happening," Tammy says. "Who's going to give me a loan when all I have is a damn paper route?" But she figured that was just the ways things were done.
As the number of subprime loans climbed, Marks railed against them as just old-fashioned predatory lending gussied up in a new skirt and pumps. He says NACA lost a good deal of business when low-and moderate-income borrowers found they could qualify for a lot more money, with a lot less work, by signing a subprime note with a big-name bank.
In the meantime, Marks busied himself making the NACA process better, working with his IT guy to develop a streamlined Web-based software system that was able to determine, efficiently and reliably, what a borrower could afford to pay. The system improved quality control for Marks as he continued to open new NACA offices across the country.
When subprime went south and homeowners started defaulting and getting squeezed out of their homes, Marks shifted into his activist mode. He refused to see borrowers as anything but victims, even if some of them, like Tammy of Brockton, blamed themselves. "Bruce has a Messiah complex," says local real estate analyst John C. Anderson. "He refuses to differentiate between people suffering discrimination and people who are legitimately bad credit risks." The latter, Anderson says, "have always been able to borrow their way out of trouble, until now."
But Marks blamed only the greed of the big guys. He started by going after the biggest of them all, Countrywide. He prepared himself for a long fight and was shocked to see the lender cave within 48 hours.
The teetering company no doubt wanted to shut Marks up. More important, though, was NACA's state-of-the-art system, which integrates financial counseling and behavioral change on the part of the borrower with the creation of a solid new loan package based on what that particular borrower can afford to pay. Marks offered Countrywide a more reliable alternative to a flood of expensive foreclosures.
As senior policy adviser to the Financial Services Roundtable, veteran banking executive Bill Longbrake is one of the key players in plotting the response, by government and industry, to the mortgage meltdown. Until now, he never wanted anything to do with Marks, given his reputation. But after seeing NACA's operation up close, he became a believer in Marks. Now he's trying to persuade other banking executives to do the same. "The time is right for what he's built, given the crisis in this country," Longbrake says. "It's almost as if Bruce has two personalities. There's the advocate and bomb thrower, which has made many people in banking wary of him. But behind that, there's this incredibly effective, disciplined businessperson."
The most recent available data on the percentage of mortgages in the NACA portfolio that are at least 90 days late - called "seriously delinquent" - compared with the national average:
NACA RATE 1.15 percent VS. NATIONAL RATE 2.95 percent*
*Prime loans, which make up the bulk of mortgages, have a national "seriously delinquent" rate of 1.31 percent. For subprime loans, that rate is 11.38 percent.
NOTE: NACA borrowers pay into a Neighborhood Stabilization Fund, to which they can apply for assistance if they run into financial trouble. NACA reports that 6.32 percent of its borrowers have taken advantage of that fund.
SOURCES: Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America, National Delinquency Survey from the Mortgage Bankers Association, Third Quarter 2007
Neil Swidey is a Magazine staff writer. His book, The Assist: Hoops, Hope, and the Game of Their Lives, is out now. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From left: Therese Murray, Niki Tsongas, and Lisa Wong are invading the boys’ club. (Photo by Tanit Sakakini, at the Algonquin Club in Boston)
BOSTONIANS OF THE YEAR
It used to be that women couldn't land top political positions in Massachusetts. This year, that changed.
By Lisa Wangsness, December 30, 2007
Massachusetts may be the bluest of blue states, but its government remains mostly a boys' club. The only woman currently holding statewide office is Martha Coakley, Massachusetts' first female attorney general. Moreover, 41 percent of the state's municipalities had no women at all on their select boards or city councils in 2005, according to a study by the Center for Women in Politics & Public Policy at UMass-Boston.
But this year, three women cracked the political glass ceiling at the local, state, and federal levels.
In March, state Senator Therese Murray was unanimously elected Senate president, becoming the first woman to lead one of the state's legislative branches. Previously the upper chamber's top budget writer, she came in with a reputation for being tough and knowledgeable - and more than ready to hold her own with the men who run the rest of the State House. "I've frequently been the only woman at the table in the jobs I've had," she says. "This is nothing new."
Then in October, Niki Tsongas won a special election for the Fifth Congressional District seat, becoming the first woman the state has sent to Washington in a quarter century. As a Democrat and the widow of Paul Tsongas, she was favored to win in the solidly Democratic district that first sent her husband to Congress in 1974. But she encountered an unexpectedly vigorous Republican opponent who tapped into the district's moderate-independent streak. "I had to earn every vote," Tsongas says.
A few weeks later, Lisa Wong, a 28-year-old economic development consultant, came up with a landslide mayoral victory in Fitchburg, beating a veteran city councilor who questioned her ability to revive the city's economy. The daughter of Chinese immigrants, Wong will be the first minority mayor in Fitchburg's history. "I keep saying, 'It's about time,'" she says. "It sends a signal that politics is for everyone and anyone."
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"On Beacon Hill, leaders rule"
By Boston Herald editorial staff, Tuesday, January 1, 2008, bostonherald.com, Editorials
The Massachusetts Legislature remains something of a mystery to too many people. And so we thought we’d start this new year by helping to demystify it - at least a little.
It is admittedly hard to get a handle on the goals and accomplishments of a body that numbers 200 human beings - a body overwhelmingly Democratic, but one that does not split necessarily along party lines. There remains something of the old urban-suburban divide. But more often than not each issue - casino gambling, the death penalty, stem cell research, taxes, education - gives rise to its own coalition of lawmakers.
During the last gubernatorial campaign, the conventional wisdom - well, at least our take on it - was that this largely Democratic body of lawmakers would pretty much follow in lock step the agenda of this new Democratic and admittedly engaging governor.
Wow, were we ever wrong!
First it was House Speaker Sal DiMasi (D-Boston) who soon disabused us of that notion. No sooner had Gov. Deval Patrick put on the table a proposal to close more of those tax “loopholes” that guys in the Corner Office keep finding (who knew Patrick and former Republican Gov. Mitt Romney would have so much in common), then DiMasi went on record saying that would be an economy-buster for sure.
In fact, he told the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce last March, “These kinds of proposals just raise the level of uncertainty and could stall decisions by employers to grow jobs, expand their businesses and even move here to Massachusetts.”
Similarly, a package of local option tax hikes met with an equally cool response from the speaker.
Over in the Senate, President Therese Murray picked up at the end of March where her predecessor Robert Travaglini left off. Murray’s brand of populism doesn’t take kindly to tax hikes either - and she quickly put down the idea of a gasoline tax hike being promoted by a gubernatorial commission.
Both legislative leaders have made effective use of their power to simply say “no.”
Now on the issue of resort-style casino gambling as proposed by the governor - if this were a report card, DiMasi and Murray would simply have to take an “incomplete” on the issue. Yes, the issue requires careful deliberation. But it should at some point be brought to a vote - and this should be the year.
Clearly Murray made history the moment she picked up the Senate gavel. But in this new year she will be under increased pressure to make her mark - to engage on issues she has already said are important to her - the plight of farmers and fishermen (her Plymouth district has a number of each), of single mothers and seniors.
“They all have a voice through us, and they must be heard,” she said in her inaugural message.
No surprise then that the Senate’s accomplishments last year included a bill to help fishermen cope with the federal quota system and funding for fuel assistance for low income and elderly residents.
And this - an election year - is a shortened year on Beacon Hill. That doesn’t, of course, mean an easy year. It just means more effort crammed into fewer days.
But this does seem an appropriate time to recognize - in addition to the House speaker and the Senate president - some of those who truly made a difference last year with their ideas and their efforts. You’ll find a little about them on the opposite page. And, yes, we can’t help but remind you also of those - well, who at least made some good copy, as we say in the news business, if not good laws.
And to all we wish a productive 2008.
Article URL: http://www.bostonherald.com/news/opinion/editorials/view.bg?articleid=1063784
"Bay State lawmakers who make a difference"
By Herald staff, Tuesday, January 1, 2008, bostonherald.com, Op-Ed
Rep. Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop). Fine, so the Ways and Means chairman takes his marching orders from House Speaker Sal DiMasi, and it’s hard to know whether he’s a true believer on tax restraint. Still, he has been an effective spokesman for the increasingly business-friendly House and managed to produce a budget that didn’t include tax hikes. As he prepares for the next budget season we’ll remind DeLeo of his own words back in April: “Anything that tended to put a drag on our own economy, we said no to.” Hey, that’s good advice!
Sen. Steven C. Panagiotakos (D-Lowell). DeLeo’s Ways and Means counterpart in the Senate took a similar no-new-taxes cue from his boss, Senate President Therese Murray, and produced a Senate budget that didn’t break the backs of businesses or individual taxpayers. Panagiotakos also gets bonus points for supporting public pension reform, which would cap the amount state employees could collect upon retirement, and exclude housing, cars, travel, annuities or other benefits from the equation.
Rep. Bradley Jones (R-North Reading). Or as we like to call him, The Watchdog. The sad reality is that the House minority leader is one of a dying breed up on Beacon Hill - a Republican - one of only 21 in the House and five in the Senate. Jones has used his role to keep tabs all year on the actions (or inaction, as it were) of the body in which he serves, from tallying up the underwhelming workload of the “full-time” Legislature to calling for the dismantling of the Turnpike Authority.
Sen. Steven A. Baddour (D-Methuen). It helps that he represents a district where drivers would revolt if someone tried to slap a tollbooth on I-93. Still, the Senate chairman of the Joint Committee on Transportation has served as a voice of reason beyond his opposition to new taxes and tolls to finance highway improvements. Tarr also backed legislation that would require an “owner’s representative” on major public road and bridge projects to monitor spending. Why this bill hasn’t been enacted yet is a mystery.
Sen. Bruce E. Tarr (R-Gloucester). Tarr co-sponsored the legislation that would require an “owner’s representative” on road and bridge projects, in part as a response to the I-90 tunnel ceiling collapse that killed Milena Del Valle. Beyond that, Baddour has called for a change in law to increase the penalty for a company found guilty of criminal manslaughter. Right now? It’s a shameful $1,000. Hey, why not package these bills and get them done?
Rep. Ronald Mariano (D-Quincy). He may not be on Sal DiMasi’s list of BFFs, given his reported angling for the speakership once DiMasi leaves. But drivers in Massachusetts owe Mariano a debt of gratitude for being a voice of reason in the auto insurance debate. While pressure builds in the Senate to scrap the Patrick administration’s baby steps toward reform, Mariano has held the line in the House. He knows a good thing when he sees it.
Rep. Brian Wallace (D-South Boston). The legislation that beefed up the tax incentives for film companies that want to shoot movies in Massachusetts was the brain child of Film Office head Nick Paleologos, but someone had to shepherd it through the Legislature. Who better than Wallace, whose district is drawing filmmakers (and their Hollywood budgets) like George Clooney draws female audiences? Supporting roles to Sal DiMasi and Therese Murray, of course.
Sen. Brian Joyce (D-Milton). Joyce proposed that drivers over the age of 85 undergo a road test to renew their driver’s license, in the wake of a horrific crash that claimed the lives of a Brockton Hospital doctor and receptionist (the 76-year-old driver now faces criminal charges). The bill would require a test only every five years and Joyce is a pretty entrenched incumbent, so he’s probably not anxious about political fallout. Still his willingness to risk the wrath of every little old lady in Milton earns him a passing grade here.
Sen. Stephen Brewer (D-Barre). The co-chairman of the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs helped shepherd the “Welcome Home” bill through the Legislature (yes, the one Gov. Mitt Romney is taking all kinds of credit for on the campaign trail), which contained a $1,000 bonus for each veteran deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq and $500 for those called to duty since Sept. 11, 2001. When it turned out the vets weren’t aware of the benefit, Brewer went public asking them to come forward. OK, so it’s the taxpayers’ money - but Brewer has the interests of these heroes at heart.
Senate President Robert Travaglini (Ret.). Sure, he left Beacon Hill back in the spring, but Travaglini set an important budgetary tone before he passed the torch to Murray. In the process, he telegraphed an important message to the newly-elected governor, too. “After discussions with my colleagues, I can tell you tax hikes are still off the table going into this new legislative year,” Travaglini said in his inaugural message to colleagues in January. So how about an honorable mention for one of the commonwealth’s newest lobbyists?
Article URL: http://www.bostonherald.com/news/opinion/op_ed/view.bg?articleid=1063897
Boston firefighters on injury pay
"Fire Dept. disability backlog costs city: Delays in decisions add up to millions"
By Walter V. Robinson and Nikki Gloudeman, (Boston) Globe Correspondents, January 11, 2008
The epidemic of Boston firefighters claiming tax-free disability pensions rather than regular retirement has left the city with the added burden of paying their full salaries while firefighters sit idle - in some cases, for several years - waiting for their claims to be approved.
Between 2003 and 2006, the city paid $43.5 million to hundreds of firefighters on injury leave - all of it tax-free. Among the recipients: 132 firefighters who collected more than $100,000 each during that period. Of those, 20 received between $200,000 and $337,000, according to a Globe analysis of city payroll records.
In an average week in 2007, an estimated 200 firefighters were on injured leave - more than one in eight uniformed members of the department, according to the payroll records. Those leaves, combined with people out on sick days and on vacation, have meant that the department has been paying overtime to about 500 firefighters - a third of the department - each week to fill the open spots. The annual cost of overtime has mushroomed from $10.4 million in 2003 to $17.4 million last year.
Taken together, nearly 20 percent of the department's payroll goes to fund injured leave and overtime pay.
Many of the injured men return to duty. But a substantial number do not. For example, at least 60 of the 200 men on injured leave during the first week of November have applied for disability pensions, and many others among the remaining 140 are expected to.
Injured-leave pay is full wages, tax-free. Disability pensions are 72 percent of pay, also tax-free.
Fire Commissioner Roderick L. Fraser, who took the post 13 months ago, said he was astonished to learn recently about what he describes as an abuse of the system - that scores of men remained on injured leave status for two, three, or four years before department officials and then the Boston Retirement Board processed their disability retirement applications. Other than Fraser, a former Navy commander with no prior experience in municipal fire departments, all the department's uniformed officers, including the fire chief, belong to the same powerful union.
Last month, Fraser directed his human resources director to clear the backlog, reminding him that state law requires that disability applications be acted on by the Boston Retirement Board within 180 days.
"All of our accounts have been raided to pay for these abuses. It is sad that a few people who are abusing the system are allowing the entire department to be tarnished," Fraser said in an interview Wednesday. Fraser plans to hire a civilian deputy commissioner to bring tighter management controls to the department.
The Globe first reported an initial upward spike in injured-leave pay in 1999. And in 2000, the O'Toole Commission, which was appointed by Mayor Thomas M. Menino after the Globe articles, cited the growth in the numbers of firefighters on injured leave as an issue the city should address. But the rapid growth in the rate of disability applications has made the problem much worse - and much more expensive.
So far, city attempts to reduce the incidence of injury leave have proved fruitless. The city can order injured firefighters to light duty only in limited circumstances, because of a provision in the firefighters' contract. And delays within the department in processing disability claims have been matched by delays by the Boston Retirement Board, whose president is a high-ranking member of the firefighters union.
On Monday, the Globe reported that between 2001 and 2007, 102 firefighters had been granted tax-free and substantially higher accidental disability pensions after reporting that they sustained on-the-job injuries while substituting for their superiors at higher pay grades. Many of those who got the higher pensions were superior officers, including eight district chiefs who said their injuries occurred while they were filling in, mostly at desk jobs, when deputy fire chiefs were out ill or on vacation. Fraser, in the story, challenged the legitimacy of some of the claims by high-ranking officers.
One of the district chiefs, Fraser said, asserted that he had hurt his back while moving a filing cabinet at Fire Department headquarters.
Between 2005 and 2007, nearly 75 percent of all Fire Department retirements - 123 out of 166 retirees - were based on accidental disabilities, a substantially greater rate than other state public safety agencies in Massachusetts and comparable cities around the country.
Added to that, so-called "above-grade" disabilities - resulting in firefighters receiving enhanced pensions - have accounted for a sharply increasing percentage of all disability retirements within the department, from 13.5 percent in 2001 to nearly 53 percent of disability retirements last year.
In the 102 cases, the Globe obtained the date of the disabling injuries for 58. Among those, the average amount of time spent on injured-leave pay before retirement was 23 months. One firefighter, Daniel M. Polvere, was on injured leave for 48 months before he retired in 2006.
During that time, he received tax-free injury pay of $243,839. The top recipient during the four years was Captain Joseph M. Gilmore. He collected $337,363 in injury leave pay over 38 months - at the rank of district chief, the grade he temporarily occupied - before he left on a disability retirement last February, according to records the Globe obtained from the city in response to a series of requests made under the state public records law.
In the Monday story, Fraser suggested that many of the highest-ranking officers who have reported being injured while working at a higher grade have set a poor example for other firefighters who in turn took advantage of the system to do the same thing. That phenomenon has boosted the average annual pension of the 102 firefighters who filed similar claims by $10,000 a year - and at a cost to the city of more than $25 million over the lifetimes of the 101 men and one woman who received the added benefits.
The same pattern also holds true for injury-leave pay. An analysis of year-by-year city payroll data shows, for instance, that 23 of 57 district chiefs in 2003 and 34 of 62 district chiefs in 2004 collected injured-leave pay for at least part of the year. During the first week of November 2007, eight of the department's 61 district chiefs were on extended injury leave.
The tax-free injury pay is the product of legislation that applies to police and firefighters. The law, according to several officials, has had predictable consequences: For example, if a fire lieutenant is injured, tax-free status is immediately applied to his regular pay, about $100,000 a year. A disability retirement is 72 percent of his regular pay, also tax-free. So there has long been an incentive to delay the retirement as long as possible. And in a department where many senior officers have done the same thing, there has been little pressure for the practice to change.
Fraser, asked about having so many on injured-leave status for so long, said: "Was it ill will? I don't know. I'd like to say it was something that was overlooked."
What mystifies Fraser is why firefighters are so intent on extra money. Firefighters make close to $60,000 a year with built-in overtime. Senior lieutenants, according to payroll records, top $100,000 a year. And most district and deputy chiefs are paid more than $130,000 and $150,000, respectively.
Edward A. Kelly, president of the Boston Firefighters Union, said he was unaware of the costs of the injured-leave pay. But he brushed aside the notion that there have been any abuses. If the city wants to reduce the costs, he said, a wellness and fitness program would do just that. As for the overtime costs, Kelly said, those, too, could be cut markedly if the city restored to the firefighting force the 100 or more positions cut in the last two decades.
Samuel R. Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, a business-funded watchdog group, said yesterday that the Fire Department culture is resistant to change.
"For the first time, there is an outside fire commissioner with a mandate to bring change," Tyler said. "But it will be extraordinarily difficult to accomplish."
Globe correspondent Jesse Nankin and Globe staff reporter Matt Carroll contributed to this report. Walter Robinson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Confidential messages can be left at 617-929-3334.
"Controversies abound, but fire union holds line against changes"
By Stephanie Ebbert and Tania deLuzuriaga, (Boston) Globe Staff, January 15, 2008
They recently faced allegations of drinking on the job, cheating on a civil service exam, and defrauding the system to inflate their pensions. But if the public image of firefighters has suffered, they are not letting it get in the way of plans for a demonstration outside Mayor Thomas M. Menino's State of the City speech tonight to pressure the city for higher wages.
It is not the first time firefighters have been so bold. For more than a decade, their union has repeatedly won lucrative contracts and dodged attempts to impose reforms on issues ranging from random drug and alcohol testing policies to vehicle maintenance.
Firefighters remain one of the city's most powerful constituencies, a union that no city politician wants to take on. Firefighters enjoy a public image that is considered unimpeachably heroic. Criticizing them is equated by many office-holders in Boston to political suicide.
"The firefighter unions, the police unions are very politically savvy, and they can take even the mildest criticism and turn it into 'you're anti-public-safety, antifirefighter,' " said Michael McCormack, a former city councilor and a lawyer who remains active in city affairs.
Even Boston's famously bullying mayor seems to don kid gloves when grappling with the firefighters' union.
"There's a lot of good firefighters, too," Menino commented last week when asked by reporters about the thorny negotiations.
The firefighters' union has opposed dozens of proposals over the past 10 years, primarily by asking for more pay in exchange for each change. City officials admit they have backed down in the face of such demands.
For example, firefighters have asked for raises in exchange for submitting to annual physicals and for allowing the city to use civilians in the maintenance of fire apparatus. The union has also refused to agree to random drug and alcohol testing, which the powerful Police Patrolmen's Association allowed in 1999 in exchange for a bump in pay. Random drug and alcohol testing has returned as an urgent issue in the current round of negotiations after drugs or alcohol were found in the blood of two firefighters killed in a West Roxbury fire.
Drug testing, along with annual physicals and equipment maintenance by civilians, was recommended by an outside review of the department in 2000.
Menino, who vowed to impose reforms on the Fire Department shortly after he was elected mayor in 1993, more recently had all but given up on making sweeping changes.
"In all practicality, it's very difficult to achieve," Menino said in an interview last fall. "You want to see this happen, but you [come] to understand there are other things that can be done much easier."
The mayor said that if he dug in his heels and demanded all the changes at once, the ensuing face-off would be untenably protracted and nasty.
"How long would that take us?" Menino said in the fall.
After 18 months working without a contract, Edward A. Kelly, president of the firefighters' union, said last week that the organization had no other choice but to take on the city.
"We try and negotiate in good faith, but the city doesn't," he said. "That forces us to use other means."
The embattled union recently hired a New York public relations firm, Sheinkopf Communications.
"The union's number one concern has always been and will always be the safety of the city of Boston," said Austin Shafran, a Sheinkopf employee who is acting as a spokesman for the union. He called recent news reports about firefighters cheating on a civil service test and inflating their pensions one-sided and unfounded. "No politician supporting those charges would want to be the one running into a burning building," Shafran said.
Last week, the Globe reported that between 2001 and 2007, 102 firefighters were granted tax-free and substantially higher accidental disability pensions after reporting on-the-job injuries while they were substituting for their superiors at higher pay.
State officials are investigating whether Boston firefighters cheated on a civil service promotional exam by taking turns going to the bathroom and sending answers on text messages to their colleagues.
Last October brought the dark news that autopsy results showed one firefighter was legally drunk and another had cocaine in his system when they died fighting a West Roxbury restaurant fire in August.
Kelly downplayed recent headlines, saying negative stories were planted by City Hall as part of a strategy to attempt to weaken the union.
"The city's strategy is to weaken our public image," Kelly said. "This administration will bully you. You have to stand up and fight."
And fight they will. Last week the union applied for a permit to rally outside Menino's State of the City address, a formal occasion attended by dignitaries including the governor. At a similar picket seven years ago, angry hordes of firefighters crowded outside the event, shouting at Menino and, allegedly, spitting at his daughter. That year, the mayor was facing an election challenge during the heat of contract talks. In 2004, he was staring down a threat of protests during his city's showcase, the Democratic National Convention.
Some critics of the union called its planned rally outrageous and said that, given recent reports of cheating and other abuses, they were surprised that the union continues to employ the hardball tactics it has used in the past.
"It's almost as if their strategy is to try to bully the mayor into a new contract," said Samuel R. Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, a business-funded watchdog group that has pushed for fire contract reforms. But recent experience might have taught the union leaders that the tactic works, he said.
Menino has been visibly irritated by firefighter union tactics over the years. But his administration has repeatedly awarded lucrative contracts.
And while independent reviews have highlighted the Fire Department's shortcomings for years, little has been done to reform it. In October, a Globe review found that the city has failed to adopt dozens of recommendations to overhaul the department. The inaction has cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars in what independent auditors identified as wasteful spending.
"There really has been no elected official willing to make changes or take on the Fire Department," said Jeffrey W. Conley, head of the Boston Finance Commission, an independent city agency that recommended changes as far back as 1994. "It's always easier to go along and get along."
While critics fault the latest administration for not doing more to tackle the intractable problems of the department, Menino seems to think he has done plenty and has suffered the wrath of the angry firefighters for it.
"We've got some things out of them: exempt positions, light duty when someone is hurt, the sick leave piece," he said in an interview with the Globe on Friday. "But it's slow progress. That's more reforms than we got in 30 years beforehand."
Nor are there reverberations in the chambers of Boston City Council, where members who typically clamor for attention did not return calls about the firefighters union on Friday. Neither Council President Maureen Feeney of Dorchester nor Councilor at Large Michael F. Flaherty or Councilor John R. Connolly, who both called for random drug and alcohol testing for firefighters, would talk about the union last week.
And in last year's council race, only four of nine candidates said they would demand that the firefighters' contract allow random drug and alcohol screening.
Donovan Slack of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
A Boston GLOBE EDITORIAL
"Blitzed by the firefighters union"
January 15, 2008
TAXPAYER money is pouring out of the Boston Fire Department as if from the powerful high-pressure hose that firefighters call the "blitz line." The Menino administration must get a grip on the overtime, injury leave, and pension excesses that threaten to consume millions of dollars - along with public confidence in the integrity of the department.
Last week, the Globe reported on an epidemic of Boston firefighters claiming tax-free disability pensions rather than regular retirement benefits. One perplexing practice enabled 102 firefighters since 2001 to retire with higher disability pensions after reporting that they sustained on-the-job injuries while filling in for superiors at higher pay grades. The injury leaves alone are incredibly costly - $43.5 million from 2003 to 2006. And overtime costs keep rising to keep pace.
"It just keeps getting worse," says Samuel Tyler, who has tracked high costs and failed reforms in the department for years as head of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau. "The union thinks it is in control."
An air of unreality is starting to develop. Union president Edward Kelly says firefighters intend to picket Mayor Menino's State of the City address tonight because "the administration is trying to bully the union" during months of unsuccessful contract negotiations. But if anyone has gotten strong-armed over the years, it is the taxpayers, who can't understand why the union is resisting mandatory random drug and alcohol testing after reports that one of the firefighters who died in an August blaze was legally drunk and another had traces of cocaine in his system.
The Menino administration shares blame for the firefighters' growing sense of entitlement. It has given away too much at the collective bargaining table over the years. Even when the city managed in the 2001 contract to negotiate provisions to assign injured firefighters to light duty, it left gigantic loopholes - including an automatic six-week stay-at-home provision for those same firefighters. But the current contract impasse and the deeper problems at the department have more to do with a tradition of insularity among firefighters so deep that any management reform efforts are quickly doused. The union even refuses to take its seats on a special commission recommended by specialists after the deadly August blaze.
Wisely, the state Division of Labor Relations agreed to intervene yesterday, in response to a request by the Menino administration. A letter from the division's acting director, Michael Byrnes, indicates that the state "accepts jurisdiction of the dispute," which could eventually lead to binding arbitration. But that still depends on aggressive action by the state's Joint Labor Management Committee, which has ultimate jurisdiction over police and fire labor disputes.
It needs to happen soon. Boston residents shouldn't be asked to absorb much more.
"Union holds off protest of mayor: But tensions grow between Menino and firefighters"
By Donovan Slack, (Boston) Globe Staff, January 16, 2008
The Boston firefighters union backed off a threat to picket Mayor Thomas M. Menino's State of the City speech last night, but that did not stop the escalation of a political feud between the union and the mayor.
The mayor used the platform of his annual address to say he was astounded by the union's aggressive negotiating positions on key contract changes.
He cited the union's unwillingness to accept random drug and alcohol testing, as well as its opposition to eliminating what he called "unethical personnel practices," without winning a pay raise in return.
"These union leaders do not seem to realize what everyone in this city knows, that it is not right to ask for pay raises as a reward for putting a stop to these abuses of the public trust," Menino said.
The mayor's remarks drew applause, but some public officials in the audience refrained from responding.
The union, while canceling plans to picket the mayor's speech at the Strand Theatre in Dorchester, held a press conference at which its leaders leveled charges at Menino's administration.
The union said the city was "engaged in a plot" to interfere with a department's investigation of the death of two firefighters in August.
"The city is trying to manipulate the independent report, thus revictimizing the families who have had to endure a horribly tragic event," said Edward Kelly, president of Boston Firefighters Local 718.
Firefighters Paul Cahill and Warren Payne were killed in the fire Aug. 29 at a West Roxbury restaurant. Autopsy results showed that Cahill had a blood-alcohol content of 0.27, more than three times the legal limit to drive in Massachusetts, and that Payne had traces of cocaine in his system, said public officials who spoke to the Globe last year.
Kelly said the report, as it stands, gives no indication that Cahill and Payne were impaired by drugs or alcohol when they fought the fire.
He said he was concerned that the Menino administration would try to "conjure up" some claims of impairment. He cited draft changes the city's legal department submitted to the Board of Inquiry.
According to two public officials who have read the draft report, the board's original findings did not touch on whether supervisors on the night of the fire followed Fire Department procedures or whether they noticed any sign that Cahill and Payne were impaired.
The suggested additions sought answers to some of those questions, the officials said.
The city's legal department also made recommendations for "more substantive analysis," said William F. Sinnot, lawyer for the city. "The sole goal of this process is to arrive at the truth."
Since the fire, Menino has been pressing for random drug and alcohol testing of firefighters in negotiations with their union.
The firefighters have been working without a contract for 18 months.
Boston police and the fire departments in many major cities, including Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, have adopted random drug and alcohol testing.
Yesterday's exchange was the most public to date since the feud between City Hall and the union erupted last fall after the autopsy results became public.
Other concessions sought by the administration include tightening sick and injured leave and disability pension policies, which have skyrocketed in recent years.
The Globe reported last week that between 2001 and 2007, 102 firefighters were granted tax-free and substantially higher accidental disability pensions after reporting on-the-job injuries while they were substituting for their superiors at higher pay.
On Monday, the state Department of Labor Relations agreed to begin a mediation process that if unsuccessful, could land the contract dispute in binding arbitration.
But the absence of pickets took some of the drama out of the fight. When the mayor arrived at the Strand on Columbia Road yesterday, there was just one demonstrator with a sign protesting a 9/11 conspiracy.
Bill Gaylord and three other firefighters showed up at the mayor's speech because they did not get word that the picketing had been canceled.
Gaylord said he wanted to know why city officials and the union did not iron out a new contract.
"It kills morale," said Gaylord, a 23-year veteran firefighter.
The mayor also used last night's speech to address another sensitive topic: school busing. Menino said he plans to redraw bus zones to save $10 million annually.
Currently, the city is divided into three zones: North, which encompasses Charlestown, East Boston, downtown and Allston-Brighton; West, which includes Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, Roslindale, and West Roxbury; and East, which covers Hyde Park, Dorchester, Mattapan, and South Boston. Parents can choose to enroll their children at any school within their zone. But smaller or redrawn zones could mean fewer students travel far to go school.
The current zoning is costing the city some $40 million per year for transportation and could cost as much as $60 million annually five years from now, Menino said.
"This is crazy," he said. "I will not allow us to pour dollar after dollar into gas tanks, when we could put more of that money into our classrooms."
A similar plan came to naught in 2004, when after a year of public forums, the city scrapped its proposal to cut back on busing in the face of criticism from parents who live near underperforming schools and wanted the choice to send them to better schools in another neighborhood.
Megan Woolhouse of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Donovan Slack can be reached at email@example.com.
"Long, tense history"
January 16, 2008
Mayor Thomas M. Menino vows to implement "tough standards" for the Fire Department, weeks after he was sworn in as mayor.
The Boston Finance Commission completes a review of the department. The review makes many recommendations for reform, including the elimination of some divisions.
A review by the MMA Consulting Group of the department supports most of the Finance Commission's suggestions and makes additional recommendations.
The O'Toole Commission, a panel led by the state Public Safety secretary Kathleen M. O'Toole, releases report on the department. Among its recommendations is random drug and alcohol testing of firefighters.
Firefighters who had been working for 18 months without a contract picket the mayor's State of the City address and spit at administration officials.
Days before the Democratic National Convention is held in Boston, the union reaches agreement on a contract.
Menino appoints Roderick J. Fraser Jr. as the new fire commissioner, the first time since 1968 someone from outside the department is chosen.
Autopsy results on two firefighters who died fighting a fire are made public, showing one with alcohol in his system and the other with cocaine.
"The mayor as risk-taker"
January 16, 2008
BOSTON Mayor Thomas Menino took more risks yesterday than in past State of the City addresses. From the Strand Theater in Dorchester, he offered new initiatives, revisited the scenes of some of his administration's notable failures, and ratcheted up his confrontation with the city's aggressive firefighters union.
"I am astonished," he said, "by the union leaders' unwillingness to eliminate substance abuse and unethical personnel practices." He vowed to oppose any contract that does not include random drug and alcohol testing in the scandal-wracked fire department.
There was ample political subtext in the speech, which came from a mayor who is expected to seek an unprecedented fifth term next year. In November, Boston Public Library director Bernard Margolis, whose contract was not renewed, slammed Menino as "anti-intellectual." Menino isn't going to push Vaclav Havel off the list of philosopher-politicians, but his political shrewdness remains intact. He used yesterday's speech to name a poet laureate and promote public art, and called on School Superintendent Carol Johnson to double the number of advanced-placement classes in the next five years and establish International Baccalaureate programs at two city schools.
Menino put his credibility at stake with an explicit promise to reduce crime. Citing a 9 percent drop in violent crime last year, he said Police Commissioner Edward Davis had pledged to reduce such crimes by an additional 10 percent this year. Such specific promises are rare in big-city police departments.
Menino may have led with his chin again when he reopened the possibility of redrawing school assignment zones to save as much as $10 million on transportation costs. In 2004, a Menino-appointed task force failed to build consensus between white parents who favor neighborhood schools and minority parents who put more stock in school choice. But the biggest barrier is still the scarcity of schools in the neighborhoods with the most public school students. And the city is hardly in financial shape to rush off on a massive school construction program.
The mayor's most sweeping proposal was to link schools, libraries, and community centers into a "network of caring adults" as a way to address youth crime and reduce school dropout rates. It's a hopeful idea grounded in sound community-building strategies. But it also carves out an important role for the city's community centers, many of which function at marginal levels. Menino has never been able to reform or remove the insular non-profit boards that view community centers as fiefdoms - any more than he's been able to tame the firefighters union.
Until Menino brings these interest groups around to the public's benefit, it will be hard to glimpse the "spirit of common commitment" that he envisions for the city.
Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino. (Photo by Matthew West)
"Mumbles’ eloquence speaks for itself"
By Howie Carr, Wednesday, January 16, 2008, www.bostonherald.com, Columnists
Forget last night’s State of the City speech. Mayor “Mumbles” Menino always tries to put his best foot forward once he crosses Local 718’s annual picket line at the Strand.
But where you can really observe Mumbles in real-life form is on the cable-access channel. In Boston, “Wayne’s World” is Mumbles’ World. This is where he addresses the issues that are on his mind, so to speak, or should I say, misspeak.
Once he presented himself to the electorate as the “urban mechanic” laboring in the urban garage. But that was many elections ago and many failed municipal transmissions and radiators, none of which was covered under the warranty. Now, in his golden years, Mumbles has morphed into a veritable de Tocqueville, to use two words he has never heard.
All dialogue guaranteed verbatim, and you can listen to almost all of the sound cuts for yourself at bostonherald.com. As Mumbles opined recently:
“Right now in America, we have the most complacent American citizenry we have ever had.”
America, how does that make you feel, America?
Crime is of course a major problem, right, Mumbles?
“A lot work has to remains to be done.”
But surely City Hall is in the forefront of ending the scourge of crime.
“My administration,” he says, “has also taken steps to impl-, com-complement your services through initiatives such as the violence intervention and promotion protection prevention - I’m sorry, program.”
Recently the mayor mentioned illegal immigration. He’s had enough of this mean-spirited talk about aliens and their crimes and welfare dependency: “It is a yesterday’s issue,” he said, and then mentioned someone else in the room who was born in a foreign land.
“We here because of some others guys too - what’s his name? Ortiz? I think he just ahhhh went back to the ahhhh Dominican Republican.”
That’s right, the Dominican Republican. Not to be confused with the Springfield Republican - a newspaper. Or the Belmont Republican - Mitt Romney.
Oh sure, Mumbles has got his problems with the local jakes - you saw it in yesterday’s Herald. Thank God, no firefighter temporarily working in a higher pay grade slipped on an ice patch last night in Uphams Corner, twisted his ankle and suffered a tragic career-ending tax-free disability. At least not that we know of - yet.
But don’t worry, this labor dispute will end the way they always do in Boston. Mumbles will cave. Because he listens to 718.
“Many human union members and many of their families have come up to me in the last couple of months.”
Also, presumably, many of the non-human members of the local as well, although they weren’t mentioned.
The mayor just wants to make sure all Bostonians are safe this winter, and that means keeping space heaters safe.
“Remember that space heaters need space.”
Sometimes on television at night, Mumbles is just there, in front of a podium, suddenly talking in an unknown location. Like during this recent peroration:
“It’s humbling to think about the important causes and movements that got start, their start, in this halls decades and decades ago.”
Yes, he said “this halls.” Not to be confused with ‘these hall.”
A Renaissance man is Mumbles. He loves attending the music festivals that make Boston the world-class city that it is, unless of course gunfire breaks out.
“We had thousand and thousand of folks, great music.”
Now that the State of the City address is history, Mumbles should take a long vacation. I hear the Dominican Republican is nice this time of year.
THE BOSTON GLOBE - Op-Ed - JOAN VENNOCHI
"Putting the heat on the Fire Department"
By Joan Vennochi, (Boston) Globe Columnist, January 17, 2008
FINALLY, deep into his fourth term, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino is taking on the Boston Firefighters Union.
"It would have been nice to see that fire in the belly much earlier," said Samuel R. Tyler, who heads the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, a business-funded watchdog group that has been pressing the mayor to implement Boston Fire Department reforms for at least 14 years.
Last October, autopsy results showed one firefighter was legally drunk and another had cocaine in his system when they died fighting a West Roxbury restaurant fire in August. That put drug and alcohol testing at the forefront of contract negotiations with Local 718, which has long resisted it.
But drug and alcohol testing is not enough. According to the research bureau's latest report, released yesterday, it is just one facet of needed reform in the scandal-plagued department.
"A final contract without drug testing or with drug testing but no significant reform language should not be approved," concludes the report. Other issues that should be part of any contract: a health insurance agreement already accepted by other unions, which requires employees to increase their share of cost by 5 percent; temporary promotion and shift-swapping policies; and better sick leave control.
With bad news flooding out of the Fire Department, the mayor is now saying he won't give in to union bullying. But, how far will he go in demanding change?
"I agree with Sam," he said of Tyler's report. "We need drug testing and other reforms." But Menino stopped short of saying he would hold out for a contract that included all the reforms the research bureau considers necesssary. "It's very difficult," he said.
Besides the revelations about the two firefighters who died in West Roxbury, the Globe recently reported that between 2001 and 2007, 102 firefighters were granted tax-free and substantially higher accidental disability pensions after reporting on-the-job injuries while they were substituting for their superiors at higher pay. State officials are investigating whether firefighters cheated on a civil service exam. One new firefighter used political connections to get hired ahead of others with higher exam scores.
"I am astonished by the union leaders' unwillingness to eliminate substance abuse and unethical personnel practices," declared Menino, in his State of the City address. "These union leaders do not seem to realize what everyone in this city knows - that it is not right to ask for pay raises as a reward for putting a stop to these abuses of the public trust."
If union leaders still don't get it, it's because they have had their way with Boston mayors for such a long time. A study in 1985, and another in 2000, called for sweeping institutional change in the Boston Fire Department. Little occurred. Menino first vowed to impose reforms on the department shortly after he was elected mayor in 1993. But the firefighters union asked for more pay in exchange for each change, and the city admits it backed down.
The city and firefighters have been stalled over their latest contract negotiations for over 20 months. In August, city officials petitioned the state to take jurisdiction of the case and begin mediation. That still hasn't happened; it should, and soon. Meanwhile, the firefighters union should drop the nonsense and support needed Fire Department changes. That will help its image more than the New York public relations firm that Local 718 hired for spin control.
As the research bureau report points out, drug testing is more common in public safety departments than when it was first proposed in Boston. The Menino administration put it on the table in 1999 and 2004, but no agreement was reached. (The Boston Police Patrolmen's Association first negotiated drug testing in 1998; it became effective in 1999.)
Menino should have more leverage now with the firefighters union, given the recent headlines.
The union's resistance to change is well-documented. Menino's resistance to bucking it is also well-documented. His new feistiness is welcome, but long overdue. Hopefully, it's more than rhetoric from a mayor who would prefer to go unchallenged as he positions himself for a fifth term.
Firefighters deserve respect, but Boston also deserves a Fire Department it can trust.
When it comes to delivering on that trust, fire in the mayoral belly comes better late than never. But there's no getting around the fact Menino's burn was a slow one.
Joan Vennochi's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Man, 23, is killed in Dorchester shooting: Neighborhood's 4th gun death in 3 days"
By Megan Woolhouse, (Boston) Globe Staff, January 19, 2008
A 23-year-old man died from multiple gunshot wounds yesterday evening in a shooting on Harvard Street in Dorchester. Police did not identify the victim.
It was the fourth shooting fatality in Dorchester in three days.
On Wednesday, a 16-year-old was shot to death on Strathcona Road. The next day, a 23-year-old man died after he was hit by a barrage of gunfire at the Franklin Field housing development. Later the same day the body of a man who had been stabbed in the chest was found in a three-family residence on Tuttle Street.
Yesterday's fatal shooting was the eighth slaying in Boston this year.
The violence also comes just days after Mayor Thomas M. Menino's State of the City address, in which he hailed police efforts to combat violent crime across Boston.
Last night's shooting took place shortly before 7:35 p.m. Gunshots shattered the windows of a nearby restaurant.
Police asked anyone with information to call the Boston Homicide Unit at 617-343-4470. Callers wishing to remain anonymous should call CrimeStoppers Tip Line at 800-494-8477.
Shawn Drumgold, found guilty in 1989 of murdering a 12-year-old girl, saw his conviction overturned in 2003. (JOHN TLUMACKI/BOSTON GLOBE FILE PHOTO/2003)
"City spends heavily to fight suit: Trial next month in civil rights case"
By Jonathan Saltzman, Boston Globe Staff, January 25, 2008
The city of Boston has spent more than $1 million on outside lawyers to fight a lawsuit filed by a man who spent 15 years in prison before prosecutors concluded he was wrongly convicted in one of the most notorious murders in Boston in the past quarter century.
The civil rights suit by Shawn Drumgold isn't scheduled to go to trial until Feb. 25 in US District Court in Boston, but the city has already paid $1.14 million to five outside lawyers and a private investigator, according to figures obtained by the Globe under a public records request.
That is about 10 times the total fees paid to outside lawyers by the city in two other wrongful conviction lawsuits that ended with settlements in 2006.
Peter Neufeld, co-founder of the Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal clinic whose use of DNA evidence has led to 212 exonerations across the country, said he has helped a dozen former prisoners bring civil suits after they were cleared outright of their crimes. In almost every case, he said, police departments contested the suits.
"They do defend these cases even when they admit that someone's innocent," he said. "That is not that unusual. What's unusual in [this] case is that they hired outside counsel, and if they've spent $1.1 million, they're defending the position very vigorously."
Prosecutors and Boston police have never publicly exonerated Drumgold, and no one else has ever been charged with the killing.
Drumgold was convicted of first-degree murder in 1989 in the death of 12-year-old Darlene Tiffany Moore, who was killed by a stray bullet as she sat atop a mailbox on a Roxbury street corner, talking to friends on the night of Aug. 19, 1988. The killing sent shock waves through the city and came to symbolize an era when drug-fueled street gang violence seemed out of control. Some residents called for the deployment of the National Guard.
In 2003, after several prosecution witnesses told the Globe that police investigators bullied them into testifying against Drumgold, Suffolk County prosecutors said they believed he was wrongfully convicted but stopped short of saying he was innocent. A Superior Court judge overturned the conviction, saying "justice was not done" and the "system had failed."
This week, William F. Sinnott, the city's corporation counsel, said the city is mounting a vigorous defense because there was no miscarriage of justice. He refused to say whether the police department still believes Drumgold is guilty. "We think that the plaintiff did receive a fair trial the first time around when he was convicted in Suffolk County," Sinnott said. "We think the evidence will speak for itself, and we think it's strong evidence on our behalf."
Sinnott said it was impossible to predict how much Boston will ultimately spend in addition to the $1.14 million paid through Dec. 31. But he said it will be substantial, given the long hours the defense lawyers are likely to put in while on trial.
Drumgold's lawyer, Rosemary Scapicchio, predicted the city will ultimately spend about $2 million on the suit. She said the city is wasting tax dollars while refusing to acknowledge that police prosecuted an innocent man.
"Despite the fact that there's a new regime in the [Boston Police Department], this is the same old game of spending millions of dollars to defend a mistake, rather than admit a mistake and move on," Scapicchio said, referring to Edward F. Davis, who became commissioner 13 months ago.
The city raised the hourly pay of the five lawyers, all of whom are from different firms, from $140 to $175 in August, which Sinnott called "bargain-basement rates" for top-notch litigators.
Partners in the most prestigious law firms in Boston charge as much as $500 an hour to corporate clients, according to David L. Yas, publisher of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly.
The money paid to the five lawyers so far is the equivalent of 7,857 hours spent on the case.
Neufeld said the fact that Drumgold was not exonerated by DNA has likely spurred the city to put up a fierce fight.
"I think they're spending all the money, frankly, to avoid liability," said Neufeld, whose organization was not involved in the Drumgold case.
At his criminal trial, prosecutors portrayed Drumgold, a former drug dealer, as a gang member who had been gunning for a rival when Moore was shot.
But in May 2003, a Globe investigative report challenged many aspects of the conviction, including Drumgold's supposed gang affiliation. Two witnesses recanted statements and testimony used to convict Drumgold, saying authorities coerced them into providing incriminating evidence. The Globe also reported that police paid one witness to testify against Drumgold and dropped criminal charges against that witness, and it reported that police did not tell defense lawyers that a second witness, who later died, had a brain tumor that could have affected her memory.
In response to the report, Suffolk's top homicide prosecutor at the time, David E. Meier, reexamined the case and concluded that Drumgold got an unfair trial, citing newly discovered evidence and the failure of prosecutors to disclose some exculpatory evidence. Superior Court Judge Barbara J. Rouse threw out the conviction in November 2003, and prosecutors opted not to retry Drumgold.
In recent years, the city has settled other civil suits brought by wrongly convicted defendants. In 2006, the city paid $3.2 million to Stephan Cowans, who spent six years in prison after police wrongly linked him to a fingerprint left by a man who wounded a police sergeant in a shooting.
In another 2006 settlement, the city also paid $3.2 million to Neil Miller, who was exonerated by DNA evidence after spending 10 years in prison after being convicted of breaking and entering into an Emerson College student's apartment and raping her in 1989.
But the city spent only about $100,000 in both cases on outside legal fees before settling them, according to figures obtained by the Globe last year.
Scapicchio contends that the city has refused to settle the Drumgold suit because Boston police still believe he killed Moore.
"Drumgold did it - that's what they think," she said. "That appears to be what they plan to present as a defense."
She said the city has never offered to settle the dispute, but Sinnott said neither has Scapicchio.
Drumgold, who is 42, could not be reached for comment. He lives in Boston and is in a job training program, Scapicchio said.
Sinnott said the city went outside for legal help, instead of using its own staff attorneys, because Drumgold is suing several retired police officers along with the city and the government's interests might conflict with those of the other defendants.
So far, the city has paid $394,147 to Hugh Curran, a former Suffolk prosecutor, and $184,262 to Mary Jo Harris, a former lawyer for the Boston Police who is now in private practice, according to the records. A third lawyer, John Roache, whose wife used to work for the Boston Police as a lawyer, has been paid $284,350. The city has also paid William White Jr. $207,434 and Eve Piemonte-Stacey $12,970, and has paid a private investigator $58,966.
Jonathan Saltzman can be reached at email@example.com
"Citizens group rekindles effort to stop violence: Eight city homicides this year spur eclectic band of activists"
By Maria Cramer, Boston Globe Staff, January 29, 2008
Seventeen years ago, they banded together to combat violence.
Former gang members, lawyers, school officials, and business owners, they sought to form truces between warring gangs and stem Boston's skyrocketing homicide rate.
Today, Citizens for Safety will announce its rebirth and its new members, an eclectic group that includes mothers of homicide victims, religious leaders, a former policeman, and a suburban mom. They will also announce their new mission: to track sources of illegal guns and learn how they end up in the hands of teenagers and criminals.
Eight men have been killed since the year began. Nearly all of them were shot, and police said they believe several were victims of gang violence.
The spasm of violence spurred the group to announce its initiative so it could begin soliciting new members and financial support for their proposals and raise awareness about illegal gun trafficking.
"That created a sense of urgency," said Nancy Robinson, a Newton resident with a teenage son who will serve as the coalition's executive director. "We needed to move ahead."
In 1990, the year Citizens for Safety was first formed, Boston had 152 homicides, the highest number on record. The group helped create after-school programs and jobs for city teenagers. They focused on compelling gang members to get together for basketball matches. They were among several grass-roots organizations whose work with police helped lead to the so-called "Boston Miracle."
By 1999, the number of homicides fell to 31, the lowest in decades. The number would rise again through the years, but never return to the peak of the early 1990s. By 2001, many neighborhood organizations had thriving youth programs in place, and the group slowly disbanded.
"We did what every nonprofit dreams of doing," said Kathy Mainzer, the group's former director. "We put ourselves out of business, in a happy way."
In the last two years, however, the number of homicides has climbed to the 10-year high of 75 in both 2005 and 2006. Last year, the number fell to 66, but the surge of violence in the first two weeks of January has many in the community fearful of a repeat of the bloodshed of the early '90s.
"At that rate, if it keeps going, we would be way over" the peak, said Thomas Nolan, a former Boston police lieutenant and a Boston University criminologist, who will serve on the group's board of directors.
Group leaders said it is the availability of firearms, many of which come from states with less strict gun laws than Massachusetts, that has fueled the surge of violence.
"Back in the '90s, there were people bringing guns in from Georgia," said Mainzer, who will rejoin the coalition. "Now guns are coming in from everywhere."
To stop the flow, leaders said they will hold workshops with residents to educate them about trafficking and teach them how to mobilize public support for changes in current gun laws.
The workshops, called "traffic jams," also will invite homicide detectives to describe how they solved cases of fatal shootings, Nolan said.
The idea is to teach residents about police procedure and slowly build trust between the community and detectives, he said.
"If they feel as though there is a rapport established, maybe they will tell us not only where the guns are, but where they came from," he said.
Robinson said she wants the group to have a national effect and be able to pressure federal authorities to enforce gun laws and urge legislators to pass new laws that would force stricter background checks on gun purchasers.
Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis and Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who are expected to attend the announcement, said they welcome the group's return.
"We have a new start and new emergency and renewed commitment," Menino said.
The group's goals do not please everyone. Andrew Arulanandam, spokesman for the National Rifle Association, said new gun laws would not be effective.
"The reason that gun control laws don't work is that they require the cooperation of a very unlikely source, and that is the criminal," he said. "A criminal intent on committing a robbery or assault or whatever is not hindered by that law. He will do whatever, she will do whatever to get a gun."
Maria Cramer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Boston GLOBE EDITORIAL
"Boston's new houses of shame"
January 31, 2008
A DECADE ago, the Menino administration ran "House of Shame" ads in local newspapers juxtaposing photos of derelict properties in Boston next to the sumptuous suburban residences of absentee landlords. "How would you like having this vacant building next door to you?" posed the provocative ads. Nowadays, the best detectives in the city would be hard-pressed to push through the underbrush of mortgage brokers, lenders, Wall Street financial firms, and investors in an effort to establish ownership of some of Boston's abandoned properties.
In Boston, 703 residential properties fell into foreclosure last year, up from 261 in 2006, according to Boston's Department of Neighborhood Development. Much of the problem relates to subprime mortgages that lulled gullible or financially unstable buyers with low introductory rates. Many of these borrowers couldn't cope with the combination of interest hikes, a weakening economy, and a falling housing market.
And the trouble didn't end at the borrowers' front doors. Abandoned properties can quickly become magnets for vandals, drug dealers, gangs, and illicit activities. One family's personal financial crisis can quickly become a community catastrophe. The public's health can also be at risk. A recent Globe article cited a foreclosed property on Chesterfield Street in Hyde Park, empty since 2006, where city officials recently discovered a filled swimming pool. It posed a serious risk to local children. And no neighborhood is immune. Mayor Menino lives on the same street.
City Councilor Robert Consalvo of Hyde Park is offering a sound ordinance that would help to increase accountability and counter concerns of neighbors. The proposal would require mortgage holders to register foreclosed properties with the city, identify who is responsible for security and maintenance, and post the contact information prominently on the outside of the property. Holders of abandoned buildings would have to hire local property management companies to attend to them, says Consalvo, who has spent fruitless hours on the phone trying to establish ownership of problem properties in his district. The proposed ordinance would also include fines against mortgage holders that fail to maintain their abandoned properties.
The city's inspectional services department does a generally good job identifying problem properties. And Menino has been putting pressure on the mortgage holders and servicers who target buyers for subprime mortgages. But taxpayers, in many cases, are still footing the bill for boarding homes, shoveling walks, and draining pools.
Consalvo's proposal would put more teeth in current laws. And the prospect of fines should motivate mortgage companies to find new buyers for the properties. Any prod in this direction would be welcome in Boston
A Boston GLOBE EDITORIAL
"A new lesson plan for Boston"
February 1, 2008
THERE IS no arguing with the goals and priorities of Boston school superintendent Carol Johnson, which she outlined Wednesday in her first major policy speech since taking control of the school system in August. Johnson has paid careful attention to many school constituencies. But the public would be wise to hold its applause until Johnson proves that she can implement reforms as well as she analyzes problems.
Johnson's priorities are consistent with the recommendations of several recent studies of the 57,000-student school system: close the achievement gap between white and minority pupils; reduce the dropout rate; end overreliance on expensive special education classes; boost programs for bilingual students; and woo families that now opt for private, parochial or charter schools. Her message to the School Committee included thoughtful approaches, ranging from the creation of credit make-up schools for students at risk of dropping out to elementary Montessori programs for families interested in student self-discovery methods. But Bostonians have reason to be wary. Johnson's predecessor, Thomas Payzant, was a wiz at strategy but sometimes struggled at implementation.
The first sign of how Johnson intends to approach her ambitious five-year agenda should be seen in a week or two when she names a chief academic officer. The superintendent needs to shake up a lumbering bureaucracy, and her new organization chart is designed to do just that. But until the public can evaluate the new hires or transfers, it is all just lines and boxes on a page.
Johnson believes she can accomplish much of her agenda with as little as $2.5 million. That would be quite an accomplishment, and a necessary one as well. Boston can't expect a significant bump in state aid for education in the next fiscal year. And budget increases from City Hall are often eaten up by salary increases and health insurance costs.
Johnson earned a reputation for toughness in Memphis when it came to closing schools. She hinted yesterday at the need to take the same approach here, especially at the middle school level. That will raise a ruckus. But her plan does provide assurances that she would know how to redirect any savings into the classroom.
Johnson may also need to fend off outside distractions. State and federal authorities are probing waste and possible irregularities in awarding contracts at the Memphis school department, which she led for four years before coming to Boston. She says that neither she nor her former chief operating officer, Michael Goar, is the subject of law enforcement investigations. But it raises concerns about her operational capabilities and why she chose to bring Goar here from Memphis. Even a hint of scandal in Boston could derail her worthy plans to elevate the level of instruction and achievement for all Boston students.
"Boston parking fines may jump: Mayor's budget proposal envisions $13m from higher penalties"
By John C. Drake, (Boston) Globe Staff, April 9, 2008
Drivers would be slapped with tickets as high as $100 for violating the city's parking rules in a series of steep fine increases proposed as part of the mayor's budget for fiscal 2009.
Mayor Thomas M. Menino's $2.42 billion budget, which was filed yesterday, would increase city spending by 5.1 percent and keep funding for basic services largely untouched while sprinkling new cash into several community initiatives. The budget and new fines, which would generate an additional $13 million in revenue, must be approved by the City Council.
Menino said the fine increases, such as doubling the penalty for parking in a handicapped ramp from $50 to $100, are overdue.
"This budget shows stability at a time of real uncertainty," Menino said in a telephone interview yesterday. "We have got to raise some new revenues to maintain that stability. Some of these fines haven't been raised in over a decade."
Drivers who park in front of fire hydrants and in fire lanes also would receive $100 fines, up from $75 and $40 respectively. The fire hydrant fine was last increased in 2000, while the fire lane penalty has been unchanged since 1991. Parking in a crosswalk would generate a fine of $85, up from $40.
The increases apply only to main thoroughfares of the city and the downtown area, city officials said. Except for a few small increases, fines on residential streets would be unaffected.
Councilor-at-Large Michael Flaherty is opposed to increasing the fines because they could encourage people to shop and dine outside the city, and could disproportionately affect city residents.
"Increasing fees and fines on the backs of working families and business owners will not solve our budget woes," said Flaherty, the vice chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. "Instead of driving people out of the city, we should be driving down costs of wasteful government spending."
Council President Maureen Feeney said the the proposed increases were "unpleasant" but ultimately may be necessary.
The budget "is resting on the back of our property tax, and with diminishing state support, I think that we don't have many other options," she said.
While cities and towns across Massachusetts grapple with teacher layoffs and cuts in public safety driven by increased education and healthcare costs and decreased state aid, Boston is leaning on the strength of its robust property tax revenue and tourism economy.
Budget writers say the city's effective state aid is declining slightly from last year because of increases in state assessments for charter schools and the MBTA. With interest on city investments down $16 million, or the equivalent of the entire parks and recreation budget, the city will depend more on property tax revenue, which is expected to jump $58 million, or 4.4 percent, to $1.39 billion, said Lisa Signori, chief of administration and finance.
In 2000, 50 percent of city revenue came from property taxes and 30 percent from state aid. The other revenue came from several categories, including fines and investment returns. This year, 57 percent of city revenue is projected to come from property taxes - the same as last year - while 21 percent of the revenue will come from the state. Last year's budget was $2.29 billion.
For the first time in several years, the budget does not include funding for new police officers. Instead, Menino has spread modest increases over several priorities, while keeping the police force at 2,235 uniformed officers, its highest level since 2000.
Increases in firefighter salaries are not included because the Menino administration remains locked in contract negotiations with the firefighters union.
The budget also includes $35 million in spending from the city's $110 million in reserves. Of that, $25 million is being placed into an account to cover future health insurance costs for city retirees.
The remaining $10 million will go to the city's school system, as part of a previously announced bailout to help new Superintendent Carol Johnson avoid school closings and classroom cuts. Still, the School Department is making more than $18 million in cuts to central office staff, teacher and principal training, and maintenance on school buildings.
"We were able to use that reserve, but that's only one time. After we do it this time, how do we do it next year?" Menino said. "Some of the other programs we would have liked to increase - music and arts - we weren't able to do that."
Sam Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, suggested the mayor's budget is "less conservative" than previous spending plans. He said there is less wiggle room to account for potential tax abatements, uncollected taxes, and the possibility that police and fire overtime will exceed budgeted amounts.
"There still is room in the budget for that situation, but there's less than we've seen in the past," Tyler said. "In a period of financial uncertainty, this is more of a maintenance budget trying to maintain a basic level of services. There's not much room for a whole bunch of new initiatives, but it's not a budget that is cutting back quite a bit."
To fund the mayor's plan to coordinate services at the city's schools, libraries, and community centers, the budget includes an $875,000 increase for the Boston Centers for Youth and Families. To offset decreases in federal housing grants, his budget includes $571,000 in new city funding for the Department of Neighborhood Development, which depends heavily on the annual grants.
There is $3.9 million more, a 14 percent increase, for the Transportation Department. That money will pay for better street cleaning, parking enforcement, and an overhaul of city parking meters. Meters will be rewired, damaged or missing meters will be replaced, and the city will add new meters along streets that had been marked for 2-hour parking.
Much of the city's parking-meter technology dates back to 1985, and regular repairs have been costing the city money, said Lisa Signori, the city's chief of administration and finance.
The budget includes substantial pay hikes for the city's four-member independent licensing board, which approves food and alcohol licenses for restaurants and hotels among other approvals. Two commissioners will get pay hikes from $60,000 to $85,000, the executive secretary's pay will increase from $60,000 to $92,500, and the chairman's pay will jump from $62,500 to $100,000.
The increases were established in a home-rule petition approved last year by state lawmakers, Signori said. The salaries salary's had been unchanged since 1995.
The administration will formally present Menino's budget proposal to the council this morning. The council must approve a budget by June 30.
John Drake can be reached at email@example.com.
"For mayor, a feminine mystique"
By John C. Drake, (Boston) Globe Staff, April 22, 2008
Could it be his approach to education and healthcare, the so-called kitchen-table issues? Or is there something deeper at work - a certain intangible magnetism? Whatever the reason, Mayor Thomas M. Menino is a huge hit with the ladies.
The four-term mayor has support across all demographic segments in the city, but Boston's women really send his approval ratings soaring. No less than 80 percent of women in a Boston Globe poll last week said they approve of how Menino is handling his job.
That compares with 64 percent of men in the survey who approve of Menino's job performance. When it comes to his negative ratings, only 13 percent of women disapprove of his performance, compared with 27 percent of men who disapprove.
Menino, who has hinted that he may run for a fifth term next year but has made no announcement, struck a beefcake pose, playfully flexing his shoulders and pectoral muscles, when asked in an interview to explain his greater appeal to the fairer sex.
Then he said seriously that he believes women appreciate some of the issues he has focused on at City Hall. "We put a lot of emphasis on schools, which I think is a women's issue; more emphasis on healthcare, which is another one," he said.
He was quick to add that women in the city may notice the involvement of his wife, Angela, in domestic violence prevention efforts and other community activities.
"She's part of the team," he said.
Andrew Smith, the University of New Hampshire pollster who conducted the poll for the Globe, said party identification may also explain his female appeal.
He said women in Boston are more likely to be Democrats, like Menino.
One East Boston woman, who participated in the poll and said she "strongly approved" of the job the mayor had done, said her support was based on his ability to seem in touch, and a readiness to help in a pinch.
"If something has to be done, he does it," said Patricia Love. "If there's a big fire or something going on, he's there. And if something's going on and you need help with it, he's there to help you."
Despite concerns in the poll results about crime and schools, residents pointed to their personal encounters with the mayor in explaining their enduring support for Menino. More than half of residents claimed to have met him personally, a figure Menino called "unbelievable."
"I don't do it intentionally," he said. "You go to community meetings, and you talk to people. It's part of your everyday life."
He called the poll good news for his possible continued tenure. But he still would not say if he will do what 61 percent of residents said he should: run for a fifth term in 2009.
"I'm pleased by it, of course, but we still have a lot of work to do," Menino said.
John C. Drake can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Corporate headquarters are overrated, mayor says
By Binyamin Appelbaum, Globe Staff | April 24, 2008
As Boston lost the headquarters of Gillette Co., FleetBoston Financial Corp., John Hancock Financial Services Inc. and others through corporate acquisitions, many saw signs of a local economic decline. If the headquarters went elsewhere, then Boston was becoming a branch office.
Yesterday, at a plush gathering of business leaders on the revitalized waterfront, Mayor Thomas M. Menino said it was clear in retrospect that having corporate headquarters is overrated. Boston, he said, is prospering with fewer chief executives.
"I'm doing better today than I was doing before," Menino said. "Gillette is a much better partner for the city today. John Hancock has been a much better partner in recent years."
"There's too much emphasis put on headquarters," he said later.
The mayor's remarks summarize an emerging consensus among local leaders and academics.
"There was a series of fears that thus far have proved groundless," said Paul Grogan, of the Boston Foundation, often a Menino critic. "I know I sound like a member of the administration, but the mayor is right about this."
Menino's remarks came on the same day that the one of the largest companies still headquartered in Boston, Liberty Mutual Group, agreed to pay $6.2 billion for Safeco Corp., among the largest deals by a Boston firm in recent years. Liberty, under the direction of longtime chief executive Edmund F. Kelly, also has been raising its corporate profile. In late 2004 it pledged $10 million over five years to bail out the Boston Pops July Fourth concert and fireworks extravaganza.
Explanations vary as to why Boston is prospering despite a relative dearth of headquarters. Some academics consider headquarters categorically overrated: they are often small operations that employ a handful of people, drops in the economic bucket. The vast majority of a company's employees often work in a different place.
Others say headquarters are good for a city, but Boston is prospering on a different model.
"Places like Boston are very good at helping companies grow, but they're not really good places for mature businesses. We do innovation," said Edward Glaeser, a professor of economics at Harvard University. "If you're a mature industry and it's not critical to come up with a new new thing, why would you pay the high price of being in Boston?"
Instead, companies such as Novartis build research labs in Cambridge and Bank of America Corp., which swallowed FleetBoston, commits millions of dollars a year to fund research on banking at the Media Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. On this model, the most important local headquarters may belong to the eight research universities in and around Boston. And universities rarely relocate.
David Luberoff, the executive director of the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston, said initial concerns about lost headquarters also had failed to consider the ongoing relationship between the successor companies and the city.
"If you're growing here you have a stake in it being a good region and in being on good terms with government," Luberoff said.
Menino spoke yesterday at a Boston College Citizen Seminar, ironically hosted by the Chief Executives' Club of Boston. He was asked about the importance of headquarters after the speech.
His remarks reflect his confidence as mayor of a prospering city. Private employment in Boston increased by 5 percent between the third quarter of 2005 and the third quarter of 2007, according to the Massachusetts Department of Workforce Development, and average weekly wages rose 10 percent. Procter & Gamble Co. completed its acquisition of Gillette on Oct. 1, 2005.
At the time, Menino was simply resigned. "It's America, how do you stop the deals?" he told The Boston Globe in February 2005. "What we have to do is try to work with them and try to maintain the benefits to the city."
Yesterday he declared victory, saying the city actually had improved its relations with the successor companies.
The head of John Hancock, which was acquired by Manulife Financial Corp. of Toronto in 2004, agreed.
"Our pledge to Boston has been that as our business grows, so does our commitment to the city, as evidenced by our leading support for the mayor's summer jobs program, the expansion in our overall corporate donations and our more visible role in the Boston Marathon," said John D. DesPrez III, Hancock chief executive.
Still, several people said lost headquarters have tangible consequences.
Corporate headquarters are at least symbols of their hometowns, emblems of the local economy, and magnets that draw other businesses.
"A company headquartered in Boston does give the city a certain amount of prestige, so you can't ignore it," said Jay W. Lorsch, a Harvard Business professor. "I think anytime a city begins not to have any of them, people can look at it and say it's a second-class place. That's the danger. So having a few of them around is not a bad thing, at least symbolically."
Senior executives also are important sources of philanthropy, both through their companies and individually.
Many cities, particularly the fast-growing cities of the Sun Belt, continue to woo headquarters vigorously. When The Boeing Co. said its senior executives would leave Seattle in 2001, Denver, Dallas and Chicago all offered millions of dollars in incentives.
Paul Guzzi, the chief executive of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, said Menino simply was putting the best face on reality.
"It's always preferable to have more companies headquartered here than not," Guzzi said. "I think it's an admission or an acknowledgement of reality, that consolidations are occurring and either you choose to work with a new entity or you choose to complain about it, and I think the mayor's choice is the right choice."
Binyamin Appelbaum can be reached at email@example.com.
"Citing shortfall, Boston schools seek $9.9m: Blame fuel, other costs for 2007-08 deficit"
By Tracy Jan, (Boston) Globe Staff, May 29, 2008
The Boston public schools, which recently received a $10 million bailout from the city to close next year's budget gap, are requesting an additional $9.9 million to make ends meet this school year.
The deficit is driven in part by escalating food and fuel costs as well as higher-than-expected staffing costs, Superintendent Carol Johnson told the School Committee last night. The school system's financial woes are fueled by a steady enrollment decline and reduced federal funding.
"The trends that everyday citizens are seeing in their homes are playing out in our over 100 schools," Johnson said.
The plea for more money is an unusual midyear request that the School Department has only made twice in the past decade, said John McDonough, the school system's chief financial officer.
The move also came as a surprise to the Boston City Council, which will ultimately have to vote on the request.
"What source they are looking toward to resolve this shortfall will be very interesting," said City Council President Maureen E. Feeney "We already hit the reserve fund for $10 million for the next year. It's not a bottomless pit."
Feeney said she was first made aware of the situation during a routine meeting yesterday with city finance officials. The School Committee agreed last night to submit the request to the mayor. Approval of the request would require a special council hearing.
"It's critical that we have a very, very accurate accounting of why we are in the red," Feeney said. "We are not going to deal with this without a full and complete briefing."
Johnson inherited a roughly $20 million budget gap for the current school year when she took over as superintendent last August, and has already trimmed half of it by freezing nonteaching positions and limiting raises.
According to McDonough, the school system this year has had to shoulder the costs of several programs that previously were funded through private, federal, and state grants, including the district's teacher training program, a high school for students recovering from drug and alcohol addiction, a citywide student council, and science materials.
In addition, the cost of wheat bread has skyrocketed more than 70 percent in the last year, McDonough said. Combined with increased fuel costs to transport food, the district's food service program faces a $2.3 million deficit.
Another $3 million of the deficit, McDonough said, stems from the cost of keeping more than 40 school personnel on the payroll, even though their positions were officially cut. As part of a longstanding practice, he said, schools believed they could pay the salaries from other surplus funds. By the time they realized those would not be available this year, he said, it was contractually too late to lay them off.
"If you don't notify somebody by a cutoff date, you own them for the year," McDonough said. "It's a practice that we cannot afford anymore."
When identifying potential cost savings earlier in the school year, he said, he also overestimated by nearly $2 million how much could be saved by replacing retirees with younger, less expensive staff. "Our responsibility is to do everything possible to control overspending and take corrective action," McDonough said. "These are not mild efforts."
Dorothy Joyce, spokeswoman for Mayor Thomas M. Menino, said last night that she was not sure where the money to bail out the schools would be coming from but affirmed that the mayor supports the superintendent.
"She has a difficult job during these tough fiscal times," Joyce said. "Our number one priority is offering quality education to the young people of our city. The mayor is committed to working with the superintendent to make sure we leverage all of our resources and are using taxpayer dollars in the best way possible."
Tracy Jan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(A Boston) GLOBE EDITORIAL
"More heat on the fire union"
June 11, 2008
FIRE COMMISSIONER Roderick Fraser needs all the civilian help he can muster to bring lasting reforms to the city's 1,500-member Boston Fire Department. For way too long, the department has been drenched with tradition but drained of managers willing to put the public's interest ahead of the firefighters' union.
On Monday, Fraser elevated a trusted civilian administrator, Kathleen Kirleis, to the post of deputy commissioner of administration and finance. But his decision to name attorney Karen Glasgow as deputy commissioner of labor and management sends a louder message. With authority to oversee both the department's uniformed and civilian personnel, Glasgow is situated to tackle the too-cozy relationship between firefighters and their managers in uniform.
Currently, nearly all sworn firefighters, regardless of rank, are members of Boston Firefighters Local 718. And many of the department's problems, including suspected sick time irregularities and disability abuse, have roots in the blurring of lines between labor and management. A federal probe is even underway to determine whether dozens of city firefighters faked on-the-job injuries to boost their pensions.
Local 718 is known as the most intractable union in Boston. But similar labels apply to its counterparts in other cities. Part of the problem might be intrinsic to the job. Unlike most police officers who circulate among the public all day, firefighters spend inordinate amounts of time only with each other, especially those working 24-hour shifts. Such closeness can create strong bonds needed in a dangerous line of work.
But the isolation has its downside. When firefighters spend so much time around the firehouse feeding one another's suspicions and preconceptions, they are less responsive to the constraints on taxpayers or the overall needs of the department.
The refusal of firefighters to submit to random alcohol and drug testing without major financial concessions by taxpayers is an outgrowth of this insularity. So is a February report by union firefighters that concluded prematurely that impairment was not a factor in the deaths of firefighters Paul Cahill and Warren Payne, who died fighting a West Roxbury restaurant blaze last August. What, if any, role impairment might have played is unknown. But reports based on leaked details from autopsies of the two firefighters have indicated that Cahill was legally drunk and Payne had traces of cocaine in his system when they died.
Civilian managers may lack the prestige of a sworn firefighter. But in Boston, the manager who shows up in street clothes at fire headquarters might turn out to be the public's best protector.
"In shadow of mayor, City Council rethinks its clout: May pitch state for more power"
By John C. Drake, (Boston) Globe Staff, September 3, 2008
Members of the Boston City Council, often portrayed as weak in a City Hall where mayors traditionally have ruled supreme, are considering asking state lawmakers to give the council more power.
The move has its roots in a dispute with Mayor Thomas M. Menino over the council's inability to hire its own lawyer to represent it. An internal report prepared for the councilors raises a broader point, suggesting the 13-member council's power has been gradually eroded by a succession of mayors and court decisions.
The Globe reported last month the council used an unusual arrangement to award its administrative staff large bonuses that exceeded salary ranges set by city ordinance. Council members have said they are reduced to such actions because they lack sufficient authority to control their own affairs.
Even though clout has been a long-simmering complaint, council members stopped short yesterday of voting to ask state legislators for more power. Instead, members said they need more time to consider the issue.
The idea of asking the Legislature for more power was included in the internal report, presented by longtime council staff member Paul Walkowski to the council's rules committee yesterday. Walkowski had been a top aide to former council president James M. Kelly, who died in January 2007. In the report, Walkowski wrote that "the notion that the city operates under a 'strong mayor/weak council' form of government is not founded in either statute or constitution; it is a creation of the courts."
The report details state court rulings in 2000 and 2005 that found the City Council does not have the authority to hire its own lawyer separate from the city's corporation counsel, who is appointed by the mayor.
Councilors have complained that corporation counsel has a conflict of interest in cases in which the council's interests do not align with the mayor's.
Council President Maureen Feeney said the public generally believes Boston has a "strong mayor" form of government but "in reality that is not necessarily the case."
A spokeswoman for Menino said that the mayor had not yet seen the report and was unavailable for comment but that he opposed allowing the City Council to hire its own lawyer.
"I'm not sure even taxpayers would want to spend money on more corporation counsels or more counsels for the council," said Menino's press secretary, Dorothy Joyce.
Former Boston city councilor Michael J. McCormack said that there has been a power struggle between the council and the mayor's office but that when council has challenged the mayor it has always lost in court because the city's charter does indeed establish the "strong mayor" form.
"You can define it any way you want, but that's what it is," McCormack said.
McCormack doubted any local legislators would want to line up against Menino by sponsoring the proposed legislation.
"I'm sure there's somebody from the nether-regions, another part of the state, who'd be willing to do it," McCormack said.
"Any legislation such as that is dead-on-arrival as a practical matter. The state Legislature is not going to get involved in local politics and define, now in 2008, what's been in the city charter since the 1600s."
Sam Tyler, executive director of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, a nonprofit watchdog group that closely follows city affairs, agreed that any effort to alter the city's structure of government would not be received well at the Legislature, even if it would impact other cities and towns.
"It would still be thought of as a Boston bill," he said.
But he agreed that the City Council should have more leeway over its own staffing decisions.
Councilor at Large Michael Flaherty, who is widely believed to be exploring a run for mayor, said that it was important to better define the council's role but that Menino has been unreceptive to City Council's oversight role.
"I don't necessarily subscribe to the theory that the council has lost power over the years," he said. "We just happen to have an administration that isn't exactly welcoming to new ideas and frankly to any criticism."
Joyce declined to comment on the charge.
John C. Drake can be reached at email@example.com.
Dennis Quilty (left) and Stephen Miller have been quite successful in winning liquor licenses for their clients. (Janet Knott/ Globe Staff/ File 2001)
"Liquor licenses a specialty for firm: Law practice won 65% of 2006 permits"
By Donovan Slack, Boston Globe Staff, December 3, 2008
When the Legislature granted 20 new, highly coveted liquor licenses to Boston in late 2006 to meet pent-up demand, the city's Licensing Board did not hesitate to dole them out. In less than three months, it awarded licenses to five bars in South Boston and five more in the South End, two in the North End, two in Chinatown, and a handful of others from Roxbury to Beacon Hill.
But although the new licenses were scattered across different parts of the city, one element remained remarkably constant: the same set of politically connected lawyers.
The majority of the license recipients hired the same firm, McDermott, Quilty & Miller. The firm's clients won 13 of the 20 new licenses, or 65 percent.
It was a boost in business for the firm and for the restaurant and tavern owners who would have had to pay up to $300,000 for a license if they bought one on the open market from an existing establishment.
The success of the firm's lawyers, including Stephen V. Miller and Dennis A. Quilty, underscores how it has come to be known as the go-to firm for licensing applications in Boston.
"They kind of have that as a monopoly," said Felino Samson, chef and owner of Pops Restaurant in the South End, which hired the firm because of its track record and won one of the new liquor licenses.
The firm's work has come under scrutiny by FBI investigators as part of the bribery investigation of former state senator Dianne Wilkerson and Boston city councilor Chuck Turner, who have been accused of accepting bribes to help a Roxbury nightclub owner obtain a liquor license. None of the firm's lawyers have been charged with any wrongdoing, nor have any of their numerous tavern and restaurant clients.
Terence P. McDermott - a partner at McDermott, Quilty & Miller - said the firm is one of the most experienced in the field and succeeds not because of favoritism but because the applications it submits to the Licensing Board are worthy. He said the firm turns down bad cases.
"A case isn't presented to the board unless it is fully vetted in the community and with the appointed and elected officials," McDermott said.
And it is not always successful. As the firm was racking up victories in early 2007, it also suffered some failures. During the same three months the city awarded the 20 new licenses, it denied applications for 10 others. Four of the rejected applicants were represented by McDermott, Quilty & Miller.
Most of the applicants did not return repeated telephone messages or declined to comment.
Three restaurant owners who did speak with the Globe said they paid the firm in the range of $7,500 to handle their applications. If that fee were paid by all 17 applicants who hired McDermott, Quilty & Miller, the total payments to the firm would have been $127,500.
One of the key relationships mentioned in the FBI's bribery investigation was between Miller and the chairman of the Boston Licensing Board, Daniel F. Pokaski. In an FBI affidavit filed in Wilkerson's case, Miller is quoted by the FBI as boasting that Pokaski had assured him that a license would be forthcoming for a Roxbury businessman allegedly paying bribes to Wilkerson.
Miller, on an FBI tape, quotes Pokaski as saying: "I have one for them. I promised it to them, and I have one for them," the affidavit says.
Wilkerson suggested that such backroom deals were commonplace, according to the affidavit, and said the Licensing Board's public proceedings were all "smoke and mirrors."
The FBI has subpoenaed a variety of records from the Licensing Board, including correspondence between Miller and the board, according to two sources briefed on the subpoena's contents who spoke on condition of anonymity.
A lawyer representing Pokaski said the board chairman has been "a dedicated public servant for over 30 years" and has done nothing wrong.
"As chairman of the Boston Licensing Board, he has at all times acted in a professional manner," the lawyer, David E. Meier, said. "Any speculation to the contrary is unfair both to him and to the public. Mr. Pokaski respectfully will not comment on the specifics of any of this speculation."
Still, the alleged back-room deal between the firm and the chairman portrayed in the affidavit, along with the firm's singular success rate, have triggered an independent observer to call for elimination of the board, which is a state panel appointed by the governor that operates with little outside scrutiny.
The Boston Municipal Research Bureau, a business-funded city watchdog, says liquor licenses should be handed out by the city with more oversight.
"Why not give the city the authority to manage it?" bureau president Samuel R. Tyler said.
The push for the new batch of licenses started in 2005, when the city ran out of its allotment of 650 at the same time that scores of new businesses and developments were planned, particularly on the South Boston Waterfront, where the new convention center brought with it several new hotels and restaurants.
The number of licenses in the city is strictly capped, and the city needed legislation passed at the State House to increase that limit. By December 2006, after nearly two years of legislative wrangling, demand for the licenses had driven up prices for existing licenses as high as $300,000, more than double what it had been two years earlier. That month, lawmakers finally passed legislation granting the city 20 new licenses for bars and restaurants.
Between Jan. 3 and March 29, 2007, some 30 establishments applied for them, and 20 received them.
"There was people left and right trying to get different licenses," said Joseph Garufi, co-owner of Sophia's Grotto in Roslindale, who in 2004 hired McDermott, Quilty & Miller to get a beer and wine license and received a full license in February 2007 without using a lawyer. "I thought the board did a very good job at giving the licenses out to the people they thought did the right thing and were beneficial to the neighborhoods."
But some rejected applicants felt differently. One, Joseph Youshaei, said he didn't have money to hire a lawyer to help him get a license for a tavern in downtown Boston. The board rejected his application March 15, 2007. "They said there is no other liquor license left," he said.
That same day, however, records show the board granted licenses to six other establishments, five of whom were represented by McDermott, Quilty & Miller. And in the next two weeks, four other clients of the law firm received licenses.
Also among those left without a license was Roxbury businessman Ronald Wilburn, whose proposed nightclub, Dejavu, applied for one of the licenses but was denied. Wilburn, who said he believed the licensing process was rigged, became the key cooperating witness in the FBI sting that resulted in the arrests of Wilkerson and Turner.
According to the FBI affidavit, after accepting alleged cash bribes from Wilburn, Wilkerson sent Wilburn to Miller at McDermott, Quilty & Miller. Within weeks, Wilburn had a beer and wine license for his proposed nightclub, and, within three months, the Boston Licensing Board gave him a full liquor license, even though he didn't have a lease for Dejavu.
Pokaski has been a member of the Boston Licensing Board since 1995 and chairman of the three-member panel since 1999.
Miller's firm has been representing bar and restaurant owners before the board for nearly 10 years. All the while, the firm has been a prodigious contributor to political campaigns, a common practice among lawyers and lobbyists with government business.
In the past five years alone, lawyers at the firm donated a total of $112,075 to politicians. Among the top recipients were Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who received $5,150, and Councilor John R. Connolly, who received $4,150. Connolly's father, Michael, is a member of the Boston Licensing Board.
A spokeswoman for Menino, whom federal authorities have cleared of any wrongdoing in the probe, said he regularly receives donations from supporters throughout the city but none receives special treatment. "From neighbors to business owners, he treats everyone the same," said spokeswoman Dorothy Joyce.
John Connolly declined to comment. Michael Connolly did not return a message seeking comment.
Some restaurant owners who have gone through the licensing application process said it needs an overhaul. Nancy Cushman - who hired McDermott, Quilty & Miller and received one of the new licenses last year - said the process should be streamlined and the cap on licenses removed.
"It was an extremely prohibitive process to opening a thriving business," said Cushman, who with her husband owns O-Ya, an upscale sushi and sashimi restaurant in Chinatown.
At Pop's Restaurant, Samson agreed. "I think that system is pretty much out of date," he said.
Donovan Slack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"New school zone plan could hurt poorest neighborhoods"
By James Vaznis, Boston Globe Staff, February 25, 2009
Families in some of Boston's poorest neighborhoods would have the worst odds of getting into a good-quality school under a new assignment plan unveiled this month by School Superintendent Carol R. Johnson.
The plan, which aims to save millions of dollars in fuel costs by shortening bus routes, would scrap the system's three sprawling school assignment zones, in favor of five smaller ones.
But a Globe review of state test scores and compliance with federal standards has found that the plan would create a less equitable distribution of potentially failing schools. In two zones, which encompass some of the poorest neighborhoods in Roxbury and Dorchester, state officials consider just under 60 percent of the schools to be in need of major overhauls.
By contrast, only one of the six schools in the newly established Allston-Brighton zone would require such drastic restructuring. Potentially failing schools in the other two zones account for 46 percent and 48 percent of the choices.
"This is a very worrisome finding," said John Mudd, senior project director of Massachusetts Advocates for Children, a nonprofit that works on behalf of the city's disadvantaged students. "There are not enough quality schools in the city."
The dichotomy reveals a city haunted by the inequity that led to desegregation efforts more than three decades ago: The predominantly white neighborhoods of the early 1970s, now much more diverse, still largely have better schools, as the cluster of good-quality schools in Allston and Brighton seems to indicate.
Conversely, many schools in the city's poorest neighborhoods have languished, prompting parents there to bus their children to other neighborhoods, sometimes several miles away. It's an option that could diminish under the proposed map.
"I don't believe in my heart of hearts that it has to be this way," Nora Toney, president of the Black Educators Alliance of Massachusetts and principal of the Catherine Ellison-Rosa Parks Early Education School in Mattapan. "If people have the will to make schools quality, it can happen."
In an interview, Johnson acknowledged the need to improve schools so all children have equal access to a good-quality education. But she defended the proposed boundaries, which she said reflect parents' recent tendency to choose schools closer to home, and an unmet appetite among some parents for more neighborhood schools.
For instance, she said, placing Allston and Brighton into their own zone would help the district win back families in those neighborhoods who have left for private schools.
However, as the School Committee weighs the proposal, Johnson said she expects adjustments will be made to the map, although she offered no specifics.
"We are looking to improving those schools," said Johnson. "This is our first pass. This looked like a match based on student enrollment and facilities."
The Globe based its analysis on the percentage of so-called Commonwealth Priority schools in a given zone. The state considers these schools most in need of improvement because overall MCAS scores in English or math have fallen short of state standards for at least four years. The findings highlight the difficult position Johnson is in as she attempts to cut transportation costs, which at $76 million consumes about 9 percent of the school budget as many buses arrive at school each morning half empty.
Critics of the empty buses, as well as parents who want a broad array of choices, believe that school zone boundaries can be redrawn to save on fuel costs while ensuring an equitable distribution of good-quality schools. But they emphasize the changes will have to be made with considerable thought and open communication with the public. The department has released only scant information, but the superintendent is expected to present more details at tonight's School Committee meeting.
The Rev. Gregory Groover, the School Committee chairman, said he thought the proposal was a good starting point for a debate on rezoning the city, although he emphasized the plan needs to be tweaked. He said committee members not only have concern about an uneven distribution of good-quality schools but the availability of other desirable programs, such as dual-language schools and advanced classes for academically gifted students.
"I don't believe it is at a place where the School Committee would feel comfortable adopting it," Groover said. "We still need to hear from the community."
The department created the three-zone system two decades ago as a way to divide the schools serving students in preschool through Grade 8. (All high schools are open to students from across the city). Students were allowed to apply to attend any school within the zone. The idea was to expand into nine zones as schools improved, providing students with good-quality classrooms closer to home, but that never happened. Five years ago, the School Committee weighed several options to expand the number of zones, but abandoned them after many parents and advocates for disadvantaged children said too many poor neighborhoods would be stuck with substandard schools.
However, escalating transportation costs are making it difficult for the school system to sustain the three-zone model as school leaders confront a projected budget shortfall of more than $100 million next year.
The three-zone map offered an unequal division of underperforming schools, as well. But any changes, school observers say, should achieve greater equity, not widen the gaps.
Of particular concern are two zones that contain the poorest neighborhoods in Roxbury and Dorchester, where access to good-quality schools has been a concern for more than three decades. Even when families in those neighborhoods have access to a good school nearby, some do not feel comfortable letting their children walk there because they are located in dangerous areas. Instead, they prefer putting their children on a bus destined for safer parts of the city. Under the current system, families in some of those neighborhoods have the option of sending their children to Allston or Brighton, while families in other parts can choose schools in West Roxbury.
Not all poor neighborhoods would lose out under the plan. Mattapan, for instance, would be paired with Hyde Park and West Roxbury, where there are several schools that parents consider highly desirable. Data also indicate that Charlestown and East Boston, which would have their own zone, would have more good schools than bad ones.
The Globe's analysis, which is largely based on test scores, also does not take into account efforts at improvement that have not fully materialized, and some of those schools are popular among parents.
It remains unclear when the changes would go into effect if approved by the School Committee. Johnson said some changes could be made for this fall, but others not until fall 2010. It is also not known if students would have to change schools if they no longer lived in the correct zone or if the new borders would apply to only new students.
The Boston Parent Organizing Network, a nonprofit group that advocates for improving the city's schools, has not taken a position on the zone changes because they lack enough information to draw conclusions.
"Parents are not necessarily against analyzing and changing the current assignment system, as long as . . . choice and access to quality schools is protected in that process," said Myriam Ortiz, the group's interim director. She later added, "The School Committee is talking about how much is too much choice. There's no such thing if you are not offering what parents want for their kids."
James Vaznis can be reached at email@example.com.
"School zone plan to be reworked: Johnson cites lack of equal access"
By James Vaznis, Boston Globe Staff, February 26, 2009
Boston School Superintendent Carol R. Johnson will make changes to her school assignment proposal after an analysis revealed unequal opportunities for students in different parts of the city, she said last night.
The new map, which would replace the system's three sprawling school assignment zones with five smaller ones, would cause some areas with some of the poorest neighborhoods in the city to have a disproportionately large percentage of potentially failing schools simply because of the way the boundaries have been drawn.
Some of those same neighborhoods would also have more students than seats available at some grade levels.
"It's clear our current rezoning doesn't provide equal access," Johnson told the School Committee last night, just before her staff presented a statistical analysis of the proposed changes. "This is a work in progress. . . . Nothing is set in stone. This may change appreciatively."
In one of the more startling findings presented by her staff last night, a proposed geographic region spanning from the North End to Roxbury would lack 616 seats for students in grades 6 through 8 - the equivalent of an entire middle school. Another zone that covers most of Dorchester and all of South Boston would be short more than 100 seats in grades 7 and 8.
All the while, a newly created zone in East Boston and Charlestown would have more than 500 extra middle school seats.
District administrators offered no solution to address the disparity last night.
"I'm personally concerned about the 600-plus middle school students we don't have seats for," the Rev. Gregory Groover, the School Committee's chairman, said after the presentation.
Last night was the committee's first in-depth discussion of the proposal, coming on the same day the Globe reported that well over 50 percent of the schools in two zones that cover Roxbury and Dorchester have been designated for major overhauls by state education officials because of low scores on state standardized tests. That contrasts sharply with a proposed Allston/Brighton zone, where only one of six schools requires major restructuring.
Johnson offered no specifics about how the proposal might change. Groover and other School Committee members stressed the need to hold community forums before finalizing the proposal for a vote.
School leaders are considering changing the 20-year-old school assignment system as one way to remedy a more than $100 million budget shortfall for next year. Mayor Thomas M. Menino directed officials last year to redraw the map to help reduce the district's $76 million transportation budget by $10 million.
While it is not clear how much Johnson's plan would save, officials have said it could range between $5 million and $10 million. Other changes to the district's transportation plan, such as closing schools and reducing the number of special education students who require door-to-door busing, could save a few million dollars more.
"Menino: City faces up to ‘700’ layoffs"
By Richard Weir, Friday, March 6, 2009, www.bostonherald.com, Local Coverage
No more Mr. Nice Guy from Mr. Mayor.
Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino announced today that if the unions do not play ball and agree to accept his proposed wage freeze, he will be forced to lay off some 700 city workers, including more than 100 teachers.
Menino, speaking before 500 business, civic and non-profit leaders at the Boston Municipal Research Bureau’s 77th annual luncheon meeting at the Seaport Hotel, said he has run into city workers at diners and bakeries throughout the city who have told him that they would prefer a wage freeze over losing their jobs or seeing their coworkers lose theirs. Using especially harsh language for an election year, the mayor pressured the city’s union leaders to sign on to his wage freeze proposal.
“Listen to your membership. You may think you have the luxury of waiting. But you don’t. You may think I will bow to political pressure. I won’t,” he said.
With the city facing a $131 million deficit, Menino earlier this week told the unions they have until March 15 to accept his wage freeze bid; otherwise they would face deep cuts.
If all 44 municipal unions, representing 17,000 workers, agreed to the wage freeze, the city would save an estimated $55 billion, according to Menino. So far, only six unions have agreed, including the one being announced today by Menino: AFSCME Council 93, which represents 1,239 city laborers.
The union’s members agreed to forgo $1,000 each in wage increases to protect the jobs of nearly 50 carpenters, groundskeepers, traffic engineers and other workers. The agreement will save the city an estimated $1.4 million.
Article URL: www.bostonherald.com/news/regional/view.bg?articleid=1156703
"Police to alert public with Twitter dispatches"
By Andrew Ryan, Boston Globe Staff, March 12, 2009
A crime-blotter blog. E-mail alerts. Anonymous tips via text message.
Now comes the next high-tech weapon for the Boston Police Department: A sergeant in the emergency dispatch center has been experimenting with Twitter, the micro-blogging tool that facilitates group conversations in 140-character bulletins to subscribers via computers and cellphones.
The updates can be found on twitter at @Boston_Police. (twitter.com/Boston_Police)
One goal is to interact in real time with the public during festivals and large-scale events about bottlenecks, closed roads, and crowd-related problems. For example, officers could warn their Twitter followers about an intersection to avoid because of an accident. A member of the public could respond, in a few keystrokes, that the suggested detour is also bumper to bumper, warning other users to try another route.
The first significant trial will come Sunday when thousands of revelers inundate South Boston for the St. Patrick's Day parade.
"Primarily we are going to send out information, with no expectations" that the public will respond with feedback, said Deputy Superintendent John Daley. "The idea is to just get a sense of whether or not it has value."
The department warns that the short messages, called "tweets," are no substitute for a 911 call during an emergency. Parade goers who encounter a problem can flag down a uniformed officer, who should be more prevalent because police are beefing up patrols to crack down on public drinking.
One piece of advice - Do not tweet police: "Pionta Guinness, le do thoil." That's Gaelic for, "A pint of Guinness, please."
"Fluid budget gap may stall talks: City unions resist wage freeze as deficit shrinks"
By John C. Drake, Boston Globe Staff, March 16, 2009
As Mayor Thomas M. Menino wages a public campaign to compel city unions to submit to a one-year wage freeze, he has been portraying Boston's projected budget deficit - originally $140 million - as an intractable gaping hole that cannot be plugged without a combination of delayed pay increases and layoffs.
However, since Menino first reached out to unions for a wage freeze, the gap has been cut to $103 million by the city's own conservative budget writers, and, under more optimistic scenarios, could dwindle to less than $70 million.
Pegging the size of the city's budget deficit is tricky, because of uncertainty about the state's budget and ultimately, local aid. It is possible the deficit could widen, particularly with legislators last week projecting that the state's budget deficit could grow by another $1 billion this year. But the mayor's office has paid little heed publicly to the other possibility - that the gap could shrink.
Union leaders who have been resisting the mayor's call for a freeze say several factors could cut the deficit considerably and that there is no reason to give up bargained wage hikes before the number becomes firmer.
"This deficit is shrinking as we speak," said Richard Stutman, president of the Boston Teachers Union, which has hired its own municipal finance specialist to analyze the city's budget.
When Menino addressed the Boston Municipal Research Bureau March 6, he said the city's budget deficit was $131 million. Then Menino described one significant source of revenue to the city: $21 million from the city's allocation of federal stimulus funds that could go toward salaries of teachers and police officers.
That, combined with Menino's announcement the same day that another large union had agreed to a wage freeze, brought the deficit down to $109 million.
The city's budget outlook also assumes the Legislature is unlikely to approve a statewide 1-cent increase in the meals tax along with a local option for an additional penny increase. If that were approved and the city were to receive $3 million in funding from the federal COPS grant program as officials are hoping, then the deficit would fall to about $70 million. Thursday, city officials said Boston would receive $6 million more in stimulus funding that could be available for teachers' salaries.
On the other hand, the mayor and his aides say, it is also possible the gap could be higher than Menino has projected, depending on what the House or Senate propose in their budget bills.
Last week, Menino said unions are stalling by suggesting rosier budget scenarios.
"That's how you get into trouble," Menino said of basing a budget on additional revenue that has not been approved. "You have to deal with the situation. They [unions] should know that."
Some critics suggest the mayor is painting a dire budget scenario and holding back on more optimistic projections so that he can later portray himself as a savior when he is able to prevent massive layoffs.
"The mayor is trying to make the budget deficit as large as possible," said Kevin McCrea, a longtime Menino critic and a mayoral candidate. "When he puts all the money together, he can look good in the public's eye and say, 'Look, I closed a $140 million budget deficit because I'm fiscally responsible.' "
A 2-cent hike in the meals tax would mean an extra $48 million for Boston. A proposed added tax on hotel stays, which Governor Deval Patrick also has proposed, could bring an additional $10 million or more to the city's coffers.
But Samuel Tyler, executive director of the business-funded Municipal Research Bureau, cautioned that these measures may not come to pass. He said that Patrick has proposed a meals tax hike before and the Legislature has not gone along. He also said that lawmakers may be unwilling to saddle residents with the added meals tax when they are already considering a significant increase in the gas tax.
And Dot Joyce, spokeswoman for Menino, said the mayor has proposed a meals tax hike in each of the last five years.
"While we would all love to have the meals tax in the long term, it's not something we have in hand right now, and it wouldn't be prudent for the taxpayers, and wouldn't be legal, to base our budget on," Joyce said.
But Stutman said he has seen signals that lawmakers may be more amenable to the meals tax hike, given the potential for layoffs in local communities.
Questions also remain about how much of a boon to the city's budget the federal stimulus package will be.
While the city is now estimating that as much as $23 million can be used for teacher salaries and $3.9 million can go toward police salaries, officials acknowledge that the figures could change depending on how much flexibility the federal government gives cities.
"It could go either way," Lisa Signori, Menino's chief of administration and finance, said of the amount of money available for teacher salaries. "We're hoping it is a good guess."
Should the city's budget deficit wind up dipping below $70 million, there will be increased pressure to cover it by using the city's reserves.
City councilors said they are eagerly awaiting word from the state on how much of the reserves can be spent on operations. Last year, the state gave the city the go-ahead to spend $110 million in reserves and the city spent just $35 million. So far, the city is not budgeting any increase in reserve spending, though observers expect the state to certify a larger so-called "free cash" figure for Boston, which is the amount of municipal reserves available to plug budget gaps.
"It has taken years to build up the reserves we have, and we are going to need to spend them over multiple years," Signori said.
John C. Drake can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Public library trimming holdings: Officials say special collection decisions not related to economy"
By Nancy Cook, Boston Globe Correspondent, April 20, 2009
The Boston Public Library is poised to sell or even give away a handful of items from its extensive special collection, as the landmark institution culls its vast holdings.
So far, the library's collections committee has discussed parting with three items, according to minutes from meetings: a Crehore piano, a series of large-scale Audubon prints, and a collection of Tichnor glass printing plates that were once used to make postcards. The library has had the Aububon prints since the mid-1800s, while the piano and glass plates were acquired in the last several years.
Library officials stressed that these discussions are not related to the city's budget crunch, which will force the library to cut $4 million from its $48 million budget for the next fiscal year. Instead, a top library curator said the collection is reviewed on a daily basis, and the committee in charge of the buying and selling meets every two months.
Selling off work "is a small part of what we do," said Brian Clancy, head of the committee that oversees the collection. "Our decision-making is not influenced by these economic times."
Like other institutions, however, the Boston Public Library has been squeezed by the slumping economy. Two trustees are donating their own money to keep the library open on Sundays. Earlier, officials had planned to close it on five upcoming Sundays in a cost-saving move.
The Crehore piano, soon to be sold, now sits in a curator's office. Though the piano no longer works, it was made by Milton resident Benjamin Crehore, who is credited with manufacturing the first piano in the United States, in the 1800s. Susan Glover, acting keeper of special collections, estimates it could fetch roughly $10,000 at auction, money she says the library would use to restore a Steinway piano.
"We don't collect musical instruments," she said about selling the piano. "It is way out of the scope for us."
When public institutions sell art or historical artifacts, they often do so through an art dealer or auction house. The Crehore piano will be sold at a public auction at the Boston branch of Skinner Auctioneers & Appraisers in the coming months.
The Audubon prints could fetch higher prices on the market; depending on their size and condition, they each could net anywhere from $200 to $250,000, said Stuart Whitehurst, director of books and manuscripts at Skinner.
The fate of the prints is still under discussion.
The Tichnor plates will probably be given away, library trustees said, but no recipient has been named.
As the recession deepens, many public institutions have turned to art to pay the bills.
Brandeis University made national headlines when it said it would close its Rose Art Museum and sell the collection following a huge drop in the university's endowment. (The fate of the art museum and its collection has not been determined.) The National Academy Museum in New York sold two Hudson River School paintings for millions of dollars to help cover operating costs, and the Carnegie Museum of Art of Pennsylvania sold four items at Sotheby's in March.
Members of the Boston Public Library collections committee argue that the economy is not the culprit here. They also say the library doesn't plan to sell or give away other objects.
Clancy said the library wants to get rid of the piano, prints, and glass plates because the objects do not fit into the overall collection and because money from their sale can be plowed back into conservation. In the case of the Audubon prints, the library owns a duplicate set.
"The central issue is that it's a huge collection that keeps growing without a particular order," said Robert Pemberton, another member of the collections committee. "If we can't care for it, we shouldn't have it."
The Boston Public Library's special collection is on the third floor of the McKim Building, just a quick elevator ride away from computer terminals and circulation desks.
The special collection includes antislavery books from the late 1800s, rare maps of Colonial Boston, and prints by Rembrandt and Goya, among countless other holdings. Anyone can explore rare books or photographs simply by showing up or scheduling an appointment, and scholars and historians rely on the institution for research.
Selling off work can become dicey for public institutions, because they often receive the objects from private, wealthy donors with whom they want to maintain good relations.
"If we sell a piece, we'll often tell donors that the money will carry the name of the donor," said Dennis Fiori, president of the Massachusetts Historical Society.
Institutions also need to decide how they will use the money they make from the sale. The American Association of Museums' guidelines state that this money must be used to buy new items for the collection or to care for existing work. Art museum directors in New York have also been pushing legislation that would prohibit museums from selling work to pay for operating expenses.
While the sale of historic objects has become more common during the economic downturn, Fiori said it always has been part of the ebb and flow of libraries, museums, and historical societies. "Every institution does it. We have to make sure that what we have and what we're holding works," he said.
A BOSTON GLOBE EDITORIAL
"What it takes to be poor"
April 29, 2009
THE MENINO ADMINISTRATION is trying to maintain Boston's usually robust summer jobs program for young people with the aid of $2.5 million in federal stimulus funds. But an unrealistically low income threshold for participation in the federal program - $28,605 annually for a family of four - is undermining that effort.
Tamping down youth violence in the summer depends on the city's ability to provide a mix of private industry and subsidized public sector jobs for about 9,000 young people each summer. Beyond pocket money for youths ages 14 to 24, those paychecks often help to support entire families. But the private sector is limping. And the city is hobbled by inflexible income eligibility guidelines and onerous documentation requirements by the US Department of Labor, including income statements and Selective Service registration cards.
Using strict federal poverty guidelines to determine eligibility for aid programs is a clumsy tool, especially in a high-cost area like Boston. But there is a sensible solution - if federal officials could wean themselves from dependence on these inflexible funding formulas.
The Menino administration wants to make federal stimulus funds for summer jobs available to any youth whose family income is below $39,220 - the eligibility threshold for receiving school lunch at a reduced price. Documentation on file for such eligibility would serve as a passport to a summer job. The proposal could also streamline the application process for $21 million in stimulus funds for summer jobs in 60 communities across the state.
"How many times should poor people have to prove they're poor?" asks Connie Doty, city director of workforce programs.
Once should be enough for a summer job.
"Welcome to Bo$ton: Staying, dining in Hub will probably get pricier as bills to increase taxes go before the City Council"
By David Abel, Boston Globe Staff, August 16, 2009
It’s increasingly expensive to be a tourist in Boston.
In just about six weeks, the cost of staying in a hotel and dining at a restaurant in Boston will probably climb, and not just because of the sales tax increase that took effect this month. If endorsed by the City Council, as is expected, the hotel tax will rise to 14.45 percent, up from 12.45 percent, and the meals tax will jump to 7 percent, up from 5 percent last month.
And that is on top of fees and taxes that hit those who arrive at Logan International Airport before they even land, with average domestic ticket prices higher than at most other major airports and a mix of taxes and fees such as a $4.50-per-ticket “passenger facility charge,’’ the maximum the federal government allows airports to charge to help subsidize their building projects.
Visitors who rent a car at the airport can expect a slew of add-on fees that now amount to one-third of the overall price. For example, a compact car rented for one day at a base rate of $62.69 at Avis would now have a total cost of $93.88, which includes six different fees, from Logan, the state, and the rental company, such as the year-old $4 “customer facility charge’’ designated for a yet-to-be-built rental car facility.
The restaurant and hotel taxes are increasing as the number of visitors to Boston fell 6 percent in the first six months of the year, compared with the same period last year, according to the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau. Over the same period, the city’s hotel room occupancy rate fell 12 percent, according to Smith Travel Research, a Tennessee-based company that monitors trends in the hotel industry.
“Boston is not the only city increasing its taxes and fees, and we’re not worried that people are going to decide not to come here because of the new taxes,’’ said Patrick B. Moscaritolo, president of the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau, who blamed the falloff of tourism on the global recession and pointed out that Boston has lower taxes than many other large cities. “Most people are more focused on the experience and what the destination offers than taxes,’’ he said.
Tourists are taking similar hits around the country.
For example, the hotel tax in Hawaii increased 1 percentage point to 8.25 percent this summer and is scheduled to increase to 9.25 percent next July.
Nevada raised its hotel tax rate 3 percentage points, boosting the hotel tax rate in Las Vegas to 12 percent. In New York City, hotel taxes increased to 14.76 percent, up 0.5 percentage points, and with the city’s $3.50 a night surcharge, the taxes and fees on a $200 room amount to more than 16.5 percent.
Overall, Boston ranks near the middle of the country’s top 50 cities in terms of hotel and meal taxes, but Logan has become among the most expensive airports for car rentals, according to a survey by the National Business Travel Association, a Virginia-based group that represents the business travel industry.
In its survey last year, the group reported 18 of 50 cities surveyed had a hotel tax rate higher than 14.45 percent, Boston’s proposed new rate, with Nashville the highest at 17.18 percent and Las Vegas the lowest at its previous 9 percent rate. The survey found 33 of the cities had higher meal taxes than Boston’s planned 7 percent, with Chicago the highest at 10.25 percent - which has already risen this year to 11.5 percent - and Portland, Ore., the lowest, with no meal tax.
But of the 50 cities, only Chicago added more taxes and fees to the price of a rental car, last year’s survey found. Rental car companies now add nearly 23 percent in taxes and fees to the bill of cars picked up in downtown Boston.
“Even with the higher taxes, Boston remains in the middle of the pack,’’ said Fay Beauchine, president of National Business Travel Association’s Foundation, which oversees the survey. “The question is whether companies and other visitors will decide it’s too expensive and choose other cities to hold their conventions in.’’
Local restaurateurs and hotel operators said they are not concerned.
While many opposed the tax increases, they said they were more concerned about the precedent than the effect of those scheduled to start in the fall.
“I don’t see it affecting tourism,’’ said Paul J. Sacco, president of the Massachusetts Lodging Association, which represents more than 400 hotels and other inns in the state. “As a rule, we don’t support increasing taxes, but I don’t think a 2 percent increase will have a long-term impact. I just don’t want to see them go up further next year. Then it would start impacting convention business and other segments.’’
And most tourists taking in the sights in Boston last weekend shrugged off the prospect of raised taxes as generally reasonable or just inevitable.
Ed Johnson, 51, here on a short trip with his 14-year-old daughter from Troy, N.Y., said taxes are part of the recession. “It’s just a sign of the times,’’ he said at Faneuil Hall. “The state’s trying to get revenue and that’s how they do it. If it’s too high, maybe there’ll be another Boston Tea Party. Who knows?’’
At Logan Airport, Larry Self, his wife, and their teenage son and daughter were wrapping up a week’s vacation. The family had rented a car to tour the Cape and spent some time in Boston before heading home to Wichita, Kan.
Self said his 18-year-old son is considering moving to the Northeast after college, but Self said he would think twice about returning to Boston if an increase in hotel and meal taxes is approved.
“When things get so expensive, you can’t go as much as you want,’’ Self said.
But his wife, Sharon, said she knows that visiting New England comes with a higher price tag.
“There are certainly a lot less expensive places to vacation, but that’s kind of the whole Northeast in general,’’ she said. “You do have to decide to spend more on vacation.’’
Peter Christie, president of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, said the owners of the 5,000 restaurants he represents are more concerned about the effect of the tax increases on local residents than on tourists.
He added that many restaurateurs feel singled out, given that few other taxes target specific businesses.
“Why should a lunch salad be treated any differently than the sale of a flat panel TV?’’ he said. “I don’t think we’re taxing ourselves out of the market. I just worry about this being part of a slippery slope.’’
Globe correspondent Hannah McBride contributed to this report. David Abel can be reached at email@example.com.
(Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff)
"Mayor Walsh must release race and ethnicity records on city workers, judge rules"
By Andrew Ryan, Boston Globe Staff, May 17, 2016
A superior court judge has ordered Mayor Martin J. Walsh to release public records detailing the race or ethnicity of individual city employees, a once routine disclosure that the Walsh administration resisted despite pledges of increasing diversity and transparency at City Hall.
In a statement Monday night, Walsh’s administration said it would abide by the order and compile the records for release, although it would not say when.
The ruling by Suffolk Superior Court Judge Mary K. Ames came more than two years after the Globe requested the data under the state’s open records law. The federal government requires the city to collect information on employees’ race and ethnicity, and for years the records had been released publicly.
Walsh took office in 2014 with a pledge to build an administration that reflected Boston’s increasingly diverse population, but the mayor cited privacy and other concerns in refusing to release race or ethnicity data on individuals to the Globe and a Boston city councilor.
In a 10-page ruling dated May 9, Ames wrote that “the purpose of obtaining race and ethnicity data is to prevent discrimination and promote a diverse workforce by ensuring that the city provides equal access to opportunity to all individuals.”
“The court does not find that the Legislature sought to shield from public scrutiny information that is collected for the very purpose of protecting the rights of the public,” Ames wrote.
Walsh’s press secretary, Bonnie McGilpin, said in an e-mail that under the mayor’s leadership the city has “made creating a diverse, inclusive workforce a top priority, hiring the first ever chief diversity officer, appointing the most diverse cabinet ever in Boston, and launching [a web-based] diversity dashboard.”
Leaders in Boston’s African-American community had urged the administration to release the information.
“Mayor Walsh ran on a platform of transparency and diversity,” said Darnell L. Williams, president of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts and a member of the mayor’s transition team, who noted that communities of color catapulted Walsh to a narrow victory in 2013. “They should swiftly comply with the judge’s ruling, especially in light of them coming up on another election cycle.”
City Councilor Tito Jackson said that without the data on individuals, it was impossible to assess pay disparities among races and genders.
“We should be moving forward, not backward in transparency,” Jackson said.
The judge’s decision reversed a September 2014 ruling by Secretary of State William F. Galvin’s office, which oversees the state’s public record law. That ruling -- made in Galvin’s office by Supervisor of Records Shawn A. Williams -- said listings of gender and race for individual employees represented personnel information exempt from the public records law.
The Globe sued and in her ruling, Ames declared “the supervisor’s decision was incorrect as a matter of law.” The decision represented the fifth case in which the Globe has successfully challenged a ruling from the secretary of state’s office over the past three years.
In a statement, Galvin’s communications director, Brian S. McNiff, said public record rulings are written narrowly to follow the law, and the judge’s decision regarding race and ethnicity data is now a precedent that will be followed.
Public records advocates hailed the ruling.
“In recent years, the supervisor’s decisions have continued to broaden the personnel records exemption,” said Robert J. Ambrogi, executive director of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association. “This ruling counters that trend and makes clear that it is not meant to be a blanket exemption from the public records law.”
Attorney Robert A. Bertsche, chair of the media law group at the firm Prince Lobel Tye, said the case was “an example of a broken system.”
“This case really reinforced the need for passage of new, beefed up public records legislation,” said Bertsche, who has done work for the Globe but was not involved in this case.
Walsh has struggled to keep his pledge to introduce a new era of transparency at City Hall. The Globe has two other pending public records lawsuits, including a case filed earlier this month alleging that Walsh’s administration is improperly withholding subpoenas and public documents related to a widespread federal investigation into the activities of local unions.
The mayor campaigned on a promise to build a diverse administration, but a Globe analysis found that his first wave of hires was overwhelmingly white and predominantly male. In a subsequent records request, the Globe sought gender and ethnicity data for all city employees.
The Walsh administration denied the request but provided statistics that seemed to show it had diversified hiring. A list of new hires included gender and ethnicity information for each position but omitted names.
But the list included 50 people -- all of whom were black and Latino -- who were not city employees. They had been hired as part of a temporary youth employment program to work in restaurant kitchens and other private companies.
Earlier this month, the administration unveiled a digital diversity dashboard displaying statistics on city workers by race, gender, salary, and tenure.
“It’s wonderful putting up an interactive dashboard and providing [the administration's] interpretation of the data,” said Bertsche, the media law attorney. “But that doesn’t take away the right of a free independent press to get that information for itself and analyze it for itself. That is fundamental to the First Amendment.”
Andrew Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @globeandrewryan.
Re: GE took taxpayers’ dollars, but is cutting jobs in Boston!
I watched Jon Keller on CBS local news in Boston this late afternoon and he explained that the city of Boston and commonwealth of Massachusetts gave GE millions of dollars in grants and incentives to relocate its corporate headquarters from Fairfield, Connecticut to Boston. GE took all of “the reverse corporate welfare” taxpayer dollars, but now GE is breaking its promises to Boston by announcing a number of Boston job cuts.
That was the whole point of Boston and state government politicians giving GE taxpayer dollars! It was all for the big number of corporate jobs coming to Boston. GE has a new CEO and he wants to make a name for himself to corporate America and Wall Street by making job cuts in Boston.
I believe this makes everyone look very bad! The politicians were too eager to give taxpayer dollars to one of the wealthiest corporations in the World. It reminded me of the huge taxpayer bailouts of the Wall Street financial institutions from 2008 – 2009. Politicians love to give wealthy institutions taxpayer dollars, themselves pay raises, and the average people the bill. GE did not hesitate to taxpayers’ dollars, despite no guarantees of not making job cuts in Boston. The Boston taxpayers were played as fool in all of these inequitable financial deals.
GE should give back the taxpayers’ dollars to Boston!
- Jonathan Melle
“Mayor: GE 'assured' Boston it will keep jobs commitment amid restructuring”
By Matt Stout, Jordan Graham, The Boston Herald, August 31, 2017
Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh said he's been "assured" that General Electric will keep its commitment to the city after a report surfaced that the company's new CEO has warned executives to prepare for cuts.
Chief executive John Flannery is planning to "significantly" cut the company's corporate staff, Reuters reported today, and has already frozen hiring for some technology positions.
The report, citing an unnamed source, also said Flannery plans to limit the size of the new Seaport headquarters, and wants to reduce staff in human resources, corporate security, procurement and other areas.
Earlier this month, GE rolled back the completion of its new Fort Point headquarters by two years.
Last year, the city had agreed to give GE a $25 million tax break for moving its headquarters from Connecticut in a widely touted deal based on bringing 800 jobs to the Seaport.
Under the agreement, GE has until 2025 to hit that target and begin realizing the full $1.5 million in annual incentives -- and it could still receive a portion of that if it ultimately brings fewer jobs to Boston.
Walsh today indicated he isn't worried, saying, "GE didn't have a good quarter last quarter and they're taking it very seriously."
"It's the sixth largest company in the world, so I'm sure they're just trying to get costs under control," the mayor said. "I think that it happens everywhere, but we've been assured that GE is committed to their jobs here in Boston."
GE has seen its stock fall 23 percent this year.
In a statement, a GE spokeswoman reiterated the company's intention to cut $2 billion in costs by the end of 2018. Flannery plans to update investors in November.
"We’ve said John is reviewing all aspects of the company," the spokeswoman said.
Jim Corridore, an analyst with CFRA, an investment research firm, said the Reuters report appears to be the start of "a long-term restructuring program."
"GE has been undergoing exhaustive transformation and restructuring for years," he said.
However, Jeff Windau, an analyst with Edward Jones, said GE's new headquarters is not seen as a major cost that should be cut.
"It’s more the ongoing expenses that they have to run the business that they have to look at and manage," he said.
- Jonathan Melle
- Amherst, NH, United States
- I am a citizen defending the people against corrupt Pols who only serve their Corporate Elite masters, not the people! / My 2 political enemies are Andrea F. Nuciforo, Jr., nicknamed "Luciforo" and former Berkshire County Sheriff Carmen C. Massimiano, Jr. / I have also pasted many of my political essays on "The Berkshire Blog": berkshireeagle.blogspot.com / I AM THE ANTI-FRANK GUINTA! / Please contact me at email@example.com
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