Sunday, September 13, 2009

Exhibit A: Mayor Thomas M. Menino

The good news is that Boston isn't broken. Boston is not Detroit and the lack of crisis plays into the hands of Mayor Menino, who was the hand at the helm for the past sixteen years. Sixteen years is a long time. Is it too long? Will twenty years be too long? How about twenty-four? As the incumbent says, he faces a term limit at the end of every term.

I think the city's ship could use some barnacle scraping in order to tack more efficiently. The current administration has built up a lot of ballast over the past decade and a half, but the ship isn't sinking, yet. Is now the time to fetch a broom and sweep a bum out of office? Despite what some critics suggest, the city is not running on inertia. I don't get the impression that Menino is a lazy bum resting on his laurels.

Boston's government may be shady. There is plenty of gray and very little that is black or white. With someone in charge who is actively seeking reelection, his motivation comes from keeping voters happy and no one will say Menino is a slouch toward his responsibilities. Like Buddy Cianci, Menino will attend the opening of an envelope if he thinks voters will be around. Unlike Cianci, Menino isn't flamboyant or colorful. He doesn't have a cult of personality for obvious reasons. The lack of hardwired rules and zoning ordinances allows Menino to make things happen as he gauges the political winds in any given situation. Holding as much power as he does, he is able to make things happen. Being a politician, he makes them happen the way he thinks will propel him toward reelection. The majority, theoretically, are getting what they want. Menino knows that when he really screws up he'll be pedalling his bicycle around Hyde Park without a job he loves doing.

The Boston Globe recently wrote an editorial about Mayor Menino's record on neighborhood issues, and that includes all neighborhoods, not just downtown and not just the ones with money. On this score, the incumbent has proven that he is, as he describes himself, an urban mechanic, keeping the far flung mechanisms of Boston running with all the chipped gears falling where they hopefully should. There isn't a lot of blight in Boston. Even the pockets of the major neighborhoods that are eyesores have something positive going on in them. Could he have done more? Someone is always going to say so. Boston's mayor is not an emperor though. He cannot make changes with a wave of his hand. He cannot grant something as inconsequential as an extra liquor license within the city's limits and what should be his jurisdiction.

It is a fact that Boston's neighborhoods have improved over the last sixteen years. People will complain that there is still crime in Dorchester and Roxbury. There is crime everywhere. The mayor is not a hypnotist and he isn't allowed to taint the drinking water with tranquilizers. No matter who is in charge there will be crime. The fact of the matter is, there will always be miscreants.

Today's Boston Globe runs a front page article on the Mayor's political machinations while simultaneously being the city's chief executive. If I recall, the Globe states that Menino's machine is the largest and most efficient since Mayor Curley's infamous reign. Unlike Curley, though, Menino is no rascal, at least not in any obvious way. I don't begrudge the incumbent for serving his constituents and setting up a bureaucracy to do just that. Nor do I begrudge him taking credit and expecting reelection because of his attention to details. I find it more palatable than reading his name on every picnic table umbrella, neighborhood sign and public trash can. If and when he gets voted out of office all those things will cost money to be replaced. All the goodwill he earns by resolving people's complaints is of a more fickle and transitory nature.

Mayor Curley, like Buddy Cianci, was a colorful character and people rallied behind both not only because they delivered, but also because they were entertaining. Menino is not entertaining. Opinion on that point seems to be unanimous. If he is popular, it is because he has done his job well. Is that enough to grant him an unprecedented fifth term in the top office? Some people think so. It's true Menino hasn't delivered everything he's promised, but considering the contention that any mayor confronts in a city in which people are free to air their every idea and grievance, that's no surprise no matter who is in office.

I've given this election some thought. I'm no Menino fan, as any skimming of past political posts on this site will show. I do think he has earned the chance to prove that he deserves to be mayor again. There is nothing stopping him, after all, besides whatever personal dignity he'll earn by stepping down and becoming an elder statesman in the city. While old ideas and the current administration aren't causing any undue wear on the city, fresh ideas and streamlined ways of conducting the city's business should always be welcome.

Candidate Kevin McCrea justly decries the wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars and demands more transparency in city government. Candidate Sam Yoon likewise demands more transparency as well as limits to the mayor's authority through oversight boards and he has a lot of smart ideas about making government work better through institutional reform. Both are good alternatives to Mayor Menino if you think the incumbent deserves a vaudeville hook while he's at the podium.

Candidate Michael Flaherty is entrenched enough to mayor. If we can damn a man with faint praise, he is more handsome than Menino and this challenger is different from the incumbent in that respect. McCrea isn't as easy on the eyes but he looks and talks the part of chief executive. As for Sam Yoon, enough has been written about his boyish good looks for me to bother commenting further.

It's only primary season at the moment and Menino looks like a shoe-in for a slot on the final ballot. He has earned voters' loyalty through hard work. It's not a job I would want to perform but it obviously suits him. There but for the grace of the angels go I. I would love to see a final choice between McCrea and Yoon in alphabetical order. I doubt that's going to happen and Mayor Menino will inevitably end up in the final running. He's chosen to run and that't his right. Who should be his opponent? Space constraints limit me to putting this question off until next week. McCrea fired some well targeted volleys during this week's debate. Yoon was Yoon and it's a shame he couldn't have built up his political capital sooner, but after all this is politics and whoever best expresses the will of the people will win. Yoon may not win this round, but this year is just one battle in what he should be looking at as a war. Both McCrea and Yoon should look at this outing as a bivouac, a reconnoitering to assess the enemy, and strategize for the next round. Flaherty would love the top job, but I get the impression that he is antsy to move up, he is more chafing for career advancement than advancing a vision of what Boston can be in the future. He will just as content as a senior City Councillor ad nauseum until he reaches retirement.

I hope I haven't tried your patience. To sum up: Menino -not preferred but proven okay. Yoon - not proven but good ideas. McCrea - not proven but good intentions. Flaherty - 'nuff said.

If you would like to look over the the incumbent's website, here it is.

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