Thursday, September 03, 2009

Strong mayor or weak?

I like Sam Yoon. Who doesn't? He's an earnest, likable chap.

Like many other people, I'm ambivalent about the incumbent Mayor Menino. Boston functions. Better the devil you know than the devil you don't. Is that really a campaign platform? I don't think Boston is broken as much as it is a little gummy in the gears and anyone who thinks about it realizes that when it comes to campaign contributions, the incumbent's sticky fingers are in just about every jam pot. I don't scent any more than a whiff of corruption, despite some of the remarks made in last night's debate. It isn't the kind of corruption that drags a city down, at least. Boston is doing rather well and, I admit, we have the current administration to thank for that. We can thank them for the school system too, and the pot holes.

Sam Yoon is charismatic. He brings charm to the table and book smarts too. He did make a remark last night that gave me pause. Mr. Yoon is in favor of limiting his power if elected. He feels a strong mayor is a bad thing. Mr. Menino made the point that he is the Chief Executive Officer of a multi-billion dollar operation (multi meaning more than two and billion implying it is more responsibility any regular voter will ever have to contemplate in their lifetime). If Boston were a private company, which it isn't, I would want a strong executive in charge. I would also expect that the executive has been schooled in budget management and personnel management and efficiency equations and cutting the bottom line to maximize investor returns. A politician isn't schooled in any of these things. The mayor learns his job on the fly. You don't get your PhD in mayoralty and then move up the ranks to the top spot. You make compelling speeches, you become a personality people can relate to, you promise things you needn't necessarily deliver, connect with the voters and, if you do these things go well, well....Hello, Mr. Mayor.

I moved to Boston from a small city with a weak mayor form of government. Let me tell you, it is better to have someone in charge, even someone with no experience, who has to make decisions and take the blame as well as the laurels, than it is to have no one accountable. New London, Connecticut's city charter was hatched in the 1920s when voters were afraid of popular will, machine politics, demagoguery and political corruption. Want to know why New London has been in a recession for decades before the current national malaise took root? It's because New London's weak mayor/strong city manager/impotent city council system stinks. I'm talking stink from the feet up. The kind of stink that reeks out of every pore and alleyway. You want to talk about civic malaise. Look up New London, Conn. in a dictionary and you'll see an illustration of a pock marked soul. If you kick a dead dog it will move. New London is dead in its picturesque harbor for no good reason beyond dead inertia.

The masthead on the city's website will show you it is a beautiful place. A day spent in its borders will prove that it is full of vibrantly beautiful people. A month living there will make you feel like you've planted your shoes in quicksand and the mud is thick with the muck low tide and low expectations leave behind in their trailing wake. If I vote for a mayor I want him to have all the power he can muster to promote the vision I'm voting for. I don't want my candidate to tell me he'll have too much power and he won't be trusted to exercise it wisely. If I'm voting for change I want to empower the candidate who will bring it on with both barrels blazing. The candidate who tells me he'll tell other people to clip his wings? I'll clip your wings for you at the ballot box, buddy.

As for Flaherty and McCrea? Flaherty is as much a part of the system as the incumbent. It's like switching the jack of hearts for the jack of clubs. A meaningless trade. Firefighters endorse Flaherty. I'm all for firefighters but, like many Bostonians, I could do without their union. I can do without Flaherty too. This brings us to McCrea. I like him and I don't at the same time. He is colorful. He is sharp. He is right on target with what he criticizes and I agree with him 100%. Menino has been in office too long. Fresh blood keeps a city's spleen healthy when McCrea vents his spleen, civic discourse is better by it. A little bile goes a long way, however, and that is why I am more inclined toward Yoon.

Sam Yoon is a thinker, a wonk, a man of theory more than practice. I suspect that if he gets elected he'll see the advantages of a strong mayor form of government. Power does tend to corrupt. With power comes responsibility. I think Mr. Yoon will take that responsibility seriously and do what he was elected to do. I think the incumbent does the same. I just think the incumbent has been in office too long and it's time to take the broom and the scrub brush to the scales the current administration has built up around the ugliest city hall in the nation.

This is one man's opinion. 'Nuff said. "Sicut Patribus Sit Deus Nobis"

1 comment:

Can-Can said...

You've given me food for thought about the mayoral candidates. I think Yoon is thoughtful - sometimes almost seems lost in thought. Flaherty is more of same. I like McCrea's strong opinions but wonder if he'd be a hammer all of the time.
You are right, a strong mayor does a city good. It's just when they don't ever leave that we get in trouble. I think the succession of Mayor's from White to Flynn to Menino that I've witnessed shows that each brought something to the table for their time but all of them came to a point when "time's up."

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