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An overbearing state
The Commonwealth should let the FleetBoston Pavilion stay where it is, give the media continued access to prison inmates, and lay off smokers

HERE'S A NOVEL idea: develop the Boston waterfront so residents and tourists alike actually use it. After all, the state and federal government paid $4 billion to clean the Harbor - why not show it off? Since 1999, Wharf 8 has been innovatively utilized to do just that: music promoter Don Law rents space on the wharf for his FleetBoston Pavilion. About 40 concerts a season are held on the waterfront; over the years, hundreds of thousands of people have visited the area to hear music in the open-air tent.

Law would like to extend his lease, which is good until 2004. In a complicated arrangement, the City of Boston holds the lease (Law rents from the Boston Redevelopment Authority), but the state is in charge of granting permits for use of the site. The site in question is zoned for maritime use only. An exception was granted in 1999 for Law's concert pavilion (formerly housed on Fan Pier and known as Harbor Lights). The city supports Law's bid to extend his lease. The state doesn't.

If maritime businesses were clamoring to use the site, it wouldn't make sense to lease it to a concert promoter. But that's not the case. In addition to leasing space to the concert pavilion, the wharf is currently used by Modern Continental Construction, which is working to build the Silver Line. It's a business that's connected only tangentially to maritime activities. (In what seems like an effort to connect some maritime use to the lease of the property, Clear Channel Communications, which owns Law's promotion business, has put forward a proposal to create an educational program introducing schoolchildren to Boston Harbor and its islands. The program would cost $50,000 a year.) There are no other suitors out there. It could be that no one's interested in trying to rent space that the politically connected Don Law says he wants. But let's face it: New England's maritime industry is hurting. Before the FleetBoston Pavilion was installed on the wharf, the site was used for ship repair by a company that went out of business.

Using Wharf 8 for concerts has proved to be a wildly popular - and successful - idea. It's a great use of the space, and it should be allowed to continue.

Next month, the Massachusetts Department of Correction (DOC) will hold a hearing on a plan to limit the media's access to inmates. The new guidelines would prohibit confidential media interviews with inmates by requiring the presence of a prison official at such meetings. They would ban any press contact with prisoners housed in segregation, in which inmates are temporarily separated from the general population for safety or disciplinary reasons. They would also ban the use of cameras and tape recorders from all but seven of the state's 22 correctional facilities. (The seven facilities where such reporting tools would still be allowed are minimum-security facilities, including the pre-release center on Park Drive.)

Maybe it would be more accurate to describe the plan as one that would limit inmates' access to the media. What other reason could the DOC have for wanting to implement these changes? According to the informal media-relations policy now in place at the DOC (you can read it online at, prison officials already exercise quite a bit of control over the media's access to prisoners. Interview requests can be denied if they might disrupt the "orderly operation of a correctional institution" - a restriction susceptible to broad definition. They may also be denied if the inmate in question is "awaiting action or under investigation" - another restriction open to interpretation.

The net effect of these restrictions, if they are officially implemented, will be to keep the public even more in the dark about what goes on in our state prisons than it already is. Two years ago, investigative reports by WBUR exposed abuses of prisoners at MCI-Shirley during a three-day "shakedown," or search of prison cells. In 1997, Joe Salvati was released after nearly three decades in prison on a murder conviction after WBZ-TV reporter Dan Rea proved Salvati's innocence with painstaking investigative work - including lengthy, confidential interviews with Salvati.

The public has nothing to gain from such a change in policy - and much to lose.

The state legislature is poised to raise taxes by about $1 billion. Among other things, political leaders have targeted tobacco consumers for a good chunk of new revenue. Current budget proposals would add a 75-cent surcharge to the cost of a pack of cig�rettes (a surcharge, it must be noted, that will have a disproportionate impact on lower-income smokers). Even as the state is looking to smokers to help out with the budget deficit, the health commissioners of 11 communities, including Boston, want to stamp out smoking in all public venues, including nightspots. The city banned smoking in restaurants four years ago, but still allows it in bars and nightclubs.

Does anyone else see the hypocrisy at work here? If smoking is such a hazard that we must ban it from public venues, why not outlaw it altogether? But then, how would we close our budget gap?

What do you think? Send an e-mail to letters[a]

Issue Date: May 30 - June 6, 2002
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