It’s time for Boston to say thank you and farewell to Tom Menino. Over the past 12 years — with some ups and downs, for sure — he’s had a good run. Boston today is in better shape and is a better place to live than it was when Menino took office. Although there are financial storm clouds on the horizon, the city’s fiscal health is better than it’s been in recent memory. The rate of progress in the schools may be too slow, but they are stable and heading in the right direction. Neighborhoods like Eggleston Square and Grove Hall have become precincts of hope rather than tracts of despair. Blue Hill Avenue is bustling. Dorchester Avenue promises to rebound. East Boston is on the move. And Roslindale Square has reinvented itself as a model of livable civility.
Menino’s record of achievement would not be complete without also recognizing his championship of basic rights for gay and lesbian citizens. From domestic partnership to same-sex marriage he’s been on the front lines. His advocacy for AIDS services and related issues, such as needle exchange, is a model for others in public life. His refusal to march in South Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day parade because neighborhood intolerance does not truck with gays and lesbians is decency personified.
But entrenched incumbents eventually grow stale and self-protective. Mayors Kevin White and Ray Flynn didn’t know when to quit. Their considerable achievements were compromised during their last unsuccessful years in office. We don’t want Boston to suffer through another unnecessary cycle of decline. That’s why we urge voters to cast their ballots for Maura Hennigan, who for the last 24 years has served Boston ably and energetically as a city councilor.
We have no doubt that Hennigan is at least as qualified as Menino was when, after nine years on the city council, he ascended to the mayoralty. And Hennigan would have the advantage of a more open personal style and a willingness to include, rather than exclude, those on opposite sides of the political fence. We applaud her stated desire to use — if elected — her unique position as Boston’s first female mayor to attract the best and brightest to municipal service.
Hennigan says she wants to wake up a tired City Hall. We take her at her word. At a minimum, she should replace the fire and public-works commissioners and take a serious look at the police commissioner. We have no doubt that she would act on her promise to end conflicts and bring reason to the economic-development process by splitting the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) into two separate agencies: one dedicated to planning, the other to the actual business of building. In the meantime, she should change the players at the BRA.
Boston would benefit from the energy and sense of future possibility that a new mayor would offer. Hennigan has her faults. We think, for example, that she underestimates what many of her reforms would cost. She is also dead wrong about bringing back an elected school committee. But she is, at heart, a woman of common sense. That, together with her genuinely progressive ideals and her strong love for the city, positions her to lead Boston forward for the next four years.
BOSTON CITY COUNCIL
The at-large city-council field is unusually deep this year, and nearly every candidate would be an asset to Boston. There are only four at-large jobs, however — and the Phoenix urges voters to give them to Sam Yoon, John Connolly, Patricia White, and Felix Arroyo.
Yoon is intelligent and thoughtful, and he has the experience to tackle some of Boston’s most pressing issues immediately. At Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Yoon wrote his master’s thesis on development in Roxbury’s Dudley Square neighborhood; later, he worked as director of development at Chinatown’s Asian Community Development Corporation. In addition, Yoon has strong progressive instincts, which seem to be informed by his identity as an evangelical Christian — proof, perhaps, that the combination of religion and politics need not be noxious. He would also be Boston’s first Asian-American elected official. The city’s growing Asian communities couldn’t ask for a better standard-bearer.
Connolly, who finished a surprising third in the preliminary, has been the beneficiary of strong political connections. (His father, Michael, is a former secretary of state; his mother, Lynda, is chief justice of the Massachusetts District Court.) But this isn’t his greatest strength. Like Yoon, Connolly has a sharp mind and would help ratchet up the council’s collective brainpower. He’s also a genuine political talent who (again like Yoon) could become a serious mayoral contender one day. Connolly’s conservative leanings on abortion and neighborhood schools mark him as a centrist, not a liberal. But his willingness to challenge Boston’s unions, especially on the issue of pilot and charter schools, is much needed.
As the daughter of former mayor Kevin White, Patricia White is burdened with unattainable expectations. But there are signs, as White completes her second council run, that she is maturing and stepping out of her father’s shadow. Her focus on the concerns of women and young families is welcome, and may have crystallized her political identity once and for all. White still needs to improve her command of detail, and to show a greater willingness to challenge established political orthodoxies. Her reflexive support for the BRA’s current structure, for example, seems to be an article of faith rather than a product of reasoned deliberation. In the meantime, White’s long-honed passion for Boston — as well as her polish and professionalism — will make her a highly effective councilor.
Since his strong finish in the 2003 election, Felix Arroyo has become the object of a local cult of personality. Arroyo isn’t the political sage some of his followers take him to be. But he has a tremendous repository of knowledge, is a dyed-in-the-wool progressive, and possesses the confidence and gravitas necessary to go toe-to-toe with the mayor, whoever he or she may be. Furthermore, as Boston becomes increasingly diverse in terms of race and ethnicity, Arroyo’s value as the council’s sole Latino continues to grow. If the council gets an influx of new talent, Arroyo’s wisdom will be a prized commodity.(We’ve endorsed City Councilor Steve Murphy in the past, but we’re passing this time. It’s time for new blood on the council, but we hope he continues to focus his talents and energy on public life.)
Meanwhile, two district races are particularly interesting. In District Two, which is anchored by South Boston, challenger Susan Passoni gets our nod over incumbent James Kelly. As a former financial analyst, Passoni would give the council a much-needed dose of fiscal expertise. She would also reflect the evolution that South Boston — and the district as a whole — has experienced since the 1970s, when Kelly made his name as an anti-busing organizer. For good measure, Passoni clearly understands that ensuring the prompt and efficient delivery of constituent services will be a key part of her job.
In District Six, which consists primarily of Jamaica Plain and West Roxbury, the Phoenix gives a qualified endorsement to John Tobin. As an Irish-American politician from West Roxbury, Tobin deserves credit for his longstanding support of the local arts scene and for his enlightened stance on gay rights. However, Tobin’s recent push for neighborhood schools failed to grapple with the genuine inequity that exists in the Boston public-school system, and his outreach to his district’s growing Latino population needs to be improved. Tobin’s challenger, Gibrán Rivera, is a promising young candidate, and we hope to see him run again — perhaps for an at-large seat — in two years.
In two less-competitive races, the Phoenix also endorses District Three councilor Maureen Feeney of Dorchester, who remains an effective intermediary between the Boston she grew up in and the Boston of today. We also suggest that voters re-elect District Nine councilor Jerry McDermott, who represents Allston and Brighton. That said, Paul Creighton, McDermott’s challenger, deserves credit for pushing the incumbent to aggressively engage the educational institutions that call his district home.
Issue Date: November 4 - 10, 2005
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