Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Thoughts on the '09 Boston City Council race

David Bernstein of the Boston Phoenix has some scuttlebutt on his blog about all the at-large city councilors running, including the son of former councilor, Felix Arroyo.
Since I watch things and care about the city after living there for close to 20 years and running at-large myself in 1997, I posted a few comments.
First, it's good to see that there are a slew of potential at-large candidates. The more the merrier. Hopefully, the prelim won't get canceled again. It's a disgrace when preliminaries and primaries get canceled due to lack of interest.
Here's some free advice to Felix II [or any other candidates in 2009 who deem themselves "progressive"]. In order to win, you're going to need to do the following things:
1) You need to be serious about your run. It's not a march for Mumia or an endless meeting pontificating the virtues of diversity quotas. It's serious business.
2) You need to raise enough money to compete with the likes of the incumbents [they will be funded well]. That probably means at least $80k to $100k although if you don't hire a ton of staff, you could probably run a good race with $25k for advertising in the last month or so when voters really start paying attention.
Note: the money doesn't guarantee a win. Ask Patricia White, daughter of the former Mayah, about that. But the money does guarantee you'll be a player. Remember: In the at-large race, fifth place is a win in a crowded, respected field. You can move up if there is a resignation.
Sidebar on advertising: Be careful of the tricks independent newspaper owners play on you to encourage you to run advertising in their newspapers. Many of these free handout newspapers have limited influence and scope. You could be throwing good money away by spending a lot on these newspapers. Give them a little but don't go broke doing it. As well, watch what newspapers actually cover the race or publish press releases from candidates. Those newspapers give a damn and are worthy of the investment.
3) You need to campaign hard, starting now, in the non-ethnic/liberal, high turnout neighborhoods. That means Charlestown, Eastie, West Roxbury, etc. If you spend all your time talking to voters in Roxbury, J.P. and the Back Bay, you will lose. Truly, this one can't be said enough. If you spend all your time in neighborhoods that don't vote, you won't win. You and your friends may have the logic of, Well, if we get 90 percent of this neighborhood, we'll win elsewhere. It doesn't work that way. As well, the key to the at-large race is getting one of four votes. It's not winner-take-all. So go to the heaviest areas and ask for one of the four votes along with the areas where you think you will do well.
4) Your platform needs to be more than a litany of grand progressive issues or crybaby complaints about the nation and the world that you will never be able to change if elected. Which leads me to ...
5) Don't get caught up in national issues which have nothing to do with the Boston City Council like your father did. With all due respect to him, important social movement statements [or pranks, if you will] like hunger strikes against the war, while dynamic, do nothing to secure your place on the council. The council is about constituent services and the city of Boston, not injustice in Palestine or the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
Four and five can't be emphasized enough. Your progressive friends will urge you to get distracted by these things. Don't. While city voters care about what is going on in these places, they don't make decisions based on them. They want to know what you're doing to do to improve schools, if you are going to be responsive to potholes that need filling, if you are going to keep a watchful eye on development, etc.

As an observer of the council for a long time, I can say that it is time for a young, ethnic candidate like Felix II who can be a role model for many other citizens in the city to be elected. Generalizing, the two youngest councilors currently serving, Mike Ross and Sam Yoon, have been disappointments. Yoon seems like an empty suit and I think I said he would be when I first saw his name floated by Boston insiders and then later, the Globe ... and why he now thinks he can be mayor is a mystery [is he delusional or does he listen to too many people fawning around him?]. Ross is less of an empty suit. That would be way too harsh. He has proposed some interesting ideas - like the manufacturer's tax break idea from a few years ago. As well, his staff seems to be attentive, from what I hear. But what kind of example has he been for others? What has he done in 10 years? The council job mainly seems to be a place where he could get paid good money for doing little in order to put himself through law school and date hot chicks.
If elected Felix II, you can be a better example to young people than your father or anyone else currently serving on the council. And, this dynamic, getting young people to give a sh*t about their city, is an important one. So don't screw it up. Do all those things I mentioned above successfully and you will win.


Anonymous said...

I have to disagree with your take on Sam Yoon. Just in the area of public safety alone Sam has fought to get more money to put youth workers on the street, a proven strategy to reduce violence. He has also made proposals that would help bring more money to the city to put towards public safety. With a little common sense and cooperation from the Mayor, we wouldn't need Sam to run.

Anonymous said...

Good post on advice for up-and-coming city councilors in our area.

To me your advice to Felix II is well-founded and valid, but it's interesting that while you call Sam an "empty suit" he subscribed to your now-recommendations while he was running and probably continues to subscribe to the philosophies thereunder in his current running. Also, while you see Sam as an "empty suit," I'm sure that his constituents, those members of his community who need and use his advocacy, see him quite differently. Lastly, in a progressive sense, it's people like Sam and Felix who are necessary voices of brains, savvy, and passion in the overall sense where we need change in the way government works these days. Knocking down and dragging out a young politician here or there does no one any good, I'd think.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why you think Ross and Yoon are disappointments. They've both done a great deal of work to improve this city. To go as far as to call Councilor Yoon an "empty suit" has no basis.

Your advice for Felix G. Arroyo is valid but don't discount what his father and other leaders like Sam Yoon have done to engage parts of the city that felt they had no voice on the council.

I'd like you to better explain why you think Ross and Yoon are disappointments. It's easy for people to slam others but you should explain why you have an issue with them.

Tony said...

A few quick things: First, thanks to all three of you for reading and responding.

Second, on my own post, I have changed my comments about Sam Yoon to reflect what I - and others - sense. That is, that he seems to be an empty suit rather than is. I don't know the man beyond what I have read and heard from some of my city sources. Some of the words I have heard used to describe him are aloof, paper tiger, not ready for prime time, which I think is all the more reason why people in the media are fascinated that Yoon would make the leap to mayor so quickly after being elected.

That all said, before I write anything else, let me punt back to you three ... a two-parter here:

1) Name five significant and specific things Yoon has done during his limited time in office. Anon11:09 has mentioned two which are almost kinda one - getting more money for youth workers on the street and more money for public safety. Got three more? General advocacy - i.e. existing - doesn't count. Give me some meat: Pronounced and proposed public policy initiatives.

2) Name five - or more, since he has been there nine years - significant and specific things Mike Ross has done during his time as a city councilor. I mentioned one off the top of my head. And, he has gotten himself a law degree although how that helps anyone in Mission Hill or the Fenway, I don't know. Feel free to rattle some other things off. Again, real meat and potatoes and not lattes.

I'll give you some counter reasons for being critical of both and why if you can come up with some for me.

Anonymous said...

Tony, thanks for hearing us out. Off the top of my head, Sam has always been for and has recently been strongly pushing towards open government--and hopefully now is a good climate for someone like him to make this happen. He also recently spearheaded a public meeting regarding the police and their loss of detail work. On the City Council housing committee, he works for public housing reform particularly regarding safety issues.

Even beyond that, he represents a geographical and cultural nexus that needs a voice in city government. It's not only superficially representing demographic diversity, but also being able to substantively give input and opinions that stem from being of a diverse background.

Whereas your more typical politician may be more driven towards talking points, bullet points, and receiving signed-sealed-and-delivered accolades, people like Sam spend more of their time developing relationships and hearing the voices of those who need him. Maybe that can't be captured in an initiative or a white paper, but isn't that also the beauty (and importance) of politics today?

Tony said...

Hey Paul, clean, open, and honest government is a great thing, especially in Boston, where it has never really existed. A great goal to strive for. But at the same time, shouldn't that be the norm?

Beyond interacting with people well and holistic things like "representing geographic diversity," can you give me anything else on why he deserves reelection, never mind being the mayor?

theszak said...

With a hundred or so Boston City Council staff a better Council staff director is needed more up to date on
. software technologies

. sunshine open public meetings principles

. freedom of information FOI public records principles

. principles of open government and ethics.

Anonymous said...

Tony, I think the reason why you sense that Yoon/Ross are paper tigers or have not accomplished anything is really more a generational perception as well as an issue of the establishment vs. change.

I constantly hear establishment folks telling me how Yoon "hasn't really done anything" or "you can't get a read on him." More than just complaining, they seem even disturbed and uneasy because Yoon (and Ross, to some extent) don't just sit around and fill potholes but rather make some attempt to create a real legislative body within the Council instead of merely a rubber stamp for the Mayor. To the establishment, a Yoon or Ross policy proposal is the equivilant of "nothing" because (1) they don't ask prior permission from the Mayor, (2) it probably involves something that doesn't satisfy a core establishment consituency (take the transliteration of ballots issue, for example, where some councilors seemed to have no idea why it would be important to do this), or (3) it would be something that would weaken the power of the machine or an establishment type (take the open meeting stuff, for example).

In contrast, the rest of us see these Yoon/Ross types of councilors as the only ones that represent our interests. Why is it that whenever I read an article or pay attention to a city council issue that is important to me, Yoon and Ross and often Connelly are the sponsors or main proponents? I have never seen Murphy or Linehan or Feeney at any event I have attended or working actively on any issue I am interested in. I am sure they are fine people, but they seem to be just filling chairs until we can elect more Yoon's, Ross's, and Arroyo's and actually make the Council a funcioning legislative body in this City that works on issues of importance to all constituencies.

As for Yoon running for Mayor, I think he would make an excellent Mayor because he is extremely smart and thoughtful about the issues. He has demonstrated the capacity for building effective organizations that are both productive and progressive. He is young and able to attract a renewed interest and energy in Boston that is so desparately needed.

While Menino has accomplished much as Mayor and deserves his due recognition for his emphasis on neighborhood development, the nature of the executive at any level should be inherantly temporary. Executives need to change with more frequency than legislators because while the later provides institutional stability, the change agents are the former. Cities, states and nations need alternating executives who compete to offer their different visions and challenge the status quo. Look at how Deval is attempting to challenge the status quo and the legislature is pushing back. This is the healthy interchange that should happen at each level of government. In Boston, we have a legislature that exercises almost no power and a Mayor who resists any change. This is why we need councilors like Ross & Yoon and especially why we need a new Mayor - not because Menino is a horrible executive, but rather because his time is up.

Anonymous said...

Hi Tony - thanks for encouraging this debate. As to your question about 5 things Sam Yoon has done:

1. He sponsored a bill that eventually lowered the interest rate for seniors who wish to defer their property taxes.

2. He spearheaded a movement and eventually sponsored a home-rule petition to create transliterated ballots in Boston ensuring even more people have a voice.

3. Just recently he sponsored legislation requiring city boards post their minutes and members online. This was signed by the mayor and is awaiting implementation.

4. In the midst of the mortgage crisis his office worked with dozens of people and ultimately called a public hearing to look into the crisis and suggest ways to help residents in the City avoid foreclosure.

5. Finally, Sam has sought ways to delivery and accountability for basic city services. Proposing text message, e-mail and phone alerts to remind residents of street cleaning days, snow emergencies and other important city services.

Tony said...

Thanks everyone for leaving more comments.

Thanks Anon208 for posting five things Councilor Yoon has done. I appreciate it. It looks like he has done a few interesting things.

I think Anon714 gets a bit on about "the paper tiger" comment. To be honest, I don't live in Boston anymore but I did for 18 years and was involved in council interaction on things such as the Red Sox megaplex, crime, housing policy, open meeting and records law fights, turnpike air rights and other development issues, etc. I also twice ran for the council, and brought together some unusual coalitions of voters, so I know a bit about running too [although I did not win either time].
Even though I'm not in Boston and I'm not involved with the council, I watch things closely and I still have friends in town. They come from both the establishment and the progressive community. Most of the progressives I know - and, admittedly, some are very radical - think Sam Yoon is an empty suit. The paper tiger comment did come from a more establishment person. What is interesting about being on the outside now is how closely my progressive friends and establishment friends agree on Mike Ross and Yoon.
I think the slights against Steve Murphy and others for not being at certain meetings or things you care about is a bit of a stretch.
It has been my experience - many years - that Murphy is one of the more representative councilors although maybe he is slacking off of late. I think that is why he always gets elected even if he has always tried to reach, unsuccessfully, for higher office. I can't speak for the others. Feeney was a "Kelly girl" so I didn't have much use for her. I don't know Linehan at all.

This comment though is really hilarious:

"Look at how Deval is attempting to challenge the status quo and the legislature is pushing back."

Clearly you are not watching the same Legislature that I'm watching. Deval hasn't done much at all to challenge the Legislature. Deval is so far in over his head it isn't even funny. He made so many damn promises he could never meet and is a laughing stock. "For it all Deval" was so dead-on right it's sad. And if "Muffy" Healey were running right now, she would probably clean his clock.
This is what gets me about people who put more into the touchy feely stuff than actually doing things and getting them accomplished: No one cares. They want action! They want better schools, better roads, better everything and they don't want to pay for it. When a candidate says they are going to give folks property tax relief, they better bring it. When he says he is going to fully fund education mandates, bring it. When you don't do those things, the voters want blood, not excuses. And Deval can't blame the economy since he didn't act on Day 1 to do any of the things he said he would. He wasted an entire year when there was no recession and instead, hired thousands more state workers, his friends, and squandered his mandate for "change" ... Ahhh, the all elusive "change" ...

I would agree with you that the mayor's time is up. But I seriously doubt that Michael Flaherty or Yoon will be able to take him out. Maybe; maybe not. They obviously sense blood in the water since it would be a fools run to challenge Menino without a real strategy to win ... and 'bringing people together and representing important constituencies,' to paraphrase, is not a winning strategy to beat Menino. If that's Yoon's plan, well, he should stick to running at-large again.

Anonymous said...

I'll tell you, the only City Council At-Large Candidate that I know of is Doug Bennett. This guy Bennett has been campaigning for almost a whole year. He's been to 35,000 Boston houses since May 2008. I live in Hyde Park and Bennett came to my home. He also went to my sister's in South Boston, and my mother's in Jamaica Plain. I'm giving Bennett a bullet vote

Anonymous said...

Bennett is all fluff, bad quotes and no substance (couched in an ill-fitting suit). He was a total bust as a Selectman on Nantucket. To his credit, he was smart enough to realize he was going to get completely crushed if he ran for re-election, so he opted out. He'd be totally lost on the Boston City Council.