Tuesday, February 28, 2006

I'm a bead 'ho! Happy Mardi Gras!!

Greetings from Mardi Gras!! As declared by Rex, King of Mardi Gras, there will be no work done today.

There are masses of crowds along St. Charles and other parade routes. A bit to my surprise, I can't resist the beads! Clara and I have probably amassed 100 pounds of beads from all the various parades and a trek down Bourbon Street last night.

And I got a Coconut from Zulu, the prize possession from Carnival.

New Orleans is throwing a party bigger than anything Boston can imagine. I'm impressed by the restraint of the local constables. They maintain control while hammered people throw things at each other, motorcyclists roar by without required helmets, women flash epidermis, and trash piles up. It's all good.

We've had a wonderful time, while still working and everyone thanks us for coming down and helping out. No fighting amongst the people despite the drinking, there is great cameradie amongst everyone.

Back to Boston tomorrow, thankfully my taxes are paid, so not worried about any investigative articles by the local fourth estate!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

DiCara indicates we need better Mayor & City councilors

Fox guarding the Henhouse:

Former City Councilor Larry Dicara indicated that Boston needs to increase pay to the Mayor and the City Councilors so that we can attract better applicants. Apparently he and the blue ribbon panel don't think we're getting qualified candidates for the job. I, for one, appreciate his honesty that "we need to do better".

Perhaps one of these great leaders will introduce a law that public officials can only receive or vote themselves new pay raises in the last quarter of their term in office so that they can answer to the voters as opposed to immediately after an election.

Funny, in campaigning with these people for 6 months or so, with them talking about how much they love the job, I never once heard them say that they felt the draw of the private sector because of the low pay.

There were fifteen people running for office raising well over a million dollars raised and spent for $70,000 jobs with no power, two graduates from Harvard and they think we need to pay them more to attract better people? How about putting some money in the Boston Public Schools so maybe one day one of them might be qualified enough and make enough money to run for office, as opposed to the candidates (like myself) who went to schools other than those run by the BPS.

One of the most comical aspects of the campaign for me was the constant back stabbing amongst the councilors about the tiny amount of time the others worked. Different stories I heard directly from city councilors:

"Flaherty and Scappiccio are never around they are always practicing law"
"Arroyo is never around, he is always in central or south america"
"Hennigan is only around on Wednesday's"
"I can never find Murphy"
"He stole my idea and didn't give me any credit"

As talked about on Kevin Rothstein's blog, the fact that DiCara is in charge of giving these guys raises is so corrupt and insider that if you wrote a novel about it, no one would believe it. There are so many reasons NYC is growing and Boston is shrinking, but this nepotism is certainly part of the problem, and clearly not part of the solution.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

CNN Video of my crew in LA

Go to http://www.cnn.com/video/partners/clickability/index.html?url=/video/us/2006/02/16/helton.rebuilding.the.bayou.cnn

Yes, that is me in my Red Sox hat and red "Elect Kevin" T-shirt running the show.

It is a great piece and it is right on target. Chris the local Bayou Cajun was a great guy, as well as his brothers. The other volunteers were all great and we did see how people from all over, with different backgrounds could come together and do good things.


CNN report on my crew in Louisiana

Here is a report from a CNN reporter who I worked with while down in Louisiana. I was the guy on the roof telling him to keep the plywood coming!

It can be found at: http://www.cnn.com/2006/US/02/16/helton.habitat/index.html There will be a video airing on CNN around March 1st.

It can be seen at:javascript:cnnVideo('play','/video/us/2006/02/16/helton.rebuilding.the.bayou.cnn','2006/09/01');

Building hope on the bayou
Finding fulfillment amid hurricanes' ruin
By John HeltonCNN

Thursday, February 16, 2006; Posted: 11:26 a.m. EST (16:26 GMT)
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CNN.com producer John Helton helps set a truss on a Habitat for Humanity home in Louisiana.
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Volunteers find fulfillment helping hurricane recovery (9:43)

Money earmarked for Katrina found other coffers (3:12)

• Gallery: Building hope on the bayou

• Interactive: How are feds doing?
Chertoff defends agency
Brown says he was scapegoat
Millions of Katrina aid wasted
In our Behind the Scenes series, CNN correspondents share their experiences in covering news.

• Rebuilding: Vital signs
• Gallery: Landmarks over time
• People: Evacuees across nation
• Storm & Flood: Making history
• Your Stories: How to rebuild
Special ReportRebuilding
Rescue & Relief
Your Stories
Storm & Flood
Satellite images
Special Report -->

Behind the Scenes
or Create Your Own
Manage Alerts What Is This?
GRAY, Louisiana (CNN) -- I wasn't ready to leave -- there was still work left to do.
In the days following Hurricane Katrina, I did like millions of others and sent a donation to a relief fund.
And I did like 32,000 other people did and volunteered for Habitat for Humanity's Operation Home Delivery, which built sections of homes around the country, then shipped them to the Gulf Coast to be assembled there.
I had done carpentry work while I was going to school and have worked on several Habitat houses around Atlanta. I like to build stuff.
The relief work along the Gulf Coast gave me an opportunity to put my muscle where my mouth is.
So on a chilly, muddy Monday morning in late January, I gathered in a circle with 18 other volunteers, some who had flown or driven from as far away as New York, California or Minnesota, to be assigned tasks building a subdivision in the small community of Gray, Louisiana, between Thibodaux and Houma.
Three houses had been started by the previous week's group. We would have worked on those and framed four others by the end of the week.
Bill Moriarity, Habitat's coordinator on this and a couple smaller projects in Louisiana, saw me and my video camera and asked, "Are you here to work or to do that?"
I told him I was there to work. But I wanted to tell this story, too. And during the week I tried to do both.
No one asked about my skills, so I was assigned to be the ground man on one of the houses, handing up plywood, nails and whatever else was needed by the crew putting down decking on the roof.
That was OK -- it left time for shooting some video in between my hoisting tasks.
As I slogged through the sticky but slippery mud, hay put down to cover the ground stuck to my boots, making them look like muddy fuzzy slippers.
In the afternoon, the roof crew didn't need anything from the ground so I evolved from the mud people and joined the roofers to nail things down.
As the week went on, we refined things, and the build began to resemble any other job site I had worked on. Except for a lot less profanity -- Habitat is a faith-based organization.
It still happened -- the first reaction to a hammered thumb or a bumped head is hard to suppress. But normally it was muffled and followed by quick glances around to see if anyone was offended, then an apology just in case anyone was.
The smart-alecky camaraderie that construction crews seem to effect also emerged after a couple days.
During breaks or while we were waiting on material, I would shoot video of other people working. I interviewed a couple of the future residents who were putting their 200 hours of "sweat equity" into their homes.
By Thursday, we were a tight crew. We had learned each other's capabilities or limitations, and how to work with each other.
On Thursday afternoon, the thought of shooting video never crossed my mind as we pushed to finish the plywood decking on the roof on our second house.
Delvin Portier, the construction superintendent on the site, was impressed on how much progress we made that day.
"Y'all got a lot done," he said.
"We kicked ass," I said.
"Yeah you did," he said.
Kim Smith, a former University of North Carolina golfer from Chicago, slapped hands with me as she passed by. Perfect.
We worked past the calls for breaks and lunch. It seemed like it would take five or 10 minutes for the hammering or sawing to go silent during our breaks.
Jim Meyers, who calls himself "retired" at 38 after selling the software company he co-founded in the 1990s, and I weren't in the group picture because we wanted to finish up nailing off the last rafter on the roof before getting down.
They later Photoshopped us into the picture, our disembodied heads floating among the back row of volunteers.
"It makes it look like you guys died during construction," said Scott Derenger, a stand-up comic from Chicago who entertained troops in Iraq with a couple other comics last year.
In the evenings, we gathered in the modular home in which the men in the group were staying. Because there were more men than women, we got the house because it had more beds. The women slept in two RVs and a closed-in barn.
Except for early Thursday morning when a tornado warning chased them through a driving rain and lightning into the house.
We had peaked on Thursday. We were moving slower on Friday. I run three miles a day three or four times a week and play basketball two or three times a week but my legs started cramping on Thursday afternoon and continued into Friday.
On Friday afternoon, some of the volunteers left to make flights home. The rest left Saturday morning. Some lingered in the kitchen and dining room Saturday morning, making sure we had each other's e-mail addresses and told each other how much we enjoyed the week.
In the days that followed, I used those e-mail addresses to ask some of my co-workers that week why they volunteered and what they felt after the week was over.
John Yutz, who drove down from his farm in Missouri, wrote that he had a "trust problem" when it came to sending money to strangers.
"I felt that Habitat For Humanity is the only organization that can help those who are truly willing to help themselves," he wrote.
I told him that the week was one of the most fulfilling in my life. He agreed.
"I felt good about the project when we left, and I wonder if this is a gift to (the future homeowners) or a gift to us. I have to say that in this case everyone wins."
Meyers called the experience "powerful" and said it let him see for himself how well the area was recovering from the hurricanes.
"In addition to feeling like I was helping in a meaningful, efficient, and persistent manner, I was also able to get some firsthand input from the local residents about the state of the recovery," he said. "I found it especially gratifying that almost all of the feedback that I got from locals regarding the (Habitat) efforts was positive."
I forgot to dump the nails out of the nailbag on my toolbelt as I left the site on Friday. That's OK -- I'm sure I'll use them when I go back.

Gabrieli behind the Green Curtain

Chris Gabrieli was at a board meeting recently, darting in and out, taking phone calls with people including Globe reporters writing about his supporters pushing his candidacy. He is clearly not sitting idly while unnamed supporters push his ascendancy, unlike Newtonian mechanics, he is not reacting to the push, but orchestrating it.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Thoughts from St. Charles on St. Fleur

Writing from St. Charles Street, in New Orleans.

It has been fascinating watching the Massachusetts political gyrations from New Orleans this week, while here in Louisiana two more elected officials have been indicted, and the state legislature has been called into special session to try and reform New Orleans City Government and the patronage strangled Levee Boards. AG Reilly should have returned our phone calls and enforced the court order obtained by his predecessor Shannon, and proved that he isn’t really above playing politics. If he had the guts to enforce the law on the Boston City Council and Menino he would have truly shown he believes that no one is above the law. Instead, we see that although by all accounts he is a decent and honorable person he is a part of the democratic hierarchy led by Menino, et al. that does not often answer to the electorate.

I’ve known Marie St. Fleur casually for years, as we share a mutual friend. I’m struck by the similarity of her parents’ story with that of her own. Because she, like her parents, understands that education is the key to success in the modern world. The story of her parents working long hours cleaning and doing other hard jobs so that she could get a good education and go on to law school is the familiar American Dream Story. Clearly her parents had to make hard choices every day about what to buy, what bills to pay, and what luxuries, if any, they maybe able to enjoy.

Marie and her family have clearly had to do the same thing. What an indictment of the horrible state of the Boston Public Schools her story is. When an insider elected official who could presumably get her children into any school in the Boston Public Schools decides to send her kids to the exclusive Beacon Hill private school Brimmer and May you know the schools aren’t good. Many teachers and school officials assure me that the connected Krewe can get their kids in where they want them—no coincidence that Mayor Menino’s grandkids are in the best elementary school in the city.

But what is more scathing is that Marie has decided a good education for her kids is more important than paying her own student loans, or paying her taxes. I can hardly think of a more real world example of why you shouldn’t send your kids to BPS.
It is no coincidence that of the 8 City Council at Large finalists last fall, none of them went to non-exam Boston Public Schools.

I wish Marie would speak up and out about the poor state of the Boston Public Schools that a large percentage of her constituents who don’t have her financial clout must send their kids to. But, I don’t remember any public statements from her about the tragic state of the schools, just words of praise for the great job the Mayor is doing. Apparently not great enough for her to send her own kids there, but good enough for those that vote for her.