Thursday, October 16, 2008

An evening with Michael Flaherty at his Kitchen Table Talk

Michael Flaherty came to our Claremont Neighborhood Association last night for one of his Kitchen Table Talks. He was accompanied by his assistant and was shadowed by Jay Walsh who works on neighborhood issues for the Mayor.

Michael asked questions and took comments, directing conversation as a good push poll person or marketer would. He started out by asking if people felt safe in their neighborhood, most answered yes. When one gentleman mentioned a physical attack, Michael almost gleefully let everyone know that rapes and violent crimes and break ins are up this year.

He then proceeded to tell us how awful the schools are, despite a few bright spots. He likened the school situation to a lottery, where you either win the lottery with your child or you move out of the city or go to private school. One resident agreed with him, and said how thankful she was to win the lottery. Michael exclaimed how happy he was that his three kids won the lottery as well and gave her a high five!

Who would ever have believed that City Councilor Flaherty would win the lottery 3 times in a row with his children and get them into some of the good schools? I wonder what the odds are that Mayor Menino's grandchildren also won the lottery? As my mother would say, miracles happen!

I asked Michael who was to blame for the bad schools, despite us spending $17,000 a year per student. He told us that the school system has lost 5000 students in the last 4 years or so, that a lot of money goes into maintenance, Court Street and transportation. I asked what he has done about it and he says he has asked tough questions in the city council hearings on education, but that he voted for the budget because if he didn't it would hurt the children.

We then got to my wife's biggest problem with the city: trash. Michael said "the city is filthy". A point agreed to by most of the residents. The Mayor's representative told us we have more trash cans than almost any neighborhood. Michael told us about pictures his constituents send him to him of bad jobs done by the trash disposal companies.

He talked about development and how the BRA doesn't do a good job of involving residents in the process of development. I asked him why doesn't he come to the neighborhoods when he knows a development is in the works and hold a hearing and get residents input and he claimed he is in the dark about what goes on at the 9th floor of City Hall, often until he reads it in the paper. He then said he had held such hearings. I suggest he do a Freedom of Information Act to the BRA asking for the documents of all currently proposed projects. He could also withhold the funding that the City Council gives them every year until they at least tell the city council what projects they are working on.

We finally ended up talking about CityStat the complaint monitoring system used by Somerville and many other cities around the country. He has been trying to implement it for years but he said the administration is fighting it. I had to ask him the same question 3 times before he finally answered. The question "how much will it cost?". The answer: "3 to 4 million". Since the City has a 10 million dollar surplus left over from last year, and the city council voted their staff a raise out of that surplus I asked why they didn't buy the Citistat program. He answered that the administration is against it.

We also talked about police details which Michael supports.

I came into the meeting determined not to distract the group with issues like the Open Meeting Law which no one really cares about it seems, and stuck to questions about fiscal policy and what Michael had been doing to fix problems in the city. I was afraid I bored some of my fellow CNA members however.

Michael is clearly gearing up for a Mayoral run. I have heard from many sources that he has already made the decision, including people who have spoken to him directly. The basic point of these meetings is to say "schools suck, the streets are filthy, crime is up, the BRA is corrupt, services are not professionally managed, and it is all the Mayors fault. In addition, he is not responsible for any of it because the City Council has no power and it isn't worth his time to try and do something because it would fail. But, he claims he has used his "bully pulpit" to let the people of Boston know that it is all the fault of the Mayor.

It reminds me of what Councilor Turner once told me about Councilor Hennigan, I paraphrase but it is something like "she found religion when she decided to run against the Mayor".

As someone who has known and realized that the Mayor and the BRA are the problem in this City for a long time, it will take a lot more straight talk from Michael before I believe his sincerity. 4 years ago I recall him telling everyone how 'things were getting better all the time', and he supported Mayor Menino in the last election. I'm most concerned with his excuse that there is nothing he can do about it: put proposals on Menino's desk for him to veto, to highlight the old world way of doing business in Boston, as opposed to the New Boston which Michael espouses.

Postscript: when I left the meeting one of the members who I don't know was walking her dog. I went to introduce myself, and apologize if I had taken up too much time with pointed questions. She had taken full part in the conversations (Michael does a great job of getting everyone involved) and I had thought she had been very impressed with Councilor Flaherty. I asked her what she thought and she replied "he is so full of shit" so point blank that I had to laugh out loud.

When are we going to get politicians who just speak the truth? Obama and McCain aren't leading the way with all of their programs, no cuts and the deficit will magically disappear. Don't believe it.

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