Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Not impressive night at City Council Hearing

I attended the City Council hearing on Oversight widely publicized by Sam Yoon with campaign funds tonight.

The meeting was slated to start at 6:00 but Sam didn't take the microphone until 6:43, nothing like making the public wait.

He talked for about 20 minutes going over information that is available from the Financial Commission. No one from the FinCom was there to talk about it. Sam made a point about the building not being handicapped accessible and that he was going to fix it in the future. This was in reference to a gentleman who was there that was wheel chair bound.

Then Judith Kurland, the Mayor's chief of staff spoke and started right out by correcting Sam that Lisa Signori (chief budget officer) had not committed to coming to the meeting and had a statement from Lisa Signori that she looked forward to a thorough review of the budget through the Ways and Means committee. (Not the committee that Sam chairs)

Mrs. Kurland then really slammed Sam by telling him that the building can be made handicapped accessible as long as adequate time and notice are given, which Sam didn't do. She announced to the crowd that Sam's office had been informed of this earlier, and told that there were other buildings in the community that are more easily handicapped accessible and hence it was Sam's fault for not planning properly. She said they have ramps that can be installed on the building in 3 to 8 days for events.

I had to leave at this point to go to a TV appearance, but I returned just after 8 pm as the meeting was wrapping up. I did an interview with WBUR, whose reporter told me that the Fireman's union had spoken about how Sam didn't have his facts straight about some personnel issues, and that the fireman spoke strongly in favor of the call boxes.

The big issue for me is that most of the items that the FinCom cites have been known about for years but what have our elected officials been doing about it? We need strong leadership to be able to get ourselves to fiscal sanity.

Cost Savings for the City

Sam Yoon is holding an Oversight Committee hearing this evening in Codman Square looking for ways to save money in the budget. I am going to the hearing and applaud Sam for holding the hearing. The funny thing however is that nearly all of the items I will put forth, have already been put forth before and Sam, Michael Flaherty and of course the Mayor have done nothing about these for years. My suggestions:

Kevin McCrea
218 West Springfield Street
Boston, MA 02118
March 30, 2009

1) Change municipal health plan. The Boston Municipal Research Bureau estimates we could save $25 million a year by switching to the State Plan.

2) BRA
a. Eliminate city capital funding to the BRA in the yearly budget. The BRA
is self funded and does not need payments from the City of Boston
until they become transparent and answer all questions from the city council and the citizens about what that money is for. The BRA is not
laying off workers, while the City of Boston is laying off teachers.

b. Eliminate Chapter 121A tax breaks for all projects that are not for affordable housing in blighted areas, such as One Beacon Street. The City of Boston loses approximately 5 million dollars a year in real estate taxes on this single building. Examine two dozen other 121A’s such as New Boston Market and Post Office Square.

c. Take back any City owned properties that have been given to the BRA without compensation such as Hayward Place, City Hall Plaza, and the $2.4 million land given in Dorchester for the Salavation Army. These three properties are worth at least 300 million dollars.

d. Take back revenue streams that the BRA has taken from the City of Boston, such as the leasing of “air rights” at the Ames Building, Winthrop Square Garage, the leasing of Yawkey Way to the RedSox (this street is paid for by the citizens of Boston, why does the BRA get the revenue?)
e. Charge the BRA money for its office space such as at City Hall.
f. Tax land that the BRA has, after getting it properly assessed, especially income producing properties.

a. We need to require consistent payments from our non-profit partners in the city, especially the hospitals and universities. The target is one quarter of what they would otherwise pay if the land was not tax free. We need to examine whether uses such as parking garages and restaurants should be exempted as well. Institutions should not be able to expand without negotiating proper PILOT payments, especially if city land or zoning exemptions are part of that expansion.

4) Increase the Financial Commission budget so that they can identify where money
is being wasted and/or contracts are not being honored or performed correctly.

5) DPW-
a) Currently the DPW is reactive not proactive. We need to have a long term
plan on when streets are going to be repaved. This allows homeowners, utilities and businesses to plan ahead to upgrade their use requirements. This will mean fewer street cuts, better roads with less maintenance, saving money.

b) Subcontracted street cleaners should not be hired to clean streets where the cars have not been required to move. The middle of the streets are not dirty, the edges are what needs to be cleaned.

6) Park and Neighborhood signs-As Mitt Romney identified when he was Governor,
putting politician names on street and park signs is a waste of taxpayer money. We need to stop this practice permanently.

7) Eliminate no bid contracts. Competition will help reduce costs

8) Change the law back to putting the city council central staff at 12 people. We no longer require a $70,000 job to figure ways the city council can avoid the open meeting law.

9) Eliminate the city council practice of giving bonuses to employees, changing their pay rate “at reappointment time” for one week and doubling their salaries.

10) Pension reform. Eliminate “one day one year” practice which allows situations as Paul Walkowski where someone can work less than 2 years and receive 3 years pension reward. Eliminate provisions for higher pension pay when filling in for higher grade employees.

11) Publish online all expenses and income, city contracts, etc. so that all the citizens can examine our finances for further savings.

12) Sell all surplus property owned by the City of Boston. This will add money to the general fund to pay for teachers, schools, etc.

13) Use financial tools such as auditing and zero based budgeting to identify cost savings, such as the Boston Fire Department with their well publicized call box Division and maintenance issues.

14) Change the Boston election cycle so that the Mayoral election is held in the same year as the presidential election. This will halve the cost of elections and increase voter participation.

15) Strengthen Public Records Laws and Open Meeting Laws so that councilors, citizens, unions, etc. can make informed decisions about our City budget.

BRA running roughshod over laws, citizens in North End

Everywhere the BRA goes, under the direction of Tom Menino, the citizens get the short end of the stick to the enrichment of the developers and the BRA. Read the latest article about Long Wharf. Here, the BRA wants to turn over a lawfully protected public park to a restaurant.

The same words we hear in Allston, Fort Point Channel, etc. are heard here: “As a taxpayer, I’m shocked,” he said. “I feel like all these people are in bed together and they just steamroll any opposition, the public be damned.” According to Mr. Mahajan a local who has joined a lawsuit to protect the park.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Report showing the Fire Department costs are the highest in the nation

According to the Globe the fire department report can be seen in more detail here, showing we have the highest fire department and EMT costs in the nation.

Why the teacher's union, (and others) don't trust the Mayor's numbers

Why the teachers (and many others) don't trust Mayor Menino's budget numbers

The city claims that the budget problems we face are due to lower than expected revenue which means we have to cut budgets and lay off teachers and police. However, the numbers seem to show that the mayor is at best grandstanding for political advantage and more likely using our students, teachers and police as poker chips in a high stakes game to skirt the fiscal controls of Proposition 2 1/2 in order to get additional taxing authority for the city without putting an override to a vote.

Consider that the city has three sources of income; property taxes, state aid (including teacher pension reimbursements) and other miscellaneous revenues such as permit fees, parking fines and interest on investments. Taking each one separately:

1) Property taxes are expected to INCREASE by over $60 million next year, exactly as planned a year ago. There is and will be no shortfall in property tax revenues which now represent about 60% of the city's revenues.

2) While the state plans to cut aid by about $60 million, this has been more than offset by stimulus funds (about $30 million so far for schools and police) and other savings/revenues such as the hiring freeze ($10 million), lower fuel costs ($10 million), an extra $5 million payment for jet fuel excise received from the state in 2009 and other wage freezes ($5 million estimated). In addition, due to declining school populations, not the budget crisis, the city is planning to close several schools which should also save millions or even tens of millions of dollars. This doesn't include further cuts in other departments that the mayor has requested. State aid represents about 24% of the city's revenues and based on netting these figures, should be on or even above targeted levels.

3) This means that the entire budget shortfall must be due to a flattening of the city's miscellaneous revenue streams according to the mayor. However, the city only collects $400 million in miscellaneous fees representing a small fraction of the budget. This means that the mayor was either grossly incompentent by assuming these fees would increase by 25%, which doesn't happen even in the best of times or that the mayor expected to collect about $100 million more than he is claiming in these initial projections (which is what has happened on average for the past 5-6 years).

This is not advanced caclulus, it is simple arithmetic. The Boston Globe and the Boston Herald need to take a hard look at the numbers rather than simply report the information handed to them by Mayor Menino's press office. These numbers add up less and less every day.

Hiring freeze savings - Boston Globe, Jan 27, 2009
$10 million for school dept - p. A-13 - bond offering
$5 million for excise (estimated one quarter payment) - p. A-25 - bond offering
Property taxes - http://www.cityofboston.gov/administrationfinance/pdfs/FiscalContext01_26_09.pdf
BPS stimulus funds - http://www.connollyforboston.com/community-info/bps-budget-overview-%E2%80%93-march-19-2009/
BPD stimulus funds - http://www.dotnews.com/2009/police-cut-jobs-move-youth-force-out-building-hancock-street

Sunday, March 29, 2009

FBI crime statistics show Boston is much more dangerous than New York

A friend who thinks I should talk more about how dangerous the City of Boston is sent the following email:

From the FBI – 2007 is the latest year of complete crime statistics by city:

Boston has almost double the rate of violent crimes (per 100,000 population) versus New York City.

Boston’s murder rate is almost double that of New York City.

A woman living in Boston is four times more likely to be the victim of rape than a woman living in New York City.

Residents of Boston experience property crime at a rate of more than double residents of New York City.

In summary – Mayor Menino SUCKS and hasn’t done a damn thing in 16 years to make the City of Boston a safer place to live.

You can see the statistics for yourself.

Sam Yoon calls my house to say that we must eliminate wasteful spending!

I got what I assume is a Robo-call from Sam Yoon saying we must eliminate wasteful spending! How much did this robo-call cost and who paid for it? Considering I have called and emailed his office with ideas on how to reduce wasteful spending and his office has replied that Sam doesn't have a free 10 minutes in the next 6 months I don't know how he has time to eliminate wasteful spending?!?

Maybe he could start off by eliminating the position he helped create for someone to figure out ways the City Council can skirt the open meeting law?

Anyway there will be a hearing on this Tuesday night in Codman Square. If you can't make it and you have some ideas on how we can save money, please email me to electkevin@gmail.com or post them in comments here and I will forward them to Mr. Yoon.

City Council Public Hearing
March 31st, 2009 6:00 p.m.
Codman Square Health Center
Great Hall
Corner of Norfolk and Washington Streets

Majority want Mayor to debate!

The majority of respondents want the Mayor to debate, but surprisingly 1 in 5 said that his actions speak louder than words and that he shouldn't need to debate.

Notes from the campaign trail...

I've been working hard across the city, going to community meetings, speaking at the school committee hearings, and knocking on doors. Somewhere around 10,000 so far, a long way behind Doug Bennett but we are catching up.

The BRA is waging war on the public's interest on many fronts. In Brighton on Lake Street, in Allston with the giant hole in the ground built by Harvard, in Fort Point Channel, downtown at One Congress Street, in Downtown Crossing with another giant hole in the ground. All of these projects have a similar theme: the builder or developer is getting what they want, which includes zoning variances, and the community is not feeling that their voices and concerns are being heard.

Part of the problem is that there is no connection between these communities, so the BRA can take a divide and conquer approach. Someone in the North End is not going to go to a community meeting in Brighton so that a joint approach to how the citizens can advocate for community needs can be accomplished. In all my 10 plus years of going to the BRA meetings I have never once seen the Mayor at any one of them, even though everyone knows that he is the kingmaker, the decision maker on these projects.

I have been going around for years telling community groups to "GET IT IN WRITING"! If you are promised a park, or a playground, or an alley being redone, or sidewalk getting new bricks, make sure that the BRA and the developer gives that to the community in writing, and that the sign off, and the certificate of occupancy are not given to the developers until the community benefits are provided.

Second, building permits are only good for a certain amount of time. If a developer or institution gets a zoning variance and a permit, but then they halt the project, the city can use as leverage the fact that they might not allow the variance to continue past the period of time given for that permit. Since these zoning variances are often worth tens to hundreds of millions of dollars that provides a huge incentive for these organizations to get their work done or sell to someone that will. We should also make sure that proper taxes and PILOT payments are negotiated before code variances are provided.

I was in Pope's Hill last week giving my stump speech and I was proceeded by a wave of bad news. The state trooper and local police officer both talked about increased gang activity, specifically the '1937' gang. They warned the assembled crowd to be wary because one of their kids was "going to bring a mouth to a gunfight and someone is going to be shot". A very passionate man and his elderly father asked what the police were doing about all the break ins on Freeport Street. They said that 6 out of the 7 buildings in their neighborhood hand been broken into, and they were clearly upset with the response of the police. His father had lived in the house for 70 years and he said it had never been this bad. Someone had broken in to the house while his wife was home alone, and it clearly was traumatic. They thought people were scoping their neighborhood. It was quite a poignant moment. There was silence in the room as the police officer did his best to empathize and offer suggestions such as a neighborhood watch and calling 911 with anyone suspicious they see.
Then a Superior Court judge came to talk about how the crime he sees in the courtroom is worse than it has been in his 20 plus years on the bench. He highlighted the crimes he sees are more violent than ever before, and that the sexual abuse is worse, in both cases much of it with family members.
Then a knowledgeable gentleman from the Mayor's office gave a rundown on all the foreclosures going on in Boston and what they are trying to do about it. If you are facing issues please call the City numbers set up to help 635-rent and 635-home.
Finally some people were there to ask for volunteers for FEMA response people to help in times of great emergency!

What could I say after that plethora of bad news? I started with "we've heard tonight about crime in the neighborhood being up, foreclosures being up, great disasters to prepare for, and horrible crimes in our courtrooms. Isn't it time for a change???" That got some good laughs and smiles, before I launched into my program for changing this downward trend.

I did an interview with a magazine which had a premise that 'Do you think all these new candidates are getting into the field because of the recent corruption in Massachusetts?". I asked the reporter, "what new candidates?" I think people are disheartened, don't believe a thing any politician tells them, but also don't believe it is worth the effort because they won't be able to change anything. In a way, I believe they are almost ready to throw in the towel on democracy. It is really difficult being a candidate talking about ethics, accountability and transparency because they have heard it before from other candidates who, once they are elected, just become part of the system and hire cronies. How does one know who to believe?

I was at the State House rally urging the Governor to provide money to the Boston Public Schools and I just have to take my hat off to the Mayor. Here is a guy who proposed a 100 million dollar cut to the schools, refuses to turn over budget information to the public or the teachers union, but still gets a round of applause from parents fighting to save their schools???!!??? He is a master manipulator and politician, and with the press in a downward spiral and afraid to write anything critical of him, lest they be cut out of the circle of information, the public has a difficult time finding out the truth about the budget. One parent introduced me to her husband by saying "here is Kevin McCrea he's running for Mayor and he supposedly has top secret information about the BRA which no one else has." At which point I handed her husband a printout of facts and figures about what I am talking about. All the numbers I cite, and the real estate deals gone bad have been noted and vetted and anyone interested in more facts just needs to contact me. I provide this information (which often is old Globe and Herald articles) to the Globe, Herald and other papers. If they choose not to inform the public, it is hard for me to feel remorse that they are not getting the readership they need. I think they need to do a better job of asking these politicians the hard questions and not letting up until they have an answer.

One reader wrote in to ask why we are paying to have American Sweeping driving down the middle of this street when no cars need to move from the sides of the street where the trash is? We must just have excess money lying around I guess.

Finally, Clara and I did the spring cleaning on our garden and for the first time we were graced with a live bullet amongst the perennials.

We need a change.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Great piece about the excess of money, power and government

This article in the Atlantic is an excellent article about in depth reporting and telling a story to explain to readers about how a problem gets propagated.

I wish we had more of this in our press.


Patrick & Menino

Yesterday Menino was at the State House asking Deval Patrick to give Boston more aid for schools. Today he is at a ribbon cutting with Patrick announcing a summer jobs program.

If Menino really wants to push for money for schools he will bring it up with him in that face to face meeting. BPS parents who were looking for him yesterday (he wasn't at the State House) can find him today if they would like to press their case at the Mission Hill Community Center on Smith Street today at noon.

It is ironic to me that the BLS parents group invites the Mayor to speak when he is the one who is cutting the school budget despite the fact that we have level funding in the 2009 to 2010 fiscal budgets. He is the one who is cutting funding for schools, and has been threatening even greater cuts if the unions don't cut the contracts that he agreed to?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

State House rally for BPS

Did you make the rally? There were easily two hundred people there, the Mayor, many city councilors, and state reps from Brighton to Dorchester. It was very organized, with a band, banners, and printings. There were toy plastic shovels with cards for people to write notes to Governor Patrick about how the BPS was "shovel ready". They were planning on piling up the shovels outside Deval's door, and then lobbying their reps and senators.

I talked to the Mayor on his way out and said "why don't you just sell Hayward Place and this deficit would be over?" and he replied "I sold it already". I told him he could take it back from the BRA by eminent domain but he smiled and kept on walking.

Make no mistake, if the Mayor wanted to he could end this deficit in the BPS now, with the help of the stimulus dollars we already have.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Nice coverage of our kickoff at South End News

We had a great time at the Red Fez last Sunday which was well covered by the South End News.

Pension ploys by Menino, Yoon & Flaherty

The Boston Globe has an editorial today against the pension ploys done by our elected officials.

The Globe spells out one of the abuses: legislators must find the courage to stop basing the pensions of public employees on their last three years of earnings. Politically connected employees game that system by finagling higher-paid jobs at the end of their careers. Public pensions should be calculated on average lifetime earnings.

I am planning on going to court in the next couple of weeks to expose just one example of this that Flaherty, Yoon and Menino were all in on. The increasing of the salary of Paul Walkowski by 40% over the last less than 2 years he worked for the City but over 3 calender years which allowed him to bump his pension at the expense of the City taxpayers.

You can see the video of the City Council doing this (in my opinion) in violation of the Open Meeting Laws here.

Polls going on ...

I received the following email from a supporter:

Hi Kevin. I'm sorry I could not make your Red Fez event.

I wanted to let you know that I just received a phone-survey about numerous city issues, as well as my opinions of various candidates running for mayor. There were general questions (:what is your top concern, crime, economy, schools"?) And they got specific regarding Menino's use of city tradesmen in his home and his asking the unions to accept a wage freeze.

However, they asked me about Menino, Flaherty, & Yoon, but not McCrea. When I asked, the pollster asked me to repeat myself and spell your name, so he seemed to be taking notes.

The poll was managed by McGuire research for National Opinion Surveys.

Sounds like probably a Flaherty poll, but with Menino's money who knows.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The McCrea's are looking like Winners!

My wife, Dr. Clara Lora McCrea and I entered her office NCAA pool and now that we are through to the Sweet Sixteen we are in first place at the Commonwealth Psychology Associates group practice! We are in front of 99.79 percent of participants in the ESPN nationwide poll, with 15 of the final 16 teams picked correctly!

President Obama is playing it cool and is right about in the middle of the pack, ahead of 53% of respondents.

If you want to be with winners join our crusade to bring a new T.E.A. party to Boston: Transparency, Ethics and Accountability!

Sounds like the Mayor is in...

Word on the street is that the Mayor has decided to run, that he has hired a campaign manager from out of state, etc., etc. We will know for sure when it comes time to collect signatures in about a month. My prediction is the Mayor will wait until the very end to announce he is running.

That way, neither Sam Yoon, Michael Flaherty, nor I can complain about equal access in print and media that the Mayor gets on BNN, on the Comcast sponsored school newspaper, etc., etc.

The less time he has to spend defending his record on the poor schools, on the developments like Downtown Crossing, Hayward Place and the Harvard expansion in Allston the better for him. It is up to the press and the public to demand a public accounting if they want to improve their communities.

Mayor finding money everywhere, as I predicted

As I have been saying all along, there is plenty of money in the budget to not lay off any teachers or police officers. The Herald reports today, that the reserve fund is up to 121 million dollars, 21 million more than Adrian Walker of the Globe reported within the past couple weeks.

At $100,000 per teacher that is 210 teaching jobs, amazingly the amount that the Mayor still says need to be cut.

Meanwhile, the Globe reports exactly what I have been saying would happen since January. The Mayor would run around like Chicken Little saying 'sky is falling, sky is falling' and then he would come in like a supposed hero and make statements about how HE is saving education because it is so important to him. The statement from his office:
"The mayor has said that one of the most important things he can do as mayor is provide a quality education for all in the city," Joyce said. "Being able to find those resources is something he wanted to do."

But, he only wanted to do it after scaring the heck out of parents, teachers and students who have been coming to the school committee meetings and begging, pleading and crying about how much their school, their program or their teacher has meant to them, in some cases even talking about how education has saved their life.

This is not the way to run a government. It is dishonest and disingenuous. The fact is that since the City budget is so dependent on the property tax the tax rolls are very consistent and predictable. The Mayor who has complete control and knowledge of the budget was saying in December that we were going to lay off 200 cops and 900 teachers is not going to do anything like that.

We need an open, honest budget process where all the players at the table are treated with respect. Difficult decisions need to be made, but huffing and puffing and threatening are not the way to do it.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The city is getting another 10.2 million-that should save at least 100 more jobs

According the Govenor's twitter feed, we are just now getting 10.2 million more in funds for Boston. With a bit more closet cleaning, and examining of the budget we will get to where I have always said we need to be: no layoffs of full time teachers.

Mayor Magically finds another $25 million

Last week I was at the school committee meeting at the Orchard school on Albany street, where I testified and asked the school committee to advocate for the students, the teachers, and the parents and to propose a budget that had no teacher layoffs.

Despite the fact that later in the meeting they announced that the Mayor had just 'found' an additional $25 million dollars (did he clean out his closet?) the school committee according to WBZ is going to propose a cut of 212 teachers. Councilor Connolly has a nice breakdown here.

This is what happens when the Mayor controls everything. The school committee should be advocating for the best interests of the schools, and I don't understand how cutting teaching jobs is in the best interest of a school system that currently only graduates about %56 of its high school freshman, and where a freshman only has a 1 in 8 chance of ever getting any type of college degree.

As I have been saying since January, there is more than enough money in the budget to not cut a single full time teaching job. The Mayor is trying to make the school committee take the blame for a value decision which is his alone.

How can we afford to start street cleaning early this year, but we don't have money for schools. We need to make tough decisions in these economic times and laying off teachers is not the right decision, in my opinion.

More Open Meeting Law violations by the BRA in the City(?)

Many people have sent me links to the Jamaica Plain Gazette article about the BRA basically ignoring the Open Meeting Law, somehow trying to claim that the planning of the community is not something the public should be allowed to see.

As WBUR recently reported when they said to BRA chief John Palmieri "Your boss Tom Menino..." the Mayor is in complete control of the BRA, and so the BRA throwing reporters out of what I believe should be an open meeting is something the Mayor should have to answer for.

Make no mistake, the Mayor controls the BRA, which controls planning, development and even some tax policy for the City of Boston. If you don't believe the press and public should have access to the decision making process, than he is your man. If you believe, like I do, that the public should have not only access but input into decisions that affect your community, than please support me.


Big Success at Red Fez last night!

We had more people than we expected at our first fundraiser last night at the Red Fez! Many people I had never met, who had just read about me and looked at my website, came to event and signed up to help with the campaign. It was incredibly energizing to have so many people from across the city come to support our campaign for real change at City Hall.

Change to the BRA, positive changes to the school system, bringing real transparency to City Hall, and getting citizen involvement in the decisions that affect their neighborhoods and communities.

Thanks to all my supporters, thanks to those that donated, and thanks to the Red Fez for allowing us to use their space!

Emergency Alert- A Park sign in Boston without Tom Menino's name on it!

I was out door knocking in Brighton on Saturday and I walked past the Mckinley Park on Faneuil Street and I saw something so shocking I had to stop and catch my breath.

It was a sign at the entrance of the park which outlined the rules of the park, told people to 'enjoy your park' and it did not have the Mayor's name on it! God forbid that a park sign somehow acknowledge the communal ownership of the people's land, and not that it was granted to us like King George used to impose taxes on us. If it wasn't a weekend I would have called the parks department immediately to make sure that they changed the sign quickly so that people wouldn't get the misplaced vision that anyone other than Tom Menino was to be thanked for the fact that we have public spaces.

Imagine, whenever there is another Mayor no money would have to be wasted to change the name on this sign!!! What a concept!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The type of Superintendent who won't accept low achievement

I have been following Michelle Rhee of the Washington, D.C. school district for quite some time. As this article says, she is on the forefront of urban education in this country and coming up with innovative ways to bridge the white/minority achievement divide.

We as a community need to come together and announce that we will not accept inadequate schools, and that we need equally good schools across the whole city.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Sixty percent think the GLBT community should be allowed to March in St. Patrick's Day Parade

Now that the annual March 17 shenanigans are over, maybe we can move on, especially with Whacko Hurley moving on. I hope next year the parade will be completely inclusive.

Flaherty won't debate unless Menino is there

I was pleased to hear Sam Yoon propose debates. I saw him at the Mass, Inc. forum on why people don't get involved in politics and suggested that we have a series of monthly debates, that we could start by having one in late April before signature gathering is required, since citizens can only sign for one candidate they need to make a choice.

Sam and his campaign manager both agreed that is sounded like a good idea, that we could invite Michael Flaherty, and if the Mayor decided not to participate we could have a cardboard cut out of him on stage not participating. Because as we have heard from the Mayor he is too busy to participate in debates. He can open burrito stands but not discuss the future of the city in public. He comes to everything in the city, except a debate!

I spoke to Michael Flaherty's campaign spokesman last week and talked about the idea for the three 'announced' candidates to have a debates about the issues of the day. He initially flat out rejected the idea, but said he would bring it up with Michael and if interested they would get back to Sam and I in a week. He did say that their basic premise is that Michael will not debate unless the Mayor is there.

I have spoken to one Globe editorial writer who tells me that the people should demand debates. I'm not quite sure how the 'people' do that. If I was the Globe or Herald, or Mass, Inc. and wanted to be relevant and push political discourse I would invite the candidates to the Copley library for a debate. Perhaps I am wrong, but my feeling is that the citizens would be interested in hearing what the candidates had to say, and would appreciate the news source that brought them that information. I believe in a strong press, and I hope that they try and make themselves relevant so people will want to buy their wares.

Perhaps even more importantly, if I was a member or a head of a neighborhood group that had some major issues in front of it for example development in Fort Point Channel, Charlestown, Allston or Brighton, Roxbury or I would invite the candidates for a debate or forum and get them to commit to where they stand on different projects that affect the community. People should take advantage of this election cycle to better their neighborhoods and get solid commitments from their elected officials.

If we don't hold our elected officials accountable we have no one to blame but ourselves if we don't get satisfaction later on.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Worst Land Deals in the City of Boston

As requested, and as promised, here is a synopsis of some of the worst land deals in the City. There are many others, of course, of various magnitudes but the bottom line is that the Mayor has been taking care of those that take care of him. Meanwhile, the residents are not getting their money’s worth for their assets. A business would not be run like this, nor would a household. I hope you take the time to read, and keep these in mind when you hear City Hall talking about how we have no money for educating our youth.

City Hall Plaza
In 1993, Menino held a design competition on what to do with the Plaza. In 1996, he let the BRA take the Plaza by eminent domain. He waived compensation. These 10+ acres of land are easily valued at $30 million an acre for a total of over $300 million dollars. Currently, the BRA owns all of the Plaza and the City taxpayers maintain it. The City’s treasury, which gives to the BRA but never gets from the BRA, has received nothing and will receive nothing from this deal. The City Council complains that they don’t get information from the BRA. If they simply refused to continue funding the BRA for items like maintenance of the Plaza until the agency was as transparent as they like, perhaps they could get some of the answers they seek.

Hayward Place

Hayward Place is an acre of City-owned land, lying fallow as a surface parking lot for years. It was slated for construction of the Quincy Upper School or for affordable housing. The BRA, again on Menino’s instruction, took the land by eminent domain without compensation. After a bidding process that wasted the time and money of several earnest developers proposing housing (one also included a school), which the BRA had encouraged to create a 24/7 lively neighborhood, the BRA let the Millennium Parners/Macomber Development (Tony Pangaro, a long-time friend of the Mayor), proposing an office building, “match” the high bid of $23 million offered by Lincoln Properties, who proposed a zoning-compliant 150’ building of 350 housing units plus a little park.

But the BRA never did sell the land to Millennium. They wrote a 10-year “lease” (expiring 2013) with a $13 million “prepayment” to be a deposit on an eventual purchase. The BRA put this deposit into an escrow account, allegedly for the Quincy School, but it has never been used. The developer can, at his option, have the money returned and walk away from the deal.

Meanwhile, the developer operates the parking lot and has been collecting the parking money, about $3 million a year according to the Finance Commission director. The developer operates this lot, free of property taxes or land rent. The lease lets the developer walk away after 10 years, and get back the $13 million deposit plus the interest, and gives him first right of refusal to buy the land for the original $23 million. What a deal!

The City could have had a school, library and housing, with the housing paying taxes. We could have at least had a lucrative parking lot. We have nothing. No tax revenue, no ownership, no parking revenue, and no control over what will be built. It is zoned for 150 feet, but I will be willing to bet it will get a 121A tax break and be allowed to build higher, and the citizens will get less in tax revenue.

Winthrop Square Garage

The garage occupies an acre of prime financial district land, used by City as a parking garage for years. The City’s leased operator let it deteriorate so most of it unusable, a safety hazard. Menino finally decided that’s where to put his 1000’ tower. Menino let the BRA take by eminent domain, without compensation, the leasing rights of the garage for temporary continuation of parking till developer designated. The BRA was to get the parking fees. The BRA also issued an RFP saying it would be the owner collecting land lease fees for the tower. There was only one bidder, the next door owner, who by combining it with his own parcel would make it hugely more usable and valuable. The Mayor’s office put out a press release saying it was worth $70 to $100 million dollars. Sam Yoon and Tom Menino worked out a back room deal with the BRA so that the parking money would go to the BHA. Two years later I contacted Yoon’s office to see if the BHA was getting the money and Yoon’s office told me that the BRA was stonewalling him.

Bottom line: the taxpayers of Boston get none of the millions from either the parking revenue or the eventual sale of the building.

One Beacon Street 121A

Ch. 121A is an urban renewal statute that provided for 40-year tax-exemption for new construction of affordable housing in blighted areas. The developer pays a lower negotiated state excise tax which is given back to the City as a Payment in Lieu of Taxes. Developments qualify for 121A tax agreements if the BRA declares the area "blighted" and then declares the project a “public purpose.” There are many of these agreements around the city.

Ch. 121A projects save one-third to one-half on their property taxes. In Boston, there are about two dozen 121As that are not affordable housing. The BRA has a practice of selling these tax breaks to each subsequent buyer of One Beacon Street. As if One Beacon Street is somehow a “Blighted” property. They sell or extort these tax breaks for $1 per square foot from each new buyer of the property, who is happy to give the BRA $1.1 million dollars because they save many millions more in property taxes, taxes the citizens of Boston do not receive.

For example:
One Beacon Street is a 1.1 million square foot tower. It was sold in 2000, 2004 and 2006. Each time, the BRA wrote up a Cooperation Agreement for $1.1 million to be paid to the BRA as a “voluntary contribution” by the owners for "affordable housing" and other purposes. Since 2000, One Beacon has been spared an average of $5 million a year in property taxes via the 121A. In short, the BRA, to rake in $3.3 million in kickbacks, has cost the City of Boston about $40 million in property taxes since 2000.

Dorchester Salvation Army Kroc Center

The Salvation Army decided to build the Kroc Youth Center in Dorchester. The Salvation Army wanted to assemble a large parcel. The Mayor instructed the Department of Neighborhood Development to give the BRA 24 parcels of City-owned land for the Center. The BRA got an appraisal for all the parcels, totaling $2.4 million, and sold it to the Salvation Army for that amount.
The City taxpayers got zero. The BRA got $2.4 million. If Menino wanted to sell this land to the Salvation Army, he should have sold it to them directly from the Department of Neighborhood Development and the taxpayers would have received the money for the land they owned.

Post Office Square

This site is almost two acres of City-owned land, which was used as a leased garage for years. It got a 121A tax exemption for the land, and the developers built themselves a fabulously profitable subgrade garage. They put landscaping around the ramps, and that’s what became Post Office Square Park.
The garage pays nearly nothing to the City despite all the promises. The 121A subsidy covers park maintenance multiple times over. The garage is assessed by the City at $74 million (although the real value is probably far higher), on which the normal commercial tax would be $2.2 million a year. No payments are being made, according to the latest City Collections Office document available. The land itself is valued by the City at $30 million – almost $1 million in taxes should be paid just for the land.

Mayor v. BTU

The Zak passes along this light send up in Boston Magazine of the negotiations between the not to be believed Mayor Menino and the skeptical teacher's union.

With the information I've finally received from the city showing that we have 100 million dollars more in the bank than we did last year, and other data I've mined I think the teacher's union is right to demand more transparency.

The Mayor has not been honest and has been bluffing about cutting police and teaching jobs. At a certain point, he will have to come clean and make a decision about whether he will make a value judgment that the education of our children is more important than keeping hack jobs like Paul Walkowski's on the City Payroll.

When I am elected Mayor I will restore every teaching job that the Mayor cuts.

Fun idea to improve recycling in Boston (& New York)

When I was a kid I used to play basketball almost every evening in the city recreation center. We had a really resourceful head of the rec center named who always had creative low cost ideas to find things for kids to do. One of them was the "rotten sneaker contest" which has now gone international. He got 4 local shoe stores to donate a pair of shoes to the four worst pairs of shoes in the city. On a Saturday afternoon hundreds of kids showed up to be judged by the celebrity panel. It was great fun, we did it every year and for the price of 4 pair of shoes hundreds of kids had something to do on a Saturday.

My claim to fame is that I once came in second place with my Converse high tops, with my bright purple socks highlighting the holes in the canvas!

That great idea has now gone global and even has a corporate sponsor. It doesn't always take a lot of money to bring about good results.

I propose that the Mayor of Boston and the Mayor of New York challenge their citizens to a "recycle off". The citizens of the two cities can try and out do each other in how much they can recycle. The winning City gets to put a banner on the opposing teams ballfield for a Red Sox/Yankees game. Wouldn't it be great to see a big banner on Yankee Stadium: "The greenest and best fans in the USA-Red Sox Nation!" and the Mayor of the losing city has to dress up in a uniform of their opposition.

I know I would make an extra effort to see that banner hanging up at Yankee Stadium, or more importantly to make sure that the opposite banner never was raised at Fenway Park!

This is a low cost idea to create awareness, create publicity and motivate people to contribute to a solution. A win/win for everyone!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Transparency Update

According to today's Herald, the Mayor still isn't coming clean with the Teacher's Union about what the budget numbers are, let alone the rest of us.

So, as Teacher's Union president Stuttman says, the Mayor resorts to "bullying" tactics. What is the best way to handle a bully? Stand up to him, and I applaud the teacher's standing up to him and demanding he be honest and transparent. What they will find, is that as I have discovered there is actually a lot of money available, it is just that the Mayor would prefer to help his rich developer friends rather than support the schools.

There is enough money in this budget to not cut a single teaching job, and it is terrible that the Mayor will not prioritize education.

Further down the totem poll:

Michael Flaherty and Sam Yoon have asked the City Clerk to handle my Public Records requests of them, and they want to charge me $80 to see their hiring records. Not very transparent, when you want to charge citizens for public information. Sort of like an exclusionary poll tax.

The reason they don't want to turn over the information is that it is likely to show how they (and the other councilors) suspend City Council rules and hand out bonuses to their staff. Bonuses are not supposed to be awarded for public servants, just a straight salary. That is part of the difference between the public and private sector. In the public sector if there is money left over at the end of the year, it is the CITIZENS MONEY! and should be returned to them or put in a rainy day fund. Instead, these politicians treat it like their own money and they give it to their friends.

Mayor Bloomberg, others, march in the gay friendly St. Patrick's parade

I was sent a link by a friend about the gay friendly St. Patrick's Day Parades in Ireland and for example in NYC.

I was struck by Sam Yoon's comment that next year if he gets elected he will march with gays and rainbows. He is an elected official, if he had real courage he would have marched with them in this year's parade. It reminded me of elected officials telling Martin Luther King 'just wait your turn, it isn't time yet'. I have always loved his response "The time is always right to do what is right."

Monday, March 16, 2009

Why we need transparency, and what the REAL budget numbers are!

As I have been reporting, the Mayor has not been honest nor transparent about the budget numbers. Despite him saying he would be transparent about the budget he has not, and both Lisa Signori and the Mayor's office refused to answer my simple questions about how much money we had on hand, and how much we owe, and what the rates of return are on both amounts. When they wouldn't answer my public records request, I complained to the Secretary of State's office and then finally at the end of last week I received a 100 page pdf of financial statements. I and my staff have not had time to go through it completely yet, but here is one key number that pops out: CASH ON HAND!

At the end of February, 2009, the City of Boston had $929,254,000 cash on hand. This is $119 million more than we had at the end of October, and $102 million more than we had at the same time last year. Clearly the City is not lacking for money, as I have been saying all along. The budget process is very important, and needs to be handled carefully, but using threatening tactics as the Mayor has, setting false deadlines, and withholding money are not the way to run a government.

As I have been saying: the Mayor has hired 1200 workers in the last 5 years, 200 are police officers and 100 are teachers. There is no reason to lay any police officers or teachers off until we examine what those other 900 positions are.

If anyone, especially the unions who are in contract negotiations would like to get a copy of this PDF, please send us an email at electkevin@gmail.com, and we will be happy to forward these 100 pages of financial information to you.

That is what transparent government is all about.

Positive Feedback for standing up for Gay Rights!

I have received many, many 'thank you's' for not Marching in the St. Patrick's Day parade. I'm happy to report how easy it was, and how good it feels to do the right thing. While other politicians twist themselves in knots trying to explain their double motives, I just say "we can not tolerate bigotry in our society". I think Boston should be a leading city, that other places look to emulate, and being an accepting and tolerant place is the direction our world needs to go in.

We were walking home Saturday night from a friend/campaign/birthday dinner in the South End when a group of ten rambunctious gay men came through Blackstone Park and asked us to take their picture by the fountain. One of them saw my button and said "yeah, McCrea, we are going to vote for him he's not marching in the Parade". I introduced myself as the actual McCrea and we all became fast friends after a discussion about the fashion faux pas of one our members having pleated pants. They immediately asked us over for drinks, and instantly had a party of about 16 people to their beautiful penthouse on West Concord Street. It was really a great time, and and nice affirmation for me not marching in the parade Sunday. Instead, it turns out one of them has a condo in Southie which they invited me over to for the parade!

Remember the book, "Everything I needed to know I learned in Kindergarten!". It talked about treating others with respect, and treating the GLBT community with respect is as simple as that.

An example of emailed comments I've received from strangers:

Dear Mr. McCrea,

Thank you for not marching in the discriminatory, anti-family, anti-American South Boston Allied War Veterans Council parade on Sunday, 15 March 2009.

I have sent messages to the two other challenging candidates stating that their marching loses them my vote.

The cause of justice is against them. The demographics are against them (young people overwhelmingly support civil rights for gay people). Frankly, political common sense is against them, because this pandering will backfire.


Sunday, March 15, 2009

A place at the table

A Place at the Table

Two recent incidents, one inadvertent, one intentional, highlighted for me the gap between Boston’s entrenched mainstream politicians and the citizens they serve.

The phrase “a seat at the table” has come to symbolize for the disenfranchised the chance for equal opportunity, the chance for equal say, the chance to be heard. It is a non-threatening phrase which doesn’t seek to gain control, but just to participate in the decisions that affect everyone’s lives.

About a month ago I was at the first City of Boston budget hearing where the Mayor’s finance team was presenting its numbers to the City Council. The large oval table in the Curley room at Boston City Hall filled up with an all white crowd of city councilors and the Mayor’s people. But Councilors Chuck Turner and Sam Yoon sat a few feet behind the table, not part of the camaraderie. Of course, Councilors Turner and Yoon could have sat at the table if they so choose, but the symbolism of the scene was unmistakable.

More recently I became aware that the Boston City Council just tripled the signature requirements to 1500 for persons trying to get on the ballot for Boston City Council at large. As someone who ran a serious campaign for that seat and who struggled to get 500 signatures, I know how daunting that task can be. In New York City, by contrast, five and a half times fewer signatures (by population) are required to run for Mayor. If New York City had the same ratios as Boston, you would need 41,000 signatures to get on the ballot. In New Orleans, you can collect signatures or just pay a modest fee. Councilor Steven Murphy who sponsored the legislation to increase the number of signatures required explained in a recent letter to an editor that elections are expensive and that only serious candidates should be allowed in.

This type of exclusionary maneuver by insiders is what turns people away from politics. It can keep serious candidates with fresh ideas and energy, white or minority, from getting involved. It is part of the reason why Foreign Policy magazine in its 2008 Global Cities Index of the top 80 cities in the world ranked Boston 50th in Political Engagement behind such hotbeds of democracy as Cairo and Caracas.

Interestingly, only white City Councilors voted for this petition, and all the minority City Councilors voted against it. I was disappointed to find that the Mayor, the legislature and especially Governor Deval Patrick approved it. The Bostonians that I meet and talk with every day want more openness, more ideas, and more people involved, not fewer.

Another exclusionary tactic is that citizens can only sign for one Mayoral or District Council candidate, and only four of the many at large City Council candidates. In other words, even if a citizen has not made a decision on their final vote but simply supports a candidate’s right to be on the ballot, their signature can only be counted for a single candidate per contest. This turns the signature process into a race between candidates trying to get their signatures in ahead of others. Needless to say, such a system strongly favors the Mayor and incumbents. As reporters and former Mayoral candidate Maura Hennigan have told me, City Hall becomes a ghost town on the first day of signature gathering as city employees who work for these elected politicians “choose” to take the day off and collect signatures.

We need to expand our field of candidates and to encourage people to run for office and to get involved in the political process. We need to reduce the barriers to candidate participation. If saving money on elections is the goal, we should change our election cycle to be in line with State and Federal elections. The Mayor’s race should coincide with the Presidential elections, which would more than double the amount of voters involved in the election and halve the cost of elections in Boston. We also need to reduce the number of signatures needed to gain access to the ballot. That is progressive legislation that I will introduce, that everyone who cares about democracy can get behind. Let’s work to make sure that not only everyone has a seat at the table, but that they feel welcome as well.

Friday, March 13, 2009

An example of the Mayor's Zoning Code for Sale in JP


Courtesy of the Jamaica Plain Gazette

Fundraising Request! Please donate to bring real change to City Hall!

Dear friends,

The hardest part by far for me of campaigning for office is asking people for monetary donations. Standing up to corrupt politicians and asking tough questions, facing judges in court to try and make City Hall obey transparency laws, and participating in debates are child’s play to me compared to having to ask you for your hard earned dollars. Those who know me know how frugal I am with my money, as I’m sure you are with yours, yet even I have been moved to contribute money to good candidates, to try and build a better society for all of us. I hope I can convince you that my campaign is worthy of your financial support as well. So, I am humbly asking for your donation to my campaign and thanking you in advance for even considering it. I am running as an outsider, as someone who wants to bring transparency, ethics and accountability to government -- a new T.E.A. party if you will. Iwas knocking on doors in Charlestown this past weekend and an elderly widow said to me, “When you get in, I know there is a big honey pot, could you just please not take too
much of the honey and leave some for the rest of us?” How bad is it when the people just assume that everyone involved in politics is taking from the jar?
I want to change that, at least here in Boston. I’m not running to take, but to give – to give back to society what I was given: safe neighborhoods to grow up in with good public schools. The schools I attended were filled with teachers and coaches who genuinely cared, who encouraged and supported the thirst for knowledge and achievement that has made this country so great. I want to build the best city school system in the country and the safest streets -- and we can’t do that without honest and transparent government, that we can hold accountable for every dollar spent.

Please find out more about what I am proposing at www.kevinmccrea.com. I ask for your donation: $10, $25, up to $500. Every bit helps, helps to send out emails, flyers, put up signs and pay for staff. You can mail a check to:
Kevin McCrea Campaign to Elect
218 West Springfield Street
Boston, MA 02118
Any U.S. citizen or permanent resident can donate. I cannot accept any anonymous donations. All donors must provide a name and address, although donations under $50 need not be publicly recorded. Individuals can donate up to $500. Donations over $200 must include the donor’s occupation and employer. Those under 18 can donate up to $25. Make checks payable to "Committee to Elect Kevin McCrea."
Or donate online through our website, www.kevinmccrea.com.
Thanks for your support, and if you can help in other ways or have any questions, do not hesitate to contact me at electkevin@gmail.com.

Kevin McCrea

Commonwealth Magazine-Forum on why people don't get involved in politics

I attended most of the Commonwealth Magazine forum last night on why more people don't get involved in politics in Massachusetts. In fact, we rank dead last, 50 out of 50, in the United States in terms of contested elections. Charlie Baker who may run for Governor was a panelist, as well as Sam Yoon and Sonia Chang-Diaz.

There was some very good discussion and excellent points made. Mr. Baker started off by saying that a candidate has to ask the question about he or she running for office: "Is it going to matter, will it make a difference?" It almost sounded at times during the evening as if he was talking himself out of the race for Governor, alluding to the high levels of corruption in Massachusetts and how it is almost impossible for one person to change things.

Sonia spoke very eloquently about the difficulty of running, of having to give up your job, your health care, in order to take on a fight with long odds. She talked about how it was particularly difficult for women and minorities. Both she and Sam Yoon talked about the difficulties of fund raising. She spoke about how disciplined she needed to be to make those fund raising phone calls every day. She talked about something I can relate to, which is the difficulty of asking people for money. She said that you have to realize that you aren't asking people to give you money, you are asking them to support "a sense of values".

Sam spoke about how he is "spending all of his time fundraising" and how he would have to get 3000 phone calls answered with each person giving him $500 just to catch up to the Mayor.

I was most interested in when Sam talked about answering Charlie Bakers point about making a difference, and how he naively ran for City Council thinking he could make a difference. He then talked about the strong Mayor form of government in Boston and how "a councilors worst fear is not getting their phone calls returned by the Mayor" because the Mayor controls all the services, and a counselor can't do constituent services if they don't have access to the services.

I think another reason that decent people don't want to get involved in poltics is because of how corrupt this City and State are, we all know it, yet no one does anything about it. At one point Charlie Baker cynically asked Sonia "do you really think the Governor is going to pass ethics reform this year?" and Sonia remarked that yes she did. We will see. It is hard to believe when the Governor appoints a patronage job in times of economic distress. Who wants to get involved in a profession where everyone is involved in lying, thievery, going along to get along, and ripping off the public. It is not very attractive for a decent, honest person who just wants to help his community.

I had to leave early to go to a dinner party where the head of local non-profit was telling me about all the corruption he had to deal with the Mayor, the BRA and local construction unions for his non-profit. Of course, because he has to deal with the Mayor to get things done he can't come public with it. He is not from around here, and he said to me "I thought all this Al Capone stuff was back in the 40's, I couldn't believe this stuff still goes on here." It's essentially the same thing that Sam Yoon was talking about, at the Commonwealth forum.

The difference is that I have been talking about this stuff for years, while Michael and Sam have been complicit with this stuff for years. But make no mistake, the problem is the Mayor and we need a Change!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

St. Patricks Day Parade: Yoon can't remember his campaign promises

Bay Windows did a good analysis this week of the St. Patrick's Day parade. To sum up, the Mayor and I will not give money to the bigoted group that runs the parade and excludes gays, Michael Flaherty and Sam Yoon will. Both the Mayor and I will be there to meet people and enjoy the great day of the Irish, but we won't support that organization.

Most interesting to me was Sam Yoon's actions and response. When we were both running for City Council in 2005 we were invited, along with District Council candidate Susan Passoni, to a Leather District community meeting moderated by Chris Betke. The last question of the night was a yes/no question: Knowing that the South Boston Parade excludes gays will you march in the parade if you are elected?

Sam Yoon: NO
Susan Passoni: NO
Kevin McCrea: I might march, and if I did I would invite all my gay and lesbian friends to march with me.

After the meeting my wife and Shirley Kressel who was there observing the forum were berating me for not answering "NO", which was clearly what the gay friendly audience wanted to hear. I told them "the reason you are supporting me is because I am honest, and I am not going to pander to an audience, we need politicians who are honest not just who tell people what they want to hear."

So imagine my surprise when after Sam was elected to the council and I was looking at the St. Patrick's Day section in the newspaper and it talked about Sam Yoon at the St. Patrick's Day Parade! I did some research into it, and discovered that when Sam answered that question saying he wouldn't march in the parade he had ALREADY marched in the St.Patrick's Day Parade!

So when Bay Windows called me this week about my thoughts on the St. Patrick's Day Parade I was very eager to see what Sam was going to say about him promising not to participate. His answer:

Yoon, who won election to the City Council in 2005, also participated in the LDNA candidate forum and, according to McCrea, pledged not to participate in the parade because of the anti-gay policy. In an interview with Bay Windows this week, Yoon said he remembers being asked about the parade but does not recall his answer, and said he did march in that year’s parade.

As Dana Carvey's Church Lady would say "How Convenient". Well Susan Passoni, Shirley Kressel, my wife, Chris Betke, and I were all there and we remember Sam Yoon promising not to march in the parade.

When Joan Vennochi says in today's Globe: But Patrick must still convince voters to trust him, when they have little reason to trust any Massachusetts politician.

I think of Sam Yoon promising one group of people exactly what they want to hear, and then going out and doing the complete opposite. It doesn't really give one a reason to trust him. As the youngest candidate in the field it is a shame that his memory is failing him at such a tender age. I'm feeling good that as the oldest announced candidate in the field I can still remember my campaign promises, but even more importantly I abide by them.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Banker & Tradesman article about development

Paul McMorrow writes a good article for this weeks Banker & Tradesman. The difference between Flaherty, Yoon and I should be obvious. Whereas I have been outspoken for years about the BRA, they have been mum, despite the fact they have the power to introduce legislation to curtail the power of the BRA and to make it more transparent. Notice that neither of them have a specific plan they have put forward, just that 'we need to do better and have more community involvement'. That isn't a concrete proposal.

I am proposing real reform: eliminating the BRA and putting citizen control back over planning and development in the City. In 2005, I offered Michael Flaherty an olive branch to be able to renegotiate the deal he worked out behind closed doors with the BRA. He said to me "Who needs control over the BRA?" Indeed.

Menino’s Foes Shun Development Power
When It Comes To City’s Development, Mayoral Candidates Spout Same Criticism

By Paul McMorrow
March 9, 2009

The three declared candidates for mayor of Boston come from markedly different backgrounds, but on development matters, they speak like they’re reading from a shared script.

Each wants to strip the Boston Redevelopment Authority of its planning functions. Each rails against the politicization of development deals, big and small. And each is betting that, in exchange for a hands-off approach from the fifth floor of City Hall, developers will be willing to submit their plans to more intense scrutiny from neighborhood interests.

And, thus, the metric for judging the development agendas of Michael Flaherty, Sam Yoon and Kevin McCrea isn’t found in marked policy differences. It’s in rhetorical flourishes.

“They say the markets are frozen – the only thing that’s frozen here is the mayor’s vision, for the past 16 years,” said Flaherty, the longtime at-large city councilor.

Remarkably, the Southie pol was once seen as Mayor Tom Menino’s preferred successor. [And in a January 2006 letter to the BRA obtained by Banker & Tradesman, Flaherty wrote about the Lovejoy Wharf project, “I commend the vision of the mayor and the Boston Redevelopment Authority.” A Flaherty spokesman said, “The mayor works hard but it doesn’t mean that he’s always right.”]

No longer. The mayor helped push Flaherty out of the City Council presidency three years ago, and since then, Flaherty has staked out ground as one of Menino’s most vocal critics on development matters. The mayor’s plans to move City Hall and build a 1,000-foot tower in Winthrop Square have been two favorite targets.

Hizzoner’s Boston, Flaherty now charges, is a rats’ nest of opacity and favoritism.

“Good plans die on the vine, or they have to travel a different course,” he said. “The issue is they change the rules in the middle of the game, depending on who the players are. They never stick to the plan. In their angst to get shovels in the ground, they’re letting development dictate planning.”
Harsh Words For His Honor

“It’s an understatement to say that development is way too political. It gets in the way of us being the city we know we can be,” said Yoon, a two-term at-large councilor from Dorchester.

Yoon, a former affordable housing developer with the Asian Community Development Corporation, is fiercely critical of the BRA. He contends that the city’s planning and development agency uses neighborhood charettes as “a check off a political checklist,” calls the Chinatown Master Plan “a document that keeps the community busy,” and says the BRA’s planners “know they’re entirely subservient to political interests.” And he lays all of that at Menino’s feet.

“You can’t disentangle the person from the system,” Yoon said.

“This city is run like a banana republic,” charged Kevin McCrea, the South End developer, owner of Wabash Construction, and self-proclaimed good government crusader. “There are no rules. The BRA can change the rules for any project, anywhere. That doesn’t promote business. It kills business.”

Four years ago, McCrea ran for City Council and made headlines for his Harley motorcycle and his brash, no-holds-barred blog, which he used to dish campaign trail gossip and level heavy accusations at City Hall. Since that time, McCrea has successfully sued Flaherty’s City Council for Open Meeting Law violations, and has honed an acrid critique of the Menino administration. (A recent blog entry was headlined, “Mayor Menino doesn’t believe in Freedom of Speech, Freedom of the Press, or sharing,” and accused the mayor of raising the assessment on his home by $700,000 as payback for criticisms he leveled during that 2005 campaign.)

“The zoning code is for sale,” McCrea alleged. “Nobody wants to come to Boston. No big, open, legitimate corporation wants to get involved in these backroom deals. You shouldn’t have to get anyone’s blessing or kiss any pinky ring.”

All three contenders cite Hayward Place as a prime example of City Hall politics derailing development. (The $23 million downtown parcel was a parking lot when Millennium Partners won it in a tortuous bid nearly eight years ago, and it remains one today.) “They were wired, and it sends a signal,” Yoon said. “I was talking to a REIT recently, and they were saying, ‘Boston has so much potential, but we can’t figure it out [politically].’” The mayor’s office did not provide comment before deadline.

Flaherty wants a separate city planning agency because, he said, the BRA appears “incapable of performing its planning responsibilities.” He said he’d try to recruit corporate headquarters to Boston, execute a “true citywide and neighborhood-specific plan, based on the needs of the neighborhood, and stick to it,” broadcast BRA and Zoning Board of Appeals meetings on television and the Internet, and impose a “defined start and finish” to the Article 80 project review process.

Flaherty also pitched “a contract with the community” during development review, “where promises made are promises kept, and reasonable concerns of a neighborhood are reflected in the final submission.”

It’s McCrea’s intention to “eliminate” the BRA, replacing it with “a planning and zoning commission that’s accountable to the citizens.” The agency, he said, has “allowed the mayor to do all his development dirty work with none of the responsibility.”

“Philosophically,” he said, “I don’t think the state or city government should get very involved in commercial projects. If you have a level field, and honest, open, transparent permitting process and zoning bylaws, it allows capitalism to thrive.”

He also wants to sell off all excess city- and BRA-owned land, beginning with Hayward Place and the Winthrop Square garage. The proceeds would bridge the city’s budget gap, he contends.

Yoon, another advocate of severing planning from the BRA, said he would bring what he called a “community development approach” toward building. He would stress collaboration, process and transparency.

“It’s not that difficult to get,” he said. “You can’t have all of everything.”

An example of a good project, he said, is the Metropolitan, the Boston tower that the Asian CDC developed with Edward A. Fish Assoc.

“It’s built, it’s occupied and it satisfied a lot of masters. If you accept height and density in a neighborhood like Chinatown, you have the resources to cross-subsidize affordable housing.”

He added, “In our city, the stakeholders are brought in 10 at a time and listened to very selectively, according to one person’s whim. You have to respect and believe in the process because good process makes a better project. You learn to differentiate the voices of distraction and delay, who have nothing positive to offer, from the voices that need to be listened to. When you listen to those people, and let them into the front seat of a project, you get a good project.”

BRA Director John Palmieri said Friday he provided a list of dozens of residents who have worked with the agency on thorny projects ,and brushed off the rancor as election year posturing.

“Candidates will look for ways to criticize the work that government does. It’s part of government, it’s part of the deal. These anecdotes float around, but they’re an unfair characterization of the work we do.”

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Update on Licensing Board

It has amazed me how no one, not one, politician at City Hall seems at all remotely interested in the fact that a liquor license (perhaps the biggest neighborhood quality of life issue of all) has been remotely interested in the fact that a liquor license was granted without a hearing according to the FBI in the Wilkerson affair.

Well I did a Freedom of Information request and just got some information in. After briefly glancing at it, it does not appear that the "Deja Vu" was on the agenda for the day in question.

The Licensing Board has hired the outside law firm of Rankin & Sultan to represent them in this matter. Interesting that they needed to hire counsel just to handle a public records request. Unfortunately I'm too busy to really look into this, but if there are any reporters or interested citizens out there with interest in the matter I'd be happy to share this stuff.

It would be nice if some of our elected officials who profess to care about transparency would look into this....Flaherty? Yoon?

Monday, March 09, 2009

Downtown Crossing-drivers or pedestrians? How about both!

There has been a recent debate going on about what to do about Downtown Crossing. Should we keep it pedestrian or revert to letting traffic pass through.

Why not have both?

As my wife and I were riding around Europe last year, noting how many European cities seem to have modeled themselves after Boston (joke), we were impressed with how walkable many of the cities were, and how they clearly made a commitment to people and not cars. However, car and truck transportation are still important for businesses for many different reasons.

Some of the cities, Edinburgh and Athens immediately come to mind, have streets that are pedestrian sometimes of the day and allow vehicles other times of the day. It seems to me that this may be a very viable solution for Downtown Crossing.

Allow cars and especially delivery trucks into the area until say 11:00 a.m. so that delivery trucks can get products to stores and people can get dropped off and picked up for work. From 11:00 a.m. until maybe 7 pm or perhaps nightfall, let the area revert to pedestrian only. The lunch time and after work crowd will be free to enjoy the shopping experience when there are naturally tons of people around due to downtown business. At night, allow traffic again so that there is more street action, and would allow people such as out of towner who might drive in and not take the T, or locals who take a cab, access to local bars, restaurants, theaters.

Edinburgh in particular was impressive in that they had electronically activated bollards that would raise and lower depending on the time of day, so that vehicles were physically restricted into these areas.

Maybe the answer to our problem is having the best of both worlds?


busing poll, vast majority want to spend more on schools

The voters on our poll want better schools first before we move to busing 23%, and 68% want to spend the busing money directly on schools. Either way, it would seem people are ready for a change to school policy.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Is the Governor favoring Charter Schools over Public Schools?

Correction: A poster points out correctly that according to the article the governor requests the information, although from what I have read he asked local cities and towns to suggest to him "shovel ready" projects.

According to the Boston Business Journal the governor has requested nearly 59 million dollars of stimulus money to put into Charter school projects, but 0 dollars to rebuild our "crumbling" public schools. Unless I am missing something somewhere, this seems to be a tremendous imbalance on where we need to spend our dollars from Washington. It certainly would suggest the governor favors charter schools over public schools.

The entire list of proposed projects in the state can be found on the website.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

The Mayor still not being honest about the numbers

As the Globe reports today the teachers union still does not believe the Mayor, and why should they? The budget information should be available online for all citizens, unions, city councilors, etc. to see and make informed choices about what we want OUR government to do.

I am amazed at the lack of journalism in this town. The press just regurgitates the Mayor's numbers without doing any fact checking of their own. For example, from the lips and the presentation of the Mayor's chief budget officer they say that $55 million dollars could be saved from a wage freeze, which THEY say is a 5% increase from last years budget. In other words, according to the City, the City negotiated contracts that give a 5% wage increase across the City. Yet, in article after article, you hear about 3% pay increases the Mayor is asking them to forgo. This is a 20 million dollar difference??!!! Doesn't anyone think this is a worthy question? The numbers just don't add up. Notice in the papers they reference the City just sold 100 million dollars in bonds--at what interest rate? Part of the supposed 140 million dollars in the budget "deficit" is 11 million for increased interest payments. I find it hard to believe that we are paying more on Bonds this year than last year. Currently if you can get a savings rate of 1% from a bank you are doing well. We should be saving money on interest costs not paying more.

Again it just doesn't add up. That is why I have made a public records request to the Mayor for our assets and liabilities and, of course, he has not responded in the time allotted by the laws of the Commonwealth. I have sent the correspondence to the Secretary of State's office with a request that they ask the Mayor to obey the law. These same people recently forced the BRA to give up information to me that they had stonewalled on, so I am hopeful.

Since the beginning of this campaign I have predicted that no police officers would be laid off and no teachers would be laid off. So far, I have been right. The police head Ed Davis made cuts to the police department but no officers. But back in January the Mayor who is the only one with all the numbers was predicting that police cuts might have to be made.

How is that he who has all the information has been proven wrong, and I who has to scratch and claw for information has been proven right? Because one of us is honest, and the other one is playing politics with people's jobs, their lives, and the school system which provides their children an education. Is that any way to run a City?
I find it disingenuous , and it disheartens me that we tolerate such behavior.

I will say it again. The City has added 1200 jobs in the last 5 years, 200 are police officers and 100 are teachers. We need to talk about laying off those other 900 before one police or teaching job is taken away.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

First Mayoral Debate was tonight in Allston/Brighton!

I started off the night at the Ashmont/Adams neighborhood group in Dorchester giving my stump speech to those energetic, thoughtful and engaged people. Then I ran off to my birth neighborhood of Allston/Brighton for their monthly meeting. They gave me a few minutes at the end of their meeting just to introduce myself, and I talked about how schools and transparency are my two biggest issues.

I talked about how only 1 in 8 high school freshmen in Boston Public Schools ever gets a college degree and how only 56% of our high school students earn a diploma. I talked about how I promise to spend at least one day a week in the schools, and to meet with the parents, students and teachers in every one of our schools during my first term.

A nice young man from the Mayor's office stood up to talk about how "proud" the Mayor is of the Boston Public Schools, and how the Mayor is "probably" in the schools every week. I responded and said that is the difference between the Mayor and I, he finds them acceptable and something to be proud of and I find that they need a lot more attention and improvement, and I said that I didn't want to get into a debate with him in this forum.

The president of the association interjected and agreed and said that we should invite the Mayor, and Michael Flaherty and Sam Yoon to have a debate. The young man then jumped up to say that the Mayor was too busy with City business to engage in debates. This was not received well by the audience.

Score one for those of us who believe that an open, honest, respectful conversation about our goals and priorities is good for democracy.

The neighborhood groups who have concerns about their communities should start holding debates, as this Globe editorial says today.

In other news, I was impaneled on a jury today for a criminal trial, and have to go back to court tomorrow where I will hopefully come to a verdict with my other jurists. At least they are all Boston residents!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

First new TEA party at Red Fez-3/22/09 5 to 7 pm

It is time for new TEA Parties in Boston: Transparency, Ethics, and Accountability

Not the first words that come to ones mind when you think about Boston government, it is time for a Change!

We are holding our first fundraiser at the RED FEZ in the South End on 3/22/09. Our first choice of restaurants backed out because they were afraid of retribution from Mayor Menino who supposedly helped them get the necessary licenses they needed. (That's funny the Mayor's office says officially they have nothing to do with licenses in the City of Boston--Does anyone believe him???) Nice democracy we have here in Boston, eh?

Random late night thoughts before I get up and serve Jury Duty tomorrow.

I have been very pleased with the progress of our campaign. The community papers have been fantastic, the Globe and Herald will hopefully come around, we did our first WBZ interview today, WBUR has been great, my campaign manager Jon Tracy has me giving 6 speeches this week and 10 next week, and people are very responsive to my calls for an open honest transparent government which values education as its top priority.

Sam Yoon's campaign manager called and left a message for swearing at me and threatening me. Apology accepted.

Of course, I still haven't received an answer from Sam on why he voted to give a political insider a $20,000 raise to boost his pension by 40 percent. His campaign manager said Sam was "going along, to get along" but I'd like to hear that directly from Sam.

Michael Flaherty hasn't answered that one either.

Menino hasn't responded to my public records request to show how much money we have and what interest we get on it and how much we owe and what interest we pay on that. Hard to believe him about anything when he won't even tell us what our liabilities and assets are.

A poster asked the question of why Menino would threaten layoffs in an election year. I don't believe he will lay off a single teacher. If he does, it will be the height of arrogance or at least admitting that he doesn't value education as much as I (and at least Sam Yoon) do. There are tons of other cuts that need to be made before we cut one teaching job. If Menino plays politics with this and lays off teachers because they won't play ball with him, but he doesn't lay off people in other areas that are not as crucial to the future of the City it will expose where his priorities lie: with whomever will support him. A true leader will make the determination of what is best for the citizens and act accordingly, even if it is difficult politically.

BRA and the Mayor creating wealth and towers for developers while residents get the shaft

Paul McMorrow of Banker and Tradesman has an excellent article about how the Mayor and BRA have not helped the residents of Fort Point Channel. After that, I have published a letter from one of the community leaders who clarifies even further how much money has been generated for these developers and how the citizens have not received a single swingset yet for their neighborhood. The BRA has to go, citizen input in development must replace it, and we must have a zoning code which is not for sale.

First Paul McMorrow:

The newly minted Fort Point Channel Landmark District was assembled to prevent demolition and preserve the brick warehouses that fill the South Boston neighborhood.
However, in their first application, the landmark regulations will be used to clear the way for the razing of an 85-year old warehouse – a demolition the neighborhood landmark documents explicitly allow. And while Fort Point residents have resigned themselves to the irony of a preservation district endorsing demolition, they’re no less wary about the tower that will replace the doomed warehouse at 319 A St. Rear.
Goldman Sachs’ real estate arm, the Archon Group, and their partner, New York developer Tony Goldman, have told the Boston Redevelopment Authority they want to replace the Pastene Alley warehouse with a 269-foot tall, 290-unit residential tower. That would be 89 feet taller than the 180 feet the site is zoned for. Abutting buildings range from 95-135 feet in height.
Preserve Via Growth And Change?
Ellen Lipsey, executive director of the Boston Landmarks Commission, said the new regulations aim to “preserve what draws people to the area, and allow it to grow and change in a way that’s complimentary to its character. The intent of the district is to preserve historic buildings and promote infill that respects scale and character of the neighborhood.” Demolition of the Pastene Alley warehouse was grandfathered into the regulations, she said, because it’s addressed specifically in the BRA’s master plan for the area.
The 100 Acres planned development area that governs development in the area allows for heights in excess of 180 feet at that site in exchange for exceptional community benefits. The planning documents don’t specifically endorse demolition on the site, but the landmarks document says the city “will consider [a] rooftop addition … and/or new construction in place of” the building at 319 A St. Rear. Last week, Archon’s regional director, John Matteson, said his firm plans to level the warehouse entirely.
“This is the beginning of the 100 Acres,” Matteson said. “It’s the first new building, and it will be tied into all the other new buildings that will go on the Post Office and Gillette [parcels]. At the end of the day, it’s going to be an interesting, mixed-use neighborhood.”
Matteson also stressed that “we’re just in the first inning” of the tower proposal. He said Archon is bullish on the tower’s prospects because of the success Berkeley Investments’ FP3 is enjoying. “You feel like things are coming along,” he said.
Even so, the proposal has raised eyebrows in the neighborhood. It came months after his firm backed out of an office-to-condo conversion project a block away, at 316-322 Summer St. Archon instead sold the building to the Lincoln Property Co., which invited wrathful blowback from neighbors when it deemed the condo project economically infeasible, and sought BRA approvals to renovate the building’s office space.

Super-Sized Shift
There’s a fundamental disagreement in the Fort Point neighborhood about whether Archon’s proposed residential tower represents a profound shift in philosophy – or just an escalation in ambition.
The Texas-based firm paid $92 million for 16 Boston Wharf Co. warehouses in mid-2005. Archon has already turned a profit on that deal. In just a short time, it has been able to sell off half its Wharf Co. portfolio for $132 million – a tidy $40 million profit on its original investment.
Such success has bred enmity among Fort Point’s artists, some of whom Archon has displaced. They view the firm as an interloper whose sole purpose in the neighborhood is to hold buildings for a few years, and then flip them for a profit. It doesn’t help that Archon’s own Web site speaks bluntly about plans for acquiring city approvals for additional square footage for its buildings, and then selling those permits “once zoning approval of the additional FAR is complete.”

Artistic Outrage
“That basically spells it out,” said one resident, speaking anonymously because open criticism has drawn sharp rebukes from City Hall in the past. “Archon’s in the business of securing rights and then getting out. It’s their M.O. They have no desire to develop anything.”
“They convinced the BRA that Melcher Street is shovel-ready, but nobody believes they’ll build it. They’ll flip it,” said another resident, referring to Archon and Goldman’s 220,000-square-foot office project proposal. “Nobody believes they’ll do the tower. They’ll sell the permits. And the BRA acts like they want to believe them. From the time Archon came to the neighborhood, they pitched this vision of this dynamic neighborhood. Of course, that hasn’t happened. They sold most of their property for offices. The only residential they’ve asked for is this goddamn tower.”
“We will build it,” Matteson insisted. “It’s our intention to build it.”

One of the residents responds:

Hi all,

For the record, I'd like to clear up a few mis-statements in the Banker
and Tradesman article (below) regarding the Archon project.

1. When Archon purchased 319 A Street, it was zoned for approximately 80
feet (wharf building height), not 180 feet as stated in this article.
The BRA quietly awarded Archon an additional 100 feet in height on that
parcel during a private process at City Hall, with very little public
dialog, and then proceeded to enact the zoning change for a 180' tower
in the 100 Acre Plan. At that time, the BRA assured our community that
this zoning variance would result in the development of other components
of the 100-Acre plan, including park space, civic space, and a mix of
uses in historic buildings (i.e. residential, live/work studio, etc.)

To date, Archon has developed NONE of its public commitments under the
100-Acre Plan, yet has already attained the variance for 180' feet at
319 A Street through its private negotiations with the BRA.

The Archon portfolio, upzoned by nearly 500,000 square feet, is valued
at approximately $250 million at current market prices. Most of this
added value was handed to Archon by the BRA. If past is prologue, this
$250 million in value will pocketed by Archon when they flip these
rights to another developer. Archon will be gone from Boston before the
lights are out.

Counter to its public claims, the BRA has not required the concurrent
development of a single square foot of new park space, civic space,
residential development in historic buildings, artist live/work spaces,
or any number of amenities that were assured during approximately sixty
100-Acre planning meetings. Instead the BRA has made 2-year lease
negotiations for 20-40 artists the centerpiece of its planning effort.

Of course, it's easy to be cynical. Over the past decade of conducting
hundreds of planning charrettes (e.g. charades), the BRA has not
produced a single square foot of new park space or permanent civic space
in Fort Point -- the fundamental building blocks of ANY evolving

The fun doesn't end there...

As the article below suggests, in a second round of private negotiations
between the BRA and Archon, the BRA is awarding Archon an additional
variance (filed as an amendment to the 100-Acre Plan) which will grant
Archon the right to build to 269' feet at 319 A Street.

Through the BRA's recent meetings and the Boston media, Fort Point
residents and Bostonians are being led to believe that Archon originally
purchased the site with a zoning at 180', and is now simply upgrading to
269' and providing a residential tower. The original variance is all but
forgotton -- except by a small handful of people that know about it.

So, as this project moves forward, Fort Point, will be park-less,
civic-less, art-less, and will have warehouse buildings approaching 90%
as office space. This is exactly where we were headed ten years ago --
before the BRA engaged in its so-called "Fort Point Planning" effort.

2. As a member of the Study Committee on the landmark effort I can
report that, contrary to what is suggested by this article, the Landmark
process was EXTREMELY productive and the guidelines are truly
extraordinary in the recognition of historic wharf buildings. The reason
the Archon project on Melcher and 319 A Street is tricky with respect to
the Landmark designation is that Archon's 180' tower proposal was
approved as part of the 100-Acre Plan, in 2006. During our landmark
meetings between 2006 and 2008 we had to acknowledge prior planning
efforts, including the 100-Acre Plan.

I appreciate your time reading this.

Just like that $58 million more in Education funding

As I just posted last night, the City is going to be able to take some of the stimulus money and apply it to public education. A press release which just came from the Mayor's office says:

o Education: Estimates suggest that Boston Public Schools will receive approximately $58 million in education funding over two years through Title 1 and Title IDEA.

The teachers union is looking smarter and smarter for holding out on the Mayor. The fact of the matter is that the Mayor is sitting on many, many sources of capital. What the citizens and the unions should be doing, like I am, is insisting that instead of him giving away property, money and favors to his connected insider buddies that he should spend our money on our citizens and fund the schools, the police, and fix the roads.