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!