Monday, November 02, 2009

Why I'm voting for Flaherty

Almost a year ago I was sitting at Doyle’s enjoying a drink with Michael Jonas (former Globe now Commonwealth writer) and discussing the idea that I might run for Mayor. I talked about how the Boston Globe was in the tank to the Mayor, but Michael insisted that the Globe wasn’t going to give Mayor Menino a free pass this time around. I pointed out that there had been a recent scathing report on the state of the Boston Public Schools and that the Globe had written an editorial about how the Mayor should be commended for accepting the results of the report and vowing to work harder. No sense of urgency that these results are not acceptable in a rich, intellectually dominant city. I said to Michael that the Globe wants a Mayor’s race for the same reason that the Harlem Globetrotters need the Washington Generals. You need someone else in the race to have something to write about, but in the end we all know who the Globe is going to endorse, and who is going to win. Jonas laughed, but while not completely accepting my premise, said that the analogy had some merit.

I had planned on running for Mayor four years ago to bring up the same issues of transparency, the need to eliminate the BRA and that the state of our public schools were not acceptable. I had lunch with Maura Hennigan and she convinced me to run for City Council and that she would be raising these issues. She did an admirable job, but I don’t think the city was ready to hear that message just yet.

I was the first into the race for Mayor this year, knowing that Michael Flaherty was probably going to enter but with no idea that Sam Yoon would. My platform from Day 1 spoke about the need for term limits, the elimination of the BRA, the need for transparency at City Hall, the need to properly fund and bring accountability and fiscal reform to the Boston Public Schools.

Neither Michael Flaherty nor Sam Yoon included eliminating the BRA when they entered the race, but Sam did quickly start talking about term limits. Later, the three of us were on a WBUR interview in the spring in studio and during Sam’s time in the booth he mentioned getting rid of the BRA, and I said to his campaign manager Jim Spencer who was sitting next to me, “When did Sam decide it was time to get rid of the BRA” and Jim laughed and said “I think just right now!”

Many people think, erroneously, that there is a lot of personal antagonism between members of the administration and the City council and me. While there are clearly people who wish that I were not around, I actually get along well with a number of them. Tobin, Murphy, Ciommo, Yancey and others share pleasantries and a laugh here and there when we run into each other. At the first debate this year Michael Flaherty noticed I was down to my last pair of socks (that my mom had given me) that had the name “Kevin” written on it, with the Gaelic explanation of the name on them. Michael needled me throughout the campaign about them. At the first debate with Jon Keller after beating Michael up about violating the Open Meeting Law, we went to break, and I said to Michael during the intermission “I feel bad about beating you up on this at every forum.”, he responded “hey, its fair game, I’ve got thick skin and I was wrong.”

After that debate as I was waiting to go on the Dan Rea show, Tom Menino was in the hall and he congratulated me on a great performance and I returned the compliment. He made an interesting, insightful comment that shows how much the Mayor understands people: “Kevin, you and I are the outsiders in this race.” His meaning that neither of us had grown up with the natural advantages that
Michael and Sam had, and that both of us had to work our tails off to get to where we are.

Right before the second debate I got wind of some illegal building activity that seemed to have inspectors looking the other way for some connected people on Temple Place. It really threw me off, as I reported the information I found out to the FBI and the head of ISD that day. I have learned all too well that the Democrats voted to enforce the laws, the DA and the AG will not enforce the laws on their fellow Democrats in this state. It is no coincidence that only the Federal Authorities have found any corruption at the State House and at City Hall. I was also concerned that I was being branded as just throwing “bombs” (even if those ‘bombs’ are based on facts and evidence, but when did the powers that be care about facts and evidence, if they did they would be scientists) so I wanted to tone it down and try and talk about policy as much as possible.

This is the quandary of modern politics, you work and you work and you work for months and months, meeting voters, talking to local papers all for 10 minutes of TV time in a debate with television people who don’t live in the city and usually are not very informed (Jon Keller excepted) about the issues. So politicians can get away with saying things that are blatantly untrue without being challenged. I am usually my own worse critic and I actually felt I did okay but nothing particularly great during the debates, but apparently I struck a chord with some people who are as fed up as I am.

On the way home from the first debate we were listening to Dan Rea, who doesn’t hide the fact that he is on Menino’s side, on the truck radio. He was just finishing up with Sam Yoon and he wasn’t asking Sam fair questions, or giving Sam a chance to answer. How do you answer a question like “I think Boston is a great City, name me a better City than Boston…???” After he was done with Sam he opened up the phone lines to talk about the debate and the first two callers called up and said essentially “that guy Kevin McCrea did a great job, he really won” and Mr. Rhea was dismissive and subtly tried to play up the Mayor: ‘so you want to go with the outsider, the unknown as opposed to the person who has made this city so great’ it was great to hear it, people we didn’t know calling up and saying positive things about our effort.

We raised and spent about $17,000 on the campaign (some from me), and on election day I felt very positive about the way the race had been run. I told my wife if I received more than 1,000 votes that I would be happy. My biggest hope was to get 5% of the votes. On election day I had a great time running around the City talking to voters thanking poll workers from all the campaigns for getting involved, receiving many compliments, and getting limp wristed handshakes from Menino supporters. I borrowed my wife’s Chrysler convertible loaded it up with Bob Marley, James Brown and the Clash and one of my favorite moments was driving along Centre Street in West Roxbury with the top down rocking out to the Clash “Justice Tonight” as people in adjoining cars were giving me the thumbs up.

Later that night, after the polls closed I was being interviewed by WBUR around 10 pm and the results were coming in and showed Menino around 48 percent. I said to the reporter, “I guarantee you that at the end of the night Menino will be over 50%”. I had seen too many odd things at the polls, mentally handicapped people being hand taken to the polling stations by Menino people, Menino numbers crunching running around with worried looks on their face, and phone calls from people before the primary who had worked for the elections department telling me about how election fraud is carried out. It would look very bad if Menino was below 50% and I figured he would pull out all the stops to make sure that was the case.

I was ecstatic with my results and with the race I ran. I am appalled by the money in politics. Menino spent about 1.5 million to get 41,000 votes or $36 bucks a vote, Flaherty spent $915,000 to get 19,459 votes or $47 a vote, Yoon spent $657,000 to get $17,179 votes or $38 a vote. I spent $17,000 to get 3,340 votes or about $5 a vote. It really is out of control. Between the four of us we spent more than the entire book budget of the Boston Public Schools in just the primary.

The day after the election Natasha Perez from Flaherty’s campaign called and asked me to join them. I told them I could support them if they were getting rid of the BRA, but that first they needed to get Sam Yoon on board, as he was much more important to victory than I was. They were holding a fundraiser that Thursday at Anthony’s Pier 4 that they wanted all of there for. I had promised my wife we would go away for the weekend so I could not make it, and Sam needed time to discuss things with his family and his people.

Then in the first joint interview that Flaherty and Yoon held with the Jamaica Plain Gazette they equated my campaign to Donald Duck, and made fun of Freedom of Information requests, saying that they would have a special department to handle Kevin McCrea’s requests of the government and call them “McFoia’s”.
I was on business in New Orleans when this came out and my wife told me one night that I had received an odd apology on the voicemail from Sam Yoon which neither she nor I knew anything about. When I returned to Boston I called John Ruch of the Gazette to confirm the story he had written and whether anything was out of context. He confirmed what he had written, and I have a good relationship with John and had no reason not to believe him. I was a bit taken aback that the people asking for my endorsement and calling for transparency at City Hall and an investigation by the Attorney General would make fun of Freedom of Information requests.

I am realistic enough to know that if this election had been 65% Menino to 35% for the rest of us that no one would care about me. But, instead we had a situation where my 4% of the vote could be crucial. So I decided to be objective and try and make my decision based on facts, and to leverage what minimal amount of influence I had to try and do the best I could to make the city a better place. I contacted Dot Joyce, Menino’s spokesperson, and asked if I might perhaps speak to the Mayor about some common ground that we might work together on, in particular the schools. She was very gracious, and we set up a dinner with the Mayor and his wife and my wife and me.

I was extremely confused at this point. I had three options, endorse one or the other or stay out of it. Politicians are masters at making you think that they care about you and your issues, and of making you think they are going to do something about an issue without actually committing to anything. Even though I think I’m a reasonably intelligent person, I know my hubris can be attracted to praise and the spotlight, and I asked my wife to accompany me to get an objective and professional (she is Doctor of clinical psychology) take on the two candidates. We sat down with Michael and Sam and their people and spoke about what needed to be done to win the election. They were very kind in complimenting me on the issues I had raised and what I had brought to the campaign. They were definitely for term limits and bringing in new management and accountability practices to City Hall.

We then had dinner at with the Mayor and his wife Angela, and both of us (particularly me) had a bit of trepidation. We met at Hammersley’s where Gordon, the owner, has been a longtime supporter of South End baseball and I knew the Mayor and he were friendly and that the Mayor had eaten there. We ended up having a really wonderful evening. We spoke about common experiences, travels to South America and Turkey. The Mayor and I had both dealt with problems of alcoholism in our families when we were young. None of the four of us had a drink, which we rarely do and it turns out the Menino’s don’t either. Angela spoke about how when Tom got involved in politics he stopped drinking because he had seen too many politicians make fools of themselves while imbibing, and he would not be that way. We spoke about the problems of dealing with the media, and how they had thick enough skin but they really thought it unfair when the media went after their family.

The Mayor asked one question about where Flaherty thought he was going to pick up votes, but I replied that he wouldn’t want me sharing anything with Michael, and I wouldn’t want to share what Michael said to me with the Mayor. He respected that and we moved on. We spoke about tax policy and why I didn’t believe that we should be giving tax breaks to the big rich corporations, because as the Mayor says “this is a great city, people want to be here, because of the great institutions, the neighborhoods and the people.” Further that these tax breaks were just picked up by the working people in this city and that it isn’t fair. He said we had to give them or else the companies would leave, but later in the conversation he talked about how some of the financial institutions that had left the city were now looking to come back because they couldn’t find qualified workers. I pointed out “Exactly” how there was an inconsistency in his logic, that is why we shouldn’t be giving them tax breaks, we should just continue making the City a great place to live with good schools, safe streets, parks, etc. He truly seemed to be taking the point in. We agreed to disagree about the BRA, and we didn’t talk about emails. I told him that people are afraid of him in this city, and that shouldn’t be the case in a democracy. He dismissed it, but I explained how even friends of mine were afraid to let me have fundraisers in their restaurants because of fear of repercussions. I told him that I thought he was going to win, because people genuinely liked him, and felt that he cared about the city, and I said that if he just changed a few things, if he was more open to others ideas and to collaboration that he could really leave on top and be remembered for being a fantastic Mayor. At the end of the meal, he said he’d like to work with me, and all of us remarked what a nice time we had and that it was great to get away from the campaign for an evening.

I was in an even bigger quandary than ever, and then we had some family medical issues with cancer and surgeries, and brought us back into “reality”. As I went back to work in my construction business and I spoke to working people, to wait staff, to students, to guys I play basketball with in Roxbury, I was struck by how little anyone really cared about this, and about how little impact they felt it had on their lives and that nothing was going to change. The only ones who seemed interested or had an opinion were City workers, and they were mostly in favor of the Mayor.

Many of my supporters implored me not to endorse anyone, saying that people respected me for telling the truth and not compromising on honesty and transparency. But, I also had many people asking me who I was going to vote for and looking at me for an informed opinion.

I have been thoroughly unimpressed with the media during the campaign in terms of asking the candidates substantive questions on the issues, on holding them accountable, and of asking follow up questions. I got into this race to get some questions answered by the candidates, and 9 months later there are basic questions unanswered. I came up with an idea: I asked both candidates if they would be willing to do a one hour debate at the Boston Public Library, with questions from me about what they would do about the future of the City. No “gotcha” questions, nothing about the past, just a chance, on the record, to talk about what they were actually promising to do about schools, about transparency, about public safety, etc. They both declined to take my questions, but offered to answer written questions. On another tangent, I asked Flaherty to introduce the legislation into the City Council that would begin the process of eliminating the BRA to show that he actually was going to do it, but his staff said they had procedural reasons why they couldn’t do that. Interestingly, the BPL was unhelpful in scheduling a room. To be fair I was asking last minute and they had a policy of only allowing non-profits with a long lead time. But, I mentally thought about all the obstacles to doing things in this city, such as having a block party or having a neighborhood forum. When did we become a society of why we can’t do things, instead of a “can do” society?

I had pretty much decided to stay out of it, not convinced that Flaherty was truly committed to transparency and eliminating the BRA. But, I received his mailings which put down in print that he would eliminate the BRA and institute some measures towards transparency. People were still asking me for whom I was going to vote and I felt I had an obligation to let them know, because of course I was going to vote as I do in every election.

For me, it came down to the elimination of the BRA. I believe that the institution of the BRA has outlived its usefulness, that it is non-democratic, and that it is corrupt and that it breeds corruption, and that the rich use it as a tool to take advantage of the rest of us. I called Dot Joyce as a courtesy to let her and the Mayor know, and to thank her for her time, and for the Mayor’s valuable time. She tried to convince me otherwise, but I let her know that the BRA was the deciding factor for me.

So, I’m asking people to vote for Michael Flaherty on election day, to eliminate the BRA and to try and bring transparency and a new sense of inclusiveness and access to City Hall.

No matter who wins, I am bullish on the future of Boston. Not because of the political class, but because of the people and institutions that are here. Because of our institutes of higher learning we will continue to be an international city where smart people come to learn and create, ironically, they often get applied more around the world then they do in our own backyard.

Whether Michael Flaherty or Mayor Menino wins, I hope that they will reach out and try and new things, not be afraid to fail, and to bring in good people who want to make this city shine. I would be willing to work with either of them, and I hope all the citizens feel the same way after the election. How about a City that has all four of us working together to improve Boston? Abraham Lincoln did it, maybe Menino or Flaherty could do the same: wouldn’t that be bold and exciting?

I also endorse Alex Selvig and Christian Kulikowski. It is imperative that we have some independent voices on the City Council who are not afraid to speak up for the citizens. They both believe in eliminating the BRA and so they have my support.

1 comment:

O'Reilly said...

Thanks Kevin. We met and talked on a Saturday in front of the Filene's hole in the ground. I learned a lot from you and I was impressed with your openness and your drive to improve Boston government.

You ran a great campaign and you made it a better race by putting important issues at play. You know this and state it modestly in your endorsement.

Your endorsement also makes it clear to voters that both candidates are good people who have a different view of good government. For using your insiders voice (it's true now) to raise the tone of the debate is strong leadership.

There is a part of your endorsement that intrigues me and that is your belief that the DA and AG "will not enforce the laws on their fellow Democrats in this state." I find that appalling as justice in our country must be applied without fear or favor. That we should not have a two class system under the ;aw, the connected who walk and the unconnected who are subject to the full force of the law. It is appalling. If there is anything more you can provide about our DA and AG not enforcing laws, you would be doing a great service by spelling it out. Sunlight and all that.

Soon I'm off to vote. Thank you for your recommendation. It fits with my own analysis in a nice way.