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Can Boston lure the best?

``PLEASE COME to Boston."

Those are lyrics of a love song written by Dave Loggins. Today, they underscore a less romantic, still urgent plea.

Please come to Boston to energize a city that feels flat right now, despite the mayor's plan for a 1,000-foot skyscraper.

Three top public sector jobs are open in this city: police commissioner, fire commissioner, and superintendent of schools.

Will the best and brightest end up in any of those positions? Do the best and brightest have the slightest desire to try for them?

The search for a new superintendent of schools is stymied by contenders who don't want to participate in public interviews. One candidate who is a sitting superintendent elsewhere told the Globe that ``it's lose-lose" if you go through the Boston hiring process and fail to get the job. But if having your name on the short list for the top job in Boston is viewed as a career problem, not a career boost, that's a problem for the city too, isn't it?

In the police department, the first female commissioner is leaving, due partly to City Hall meddling and failure to supply needed resources to fight crime. Two department veterans are viewed as top contenders to replace the outgoing Kathleen M. O'Toole. Meanwhile, Mayor Thomas M. Menino appointed an interim department head and named his onetime driver as chief of staff. Against that backdrop, the typical, tedious Boston debate over skin color is unfolding: Do the city's black residents deserve a black police commissioner, because the upsurge in violence disproportionately affects mostly black neighborhoods?

The Boston fire commissioner, Paul A. Christian, departed his position in February. This job search, again headed by Menino, is considered the most insular, even as the job responsibilities multiply. As a first responder, the fire chief must coordinate with state and national public safety operations.

At one time, Boston City Hall was a magnet for young, smart, ambitious people who considered this city a destination and career incubator. That's not the impression anymore. A more negative view is fueled by a micro-managing mayor, plus Boston's pricey housing market, cold climate, and contentious politics.

The documented decline in Bay State population is the talk of the town. Some 232,945 people moved out of the state between 2000 and 2005. According to the 2000 Census, Boston showed a slight population gain, but recent city population surveys point in the opposite direction.

And Boston may be losing something else -- the feel of being a place to grow a career, beyond the rarefied worlds of venture capital and biotechnology.

Research by the nonprofit Boston Foundation underscores some of the factors that affect career decisions. Baby boomers -- those born between 1946 and 1964 -- have a lock on leadership positions in Greater Boston, and show no signs of giving them up. Civic culture is ``fractious, exclusionary, and lacking the collaborative gene." Visitors and new residents of all ages and backgrounds ``can find the city's civic and cultural life difficult to navigate," although efforts are under way to make Boston ``more welcoming."

``We continue to have a problem with the feel of the place, particularly with minorities," said Paul Grogan, president and CEO of the Boston Foundation. ``But it's beyond that. A lot of young people find this a cold, unwelcoming place, difficult to get into the networks."

This is what you see if you are a smart, ambitious person from another part of the country taking a look at Boston: a beautiful and expensive city, now consumed with celebrating the superficial -- from athletes to Affleck -- and the luxurious -- from Barneys New York to Valentino.

Here is what you don't see: a wide spectrum of high-profile positions with real power, particularly in the public sector, held by people under 40, people of color, or women of any color.

Boston still offers thriving colleges and universities. Health care is a vitally important economic engine, to recycle an over-used cliche. However, while stem cell research is fascinating, is it a practical career option for anyone who last took biology in high school?

Boston used to attract people for reasons beyond luxury condos and niche professions.

It was once a place where stars worked hard to burnish their shine and stay a while.

Please come to Boston. These skies could use some diverse, new points of light.

Joan Vennochi's e-mail address is

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