Persistent teens win Patrick's ear
Youths tell governor of concerns on violence
This time, the administration was ready.
A receptionist for Governor Deval Patrick told the 13 teenagers from Boston who had come to discuss their concerns about violence in their crime-ridden neighborhoods to take a seat in the plush sofas and overstuffed armchairs. The governor's aide would be coming shortly.
A few minutes later, Joe Landolfi, a senior adviser to Patrick, emerged to tell them the governor would see them soon. He shook the hand of Tamisha Jackson-Young, 18, and said: "We're happy to sit down and talk with you. It's very admirable what you've done."
It was a stark departure from the greeting the teenagers from Roxbury, Mattapan, Dorchester, and Hyde Park had received when they came to Patrick's office two weeks ago to drop off a letter to request an audience with the governor.
It was a youthful display of political activism that turned into a tough civics lesson. A receptionist had coldly refused to take their contact information, they said. They said they were told to call Patrick's scheduling assistant if they wanted a meeting. And they said they were told to resubmit their letter with their names and phone numbers typed.
They did not hear back from the governor or his representatives until early yesterday and went into the State House later in the afternoon accusing Patrick and his administration of indifference.
Yesterday, the governor greeted them shortly after 5 p.m.
Patrick strolled into the executive lobby and shook the hands of the teenagers, who crowded around him, some smiling widely.
Before he finished shaking hands, Jackson-Young addressed him: "I actually have something for you," she said and tried to hand him a folder with the letter and the results of a survey they had done that suggested young people in their neighborhoods felt unsafe.
"Can I meet your friends first?" Patrick said. He finished shaking everybody's hands, turned to Jackson-Young, and said, "Now, talk to me."
She told him about the survey and described the letter saying: "So this is a second letter expressing our anger that we hadn't gotten to meet you the first time."
Then he said, "You got time now?" They went into his office with other Patrick aides and closed the door.
Kyle Sullivan, Patrick's spokesman, said the office policy is for the receptionist to take down contact information of visitors and constituents so the appropriate staff member can respond to them.
He said that the teenagers did not provide the information and that the office did not hear from them again, until they showed up yesterday.
The teenagers acknowledged they never followed up with a phone call to the scheduling assistant, as they were instructed to do, a misstep they attributed to their confusion over the process, lack of time, and uncertainty over which of them was supposed to call.
It was a bureaucratic glitch none of the teenagers expected, Jackson-Young said. "We kind of got confused. We assumed that if [Patrick] read that, he would see and want to contact us."
The teenagers, who range from 15 to 18 years old, met for seven weeks over the summer as part of Democracy Lab, a part of the New Democracy Coalition, a Boston University-based program that focuses on increasing civic participation.
Their first visit to the governor's office, on Aug. 22, was during Patrick's summer vacation.
The Democracy Lab students conducted a survey of about 200 people ages 14 to 24 about issues such as gang and domestic violence, schools, and their feelings about politicians and police. In the survey, they found that only 5 percent of young people believe politicians consistently care about the concerns of their neighborhoods.
Patrick and the teenagers emerged from the office at about 5:40 p.m. He was running late for an appointment with Attorney General Martha Coakley.
He asked the teenagers to speak at the State House next month at a hearing on violence and to bring their survey results.
As he rushed back into his office to meet with Coakley he said: "This was great. This was great. This is important."
The teenagers said they were surprised to have talked with Patrick for as long as they had and were impressed with the governor. Some said they were star-struck.
"It's something you dream about, meeting the governor," said Kaire Holman, 15. "He was so down to earth. He seemed like a normal person."
The teenagers said the governor said that he would join them on a tour of their neighborhoods and that he was already trying to find ways to fund jobs and after-school programs, which they said would help reduce violence in their neighborhoods.
"He was actually a nice person," Jackson-Young said, adding that she was pleased with the meeting "for the most part, but I will be even happier if he does what he said he would do."
After they left the meeting, another one of Patrick's advisers praised them again for taking the initiative to meet the governor.
"Maybe next time," she said, "you all will call and set up an appointment."
Maria Cramer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.