E-mails show politics up close, warts and all

The manager of the mayor’s 24-hour hot line noted that Menino had called to ask about a dumpster in the North End. The manager of the mayor’s 24-hour hot line noted that Menino had called to ask about a dumpster in the North End.
September 26, 2009

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This story was reported and written by Stephanie Ebbert, Michael Rezendes, Donovan Slack, and Michael Levenson of the Globe staff.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino had just exploded at one of his staunch supporters, an environmental activist from Fort Point Channel. His environmental chief didn’t know how he was going to mend the rift.

“TMM blew up Valerie Burns today,’’ James W. Hunt III wrote in an e-mail, referring to the mayor by his initials. “She can be tough, but she can be a stalwart for TMM. I will work to restore the relationship, but this one will take some time.’’

The e-mail message was among thousands that surfaced yesterday when the Menino administration turned over 5,018 documents in an effort to satisfy a public records request by the Globe. The city did not provide many messages sent directly to or from Michael J. Kineavy, the mayor’s chief of policy and planning, who had routinely been deleting his e-mail. But it turned over other employees’ e-mails that were exchanged with Kineavy and saved on the city server.

The messages did not suggest any illegal acivity, but they opened a window into the inner workings of City Hall and again demonstrated that Kineavy is instrumental at the city’s nerve center. The mayor’s top political operative is fielding matters large and small - from small-bore gripes about dog feces on South Boston sidewalks to dramatic complaints like the one alleging that police were endangering an informant’s life by circulating confidential information.

The messages also reveal the Menino administration’s preoccupation with controlling information and shaping a positive public image for the mayor, while keeping a close eye on potential political minefields.

When Councilor Chuck Turner asked the assessing department for public records on properties that contribute payments in lieu of taxes, a mayoral aide asked Kineavy for permission.

“Do you have a problem with my giving it to him?’’ wrote Molly Dunford, the mayor’s liasion to the City Council.

Some city councilors, including Allston-Brighton District Councilor Mark Ciommo, also offered Kineavy a heads-up about separate issues that the mayor’s reelection challengers, Councilors Michael F. Flaherty and Sam Yoon, were preparing to raise in council hearings.

In another instance, when Councilor Charles Yancey wanted to tour the Mattapan Public Library before it opened to the public, Dunford complained that “he has been difficult when it comes to the library from the very beginning.’’ Kineavy canceled the tour. “I spoke with Michael Kineavy and he agreed with me that we should cancel until further notice,’’ wrote Freda Brasfield, the city’s liasion to the Mattapan neighborhood.

Another showed Massachusetts Turnpike Authority lawyer Eileen Fenton, who is Kineavy’s longtime girlfriend and the sister of the mayor’s son-in-law, sending copies of the sign-in sheet at a public meeting on toll increases.

The e-mails show the hardball politics sometimes played by Kineavy and the mayor. Hunt wrote that Rich Rogers, a top official in the Greater Boston Labor Council, was “on TMM’s naughty list, which he acknowledged.’’ Hunt’s e-mail about Burns, the president of the Boston Natural Areas Network, included her own original missive saying the mayor had berated her for publicly criticizing the Boston Redevelopment Authority.

“The mayor called me to yell at me about my comments at a BRA meeting this week in my neighborhood,’’ Burns wrote. “The mayor was yelling that I called his administration immoral, which I did not,’’ she wrote. “. . . It is heartbreaking to have our relationship to end like this i am very concerned that his very long memory will effect [sic] the work that BNAN does.’’

In a brief interview last night, Burns said she and Menino have since repaired their relationship.

The e-mails provide a window into the nuts and bolts of the 16-year-administration of a mayor often described as an “urban mechanic.’’ One e-mail from the manager of the mayor’s 24-hour hot line noted that Menino had called that day to ask if a dumpster parked in the North End was legally permitted.

In one e-mail, Kineavy made clear that he knew his messages could be obtained through requests under the Freedom of Information Act.

“Reminder,’’ he wrote top advisers who were trying out jokes before the St. Patrick’s Day breakfast by e-mail. “Even though we are joking these are FOIA-able.’’