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Boston's at-large city council race: another guide for the perplexed

September 19, 2013 06:37 PM

It’s been a struggle for the 19 at-large candidates for Boston City Council to gain notice during the highly competitive mayor’s race. But voters should be paying attention: the council’s four at-large seats are often stepping-stones to higher office, and this year’s field includes some intriguing candidates.

Two incumbents are running for reelection, while the other two — Felix Arroyo and John Connolly — are giving up their seats to run for mayor. Out of the whole field, the top eight vote-getters from Tuesday’s preliminary will move on to the Nov. 5 final, when the final four will be chosen.

Since the candidates have fewer direct constituent-service duties than their nine district council colleagues, it’s fair to judge them on their knowledge of citywide issues. With this in mind, below is a list of who the candidates are, what they’ve done, and what they stand for. Voters can cast ballots for up to four of these candidates on their ballot Tuesday:

Rather oddly, Frank Addivinola Jr. of downtown Boston is mounting simultaneous campaigns for an at-large council seat and the GOP nomination in the 5th Congressional District — an area that doesn’t include Boston. Addivinola describes himself as a fiscal conservative who is eager to bring his experience in science and business to improve the quality of life for Bostonians. Expanding the supply of moderately priced housing is among his key goals.

Former special-education teacher and Roxbury resident Chris Conroy sees the council as a tool for community engagement — and he feels councilors should be more focused on helping Bostonians then getting re-elected. That’s why he’s put forward proposals to increase councilors terms to 4 years. However, any move in this direction would require the mayor’s signature, a prospect so unlikely that it raises questions as to why he would focus his campaign on something so unattainable. He also says meaningful school reform has to come from the bottom up, and that schools should connect to job programs for 18 to 24 year olds.

The council will go through a big turnover this election cycle, and some argue that voters should look for previous experience as well as fresh ideas when choosing who to vote for. Former councilor-at-large and 2009 mayoral finalist Michael Flaherty would certainly agree, and he wants to be the steady hand on the tiller that guides the new council forward. Policy-wise, one of the Southie native’s public safety plans is to improve afterschool and youth employment programs to give kids a chance to avoid a life of crime. He also believes that Boston should return to an elected school committee — a policy that was rejected by voters with bad memories of the dysfunctional school committee of the 1970s and 1980s. Flaherty also supports separating planning from the BRA.

Philip Frattaroli is a North End native who grew up in an apartment above his family’s restaurant and today runs an eatery of his own. One of his key concerns is the bureaucratic barriers faced by those seeking business licenses in Boston. Frattaroli, who is an attorney, also stands out as one of a few at-large candidates who isn’t eyeing charter change as a way to give the council more clout. The current strong-mayor system, he says, is efficient and leaves plenty of room for a assertive councilor like himself to make his presence known.

Former state representative, longtime Dorchester resident, and perennial gadfly Althea Garrison feels that City Hall needs to focus on transparency. She says she would not just be a rubber stamp for the new mayor. She also wants to see more police actually walking the beat as opposed to patrolling in cars — in part, she said, because they're too fat.

Annissa Essaibi George is a neighborhood dynamo whose energy and crime-fighting exploits are well known in her native Dorchester. She lacks name recognition outside her base, which is a hurdle in a citywide election. The weight of her life experience alone — high school teacher, small business owner, and mother of four — turns heads, however. Her unquestioning support for the Boston Teachers Union may give pause to voters who believe the union is standing in the way of a longer school day.

Jack F. Kelly of Charlestown stunned some audience members at a Wednesday debate in Roxbury when he said that he used to buy heroin nearby to support his habit. Kelly, who is in recovery, has pulled himself up over the past decade while working as a neighborhood services coordinator for the Menino administration and a public health worker for Mass General Hospital. He’s skeptical of recent proposals to reduce parking-space requirements in new developments, fearing it would lead to a shortage of spaces that would squeeze families that rely on cars.

Boston certainly needs more affordable housing, says real estate attorney and South Boston resident Keith Kenyon, but he feels that encouraging the growth of middle income housing is equally important. His plan to use the council to move people from renting to buying homes is related to this idea. He also wants more voke-tech programs in public high schools to connect recent graduates with jobs.

Martin Keogh — a West Roxbury resident and attorney — has focused his campaign on answering one question: How can the city improve life in the neighborhoods? His safety plan revolves around better community policing — even if that means moving officers to more dangerous districts. He wants all Boston kids to be able to go to quality schools in their neighborhood. He’d work with developers to bring some of these changes about.

Incumbent at-large City Council president Stephen Murphy of Hyde Park stresses the need for stability at a time when at least four new councilors will be coming on board. Since his election in 1997, Murphy has chaired all of the council’s sensitive committees — most notably Ways and Means. Some predicted Murphy would be a throwback to old, insular Boston. But he changed along with the city, even leading efforts to find honest work for men and women who return to their Boston neighborhoods after leaving prison.

Catherine O’Neill of Dorchester has enjoyed a varied career in city services, arts, media, and development. Still, she describes herself as less interested in policy matters and more interested in listening to the individual concerns of Bostonians and marshalling city resources on their behalf. O’Neill is a supporter of Boston’s appointed school board, which is designed to take the politics out of education policy. At a recent debate, however, she complained about the fact that the principal of a charter school sat on the school committee, arguing it was unfair to district schools.

Incumbent at-large councilor Ayanna Pressley — who was the first women of color to serve on the council — has devoted her last two terms to advocating for women and young girls, and she founded the standing committee on women and healthy communities to serve this purpose. This conviction comes directly from her personal experience as a survivor of both childhood sexual abuse and sexual assault later in life. The Dorchester resident has also led an effort to let Boston, rather than the state Legislature, control the number of liquor licenses in the city. She also wants to encourage housing development on city-owned land and the use of innovative solutions such as communal urban gardens to improve nutrition in poorer neighborhoods.

Jeff Ross of the South End is a longtime political activist who, if elected, would be the first openly gay candidate elected to an at-large council seat. Ross, who practices immigration law, has made public safety a central issue in his campaign with calls for better efforts to trace and prevent illegal firearms from entering the city. He lost a bid for the Democratic nomination for a Cambridge state Senate seat in 2007.

Former District 7 councilor and air force veteran Gareth Saunders feels the city is too generous with universities and hospitals, and wants to see them pay larger PILOT payments to the city. The Dorchester resident also wants education reform to focus on the quality of school buildings as well as the strength of the education kids receive. To this end, he has proposed an 8-year building modernization plan for schools.

While working for Mayor Menino’s Circle of Promise Initiative, Mission Hill resident Ramon Soto learned that many students at the Orchard Garden School didn’t have winter coats — so he organized a partnership between the school and a local Goodwill to ensure that all students had access to decent winter clothing. Soto would like to replicate this success, and sees the City Council as a vehicle for this sort of constituent service. He also stands for an appointed school committee, but would push for the council to get a veto on appointees — a power that some fear would inject too much politics into the committee’s work.

Seamus Whelan of West Roxbury is a self-described nurse, trade unionist, and socialist who believes that “corporate interests’’ stand in the way of improving public education and working conditions for many Bostonians. This Irish immigrant says he wants to “set an example’’ for Bostonians who are ready to stand up for the restoration of an elected school committee and a single payer health system.

On his website, East Boston resident Francisco White says he “wants to be a voice for the marginalized,” and this commitment to social justice pervades his entire campaign. He is formerly homeless and openly gay, and these life experiences inform his views that Boston needs more diversity in City Hall as well as a policy that ensures that one third of all units in new housing developments are affordable. But he’s also for an elected school committee and abolishing the BRA entirely, both policies in which the cure may be far worse than the disease.

Douglas Wohn of Jamaica Plain is an architect who is running on a platform of encouraging greener buildings in Boston. He wants to decouple the planning and development functions at the Boston Redevelopment Authority as a way to ensure that good planning precedes development. Wohn, who works for the city’s inspectional services department, offers an insider’s look at municipal functions.

Michelle Wu of the South End is widely perceived as the class of the field based on her Harvard Law School pedigree, her successful efforts inside the Menino administration to reform outmoded business licensing procedures, and strong endorsements from liberal legislators. Wu’s resistance to raising the cap on charter schools reveals some naivete regarding the struggles to improve public education in Boston. And she has been overly guarded, at times, during the campaign. Still, Wu has generated more buzz around her candidacy than any of the at-large candidates.

Boston’s mayoral race: a guide for the perplexed

September 13, 2013 10:20 AM

On Sept. 24, Boston voters will whittle a field of 12 mayoral candidates down to just two who will run off in November. About a third of the city’s voters are undecided and probably another third are squishy when it comes to support for their candidate. People who have lived in the city and followed politics for decades have told me they’re having a tough time sorting out the candidates who share many similar positions on the issues. Imagine, then, the confusion of voters who are either new to the city or just recently started to pay attention to the race.

There are no villains in this field. All of the viable candidates could be described as moderate or liberal. And even candidates whose names are closely aligned with a cause, such as organized labor or expansion of state charter schools over the objections of organized labor, have staked out nuanced positions. Voters can turn to the candidates’ websites to find white papers, blueprints, and other detailed documents on major issues.

My view? Bostonians could sleep soundly if any of six or seven of these candidates were to win. It’s almost laughable to think that just a few months ago people were worried that no one of substance might emerge to replace Mayor Menino, who is retiring after five terms in office.

Still, a lot of voters are openly asking for help. I’m not going to tell you who to vote for, but I can offer some pointers to help understand the candidates, and where they’re coming from. In that spirit, here’s my alphabetical guide for the perplexed:

Anyone drawn to social justice causes and eager to be part of electing the city’s first Hispanic mayor will want to learn more about City Councilor Felix Arroyo. I have no doubt that Arroyo will prioritize the needs of the city’s poor. But it remains an open question as to whether the 34-year-old Arroyo has sufficient experience to manage a $2.6 billion municipal budget.

Former member of the appointed School Committee and nonprofit executive John Barros is smart, dignified, and self-made. Barros, 40, has had a hand in restoring one of the poorest sections of Roxbury. But he has surprised me and many others with his desire to bring new business to downtown Boston. Barros, who is the son of Cape Verdean immigrants, is causing a lot of people to sit up and take notice. He should appeal to voters who favor underdogs, especially talented ones.

Mayoral candidate Dan Conley, 54, is a first-rate district attorney. If public safety dominates your concerns, then he certainly belongs at or near the top of the list. Conley can hold his own on other citywide issues, including education and fiscal management. He would be an all-around safe pick for voters who value mature, if uninspired, leadership.

City Councilor John Connolly, 40, has staked out public education as his key issue. Anyone with school-aged children will want to give special consideration to his campaign. He makes a powerful pitch to the city’s middle class. But he is equally serious about helping low-income families climb the economic ladder through better education. Connolly scores high on my political courage index as the sole candidate to declare for the office before Mayor Menino announced his retirement.

It has become trite to identify district City Councilor Rob Consalvo, 44, as a younger, physically fitter version of Mayor Menino. But there is more than a grain of truth to the claim. Consalvo shares Menino’s populist touch and his love of manipulating the nuts and bolts of municipal government. Voters who can’t bear the thought of Menino leaving office can try to keep the streak alive through Consalvo.

Charlotte Golar Richie, 54, has a great resume that includes experience as a state representative, city department head, and nonprofit executive. The possibility of electing the city’s first woman and African American mayor was generating lots of buzz when she announced her entry into the race in April. But she has run a lackluster campaign. So marginal, in fact, that I’ve started hearing legitimate questions about her desire to lead. Right now, her campaign is more symbolic than substantive.

District City Councilor Michael Ross, 41, has never become a creature of City Hall despite more than a decade on the council representing the Back Bay. Newcomers to the city who wonder why there is a dearth of entertainment venues and late night transportation options will want to explore Ross’s solutions. So will entrepreneurs who favor regional business solutions. Ross is pinning his hopes on younger Bostonians who share his can-do attitude and older Bostonians who are tired of seeing all of the political power concentrated in a few, politically muscular sections of the city.

Bill Walczak, 59, is another underdog who deserves serious consideration despite never having run before for elected office. His idealism led him to found a neighborhood health center in Dorchester during the 1970s. His pragmatism enabled him to expand it into a first rate institution for medical and educational opportunities. Walczak stands apart from the field in his ability to manage large organizations. Voters who favor substance over style should find his candidacy especially appealing.

State Representative Martin Walsh, 46, is a survivor of childhood cancer and recovering alcoholic who has no equal when it comes to understanding the plight of struggling Bostonians. Walsh’s deep ties to organized labor scare some voters who worry about the health of the city’s reserves should he win. But working-class Bostonians adore his politics. Even people who disagree with his policies don’t have a bad word to say about him personally. He’s the character candidate.

The remainder of the field includes two gadflies and one veteran city councilor. Radio host Charles Clemons is an amiable gentleman with a spiritual bent. Former Boston teacher David Wyatt offers nothing of substance. City Councilor Charles Yancey boasts three decades on the job but not a great deal to show for it in terms of pushing the city forward.

Good luck.

Lawrence Harmon is a Globe columnist.

Why Boston reacted right to Rolling Stone

July 18, 2013 06:41 AM

Not long ago, the nation declared Boston “strong” for its brassy, we’ll-take-all-you-bastards reaction to the Boston Marathon bombings. Now, a portion of this same nation has decided that Boston is wimpy for its outrage over the dreamboat pic of Dzhokhar Tsarnev on the cover of Rolling Stone.

Cool off. These two reactions say the same thing about Boston’s identity. No, Boston wasn’t cowed by the bombings, and Boston also isn’t cowed by a glossy magazine. The state of the city right now is supreme irritation, and people are reacting precisely as they should.

Of course, Rolling Stone is acting in character, too. I’m guessing that, for months now, the editors have been giving daily tributes to the gods of found photography for providing an image that’s so perfectly Rolling Stone: a selfie that makes Tsarnaev look as if he’d been handled by Kanye West’s stylists and photographed by Mario Testino. The designer t-shirt! The tousled hair! The model’s look of studied blankness! The image says “All-American disaffected youth” and “material kid” and “inscrutable figure.”

And when it is on the cover of Rolling Stone, somewhere between the “i” and the second “n,” it crosses the line from query to glorification.

Rolling Stone Tsarnaev cover.jpg

It’s disingenuous, to say the least, to pretend that a Rolling Stone cover doesn’t stand for something particular – that blowing up that picture really big, beside a tease about the relative flyness of Robin Thicke, is the same as publishing it on the front page of the New York Times. Yes, the article itself is a well-researched piece of work, along a reasonable line of inquiry, in the Rolling Stone tradition of hard-hitting journalism (though it doesn’t reveal much about Tsarnaev’s life that well-read Bostonians don’t already know). But regardless of what serious reporting often appears on the inside pages, Rolling Stone covers remain Rolling Stone covers, based on the notion that rock stars sell magazines. Remember that 2010 article that brought down General McChrystal? On the cover that month was a photo of Lady Gaga, shooting two machine guns from her breasts.

Rolling Stone Gaga cover.jpg

Which is to say that Rolling Stone has never worried much about people’s sensitivities. I’m guessing that the reaction to the Tsarnaev cover – the anger, the praise, the instant, viral pickup -- was pretty much exactly what the editors expected (though the hastily-posted explanation suggests that someone over there was having second thoughts). Did they figure they’d offend Bostonians? How could they not? Maybe the timing was a bit of a surprise – the sting was sharper days after Tsarnaev appeared in court, trailed by a horde of young groupies who clearly do think he’s a dreamboat. But the folks at Rolling Stone clearly knew that, if Beyonce were on the cover this month, no one would be talking about Rolling Stone.

So Bostonians dutifully accepted the invitation to get mad, expressing outrage through sarcasm, social media rants, and boycott declarations. No one was talking about censorship. People here understand that a magazine has every right to put what it wants on its cover, and that CVS has an equal right to decide it’s not worth the trouble to stock Rolling Stone on its shelves this month. Boston’s reaction wasn’t “You have hurt us irreparably as a city.” It was “We’d really rather you hadn’t just stuck your thumb in our collective eye.”

This isn’t about “Boston Strong,” which has lost all meaning by now, anyway – it started getting out of hand once it morphed into a sports chant, and exited the world of reason the moment the first “Boston Strong Mom” shirt was sold on Zazzle. No, this situation has reminded us of who we really are: Not a group of people prone to blind sloganeering, but a unified bunch, proud of our identity, standing firm against major harm and minor offense. Thanks, Rolling Stone editors. You’ve reminded us what we’re doing here. And also, get out of town.

Joanna Weiss is a Globe columnist.

With vote to lift ban on gay youth, change in Boy Scouts is coming from inside

May 23, 2013 06:54 PM

GRAPEVINE, Texas — The Boy Scouts of America’s lifting the ban on openly gay youth Thursday came 12 years after I received this charge:

"Change will only come from the inside."

It came from a silver-haired man who wore his Boy Scout uniform. Despite a lifetime of service to the Boy Scouts of America, he had been kicked out a few months prior for being gay. He exhorted me not to leave the organization.

He told me this as we stood in protest in Copley Square outside the BSA’s 2001 national annual meeting, held in Boston. I had in one hand a rainbow sign that said “Den Mothers for Inclusion,” and in the other hand my blue-uniformed 10-year-old Cub Scout son. I was heavy-hearted at the Supreme Court decision the year before allowing the BSA to ban gays from membership. We were an outdoors and craft-oriented family and my son loved Scout activities, which I had introduced him to. But how could I allow him to participate in an organization that would discriminate against our gay and lesbian family members and friends?

The silver-haired gentleman provided a startling new way to look at the issue. He said, “If people like you who support people like me do not stay to press change from within, it will never happen. The Supreme Court has assured that. If a boy who begins as a 7-year-old Cub Scout realizes he is a 13-year-old gay teen, who will he turn to if there are no sympathetic adults?”

On Thursday, some of that change came in the vote by the 1,400-member national board, of which I am a member. It was hardly all that I desired; the BSA will for now continue to ban gay adult members, and will not officially allow local councils and troops to set their own policies accepting gays. I believe that is just as wrong as banning gay youth. It would be silly if it were not so sad to consider the plight ahead for boys who work so hard to become Eagle Scouts, many of them just before their 18th birthday, only to be told a few months or weeks later that they are no longer welcome.

But given the passions and rancor, which included riding past a mile of “no” protesters on the way to the national meeting, it was more than a cup half full. For all of the resistance, forces have been unleashed that are leading ultimately to more changes to come. Before the vote, many people spoke to the national meeting about the need for change. They included:

  • An African-American man told of being in a segregated troop in the South in the 1950s. “They learned to accept us and we will learn to accept gay Scouts,” he said.

  • A Jewish man spoke of being a religious minority, how much he appreciated being accepted by the majority, and how that made him sympathetic to the difficulties faced by being a sexual minority.

  • Two college-age youth members, the National Venturing President and the Northeast Region Venturing President, reported that their peers, the youth membership, “did not care” if another Scout was gay and strongly urged inclusion.

  • A Mormon woman reported that in discussions with her 12-year-old grandson, a Scout, that he did not mind at all tenting with a gay Scout. “After all, Grandma,” he said, “Gay people are everywhere you know.”

  • An adult Mormon Scout leader from upstate New York spoke of the devastating impact the exclusionary policy was having on his council’s ability to fund-raise. If this resolution failed, his council would have to sell substantial properties. He begged his colleagues from more conservative regions to be mindful of the economic impact their votes would have on those trying to promote Scouting in more liberal areas.

  • A Scout leader reported on a conversation he had on the plane ride to Texas. He sat next to an Eagle Scout who was a Navy submariner. The Navy man reported on his recent experience with the military’s removal of the "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy that banned gays from serving openly. Immediately after the policy was lifted, four men on his submarine came out as gay. A submarine is very close quarters. In fact, they have a tradition they call “hot beds.” On submarines, the crew works in shifts, and each bed is used by several men in turn, as they get off their work shift and get a chance to sleep. There was not one ripple of discontent or controversy when the four gay men came out. He felt if the military can handle this change, surely the BSA can as well.

  • A Philadelphia lawyer reminded the group that “each child is made in God’s image.”

It is clear these forces now extend well beyond the liberal confines of Cambridge, where I serve Scout Troop and Venture Crew 56 and where we all wore rainbow knots to show our support for inclusive Scouting. Defending Scouting in the face of outdated social bigotry has become untenable in all but the most conservative reaches. Too many leaders like me all around the nation were wasting countless hours every September trying to convince prospective new families — often in vain — to stick with a program that is a terrific builder of character and respect for the outdoors, in the hopes that it would become truly inclusive. Even among some families that did join, the national policies fed into larger fears that the Boy Scouts were more a myopic, militaristic, and moribund group than a character-building, outdoors-respecting, 21st century organization.

As most people know, the dam between bigotry and modern times broke over the last year with incidents such as the kicking out of lesbian Cub den leader Jennifer Tyrell in Ohio and the denials of Eagle Scout rank to California’s Ryan Andresen. With several Fortune 500 corporations saying they would no longer fund the Scouts, with “don’t ask, don’t tell” ending in the military, and with President Obama publicly saying it was time for the Scouts to end discrimination, today’s vote would have been a disaster for Scouting had it gone the other way.

But we are still left with a headache. Today’s vote was like a dose of aspirin that eased the severity but does not yet cure the disease. But I am heartened that in the most unsuspecting places, I see even more change coming. The next move should be to let local units fully drop the ban if they wish.

My best example comes from my many trips to the BSA’s Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, either as an adviser to four youth mountain treks or other trips for adult training and teaching. In those trips I have met scores of adult leaders from all over the nation, including many from the so-called bible belt of Southern and Midwestern America.

The mountain treks involve 10 nights of backpacking and in the evenings adults gather on porches in the backcountry for private time away from the youth. Several Scoutmasters and Venturing advisers told us over and over again, even if they personally supported the gay ban, that it was time to drop it because it was killing youth membership and corporate fundraising. With youth membership now under 2.7 million from 5 million in the 1970s, and with Cub membership, the biggest single segment of Scouting, falling the fastest, Scouters from states like Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas told me it was better to adapt to the times and allow gay members rather than risk a national collapse of Scouting by keeping gays out.

That sentiment was reflected by a 2-to-1 margin Thursday.

Somewhere out there, I hope the silver-haired gay scout reads this. You were right. Change can happen from the inside.

Michelle D. Holmes is an associate professor of medicine and epidemiology Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health. As an officer of Boston Minuteman Council and the Northeast Region of the Boy Scouts of America, she held one of the 1,400 votes at this week’s national BSA meeting. Her youngest son Tano Holmes is an Eagle Scout.

Critics quick to attack Obama administration, but its inquiry into AP was justified

May 15, 2013 01:17 PM

As the controversy over the Department of Justice’s leak probe into the phone lines of Associated Press reporters grows, it’s important to separate legitimate concerns about the scope of the probe with the clear need for the investigation in the first place. Excessive freak-outs by those who liken the Obama administration’s behavior to Watergate fancifully ignore that the investigation was authorized by law as part of an inquiry into a serious crime. Congress could change the rules to prohibit any such infiltration of a media outlet, but that would require the Justice Department’s critics to actually delineate a line so sacrosanct that investigators can never cross it, no matter how damaging the leak. Attorney General Eric Holder’s foes are criticizing the AP search, but where would they draw the line?

I cannot judge the scope or depth of the investigation. It sounds like a lot of seizures, but without some comparative analysis, it isn’t clear whether DOJ started with a few and then expanded its inquiry to more lines as the investigation got bigger. I’m not bothered by claims that investigators picked up pizza orders or calls to friends; by their nature, investigations will pick up more information than is necessary. Under the rules, extraneous information is discarded.

The main reason why it’s important to distinguish criticisms of the scope of investigations from the existence of the investigation is because, unless we do, we risk forgetting why the Justice Department started the investigation in the first place. When the 2012 AP story first broke about an intelligence asset within a terrorist cell that was providing information about a pending plot, I wrote that the leak was jaw dropping. I do not think there is a single historical example of a news organization having and publishing specific and detailed information about a covert operation involving human intelligence. There still seems to be some question about whether the AP’s story led to the pulling of the asset, or whether his removal was already planned, but Britain, which helped coordinate the spy, seems to think the former.

When the story broke, I urged an independent investigation. Ironically, so did Republicans who thought Obama was just trying to strut his stuff by disclosing how cool his counterterrorism efforts were. It is clear, however, that the leak was unauthorized and damaging. I believed then, as I still do now, that the leak must have been some consequence of a fight between the CIA and DOD over who gets control over covert operations; at the time of the disclosure, and to a certain extent now, the bureaucratic fighting continues over this next phase of counterterrorism operations.

The leak may have represented a very dangerous attempt by someone inside the intelligence community to get credit for his agency. He or she may also have leaked it to counter the Obama administration’s claims that there was no heightened security threat at the time of the anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death.

Nonetheless, the leak wasn’t just an inside-the-Beltway jab at political enemies, and the story that resulted wasn’t about infighting in the national security staff. The information cut to the heart of how America fights its enemies and the resources it uses to do so. An agent of ours had infiltrated a terrorist cell. He is no longer in the inner circle. The leaker may be to blame. And the investigation that has everyone up in arms was completely justified.

Debate the scope of the search? Fine. But let’s not doubt the need for the search itself.

Juliette Kayyem is a Globe columnist. She was assistant secretary of homeland security in the Obama Administration. Follow her on Twitter @juliettekayyem.

Correction: An earlier version of this column incorrectly characterized the Justice Department’s investigation as involving wiretaps. There were no wiretaps as part of the probe.

Police and FBI working together is the least the public expects — not something to brag about

April 16, 2013 12:54 PM

This morning’s update to the press on the Boston Marathon offered little in the way of new details — or comfort for that matter. The central message from Governor Patrick and leading law enforcement officials continues to be how well the federal, state, and local police are working together to solve the bombing that left three dead and more than 150 injured. Are they actually concerned that the biggest public fear right now is that various law enforcement agencies will undermine the overall investigation by failing to keep one another informed of developments?

FBI Special Agent Rick DesLauriers hinted that someone might be in custody. Police Commissioner Edward Davis later said that no one is in custody. It is this and other questions related to the identities of suspects and motives for the bombing that are dominating the public conversation right. Press conferences with guarded officials are rarely informative. But this one was especially opaque. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren made her own unhelpful contribution when she told reporters that President Obama reached out to Massachusetts officials with promises of aid before they needed to appeal to him.

Any law enforcement agents who put ego ahead of national security learned their lessons on Sept, 11, 2001. The public expects that the FBI, State Police, and local police will work together selflessly at a time of great danger. The public also expects the president’s full attention following a major terror incident. God help us if this is news.

Lawrence Harmon is a Globe columnist.

Menino helped move Boston past old fault lines of race and religion

March 29, 2013 02:48 PM

When he came to office in 1993 Thomas Menino, may have understood better than many that Boston had to change. He was, after all, a member of an ethnic minority and Boston’s first Italian-American mayor. He understood that the old battles across the fault lines of Yankee and Irish, town and gown, black and white, native and immigrant, Catholic and Protestant, Southie and Roxbury, public and parochial (and now charter), gay and straight, downtown and neighborhood were making Boston increasingly dysfunctional. Lots of people were working on building bridges across those divides; but it made a major difference to have a mayor who consistently and effectively talked about and worked on bringing this city together.

From public safety coalitions to educational reform initiatives, from rebuilding streets decimated by old riots to fostering a new innovation district, there’s been a consistent focus on making Boston a place of welcome and opportunity for everyone. Has he done it flawlessly? No way. Thomas Menino is very human, not divine. But he has left his successor a great legacy of partnerships that can help this city tackle its educational, employment, housing, climate, and other challenges.

I’ll never forget sitting in the mayor’s office and asking him about an upcoming election. On the streets and in the media people were bemoaning and wringing their hands over the prospect of old racial and gender animosities being stirred up once again. The mayor, six months in advance, dismissed the conventional wisdom and correctly called the winner of the election. He said, “It doesn’t matter what people say. Boston has changed.” This city has changed and this city is poised for even greater and better change. And when that change comes it will, in no small measure, reflect the leadership of a mayor named Tom Menino.

The Rev. Ray A. Hammond is pastor of Bethel AME Church in Jamaica Plain.

Menino watched over the city's finances

March 29, 2013 09:49 AM

The mayor was always concerned about the little things in the city. I remember getting calls from him at 11pm because a thought had woken him up, something that needed to be looked at or needed to be corrected. It could be a property on Hyde Park Ave. or over in Bowdoin-Geneva, just something he noticed as he moved around the city that stuck with him. And I’d look at the money I had and what kind of result it could get and I knew it wouldn’t be enough for him. If we had a dollar to spend, he wanted a buck and a half back. I’d be satisfied with $1.10, but he wasn’t.

What many people don’t remember is Menino, when he was on the City Council, he chaired the Ways and Means Committee for years. He understands municipal finance and the city budget better than just about anyone. Back when he first came to office, the mayor told me he was afraid that financial trouble or a drop in the city’s bond rating could inhibit moving the city forward. He said, “I won’t let any financial problem slow improvements down.” And he didn’t. That could be seen as one of his greatest accomplishments. The mayor did a terrific job that has let the city improve the schools, improve the streets, convince companies it is a good, solid place to put money. I recently read Boston is now the sixth most economically powerful cities in the world. That’s because of how well he’s managed the city’s money, the taxpayers’ money.

Back in 1992, when I still called him Tommy, he was considering a run for Congress. I said to him, “Tommy, you’re not interested in this. If you could do anything in the world, what would it be?” He immediately responded, be the mayor of the city of Boston. How many people do you know whose dreams come true like that? He made it happen because he loves the city so much.

Architect John Eade ran Boston’s Inspectional Services Department from 1994 to 1998. He spoke with Kathleen Kingsbury.

Menino welcomed diversity to Boston

March 29, 2013 09:45 AM

I met Tom Menino in 1993, the year before I won a seat in the state legislature. I’ve always admired his straight talk and wry humor, his unpretentious personality and his commitment to public service. I liked that he enjoyed the company of regular folk as I did— we would joke that we preferred a community meeting to a black tie affair, any day.

In 1999, the mayor invited me to join his administration, and I worked with him for eight years as chief of housing and director of the department of neighborhood development. Together we tackled revitalization projects and spearheaded an initiative to create a comprehensive housing blueprint for Boston called Leading the Way.

He is a man of action— full of energy, with a great capacity for hard work. He pushed the envelope on social issues. He ventured into sections of the city, which had historically been overlooked— and he invested in those communities. He has made Boston a more open and accessible place, welcoming diversity and helping the city move beyond its history of racial strife. He welcomed gays, immigrants, women, and people of color into his administration. He cared about the plight of low-income families and the homeless, and showed a special compassion for children and teens.

Years after I left my job with the city, I joined a national organization that helps reconnect young people who have gotten off track with education and jobs. In 2011, the mayor co-sponsored a resolution urging Congress to restore funding to the federal YouthBuild program. This issue was right up his alley and he took immediate action, always the public servant, ready to lend a helping hand.

Thank you, Mayor Menino, for building a better Boston. Because of your stewardship, we have a stronger city and a better place to live.

Charlotte Golar Richie, a former member of the Menino administration, is the senior vice president for public policy, advocacy and government relations for YouthBuild USA.

Menino’s best skill? Staying out of the way of progress

March 28, 2013 05:37 PM

It may all seem like ancient history now — how many young people even know there was such a thing as the elevated Central Artery? — but in the mid-1990s, at the beginning of Mayor Menino’s tenure, Boston was ripe with change and promise. The population flight had clearly bottomed out, as young professionals and aging boomers clamored for cosmopolitan amenities. There was the Big Dig, the Silver Line, the burying of the Green Line in front of a new Boston Garden (anybody remember the elevated?), air rights proposals for the Mass Pike, a new or refurbished Fenway Park, a new downtown stadium proposed for the Patriots, a new convention center, proposals to reinvent urban renewal-era spaces like City Hall Plaza — and above all, the frontier of the South Boston Waterfront, now known as the Seaport. The Globe was sending reporters like myself all around to look at what other cities were doing to activate their industrial waterfronts. And in the middle of it all was Menino, who was continually asked, what's your vision? How is all of this going to come together? The urban mechanic was thought to be a natural at urban planning. "I'm into this. Really," he said after one meeting on the Seaport Public Realm Plan that covered sidewalk widths, parking, and terms like "water sheet" and "view corridors."

I don't think it ever truly inspired him, though — the physical planning of the city. At least not in the sense of a Robert Moses or a Kevin White, the latter with his talk of a New Boston. Now, he famously controlled lots of aspects of building and development in this city, from neighborhood building codes to close relationships with key builders. No development got done in Boston without the mayor's blessing. And yes, he required new sksycrapers to have more interesting tops. But the big-picture placemaking — somehow that just never seemed truly compelling to him. At a groundbreaking outside City Hall, the mayor ran into Doug Foy, who at that time served on the commission redesigning the lifeless plaza — and asked Foy what in the world he was doing there. Other mayors — Richard Daley of Chicago comes to mind — thought big and talked bigger, conjuring an inspiring vision that would make the metropolis like no other. When the urban design consultants showed their slides, Menino would just as likely look at his watch.

The big question, though, is whether any of that mattered. Menino didn't plan like Daniel Burnham or Baron Haussmann; the city simply transformed all around him. The success of the Seaport right now cannot be attributed to any plan (the public realm plan focused on Fan Pier; the smash hit is many blocks away up Northern Boulevard, where Jimmy's Harborside used to be). The city is fresh and new, from the Garden to the Gardner Museum addition. More is on the way, like the Government Center garage. Often he was surgical in his interventions, to great effect — ushering in the Millennium tower at lower Washington Street, for example, or making his support plain for the restoration of the Paramount and Opera House theaters. He was a little bit late to green building, but the city is now arguably a leader. His embrace of food trucks and the bike-share program is right there on the cutting edge of hipster planning. For the future, he has wisely insisted that future development take into account the impacts of climate change, most notably sea level rise. These are more subtle turns of knobs and dials.

Some, like the self-trained urbanist Jane Jacobs, argue that cities flourish best when they are allowed to be more self-organizing. In terms of the physical city, to a large degree, Menino let Boston happen. In not spending too much time on grand pronouncements or bold visions of metropolitan coherence, it is possible the mayor had it right all along.

Anthony Flint is a fellow at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. He was a reporter in the Globe's City Hall Bureau from 1997-2000. Follow him on Twitter @anthonyflint.

Newton mayor Setti Warren on what Tom Menino taught him about governing

March 28, 2013 05:05 PM

When I first became mayor of Newton, I had a chance to meet with Boston Mayor Tom Menino. I thought it was going to be a very brief courtesy meeting. But it turned into a 45-minute talk about how to be an effective mayor and public servant. We talked about everything from his initiative on gun violence, which I joined, to some of the new innovative practices on citizen outreach he put into place.

In that meeting, he really emphasized the importance of giving kids opportunities. One of the things I'm pushing this summer is internships for local kids. I got that idea from him. He advised me that it’s important to have the long-term view, but it's vital to be on the ground. Certainly that’s the way he conducted himself as mayor. On a personal level I appreciated his friendship and advice. From a professional standpoint, having him as a role model for municipal government was a real opportunity.

He and I have had a lot of time to spend with each other, and one of the things I learned is that he developed this great friendship with Pedro Martinez. I used to love watching Pedro pitch, so to hear the mayor talk about him as a friend was a great surprise to me. This is a guy who can be friends with a future Hall of Fame pitcher, but can also relate to the local person in the neighborhood that has no fame or wealth. They are both just as important to him. I really enjoyed that authentic way about the mayor, how he had friends like Pedro, but at the same time he treated people from Dorchester and Southie with the same respect.

Setti Warren is the mayor of Newton.

Menino made Bostonians proud of their city

March 28, 2013 04:20 PM

When I arrived in Boston in 1972, it was a decrepit city of the past. Sure, it had great universities and hospitals, but, by and large, residents of greater Boston were ashamed of what it had become, and many wanted to get out. Not any longer. Over the past twenty years, Boston has established itself as world-class, and nobody is laughing at the idea. Billions of dollars are being spent to build housing for the tens of thousands wanting to move into the city. The fact that this turnaround happened in such a short period of time is a tribute to Tom Menino.

But to just talk about the success of the downtown areas misses the mayor’s true essence. It’s a usually a hackneyed phrase when you say that a politician “never forgot where he came from,” but it was never truer than for Tom Menino. Boston mayors have much power, which has seduced some into a sense that they can go for a different brass ring near a different river, or to be the king of the “downtown” world.

Not this mayor. Tom Menino never lost interest in the daily goings-on of our local neighborhoods. He seems to know everything that’s happening in the smallest corners of the city, and with the people who live there. He lights up when meeting and talking to local young people. And he never fails to mention that community health centers are as important a part of Boston as the great teaching hospitals, or that the Ferdinand Building development in Dudley Square is more important than the new downtown skyscrapers.

Mayor Menino cares particularly for residents of low-income neighborhoods, and he is personally offended that poverty is allowed to exist in our country. His focus on changing this has made the dramatic improvement in the neighborhoods of Boston his most important legacy.

Dorchester activist Bill Walczak is Vice President of Shawmut Design and Construction.

Menino made development work for the whole city, not just downtown

March 28, 2013 02:53 PM

The cranes rising above Boston’s Seaport district mark the spot where Boston Mayor Tom Menino’s legacy looks to be rising. The Seaport that Menino inherited 20 years ago consisted of hundreds of acres of rotting piers, windswept parking lots, and shabby brick warehouses. He will leave City Hall with gleaming new restaurants, apartments, and office towers rising along the waterfront, and the old warehouses buzzing with young tech firms. This part of Menino’s development legacy stands out, because it’s both obvious and hugely tangible. But focusing on what Menino built crowds out his real accomplishment, which was changing the relationship between Boston neighborhoods and downtown development.

Roiling tension over development defined Menino’s predecessors. Kevin White built the Financial District and saved Faneuil Hall, but left office caricatured as a downtown mayor. Ray Flynn framed his successful 1983 mayoral run against White’s downtown focus, arguing that he would return City Hall’s focus to the city’s neighborhoods. Flynn’s opponent, Mel King, tacked in the same direction.

Menino became the first modern Boston mayor to straddle both these worlds. For all his efforts to cast himself as an urban mechanic focused on the nuts-and-bolts minutiae of city government, Menino relished the role as city-builder as much as White did. He relished the small details of development, as when he famously picked out the crown-like structure now sitting atop the office tower at 111 Huntington Ave. And he enabled the new development in the Seaport, a legacy-building project as big as anything White did downtown.

Mayoral boosters shouldn’t just celebrate the fact that development is happening in Boston. Development should flow to any city that, like Boston, enjoys a deep concentration of important academic and medical institutions. Cambridge is currently enjoying a building boom that’s similar in scope to the one underway in Boston. The fact that city manager-led Cambridge has pulled off this feat without the services of Menino, or any mayor to speak of, shows the extent to which political leaders enjoy credit for economic forces largely beyond their control. Developers will rush to build in Boston, regardless of who the next mayor is. What matters is what cities do with the development business they attract. This is where Menino’s building legacy lies.

Menino found a way to tie massive downtown construction projects to the brand of small-ball, neighborhood-level politics that enabled him to dominate Boston for 20 years. Instead of making downtown development a zero-sum game, he seeded the benefits of downtown construction throughout neighborhoods.

Menino greatly expanded a system of linkage payments that Flynn instituted. The linkage payments funnel cash from downtown developments into neighborhood-improvement projects like affordable housing projects. Menino also ruled over an affordable housing quota system that requires private housing developers to construct a minimum number of affordable units in every project they build. The linkage payments and affordable housing quotas work toward the same ends — they socialize private development, and spread the benefits of construction through the city.

Paul McMorrow is an associate editor at CommonWealth Magazine. His column appears regularly in the Globe.

In post-9/11 era, Menino pushed back against federal security officials

March 28, 2013 01:55 PM

Though many aspects of Mayor Tom Menino’s tenure will be evaluated and reevaluated, one that doesn’t get much attention is how often Menino has taken on the federal government’s security apparatus — no matter which political party is in charge — when he thinks its actions aren’t good for Boston.

Menino hates the liquefied natural gas tankers that come into Boston Harbor, believing them to be a potential risk to the city. It was bad enough when the ships were coming in from Trinidad; when I was in federal government and involved with the decision to allow a ship to come from Yemen periodically, Menino made it publicly clear he had a lot of questions. Allowing the Yemeni tanker was a change that Menino demanded we make only with utmost care (including assessments of the facility in Yemen) and with a lot of security. And, of course, the feds would pay for both.

On immigration, Menino has pushed back at both the Bush and Obama administrations. He famously gave Bush’s former immigration director a public scolding for her approval of a massive immigration raid in New Bedford in 2007.

Later, under Obama, Menino became one of the most vocal local opponents of Secure Communities, an effort by the Department of Homeland Security to utilize local law enforcement to determine the immigration status of those detained or booked. It has been a controversial program, and Menino always felt that any good from it (for example, being able to deport serious criminal offenders) was far outweighed by the harm it might do to local policing efforts and the outreach to new Bostonians. He's periodically deployed police chief Edward F. Davis to Washington to make the case that the program was hindering police by alienating the immigrant community.

Menino has viewed the safety and security of his city less through the lens of homeland security and more as hometown security. He simply never cared when federal security officials showed up, wrapped in the mantra of 9/11, to claim dominance. For him, the safety of the city has been personal.

Juliette Kayyem served as assistant secretary for intergovernmental affairs at the Department of Homeland Security, and was Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick’s homeland security advisor.

Menino made the city his extended family

March 28, 2013 01:21 PM

My years of working with, for, and even against Tom Menino go back four decades, to the days when we would huddle on Sunday nights in a small East Boston room to work out campaign strategy for then-mayoral candidate Joe Timilty. In later years we found ourselves serving together on the Boston City Council, and even briefly running against each other for mayor. I remain convinced that one of his secrets to his success is that he always considered the city of Boston to be his extended family.

What is it about his approach that makes the analogy work? For one, just try to say something bad about Boston, his city, in front of him. He can be critical of the city, but, like a member of a family, he won’t stand for anyone else doing so.

Much is made of how Menino can be gruff, or how he yells at people with whom he's unhappy. I never understood this concern, perhaps because I have seen it from an upfront and close perspective.

We’ve all gotten angry or raised our voices with our kids. Why? It’s because we love them and disagree with what they’re doing. It was always clear to me that if Tom Menino cared about you, he would occasionally get angry with you. Over the years, it has happened to a lot of us, but I never felt it was mean or personal, but rather, it reminded me that, as a Bostonian, I was a small part of what he considered his extended family.

There’s no escaping your family. Whether you find yourself in the same house or not, they belong to you and you to them. Similarly, whether Tom Menino is in City Hall or not, he belongs to Boston and Boston belongs to him. It is this simple fact that makes him, in my humble opinion, Boston’s greatest mayor.

Come January, when he leaves the building, he’ll never be very far away, and will still have much to contribute to us all. Here’s hoping he still occasionally picks up the phone to yell at me for a long time to come!

John A. Nucci is a former Boston City Councilor at-large, former Boston School Committee president, former clerk-magistrate of Suffolk County Superior Court, and currently serves as vice president for government and community affairs at Suffolk University.

A modest proposal: Cities should clear snow from sidewalks instead of plowing streets

March 18, 2013 04:28 PM

If a snowstorm hits New England on Tuesday, as now forecast, cities and towns should try an unorthodox approach when snow starts piling up on the streets: leave it there, and plow the sidewalks instead.
Winter storms normally prompt a heroic effort to clear streets — after the February blizzard, for instance, Boston deployed 678 plows and diggers to excavate the city from 2 feet of snow.

But this time, why not try a radically historic approach? Let drivers fend for themselves.

The idea is not as alien as it might seem. Plowing was unheard of until the automobile. In the winter, a wheeled carriage was switched out with a sleigh. Likewise, cars can be equipped to deal with snow. Drivers can put chains on their tires. Perhaps in the future every vehicle should also be required to have its own salt sprayer, the way every property owner is now required to shovel their own sidewalk.

More fundamentally, why is it that private citizens are now responsible for digging out sidewalks, while municipalities plow the roads for vehicles at great expense? Mayor Menino has said the car is no longer king in Boston, but you wouldn't know it from the way the city uses its resources on snowy days.

Certainly, treatment of pedestrians has improved in other respects. Drivers have to stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk. Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act, curbs increasingly have wheelchair-accessible ramps.

But these rules cease to mean anything when someone with a wheelchair or a walker or a pair of sneakers can't get off the sidewalk and across the street because of snow blocking their way. The problem is that snowplows often "clear" the streets for drivers by pushing snow onto the sidewalk.

Obviously, cities aren’t really going to quit plowing streets anytime soon. But if the idea seems too outlandish, here's a less radical request: If my neighbors and I shovel our sidewalks for each other, the city should at least clear the crosswalks. The weakest link in the chain of pedestrian transit infrastructure shouldn't be the same one taxpaying pedestrians spend millions of dollars to clear: the streets.

Zach Youngerman is a master of city planning student at MIT in the City Design and Development group.

Photo by Zach Youngerman: Snow blocks a crosswalk in Harvard Square after February's blizzard.

Can Boston ever be a 24-hour city?

February 26, 2013 12:59 PM

Sometimes, you just want to get a burger, or go shopping, or work out late at night — especially if you've got the kind of job that keeps you at your desk into the wee hours. But Boston is famous, or infamous, for closing down early. Maybe it's our Puritan heritage. Maybe it's the memories of the seedy old Combat Zone. Whatever the reason, it's an inconvenience to a small but potentially significant slice of the workforce.

On the Globe editorial page this week, we've been talking about ways to make Boston more welcoming to people who aren't from here — most obviously, the kind of people who come to the area for college and are tempted to decamp right after graduation. Accommodating people who stay up late is an obvious one. But while the rules vary from neighborhood to neighborhood, businesses that want to stay open into the wee hours tend to need special permission.

We're not talking only — or even primarily — about keeping bars open later. (Don't get me started on that subject.) The Globe's editorial Tuesday leads with an unsuccessful effort to keep the Boston Sports Club on Boylston Street open all night. Even though neighbors didn't object — which is noteworthy in the Back Bay, where people keep a wary eye on anything that might even conceivably disturb the peace — the idea still fell short at the city's Zoning Board of Appeals. As our editorial noted, this is totally out of whack with what a globally competitive 21st-century city needs:

...just because a need doesn’t register with the board of appeals — a seven-member group appointed by the mayor — or with the city’s elected leadership doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. When stores and restaurants shut down at night, life gets difficult for people who work long hours, or odd hours. Among the pillars of Boston’s economy are institutions where 9-to-5 hours are rare — hospitals with overnight shifts; financial firms whose employees make deals in faraway time zones; and law firms whose billable-hour requirements keep attorneys at their desks deep into the night. Boston’s recent play for more tech firms, which abound with entrepreneurs who work late, only adds to the need for spots to shop, exercise, and get a bite to eat after 11 p.m.

The big question, though, is what it'll take to keep Boston open later. The people who are most likely to vote and speak up at public meetings are change-averse; the city's elected leaders know that — and most of those officials probably weren't night owls to begin with. So can this situation get any better?

Twitter: @danteramos

Manti Te'o might not be guilty of hoax, but his endorsement career has taken a hit

January 25, 2013 12:54 PM

Manti Te’o and Katie Couric have the same publicist, which goes a long way toward explaining how Couric — as opposed to, say, Oprah — landed the first on-camera interview with Te’o yesterday on her syndicated talk show, “Katie.” It was an unmitigated success for Couric, whose ratings soared to their highest levels since her show’s debut. She has been praised for her willingness to ask follow-up questions, and for the fact that she seemed tough, channeling a nation’s skepticism about the world’s weirdest supposed love-story hoax.

Couric wasn’t Oprah, so she didn’t have that grand bearing, that Oprah-esque way of suggesting that someone has Wronged The Nation and Must Be Set Right.
But then, Te’o didn’t wrong a nation so much as he confused and unwittingly entertained it. So Couric’s demeanor fit: She was more like your high school friend’s nice-but-nosy mom, who would sit you down at the kitchen table and pour you a Coke and ask you probing questions about your life. With Te’o, she couldn’t believe the answers — not because she’s a journalist with a killer instinct, but because she’s a human being with a normal amount of sense in her head.

That’s why it’s hard to sort out whether the interview was good for Te’o himself. In the long run, it might not matter. His future depends on sheer athletic meritocracy: How well he performs in the NFL draft, how well he fares as a linebacker on the field. After that, the only question that remains will be how many shoe or sport-drink companies would want to endorse a guy who was either perpetrator or victim of a famous faux romance.

After his turn on “Katie,” I’m pretty well convinced that he’s the victim. If he played a part, he would have to be a good actor, which means he would have attempted to betray some sort of anger — or at least, some sign of synapses clicking — when Couric outlined the extent of the hoax. Te’o didn’t act defensive. He didn’t seem to care. Lance Armstrong was more demonstrative. Te’o only perked up once, when he denied that he was gay. (“FAR from it,” he said.)

The performance certainly supports the official Notre Dame storyline, which is that Te’o was pure victim, incapable — for whatever reason you want to impute — of taking part in such a swindle. “Trusting” was the code word that Notre Dame’s athletic director used, though I’m not sure whether he meant “gullible” or “incapable of complex thought.” Either way, I wouldn’t mind him on my football team, but I’m not sure I’d trust his sneaker recommendations.

Too bad Zipcar isn't taking over Avis

January 2, 2013 02:15 PM

If Zipcar were buying Avis, instead of the other way around, the Cambridge-based car-sharing company's fans would be happier today than they are.

This should be good news. The car rental giant's $500 million purchase of Zipcar is great for stockholders, since Avis is offering 49 percent more per share than Zipcar's closing price Friday. In theory, the takeover is also a half-billion-dollar validation of the idea of car sharing; what once seemed like a utopian social experiment increasingly looks like a mainstream, even essential service for city dwellers who only drive every so often. It should help that Avis buys a lot of cars; Zipcar will be able to buy vehicles more cheaply and make more of them available at peak times. Avis, in turn, gains a foothold in a growing business that archrival Hertz is also pursuing aggressively.

What the car-rental giants need, though, is an infusion of the convenience and low-hassle ethos that new companies like Zipcar offer. Whatever else it is, Zipcar is a response to common frustrations with the conventional car-rental industry — the Soviet-style lines at the rental-car desk, the paperwork, the stiff gasoline charges, the so-called "reservations" that might or might not involve the actual reserving of a vehicle. It would be intriguing to watch entrepreneurs with a start-up mindset try to reinvent the car rental industry; but if the car-rental industry reinvents the likes of Zipcar, it won't be a pretty sight.

For now, Zipcar will operate separately from Avis and remain in the Boston area. The car-sharing company will go through with plans to move from Cambridge to Boston's Innovation District, news reports indicate. Yet these provisions in merger agreements tend to erode over time. Corporate convenience is a powerful force: Executives want to keep a closer eye on the new division they spent a pile of money to acquire; companies feel pressure to save on rent and travel costs. The $50 million to $70 million in "synergies" that Avis is projecting has to come from somewhere. And soon enough, what began as a hip urban start-up ends up as yet another set of cubicles at Avis headquarters in a Parsippany, N.J., office park.

It doesn't help that Avis has a long history of mergers and acquisitions that serve no obvious business purpose; the company itself has been bought and sold more than a dozen times, often to ill effect. Customers and transportation planners alike should hope Zipcar fares better.

Twitter: @danteramos

Narrow focus on New Delhi incident misses scope of India's rape crisis

December 20, 2012 03:43 PM

It is for good reason that New Delhi, the capital city of India, is being hailed by the national media as the "rape capital" of the country. On Monday evening, after a movie trip with her male friend, a 23-year-old-woman was raped and beaten mercilessly in a moving bus by five men, while her friend was battered for protesting. They were stripped naked and were thrown out of the moving bus. The woman now is now battling for her life in a hospital; her damaged intestines had to be removed to prevent gangrene. Angry protesters have taken to the streets and online social media to vent their ire. This year alone, close to 600 rapes have taken place in New Delhi.

India’s National Crime Records Bureau data for 2011 states that 37,929 people were arrested on charges on rape. Five per cent of those arrested were released before any trial. And for those that do go to trial, the rate of conviction is distressingly low. New Delhi is worst by nearly every measure.

By Tuesday, a shocking video was circulating across social networking sites: a news channel camera recorded a car full of men leering at the young woman journalist from the same channel, who was, at that time, reporting about the gang-rape from the streets in New Delhi. With the car's license plate number in hand and the men captured on camera, would they be arrested for violating India’s indecency laws? Unlikely, as the NCRB data shows.

ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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