Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Boston Would-Be Mayors Back in School

Of the dozen candidates, those who didn't go to Boston Latin School at least seemed to have had kids who graduated from it (as do I). In yesterday's speed campaigning there, they were political pinballs, banging into one classroom after the other for 10-minute pitches...before that annoying class bell moved them along.

Those with BLS connections mentioned them up front, which may or may not have impressed the 15 or so students and a sprinkling of teachers and other adults.

Truth be told, the ideal of 120 minutes of snappy patter from candidates ended up two-thirds of that. New Boston League of Women Voters President Pam Julian staged a remarkable event in a short time, planning it, coordinating with 12 campaigns, squeezing BLS for access, overseeing the school's Ward Fellows, promoting it, and managing the process live. Still several candidates were late and time didn't care or pause. We had to wrap up by 4:30 and be out by 5. So there.

Nonetheless, we did get to keep our butts in desk chairs while the hopefuls brought their acts to us. As a former BLS and BLA parent, I found it such a welcome reversal of those parent/teacher nights where we queued up and hustled to each room on our kids' skeds. Even in the candidate intros in the oversized grotto that is the BLS auditorium, there was pleasure in knowing you were there for the relatively short stand-when-I-introduce-you session, as each candidate played Jack-in-the-box.

It was not one of those three hour or longer BLS music nights we used to endure. Those were all in the guise of fundraising and had one of my sons not been performing, I would much rather have written a check and stayed home.

I confess that I was still engaging in magical thinking. This election of 12 mayoral, 8 D5 council, 19 at-large council might-be types is confusing. While each race has obvious chaff that falls to the floor, there's enough wheat to make us undecided. So, I thought that even as a high-information voter, I might see the ah-ha angle of each of the dozen. When it became obvious I'd only see angles of eight of them, I still had some hope of clarity.

Among things I learned yesterday were:

  1. Eighth graders at BLS have obvious limits. In my room at least, they were not versed in basic politics and asked very narrow, LITE questions. The most popular was, "Can I have your autograph?" from two girls who were collecting each. One boy was on a green-energy kick and would ask what the candidate's policy would be as mayor.
  2. Candidates varied widely on whether they spoke to the students like adults or condescended to them.
  3. Who I am far outweighed what I'd do in the 10-minute skits.

Per-Candidate Snaps

My room did not get visits from Charles Clemons, Charles Yancey, Felix Arroyo or John Barros. Also John Connolly is not in the snaps. While all candidates were headed to a transportation forum, he left earliest. A not-too-trained minion, who appeared to be recently out of high school, stood in for him, poorly. She admitted she couldn't give his stump speech and barely managed to mumble for three minutes. Seriously, she pitched him by saying he wanted to add compost to the trash and recycling weekly pickups. She also lacked a pol's grace when one of the girls asked for he autograph; she turned a potential moment of humor and goodwill into an awkward exchange of why?

Bill Walczak is a résumé and inference candidate. He has no public-office experience. Instead he cites founding and running the Codman Square Health Center, the charter school inside it, and his very short time at the head of Carney Hospital. His accomplishments from his early 20s on have bolstered his confidence and ego mightily. In effect, the told us, "I'm a real CEO. The others are pale imitations, who have only recruited and managed small staff." He wants to build Boston to be the greatest city in the nation, and says his CEO expertise would let him do that. He stopped short of his usual stump-speech coda that he alone was the magician who would fix any problems we have. Of the dozen, he is decidedly the slickest in presentation and no one can say he lacks confidence.

David James (he always uses his middle name) Wyatt got his own post. He has been the mystery is-he-really-running? guy. I was pleased to get a bit of insight into him, although that just quadruple confirmed he's off my list.

Michael Ross seems to have some teen-girl following. I'm used to overhearing young women giggle about Felix Arroyo's good looks, but I caught some of that about Ross in the auditorium before the show, talk about needing to have a picture taken with him.

Ross had a very smooth personal intro, including his father being a holocaust/concentration-camp survivor. "If anyone has lived the American Dream, he has," he told the room. He added that going from nothing to the middle class, "shouldn't be easy, but it should be impossible."

He then crammed a lot of concepts and promises into his time. He proposed students being able to get one to one and one years of college credits in high-school, credits that they could use in various Boston-based universities. He got the students' attention with the idea of being about to get a degree in 3 or even 2.5 years instead of 4.

Moreover, he piled on voc-tech schools that could train teens for good, non-college-degree jobs. Then in the evening, they could do the same for adults. The college-bound BLS students were looking at their cell phones during this part.

Charlotte Golar Richie seemed to me to be very condescending, with almost Sesame Street diction to the students. That surprised me as she has children who have gone through BLS.

Apropos of nothing shy of her style, she had the only remarkable clothes other than Wyatt's man-on-a-park-bench slacks, shirt and scarf. She wore a nice pants suit and a bright red necklace but the statement was the bright gold heels on her black shoes. I'm a relative schlub, as were all the guys in standard suits.

Her 10 minutes though were far too LITE and general. She did claim as her one specific that she'd create a cabinet-level Office of Youth Affairs. She didn't say what that would really mean, but hey, she was specific here.

Otherwise, she claimed that she'd fix the schools by having excellent leaders in each. She even said she'd know "every one of the 127 principals." She'd find out what each intended to do to bring in partners from colleges, companies and parents. She didn't say how she'd find time and authority to do this, whether she'd find ways to dump duds, and how she'd manage to find and recruit 127 winners if necessary.

Rob Consalvo of course pitched his innovations and investment plans. His fellow City Councilors both admire and tease him for his constant discovery of and proposals for new concepts that have worked elsewhere.

He went strong with strong pledges of trans-neighborhood egalitarianism. Every neighborhood — and not just the ones best connected, heaviest voting or loudest — would share in investment in schools, safety and economic growth.

He spoke to his intent to create a cabinet-level Office of Innovation, Ideas, and Technology. For education, his major plank in the room was letting any school whose administration and parents wanted it to be a K-through-8 one to do so. Nearly everyone at BLS had been through the absurdity of grades 1 through 5 in one place and 6 in another before settling in. He noted that his kids are thriving in the Roosevelt's K-through-8 system.

As always, he was excited, personable and brimming with ideas.

Dan Conley remains, as Suffolk DA, the law-and-order guy. It's what he knows and it showed, largely in good ways. He concentrated though on education, including voc-tech and job-training programs. He was also candid in telling the students they should have longer school days.

Fundamental to school improvements, he did not stress that he was one of those strong charter-school advocates who wants to lift the cap on them. Instead he spoke of the importance of decentralizing the system. He wants to upend the decision making for schools, shifting the resources and methodology to the school level.

John Walsh's everyman persona played well. Perhaps because he started by describing himself as a lifelong Dorchester resident with a very middle-class experience and mentality. He's a 16-year state Rep. but wears that lightly.

For education, he started infrastructure, unlike the other candidates when they got to schools. He noted that too many of the city's school buildings went up between 1870 and 1927. He said as mayor, he'd upgrade these to enable them to serve the students and teachers adequately.

Another unusual proposal was creating trade apprenticeship programs. These would guarantee entry into jobs in those trades upon completion. He said he was a huge believer in helping people move into the middle class, which simultaneously would make for safer streets.

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