Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Term Limits for Clowns and Saints

I felt uncomfortable in the Rialto barber shop in Roslindale Square. It was Albert Dapper O'Neil's tonsorial parlor. The barbers, except for the youngish woman, spoke lovingly of him. That's no surprise, as he was often charming face to face and had an endless pouch of funny stories, which he whipped out both there and at Syl's across the square.

He, Jim Kelley, and Freddy Langone were each and all clown princes of the Boston City Council. At the relatively low level, they parlayed a meager set of talents — likability, wit, clannishness — into secondary or even primary careers.

Certainly they must have been class clowns, rewarded for their cleverness at knocking others. I remember during the worst of the condo conversions here, Jim Kelley was that smart-ass kid again. One time when I testified before his housing committee, he openly ridiculed the concept that renters deserved any consideration. He was deep in the pocket of mega-developer Jerome Jerry Rappaport and played to his benefactor shamelessly while running the committee.

Those three in particular were always eager to play to the cheap laugh. Of course, we all like a chuckle, particularly during serious meetings.

Anti Everything

Unfortunately, the jesters we like to reelect came with too much baggage far too often. In playing to the lowest common denominator, they tended to come down on the regressive side — anti-school integration, anti-busing, anti-gay, anti-marriage equality, anti-renter, pretty much anti-rights for others who didn't look and act like their idealized constituents. Hell, it worked for them. Hell, it was a living.

On the face of it, nothing precludes buffoons from being efficient, wise and compassionate politicians. It just doesn't seem to work that way. Instead, voters tend to cut these elected entertainers tremendous slack. They'll take very routine performance and say, "See, he's a really good Councilor. He had them fix the pothole on my block." For each Councilor who supported repressive policies, you can find dozens of supporters to pile praise.

Is this any way to run a major city's governing body? Our voters seem to think so and have long before that trio.

Councilors might bewail their alleged powerlessness. Oh, the Mayor is the real power or we have to beg the state for anything we want to do. Yet, they control the city's budget. When it comes down to it, none of them wants to give up the job...unless there's a shot at being mayor.

I've been tangentially involved with the mayor and councilors for decades. I've testified at committees and body hearings. I've approached numerous councilors or mayoral candidates on specific topics while they were in or running for office.

Tobin on Terms

I must say up front that I like my guy for JP. My district (6) councilor is brighter and gustier and more progressive than the clowns past or present. He's either not jaded or just came in with better stuff. He leads the battle for free WiFi for Beantown, he's on the good side of equality and GLBT issues, and he wants to change his job for the betterment of us all. He wants four year Councilor terms, so they spend more time and effort on their jobs and less campaigning...and he wants term limits for mayor and councilor.

Moreover, and on a personal note, he keeps us happy with constituent services. That's an overlap with the jokers, who understood that people remember the smallest favor. In my case, the most recent was that I a parking ticket issue. As a result, I noticed some bad regulatory language in the city code. I mailed a letter asking for a change. Apparently the day he got it, he called me. He'll introduce the change and ask me to testify on it when it arises. We voters are often self-centered and simple. That kind of attention and empathy goes a long way.

Poddy Plug: By the bye, over at our podcast site, Left Ahead!, we'll have John on Tuesday, December 4th, at 2:30 p.m. to discuss term limits and more.

I can't see the Boston City Council getting a lot more power. Not only is the Mayor unlikely to share more, but the unique relationship with the commonwealth means that home rule stifles the city. It is a throttle on municipal governance under the principles of continuity and stability for the capital and its functions. Here, the mayor and council are often mendicants approaching a paternal governor and legislature for favors. That's not likely to change this week or in the foreseeable future.

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Anonymous said...

Important points, but, wait, you go to the Rialto? OK, I'll grant you, not the most progressive place in the world (then again, they did take a chance on a lady barber from Harvard Square ...), but there's something reassuringly old-timey about the place. Plus, it's never crowded like Sebastian's.

massmarrier said...

Adam, I'm bald enough that I shouldn't bother, but my tonsure insists on covering my shirt collar, which I dislike. I like the old barber shops too. Plus at Sebastian's if it's not crowded, you'd better want to talk about Foxwoods. Harrumph.

If I can, I'll make time for Dente's in Davis Square. The two old men there do a cut almost entirely with scissors. However, I'm a WASP and they are invariably disappointed that they can't offer me the eyebrow and ear trims that seem to be standard service with their largely Italian-American customers.

Am I the only one who didn't like the Dap?

Anonymous said...

Heh, I didn't say I liked the Dap, but since you asked: No, you weren't the only one, even in Roslindale, where I'd just stand there mute as everybody around us broke into applause when he walked/rode by in the annual parade.

He was a buffoonish bully - unlike Freddie Langone, who was buffonish but not a bully (The guy grew tomato plants on a City Hall balcony; how can you dislike somebody like that?).

Anonymous said...

I remember a few years back, Dap was wrapping up a haircut with the woman barber at the Rialto as I was walking in for one. When he was being wheeled out, I noticed how filthy his clothes were!.. His haircut looked great and the barber made an offer to cut his hair at his home to make it easier for him and his caregiver/s in the future. Seems they need help by the look of him.. I think the owner took a chance hiring the "youngish woman" barber from Harvard Square.. and he made a good choice.