Friday, January 30, 2009

Chastened Flaherty Flies

Wowzers, boys and girls! Boston mayoral hopeful Michael Flaherty has all the web savvy $10,000 can buy.

His new campaign site buries the old one like a cat kicking in the kitty litter. Tip of the toupee to Edward Mason at the Herald for the alert.

Just yesterday, I ridiculed his clumsy, techno-feeble site. I was impatient or he rushed opening his site or both. He personally may well be someone who can't work that KitchenAid mixer in his drab video. Yet, he doesn't have too.

I think of fellow Boston City Councilor (disclaimer, my district guy and I know and like him) John Tobin. He admits freely that he doesn't know squat about blogging, videos and such. Yet, he was savvy enough to hire a real pro, Steve Garfield, to churn out a very respectable site.

Likewise, Flaherty apparently paid EchoDitto (HQ in D.C., but office in Harvard Square) to bring him into the 21st Century. It's web-savvy by association.

This is a store-bought site, but a good one. There are many shortcomings, but none serious enough to hurt him.

For example, the top button on his list is for donations. The heading on that page — Donation Form: Join me in our campaign to build a better Boston — doesn't exactly inspire parting with money. Moreover, in a small nit to pick, it takes cards, but not web-common PayPal.

Big up, though, to the facade of modernity. The front page also offers:
  • A page to suck friends into the campaign (if it accepts multiple emails instead of duplicating effort, it should say that)
  • A page to enter rants — critical to local voters — wisely listed as Your idea for a better Boston
  • His texting address (I assume a human will respond quickly here or at least an automaton will give an ACK)
  • A button linking to his Facebook page (no music or edgy art, at least not yet), a pretty naked page, but it's there
  • The mandatory pic of him with his wholesome looking kids and shampoo-commercial class wife
The upper tier pull-down menus have some of the same choices, but also:
  • About — standard background, with fluff on the campaign and self-serving PR on him
  • The Issues — This is mostly over-general, although it covers the right topics (see below)
  • Newsroom — Current newspaper articles; needs range of papers, plus blogs
  • Kitchen Table — Effectively homey way to encourage those vote and money productive house meetings
  • Get Involved — Nice volunteer form, reminiscent of Sonia Chang-Díaz' site
The site is a one-stop shop. Some of the shelves are bare, but you won't leave hungry.

Consider the issues area in particular. He pushes the buttons with A Plan for Boston, Fighting Family Flight, Reinvesting in Our Neighborhoods, Resident-Driven Government, Reconnecting People to Opportunity and creating Economic Justice, Investing in Education, and Protecting our Neighborhoods and Families.

There's not yet enough machinery behind most buttons. Still, this was gutsy and puts Flaherty right up with Councilor Sam Yoon as a man with a plan. This raises the stakes considerably.

Nearly all the issues suffer at both extremes of detail. Some aren't fleshed out. Others pair sweeping generalities with WTF specifics. For example, we're supposed to keep family in Boston with clean green spaces and "sound housing policy that places affordable housing units in areas of vast opportunities for advancement, whether it’s in employment, education, financial wealth, or family self-sufficiency." That's vague to the point of meaningless.

The education one is similar, but shows the rushed content addition that several issues do. There's general talk about investing and some drivel about involving parents, including consulting them when considering school closures. That reads like feel-good junk. However, he jumps to a very specific return to a feature of the Boston Miracle for school safety by returning street workers in school to defuse and prevent violence. Smart in co-opting a Menino success.

Raises the stakes considerably

At first look, a made-up issue may be his best. His resident-driven government seems to be the essence of his campaign and something we'll hear a lot more about.

Much more than the grumbling about secret meetings that he, Kevin McCrea and Yoon have been going on and on about, this looks like the cudgel to attack Mayor Tom Menino with in the coming months. He has a zippy slogan, A Contract with Community, too. On angles like the biolab and moving City Hall, he promises communication with and respect for residents (a.k.a. voters).

Forget sunshine laws, this is what many Bostonians get wired about. Da Mare has a reputation for doing what he wants, apparently because he knows better than you what you want and need, and what is possible. Menino may be right, but in his 16 years, he has irritated many.

I'll watch and listen for this to morph and grow. Promising folk you'll listen to them and then doing it, even if just on the website for now, is more powerful than a nice kitchen appliance in getting people's attention.

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