Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Interview with Jeff Ross - Candidate for State Senate

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to talk with Jeff Ross, a Cambridge human rights attorney who is running in the Sept. 11th special election to replace former Senator Jarrett Barrios in the Middlesex, Suffolk and Essex state senate district. Ross is up against Cambridge City Councilor Anthony Galluccio, Chelsea City Councilor Paul Nowicki, and Cambridge attorney Tim Flaherty. I contacted all four candidates, but Ross is the only one so far who responded to my request for an interview.

Ross touted himself as an independent progressive voice for the legislature, one with fewer ties to the political establishment. He noted that environmental problems were among the most important that the district, and that bringing clean energy jobs and technology to the area would be a priority. To that end, he supports Governor Deval Patrick's plan to invest a billion dollars in high-tech and would consider tax incentives for companies looking to set up shop in Massachusetts. That said, he also favors closing corporate tax loopholes.

While Ross does not favor deregulation of the auto insurance industry in the Commonwealth, he would like to see more competition and more companies moving into Massachusetts. He also spoke of the need to fully fund our health care system, particularly our public hospitals, and the expansion of state immunization programs.

One of his more unique suggestions was the idea of setting up issue-based councils of advisors so that the various communities in the district could share information and collaborate on solutions to similar problems.

In addition, Ross noted his support for the Urban Ring and North/South Rail Link projects and favors raising the bond cap for infrastructure repairs. He notes that apathy among youth is a pervasive problem and would like to see more after-school community programs, a Boys and Girls Club in Everett, on demand treatment facilities for substance abuse, CORI reform and job training and development programs. While he told me that he supports merit pay for teachers, he is not in favor of lifting the cap on charter schools until the funding formula can be fixed.

If you're interested in supporting Jeff Ross' campaign, his website can be found at and his campaign email is

Read the full interview inside
Q: Your website touts you as the progressive Democrat in the race. What makes you the progressive choice, as opposed to the other candidates?

I think being the progressive choice means that I bring a unique combination of real-life experience coupled with legislative writing, drafting, and advocacy. I'm not supported by any special interest groups. I don't owe any political favors, so I will be an independent voice for the will of the people in the legislature. I've also got years of pragmatic consensus-building experience, working on legislative issues and meeting with advocacy groups, and drafting and whatnot. I feel like a progressive democrat is somebody who has fewer ties to the political establishment and who's a consensus builder and who has a unique ability to look at social problems in the course of life and try to figure out how to solve them if it requires a legislative issue or to be involved in unlawful rule-making and to try to stop that, like the Registry of Motor Vehicles in the previous governor's administration.

For me, and for the people I've spoken to in the community, a progressive is somebody whose politics looks forward, who's young, fresh, new, and who tries to realize solutions. And to keep these solutions moving forward, and try to build consensus. So that for me puts the progress in progressive. Also, advocacy on behalf of those who are most at risk for injustice.
Q: You said that you wanted to seek out solutions. What are the most important problems in this district that require solutions?
Well, I think that we're looking at serious environmental problems in the world today and in this district, and I think the solution would be real clean energy solutions like the wind project, which is a real clean energy solution. Once that's built there's little maintenance, no pollution, and long-term effects.
Q: Do you support Cape Wind?
I support Cape Wind, and I think that it's a real clean energy solution, unlike some other alternative energy solutions that may use solar energy, may have short term panel or chemicals in them have, in the long term, it's uncertain how other forms of energy will affect the environment, and I think that Cape Wind is a real clean energy solution, and I like it, and I think that the question is where.
Q: Do you see any opportunities for wind or solar energy in your district?
I do, because off the coast of Charlestown there is. Massachusetts is one of only two states that have an alternative wind project, and it's a wind turbine that will be developed off the shore of Charlestown, and that's right in the district. So I'm excited that we'll have the opportunity to do that, to develop it, and I think that Massachusetts can be a leader in product services and technology worldwide, and something like that will bring interest and investment into Massachusetts, and the technology sector has a great tax base for growing the economy, so I support the governor's interest in investing a billion dollars in technology.

I think that partnerships with technology companies are not something that requires legislative rulemaking, but requires outreach to companies and incentives for companies to come to Massachusetts. I think we're on the verge of an era in politics where we have the opportunity for the government to reflect our shared values and I think that developing technology is around the corner in terms of the future.
Q: What would you do to encourage technology companies to come to Massachusetts in general and in particular, to locate in your district?
If possible, I think that tax incentives can be provided, and I think that building relationships with companies that might be considering moving here. Part of it is tax incentives, which is a state issue. Part of it is reaching out and building relationships with companies and bringing them to Massachusetts and introducing them to people in the community and talking about our intellectual capital base and facilitating those relationships to deepen interest in development in Massachusetts.
Q: Do you have experience doing that sort of thing?
I've spent years reaching out to different communities and trying to build relationships in communities. I worked at the US Embassy, at the training program in 1994 which was developing relationships between US companies and French distributors so that we could help the United States businesses export technology to Europe -- trade shows and making introductions and advocating on behalf of US companies. I've also written articles on export licensing controls to help keep United States businesses from exporting technology by hiring foreign national workers and keep jobs in the United States, and educate the companies about the HR requirements and licensing controls that exist, and as they're amended, so it's something I've been interested in for a long period of time. Also, I think that I could be quite useful in that area in the district.
Q: You mentioned tax incentives, and the governor has proposed closing corporate loopholes. But he's also proposed lowering corporate tax rates in exchange for that, so it would be revenue-neutral. What do you think about that?
I think we need incentives for companies to come to Massachusetts and to create jobs. I think that some of the exemptions, like the telephone company exemption, are arcane, outdated, and the quality of service we're getting in Massachusetts from broadband providers is very low compared to the cost to the state and cost to end users. I think we need to close those loopholes. Now, in terms of getting companies to come to the state and create jobs and help grow our economy, we need to have incentives for those companies to come here.
Q: One group of companies that has wanted to come here for a long time is out-of-state auto insurance companies. Now the issue of auto insurance reform is being revisited. Do you have any thoughts about those reforms?
I think that more companies would provide more competition, in terms of the rates.
Q: So you would be in favor of letting companies set their rates with fewer restrictions than we currently have?
No, because that would mean an increase in rates. I think we could let more companies come in and sell more affordable insurance and compete for services in the community. I think people in the community are feeling overwhelmed with the cost of insurance and rising prices, so I think bringing in more competition in that area. I don't think that we need to lift price restrictions because I think that will let companies charge more and buy each other out. When we're looking at insurance reform we need to be mindful of the end user and people in our communities that are struggling with the cost of insurance.
Q: Of course, the big cost of insurance that people are concerned about is not auto insurance, but health insurance.
We need to fully fund our health care system.
Q: Do you think our state's new health care law is working?
I think it's a good place to start. It needs additional analysis, additional legislation. I think that one of the problems with the way the health care system is set up now is that we have one remaining public health care system in Massachusetts and that's Cambridge Health Alliance. It's in financial jeopardy -- the state owes it $150M and the MassHealth pool is not fully funded, so I support fully funding it.

I think the state has made strides in raising the requirement of poverty up to 300% of the poverty level, because it includes additional families. A family of 4 needs to make $60K a year to participate in the MassHealth program, which I think is good because it will cover more people, but it needs to be funded so that the public hospitals don't bear the burden of absorbing those costs. That puts the whole system in jeopardy and I would be in favor of protecting the system and creating access to health care and preventative care so that people don't end up in the emergency room. I think that we should have immunization programs from children and seniors more readily available.

Part of the problem with the way the law is written now is that companies are penalized $295 for not providing health care to their employees, and $295 sounds like an incentive because the cost of providing health care for employees when you have more than 11 would presumably be higher than $295. It's written so that companies who opt out pay a penalty, and I think that large companies should pay into a pool so that companies that are right on the cusp of being required to cover their employees and are struggling have a pool to draw from so they don't end up closing and so the state doesn't lose jobs.
Q: Does that conflict with what we were talking about earlier -- trying to provide incentives for companies to come here, if we're increasing their costs?
No, that's going to be a cost, but in the larger balance of equity maybe people would locate here and get set up and get access to state resources to set up their business here, so I'm not sure they should get exemptions for health care. They could get exemptions for setup, other tax exemptions. We have to balance out our interest in creating jobs and providing incentives for companies to come here with workers' rights. That would be a question I would focus on as a state senator.

I don't have all the answers. There are going to be new issues that come up all the time. I feel that it's important for a state senator to be able to get communities involved and create dialogue around the issues, and that's a skill that I provide, bringing consensus and building relationships so that people can work together to find solutions. To me, progressive is a nice liberal label, but to me it means getting to the end result.
Q: It seems like a difficult job getting communities together in this district particularly because it's so spread out -- going from Brighton all the way up to Saugus. In fact, I found out the district is in the Massachusetts Common Cause's Gerrymander Hall of Shame because of its shape. Would you support legislation to move redistricting out of the hands of the legislature?
A: I would support the appointment of a council for redistricting. I would also, if elected, create a council of advisors across the district on health care, education, technology, art, human rights...
Q: What would those advisors do?
They would meet and talk about what's going on in their district. There are seven cities and they can learn from each other. Saugus is struggling with their budget, and they have a diverse body of new residents and Everett has taken great time and effort to count and keep accurate records of the new residents that are moving in and what the language needs are, and what special needs are. Because of that, Everett got $4M back this year for some of their education programs, for some of their ESL and special needs work that they need to do. If Saugus reached out to its community that it could benefit in a similar way.

Creating a council of people who share their experiences about what's going in other areas of the district could be enlightening and beneficial for residents and help build a sense of community in a district that's ethnically and economically diverse. I'm very excited about the prospect of working with the challenges that such a spread-out district presents.

Chelsea needs to be brought into transportation planning in a way that's equitable and would help create an infrastructure. I support the Urban Ring project, I think it should be underground and should be done right the first time, it should go to all of the communities and serve them all equally, and that will help develop the economies of all the communities.
Q: You also support the North-South Station rail link. In light of the Big Dig and all the problems we've had with the large public works projects, do you think there's an appetite for more of that in Massachusetts?
I think that the federal government and the state and local governments are struggling right now because the federal money is being drained off the states so I don't think it's a realistic project in the short term. I think it would be optimal, and public works projects create jobs, they create tax revenue, they create economy, they keep people working, they keep people in their homes, so I'm not opposed to public works projects.

We got a lot of federal money that would not have come to Massachusetts, for the Big Dig, that we otherwise wouldn't have gotten. I certainly think that public works projects could be better managed than the Big Dig was. A public works project doesn't have to be poorly run and poorly managed. There was a time in this country when public works projects got us out of the Depression and created some of our greatest assets, the Hoover Dam, etc., so I don't think that public works projects are necessarily the big evil. I think [apathy] and lack of interest in our youth are the big evil out there.
Q: Do you support lifting the state bond cap to pay for infrastructure repairs?
Absolutely. We have an urgent need to repair our roads and bridges, and I think that building infrastructure helps to grow the economy and improve the transportation system. The Tobin Bridge is falling down and residents are worried about crossing the Longfellow. We desperately need to look for revenue to keep our infrastructure. We need to continue to invest in maintaining the infrastructure and not wait until projects are desperately in need of repair because the cost is greatly increased by prolonging investment.

The previous governor's administration talked ad nauseum about maintaining our bridges and our roads, and we're still in the same position that we were, four years later. We need somebody in there who is not divisive, who's going to continue to build relationships and work to build consensus to move things forward.
Q: Earlier you said the great evil was apathy among youth. What can be done about that?
Well, in Everett, they need a Boys and Girls Club, and a place for kids to go recreate with supervision. We need on demand treatment facilities for substance abuse. We need CORI reform and job training and development programs, so that youth are occupied during the summer. In Chelsea, Central Latino recently got $200M slashed from its budget, line-itemed by the governor's office. Those are funds that keep kids involved in community projects, give them something to do, and build a sense of community responsibility and belonging to a community like Chelsea that has a huge problem with gang violence. Slashing those funds -- in summer, we're going to have more kids on the street with working and struggling parents and less to do. We need to have workforce training and development programs, we need to have youth centers and keep kids involved.
Q: What would you like to see the schools themselves do, if anything?
I'd like to see longer school days and stipend incentives for teachers -- merit pay -- to stay after school and get kids involved in science and technology. There's a great program statewide, the Massachusetts Science and Engineering Fair, that's a great opportunity for kids from communities to get involved in something that will help them go to college.
Q: Do you also support raising the cap on charter schools?
I think until we can find funding charter schools without draining public school resources, we should have a moratorium on expanding the charter school system. I've met parents who are very happy who have children in both. Some children don't function well in the public school environment, so I think the charter schools we have are a good alternative, but I don't think that we should be draining resources off our public education system. I'm product of the public education system, my children are in the public school system, and I think that we need to continue to invest in our future and invest in our children.
Q: Lastly, what's your stance on Marshmallow Fluff?
We did a study on my campaign team, with the fluffernutters, and we took a poll, and we all agree that we like fluffernutters and that we value the jobs that the Fluff company creates in the district. Everyone agreed that we should also look at school lunches and make sure that school lunches provide our children with the nutrients they need to succeed.
Q: How can people get involved in your campaign?
They can email us at, or visit our website at

Another Special Election in the Cards

It had been widely rumored, but now it's confirmed. State Senator Bob Havern (D-Arlington) is resigning to take a position with a lobbying firm. Havern represents the The Fourth Middlesex District, which includes the towns of Arlington, Billerica, Burlington, two thirds of Lexington, and all but one ward of Woburn. This means another special legislative election will have to be held over the winter. He's also the third high-profile state Senator to leave before his term is up this session. The other vacancies so far this year alone have been:

  • Rep. Jim Leary resigned to become then-newly elected Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray's chief of staff.
  • Rep. Bob Coughlin resigned to become the undersecretary for business development in the Patrick administration, a job he's now leaving to become president of the Mass. Biotech Council.
  • Senate President Robert Travaglini left his post to become a lobbyist.
  • Senator Jarrett Barrios resigned to become the head of the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation.
  • Rep. Anthony Petruccelli had to step down from his seat in the House after he won the election to replace Trav in the Senate.
And of course, that doesn't include former Congressman Marty Meehan, who announced his resignation early this year and who formally resigned from the Congress over the summer to become Chancellor of UMass Lowell. If one of the three state reps looking to replace Meehan happens to win that election, there will be another special election early next year to fill that vacancy.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

ADL Recognizes Armenian Genocide (Mostly)

One week ago today, the Watertown Town Council broke off ties with the Anti-Defamation League's No Place for Hate program due to the refusal of the ADL to call what refer to the massacre of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire as genocide and reports of the League's lobbying efforts to defeat a Congressional resolution that would recognize the Armenian Genocide. Since that time, this amazing chain of events has occurred:

Of course the ADL has not changed its stance on the Congressional resolution that would recognize the genocide as such. They still oppose it as something that would endanger Turkish relations with the US and Israel, as well as Jews living in Turkey. I understand these concerns, but isn't it somewhat worse to acknowledge the genocide but then claim that we shouldn't do anything about it because it's too contraversial? This strikes me as a half-measure, though it is at least a step in the right direction. The ADL's credibility has really suffered during the course of this controversy, and while they claimed that it was not one of their own making, every response they made to critics seemed to be formulated to generate the maximum amount of outrage, miring them deeper. One would expect more sensitivity from an organization created to combat bigotry and promote understanding.

On the other hand, former regional director Andrew Tarsy managed to come out of this looking like a hero. He did the right thing by refusing to wait for the national group to recognize the genocide, and he lost his job because of it. He took a lot of criticism here in Watertown for toeing the ADL line, and I'd like to think that part of the reason he changed course was because he came to town and met with the people the ADL's stance was affecting. If he had not called on the national ADL to change, it's unlikely that they would have done anything.

There's a lesson in this, and I think it's the opposite of the one from last week's Watertown Tab editorial. The Tab's editors looked at the situation as of last week and decided that it was evidence that Watertown should not get involved in "national or international issues". Leaving aside whether fighting bias is not a local issue (my personal experience in Watertown says that it is), I think that sentiment is exactly backwards. What this episode proves is that the measures we take in local government can, in fact, change the world. A 94-year old organization referred to the killings of Armenians during World War I as a genocide for the first time today in large part because our town council stood up to them.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Weekend Baby Blogging

I can hold the spoon all by myself!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Globe Discovers Fifth District Race

Yesterday, the Boston Globe had a front page article on the race to replace former Congressman Marty Meehan in the state's fifth district. The piece focused on some of the methods that the candidates are resorting to in order to get people's attention over the course of a special election that no one seems to be following. I thought it was particularly ironic for the Globe because part of the reason that no one is following this race is that the Globe just hasn't been covering it. Sure, there have been occasional articles, and some columns (mostly about candidate Niki Tsongas), but the Globe's coverage of the race has been substandard when compared with in-district papers like the Lowell Sun and Lawrence Eagle-Tribune.

That may be changing. After yesterday's article, five stories about the race appeared on the local politics blog -- the first posts to that blog in more than two weeks. In addition, the Globe had a story today covering yesterday's fifth district debate in Haverhill. The Demcoratic candidates for this seat have had what seems like hundreds of these local debates across the district and it's rare that the Globe even sends someone to cover them, let alone prints an article afterward. I hope this is a sign that the race will be getting the attention it deserves from the region's largest paper.

Now, if we can only get the Globe to cover the special legislative elections...

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

SUSA Poll of MA-05

Via Jon Keller comes the latest WBZ4/SUSA Fifth Congressional District poll. This, I believe, is the first poll done by an independant firm for the race to replace former Congressman Marty Meehan (D-Lowell). The results showed candidate Niki Tsongas as the frontrunner, as expected, while Eileen Donoghue, Barry Finegold and Jamie Eldridge are roughly tied for second place. Barely registering (in fact, below "other" and "undecided") is Jim Miceli. Here are the numbers:


Now, some may find it surprising that the number of undecided voters is so small in the SUSA poll. I've discussed this about SUSA before, but the reason for that is two-fold. Part of it is the question that's asked: "If the Democratic Primary for U.S. House of Representatives were today, and you were standing in the voting booth right now, who would you vote for?" That question encourages the respondent to make a choice. This is appropriate, in my opinion, because if people are undecided on election day, they're likely to stay home. This is particularly true of a special election where only one race will be on the ballot. It's also important to remember that these respondents are those SUSA considers likely voters. People who support a candidate are certainly more likely to vote than those who do not.

Of course, since this is a special election the day after Labor Day, any likely voter model is practically guesswork. The only people who I expect to come out to vote in the primary are people who have been contacted by a campaign. The winner of the race is likely to be the candidate who has done the best voter ID and is able to drag their supporters out on the first day of school.

Also interesting in this poll was the fact that 66% of the respondents disapproved of the job Congress is currently doing and 82% said the country is going in the wrong direction. These opinions, however, had no bearing on their choice for Congressional representation.

In other MA-05 polling news, I just got a notice from Eileen Donoghue's campaign touting the fact that their internal tracking poll shows them just six points behind Niki Tsongas. Their own polling also has Donoghue winning Lowell by a better than two-to-one margin and winning among "voters who have made a final decision on a candidate". Given how different this is from the public poll, I'm skeptical. The timing suggests that the internal poll was released to counter the SUSA poll, so take these numbers with a grain of salt.

Question of the Day

How badly do you have to screw up an election cycle to not get hired as a Washington lobbyist?

I guess if there's hope for Brian Dodge, the now-former director of the Mass GOP who oversaw last year's devestating losses for state Republicans, there's hope for anyone. I wonder if his search for a way out is the reason that so many Democrats have gone unopposed in special elections this year.

Monday, August 13, 2007

I am Not a Lawyer

If I were, I might have known this:

1819. That’s the year state lawmakers last updated penalties for corporations convicted of involuntary manslaughter, the charge now facing a Big Dig epoxy supplier. Consequently, the maximum penalty is $1,000. Lawmakers want to stiffen the law, but it won’t matter in this case, because the attorney general is bound to the law on the books at the time of the tunnel collapse.
And taken it into account in the post I wrote Friday. It makes sense, but it also means that if Martha Coakley comes down with involuntary manslaughter charges for any of the other Big Dig companies, she'll be stuck with the $1,000.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Weekend Baby Blogging

Daddy and Grandpa prove incapable of putting the Exersaucer together correctly.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Another Blow to Fall River LNG

Weaver's Cove Energy, the group attempting to put a liquified natural gas terminal in Fall River, has been dealt another setback. This time, it's the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, which rejected the company's request to dredge Mount Hope Bay. Weaver's Cove needs the bay dredged because it's currently not deep enough for the huge LNG ships that would need to travel the channel. This is apparently even after the company agreed to use the smaller ships necessary to travel under the Brightman Street Bridge -- necessary after the Massachusetts Congressional Delegation prohibited federal funds from being used in the bridge's destruction. From the Providence Journal:

Along with denying the application because it was incomplete, the DEM said it also found the scope of the project "had substantially changed" and that Weaver's Cove "had failed to provide adequate information to enable the department to determine the exact nature of its project or how the project is viable" following a May 9 U.S. Coast Guard letter "effectively denying the project."
While the company has gotten approval from the Federal Government for the project, state and local officials have consistently opposed the project and the Coast Guard has also expressed skepticism. So far, however, Weaver's Cove has pushed forward despite all the opposition. I can't help but wonder, however, if the company had started the siting process for a different location years ago, when it was apparent that Rhode Island and Massachusetts officials would try to kill this project by any means necessary, that they would be ready to build at a different site. At what point does it become not worth it anymore for Weaver's Cove to keep fighting? LNG opponents will certainly be trying to delay the project until that time.

Friday, August 10, 2007

First Things First

Yesterday, the Boston Phoenix's David Bernstein had this to say about the $1,000 criminal indictment faced by Big Dig epoxy supplier Powers Fasteners:

[I]t was pretty clear at yesterday afternoon's press conference that AG Martha Coakley wanted to use the indictment of Powers Fasteners as an impetus to spur the state to change its ridiculous cap on criminal penalties for corporations. Good for her.
Today, it looks like that's exactly what's happening. From the Boston Herald:
With an angry public demanding justice in the tunnel disaster, top state lawmakers vowed yesterday to stiffen an ancient 1819 manslaughter law that could let a Big Dig company get off with a meager $1,000 fine if found guilty in the death of Milena Del Valle.

"Clearly, we've got to take action," said State Sen. Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester), who vowed to file legislation within days. "If we're going to have criminal sanctions, they need to mean something and they must match the seriousness of this situation."
While some may be clamoring for Coakley to take down the major players in the Big Dig investigation like Bechtel/Parsons Brinkerhoff, Gannett Fleming, or Modern Continental, it makes perfect sense to me for her to wait for the legislature to raise the absurdly low cap before going public with any charges against those firms. Can you imagine the outcry if Bechtel were the company facing just a $1,000 fine? Hopefully the legislature will act quickly to update the manslaughter penalties for corporations.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Media Coverage of Senate Debate

While the big Boston dailies completely ignored this past Monday's State Senate debate in Charlestown between candidates looking to replace former Senator Jarrett Barrios, some of the area's weeklies came through with reports on the event.

The Charlestown Patriot-Bridge has a good synopsis of the event, though they did not manage to include information about which candidates actually made the ballot. In addition Bay Windows has a long profile of the race, including the candidates' support of LGBT issues. That did not end up being much of a topic in the Charlestown debate, but it promises to come up in next week's debate in Cambridge on August 16th.

Unsaid Word Speaks Volumes

Guess what word is missing from the letter to the editor in yesterday's Boston Globe by Anti-Defamation League New England Regional director Andrew Tarsy and Regional chairman James Rudolph?

Give up? It's "Genocide".

Not to belabor a point I made earlier this month, but if I had been accused of Holocaust Denial by the ADL and then came back and said "many groups have experienced horrific atrocities" as a way of explaining myself, I'm not sure that anyone would find that answer satisfactory. I'm sure that Tarsy was surprised by the controversy, but he keeps digging himself and his organization deeper into it with each statement he makes to the local paper. It would have gone a long way toward quieting the uproar if he had simply used the word "genocide" to describe what happened to the Armenians under the Ottoman Empire instead of dancing around it with "massacre" and "suffering".

Governor Holding Cards Close to his Chest

Governor Patrick, you don't need to show your cards yet, but we're going to have to see your hand before you get any payoff. People already think that the process is rigged in favor of casino gambling -- and in some cases, they're probably right -- that you need to be sure that everything you do is completely transparent. You can hold on to the casino study until you make your final decision, but if you don't release it people are always going to wonder what was so awful in there that the public wasn't allowed to read.

[Update]: Now that I've had some time to think about it, there is one scenario where it makes sense to keep the casino report private. If the report recommends allowing casinos and also lists concessions that the state must seek from Indian tribes and casino developers, it does make sense to keep those under wraps until such time as the Governor gives his Yay or Nay. There's no sense in giving casino proponents extra time to prepare for the eventual negotiations. Still, this report should be released when Governor Patrick makes his decision on whether to allow gaming in Massachusetts -- even if his eventual position is at odds with the study's recommendations.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

How to Dislodge an Appointee

Today, the Boston Globe noted that John Moscardelli, a member of the Turnpike Board, has resigned, giving Governor Deval Patrick free reign to appoint a majority of the board. Why did Moscardelli resign? He wasn't speaking to the media, but this says it all:

Moscardelli, who was appointed to the board in 2002, resigned a month after a change in state law stripped board members of several perks, including health insurance and a $25,800 annual stipend. It was the only state board that paid benefits, state officials said.
Coincidence? You decide.

Question of the Day

What crumbling infrastructure?

Four Candidates Left in Race for Barrios' Seat

Yesterday the Cambridge Chronicle reported that four candidates remain in the special election to replace former Senator Jarrett Barrios. Here is the final list of candidates, all of them Democrats:

I exchanged an email with Laurie Leyshon, the only other candidate who had submitted signatures, to find out why she was not on the ballot. She told me that she had collected enough signatures -- more than 700 -- but one of the sheets was disqualified because of an incomplete address. She said that she is "absolutely devastated" and is currently considering her options. I'm not sure there's anything left she can do, however. To my knowledge, the SJC has already upheld the seemingly capricious rules regarding signature petitions (one stray mark and the whole sheet is disqualified!?). Frankly, I'm a little disappointed. While I did not expect Leyshon to win the election, I did think that Monday's debate was better for her presence in it.

[Meta-Update]: I'd just like to note that according to Blogger this is my 756th post. And I did it all without any blogging-enhancement drugs, too.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Senate Candidates Debate in Charlestown

Last night, I attended the state senate debate between candidates vying for former Senator Jarrett Barrios' seat in the Middlesex, Suffolk and Essex District. The debate was held in Charlestown and was sponsored by three local organizations, Friends of the Charlestown Navy Yard, Charlestown Business Association, Charlestown Waterfront Coalition. As you might imagine, local issues dominated the discussion. The candidates, as mentioned previously, are Chelsea City Councilor Paul Nowicki, Cambridge attorney Tim Flaherty, Cambridge attorney Jeff Ross, Cambridge City Councilor Anthony Galluccio, and Cambridge teacher and activist Laurie Leyshon. The debate was moderated by Michael Jonas of MassINC's CommonWealth Magazine.

The debate, I thought, was well attended for a special state-senate election debate. I estimated at least 80 spectators, most of whom seemed to be Charlestown residents. Outside the debate, Ross had the biggest presence early; his (mostly young) supporters carrying signs and wearing matching T-Shirts. Flaherty supporters were also out, but I didn't notice anyone for the other three candidates (I got there a little early to get a seat by an outlet!). I did notice that Leyshon and Ross seemed to be the ones who worked the crowd inside before the debate began.

The debate was largely cordial, with the candidates agreeing on many of the questions asked, particularly on the need for community involvement in development issues. Nowicki was the most forceful in his support for casino gambling in Massachusetts, and Ross was the only one who said he would not seek state funds to match city funds for Charlestown Navy Yard, but all were skeptical of MCAS as a graduation requirement to varying degrees. None of the candidates had anything particularly nice to say about the Boston Redevelopment Authority. There were only a couple of pointed moments during the two-plus hours. Earlier in the debate, Flaherty had mentioned that he wanted the seat because now was "a new and exciting time in Massachusetts politics." Galluccio countered later that he "wanted this job when it wasn't a new and exciting time in Massachusetts politics" and that he'd had the most time to think about the needs of the whole district. Also, having the last word in the debate was Paul Nowicki, who in his closing statement noted that he is proving his commitment to the district by declining to run again for his safe seat on the Chelsea city council. Unspoken, of course, was that this is in contrast to Galluccio, who is running for re-election as a Cambridge City Councilor at the same time he's running for the special election.

On style issues, I thought Galluccio, Nowicki and Flaherty were the most polished, though the two city councilors had more to say on their specific accomplishments in their respective cities and I felt like they could relate better to the problems of Charlestown residents. Galluccio noted that he wants to be "like a City Councilor, but with more power' and that he'd go to every community meeting in the district. Frankly, I don't see how that's possible given the insanely gerrymandered district comprising nine communities spanning three counties -- is he really going to go to every meeting from Brighton to Saugus? If he can't, he shouldn't promise it. Leyshon came off as very approachable, and I felt afterwards that she must have talked to half the neighborhood in preparation for the debate. She also, however, came off as very "Cambridge" and I'm not sure how that plays in the rest of the district. Ross has an interesting and varied resume, but he seemed much more comfortable when the conversation turned to statewide issues rather than the minutia of city planning.

Blow by blow below the fold
(anything in quotes should be accurate, consider anything else paraphrased)

QUESTION: Do you support the bill establishing a director of Tidelands and Great Ponds? How can MA ensure waterfront access?

Laurie Leyshon: Says she has a strong interest in environmental issues. It's important to designate tidal areas. The people of Charlestown should have the ultimate say in what happens to their access. She's heard over and over -- you're not represented by someone who lives in Charlestown. [Of course, none of these candidates in Charlestown, either -- sco] It's important for people to have ownership in their community. We need to have a sustainable approach.

Anthony Galluccio: It's crucial that legislature maintain power over the coastal areas. Chapter 91 has should be strengthened. This is an opportunity to elect someone who follows Barrios. He's cautious in delegating away authority. Main charge to protect Chapter 91.

Jeff Ross: Supports designation of a director. He will be involved in the future of the waterfront & what the development will be. We need to make sure the waters aren't becoming polluted. He supports the expansion of green space in Charlestown. He will work with the community.

Tim Flaherty: Chapter 91 was watered down during the Dukakis years. DEP allowed buildings to take place. Need to have clarity on that issue. The legislature has intended to 'seek clarity' after the SJC decision. Waterfront is greatest natural resource. Supports the legislation.

Paul Nowicki: Also would support the legislation. Chelsea waterfront is dilapidated. We've worked hard to bring it back. Proponent of open dialogue. He demanded to open process when a power plant wanted to move to Chelsea waterfront and has a history of dealing with waterfront development. Salt piles -- DEP has failed to regulate them. We've worked to bring them 'under the umbrella'.

QUESTION: Business health is not good in Charlestown. They're losing storefronts. Parking is always an issue. How to balance residential parking needs with commercial parking needs?

PN: We face that in Chelsea -- it's densely populated. To deal with existing businesses, you need to open up dialogue. For new development -- minimum of 1.5 parking spots for each person that goes in. They did a study in 1995 in Chelsea. He talked about a new development with 90 units, but spots for 36 cars. Supports requirements for parking for all new developments.

TF: We have to balance Quality of Life issues. He lives in Harvard Square, so he understands parking issues. Having neighborhood restaurants is a benefit. Supports a requirement for densely populated districts that valets be available during certain hours so business will have to provide parking.

JR: There's a study coming out that is going to look at best use of Charlestown along Main Street. The question lies with the community. What types of mixed-use buildings should there be? He would be an advocate for residents.

AG: He brought Zipcar into Cambridge. No one has gone to more meetings around development. Harvard, MIT, these are routine issues. Senator would be very similar to a city councilor in seven communities. Show up to meetings, etc. Neighborhood has to decide on development vs parking.

LL: Ultimately the citizens of Charlestown need to decide these. Residents need support from Representatives & Senators. Need to 'look outside the box' for solutions. Residential parking and parking for residents are different. A lot of residents may need to walk to the restaurants. She doesn't drive and would look into having better municipal transit. What about shuttle buses that run frequently at times when people want to go to dinner? A lot of unused space under Rt 99 and the highways where you might put in parking spaces. Study what other cities do for parking. "Make it fun for people" to take transit.

QUESTION: MA is 47th in spending on state parks. DCR merger has been done in name only, hasn't worked well. All parks are suffering. How would you change this?

AG: Worked for Sen Robert Wetmore, who had a reputation for protecting state parks. GOP administrations were not very supportive of open spaces across the state. He initiated an open-space fund in Cambridge. Would like to eliminate MBTA storage spaces. He would be a strong advocate for reinvesting in public spaces.

JR: Charlestown has one of the most important parks in MA. Lately there have been many crimes in the park and the surrounding area. The challenge is funding so rangers and police can make the parks safe.

TF: The DCR is symptomatic of 16 years of GOP governorship. Across the board things have been underfunded. Open space is important -- that's a quality of life issue. We need to reinvest in state park system. Not just the DCR, all across the board. The crime lab -- 16,000 pieces of evidence not processed because they're underfunded? Where to get the money? We need to prioritize.

PN: In Chelsea, they made a requirement that open space be provided with new developments. He got funding for the Chelsea Soldier's Home because he made it a priority. The GOP admin have depleted everything. He's not in favor of privatization. Prices will skyrocket and the people who need / want it the most are going to be priced out. He would work with municipalities to make sure the state property is taken care of, finished being built, etc.

LL: The park is the heart of the community. Parks everywhere in the state are in trouble. We have to take care of them. They reflect how we feel about people's lives. It's a matter of pride. The state should close corporate loopholes to pay for them. 1,100 corps that earn $100M and only pay $456 a year in taxes. Wal-Mart doesn't pay taxes here. "Wal-Mart is not a church. It should not be tax exempt." Combined revenue is at least $340M. That pays for a lot of things.

QUESTION: Education -- it's five years since MCAS became a grad requirement. Supporters say it boosts achievement. Critics say it's an impediment. What's your position on MCAS?

JR: Has two kids who go to public school. Son studying for MCAS (5th grade). He's bored by the repetition and not learning. As a parent, he doesn't like it. Teachers need to have more discretion. There are benefits. Kids at the highest levels get benefits. We don't need to eliminate it. Supports bill to scrap it as a grad requirement.

TF: Don't know that he would support bill. Know a little bit about it. Education "changed my life". Is MCAS the best way to test a kid? He's not sure. Teachers are penalized if their teachers don't grade well, so of course the curriculum is geared toward teaching to the test. There's a place for music, arts, PE. The State Constitution is "a very interesting document" -- says that MA must, for the "preservation of rights and liberties", provide for public education.

PN: Does not believe in test as soul requirement. He has two daughters in Chelsea public schools. It's imperative to focus on broader scope of what schools do. Education is important. He would work to make sure that anything that comes out of Beacon Hill is fully funded. He'd also like to expand the school system -- early childhood education, after school programs.

LL: "I am actually a teacher." She would support the legislation. A child's entire portfolio should be taken into consideration. She started an art school in California because art was eliminated in the public schools when she lived there. As a teacher, the way you connect with children is to cater the lesson plan to each child. Kids should be excited to go to school. MCAS kids are not excited. She worked on the achievement gap task force with Boston Public Schools. You have to have freedom -- if children need more time on one subject, you have to take that time.

AG: Spent 13 years on public schools -- he's "obsessed with public schools", and at-risk kids. He's been endorsed by Mass. Federation of Teachers. Portfolios are a better determinant. However, MCAS did improve public schools in Cambridge. He's the only candidate that has chaired a school committee and negotiated a teachers' contract. The MCAS is not as important as things like extended school days, bullying, etc. Let's move on to real-important issues.

QUESTION: Infrastructure -- Do you support prioritizing renovations in Charlestown? How do you prioritize as a legislator?

TF: Look at the netting under the Tobin Bridge. It's to catch lead paint chips. Do we want to suffer a tragedy here? This is an emergency situation. Romney improved the cape commute so people could get to their beach houses. What about Charlestown? There should be a capital bond immediately for Sullivan Square. There should be mitigation for building a stadium.

PN: Back in 1994, he sat on the charter commission in Chelsea. Chelsea went into receivership. Capital improvement was very important -- they put 5 year capital improvement plans in the charter. Legislature needs to make sure that there is a process that there is prioritization of infrastructure improvements. Make sure there is community input and that improvements are done by needs, and not by who's the loudest voice. There should be a comprehensive plan, not piecemeal.

LL: We don't have a choice but to make sure our bridges are kept up. Look at the Big Dig. We have old bridges where no one is accountable, but with the Big Dig there was a lack of accountability in the construction. There's a lot of money that's still due the state. We should close the corporate loopholes so there are more funds. We can't afford to take the risk. Sullivan Station needs a lot of work. It's not a pleasant place to go to, but it could be a vital center.

AG: Not only would he fight for funding, but he'll be at every neighborhood meeting. He recognizes the "whole picture". He is not going to be a senator that spends a lot of time on Beacon Hill -- but will be a neighborhood senator. Roadways are a disgrace. Long term planning is a disgrace. This is true of Charlestown, Everett, Chelsea, Somerville. Look at pedestrian crossings. The district needs development that makes sense -- residential housing density, low-level retail, etc. There need to be long-term plans. That has to be the charge of this senator.

JR: The state needs to look for ways to reinforce the infrastructure. Federal money is being drained off. We should look at public-private partnerships for funds. We should have mixed-use zoning planning.

QUESTION: Boston Redevelopment Authority - What do you think of its dual role as development agency and planning agency?

PN: In Chelsea, the city had no checks and balances. This caused problems in Chelsea. Those are two areas that should be separate. Look in the navy yard. It's important to have separate entities. When you're changing the landscape of the community, the process has to be open, accessible, inclusive so everyone respects the end product.

LL: She's been in the area for six years and never seen anything like the BRA anywhere else. She's never seen a city where you have a planning commission where there's no oversight. The BRA is astonishing in that it just does "whatever the heck it wants to do" She's heard this over and over again and would work to get that changed. People have to have the ability to control what happens to their communities. Where does the BRA money come from? They deal with this all over the city -- Roxbury, etc. City needs to also look at green building.

AG: Cambridge has an independent planning board. It was shocking to see the difference in Charlestown. He wouldn't pretend to be able to overhaul the Boston City Charter as a State Senator. Still, folks need to look to a state senator who can "exert influence over the process". He will be tenacious, relentless.

JR: The problem with the BRA is how development is approached. What needs to happen is the community should take more of a role and band together and work with councilors, legislators. etc. Communities could use some leadership in coming up with a vision and changing the perspective.

TF: The BRA has an inherent conflict. It's an inside ballgame. We need transparency in government. Why does the BRA share dual roles? He's not afraid to stand up to BRA, Mayor Menino or anyone. There's a sea change happening across the commonwealth and he wants to have a chance to take part in that. "I don't need this job. I want it"

QUESTION: Casino gambling may be on its way in MA. Is gaming the easy way out?

LL: At the heart of that question is "Why did it take us 400 years to recognize the Wampanoag nation?" We are obligated to allow them to have a casino. Whether we want to have everyone else come in, that's a "tricky issue". One casino is one thing, five is something else. She would like to study it further. On one hand are issues of gambling addictions, but the real issues are traffic, the effect on the infrastructure. Given how much the Wampanoags lost when we came here, we need to give back.

AG: "I have no horse in this race." He doesn't have any objection. Gov. Patrick has the potential to be a great Governor. He thinks we should have slot machines first, then casinos. He will take a hard look and keep an open mind, but he's not sold.

JR: State needs to look at the environmental impact. It's not clear how much money would actually come back to the state. We need to look at it as a community. What's the detriment versus the revenue?

TF: He comes to the issue from a law enforcement perspective and says he understands the social ills surrounding this issue. It's not a moral issue. Gambling is on the way in Massachusetts, but it's not going to happen overnight. This is a 4-5 year process. We need to be smart about it. We need to be able to reap the benefit of it. There are measures we can place to limit social ills. How are we going to pay for it? Expand the economy. Create real paying jobs. If gambling comes, he will make sure that the district gets their fair share.

PN: We should adopt the slots at dog tracks. Casinos should absolutely be allowed. Before you have the process of addressing the questions, you need to say yes. He has the endorsement of Rep. Kathy-Anne Reinstein (D-Revere) who has Wonderland dog track in her district. He will make sure there is community input. Let's open the doors so that we can do this in a smart way.

QUESTION: Healthcare costs are soaring. Municipalities now have the option to opt into the GIC. The law requires approval of unions, so few will. What can we do to reign in health care costs?

AG: He supports the Governor's. plan. Increasing purchasing power is one way to fight back. This is an example of middle class vs working class vs unions. He's proud at how well Cambridge pays employees. State should transition to single-payer health care. We're robbing Peter to pay Paul. We need to look globally at health care. Stop pitting people against one another.

JR: State needs to continue on working on universal health care system. The GIC bill is a good start. Everybody needs coverage.

TF: This is a divisive issue. This district is wonderful because of the diversity. Universal health care / single payer should be available for everyone. GIC process is good but a complicated process. One third of our budget is spent on health care costs. It's a budget buster and this is not going to change -- people are living longer. Paying for it is a complicated issue. Municipal partnership act is a good idea. GIC is good in the short term.

PN: He has the experience of uniting people on divisive issues. He's in favor of entering into GIC -- it would save Chelsea $1M. It's the same across the district. We should work to restore this money back to the municipalities. He created & chaired Labor Relations committee in Chelsea. They've gone from 90-10 to 85-15. That's leadership. He's in favor of Universal Health Care / Single Payer. We need to review programs on a year-by-year basis.

LL: Cambridge Health Alliance has done a good job. MGH has been providing free care. We're just beginning to get the health care situation right. We tried to get health insurance through the health care website for daughter. We couldn't find the right plan! She supports the Municipal Partnership act and doesn't want to pit private sector against public sector. Michael Moore's Sicko should be required watching for Americans. We could be so much better. We need to study what other countries are doing.

QUESTION: Do you support use of state funds to augment city funds for Charlestown Navy Yard?

JR: It's "hard to find community in the Navy Yard" because of how it's been developed. He would try to create public-private partnerships instead. It's difficult to appropriate funds so directly.

TF: Yes. The Navy Yard is a beautiful place to live.

PN: Yes. We have a history of doing similar in Chelsea.

LL: Yes. Definitely work on partnerships between the state and the city. She did get a sense of community in the Navy Yard. The walkway along the waterfront was frequently blocked. We're going to have to deal with the BRA.

AG: Sure. The next Senator should fight for state funds. A little goes a long way. The reality is we have to make the developer pay through zoning. We reduced densities in Cambridge, increased open spaces.

QUESTION: What is the most important issue facing Charlestown, and how would you help resolve this issue?

TF: The prevalence of drug use among young children. He was a prosecutor in charge of a drug unit. It's very easy to talk about being tough on crime. That's not being smart on crime. There's no intake facility in Charlestown. In 2003, the state lost more people to ODs than car accidents. There is a problem in Charlestown, Cambridge, Somerville. Let's get the drugs out of Charlestown.

PN: The drug & alcohol problem. It's the same in Chelsea, Everett, Somerville. He has a history of dealing with this for 15 years. He sponsored a Weed & Seed program in Chelsea. We need more Police officers on the street. They assist in prevention, and can act as social workers. He's worked with re-entry programs. We need funding for those programs so when people come out they have a sense of where to go.

LL: Crime. She talked to kids in the projects. They're just as worried as the wealthy people. This goes across economic lines. As a teacher, the first thing is to make sure we have mentors, after school programs, support groups, social workers for parents. More programs are critical. She did a green jobs forum with Sen. Downing, Rep. Festa. When people have jobs, they're less likely to do drugs. "Green Collar jobs, not drugs."

AG: He sees what everyone else sees. This is a pervasive problem. Where are the drugs coming from? It's not just more beds and more counseling. Charlestown has very effective programs. Every kid in Charlestown should know who their senator is. Building that relationship is the first step. He supports diversionary justice. "We're turning kids who don't think they're thugs into thugs by treating them like thugs."

JR: The problem is more broad based than just drugs. We need more first responders. In Brockton, there are similar problems. There needs to be a broad-based approach to reducing crime. You need to have counseling centers. We need transitional assistance. We need CORI reform so people can get jobs. There isn't just state money.

QUESTION: The LNG deliveries put the neighborhood at risk. Also, we are overbuilding our Waterfront in Charlestown. What are your thoughts?

PN: LNG? Get it out of here. You can't, for the sake of money, change the character of our neighborhoods. We put all those oil tanks along our waterfront. We sold out to get the quick buck.

TF: The LNG freighter is a disaster -- 3 feet on either side. We were reduced in federal homeland security funding. Other non-urban areas get more funding. The harbor pilots are not even government regulated.

JR: Charlestown & Chelsea need more advocacy to keep things out of town. There's a proposal to put LNG off the coast. The community needs to be involved.

AG: The Tobin Bridge, Oil Tanks, Rt. 99 as a dumping ground all shouldn't have happened. There are risk assessments that the public should be able to see. The Waterfont is our most valuable resource. We should be moving to residential T-Stops, not putting density toward the waterfront. He has a legacy of taking on institutions.

LL: The LNG situation is crazy. There's no such thing as an acceptable risk. Lloyds of London has insured the LNG. No one's allowed to see these assessment. We don't need to spend money on a risk assessment. They've already been done.

LL: She loves the Navy Yard and was particularly impressed with the Korean War memorial. Her father was a West Point grad, killed in action in Korea. She feels an obligation to make the country a place worth dying for. Her main interest is in the environment. He put together the Green Jobs forum in Cambridge. She's always worked as a public servant -- trying to help people, bring people together. People came to the forum because there was a desire for change. Everyone wanted to create a better place. We will have a green jobs policy for Massachusetts. She's also the Cambridge coordinator for CORI reform.

AG: Thanks to everyone. "I wanted this job when it wasn't a new and exciting time in Massachusetts politics." He's had a lot of time to think about the issues brought up today. How do we unify the town? How do we protect the skating rink? The community has become near and dear to him. Picture him when the bridge gets closed down, etc. He wants to act like a city councilor but with more power.

JR: Thanks everybody. Each area in the district has needs. He's suited to meet those needs. He's sued the RMV to stop them from implementing REALID. He's been working on civil liberty issues, particularly his work in Brockton. He cares about all the towns and districts.

TF: We've all got varied experience. We're all "progressive democrats" but he admits that he's not sure what that means. He has experience is in trying cases. "Don't vote for me because of the cases I've tried. It's not about me. It's about you, the voters." Politics is going to be done differently. We have to create real, affordable jobs. This district is a microcosm of Massachusetts. It's about where we're going.

PN: These issues are the issues he's been working on in Chelsea. It's important to look at the past. In five of eight terms, he's been the top vote getter in the most diverse community in MA. A leader brings people together and does it the right way. That's what he's done. That's what he'll do. Four terms as president of the city council. Chelsea's image is catching up to reality because of the progress. Drug relates to crime prevention. Weed & Seed. Make sure we have programs for nonviolent offenders. Money should be available for immigration programs. He's not seeking reelection to city council seat.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Question of the Evening

I came across this chart of 2008 candidates' positions via BoingBoing. It has a large matrix of candidates and issues with checkmarks for positions they support and X's for things they oppose. But for former Governor Mitt Romney, they had to invent a new icon -- an x'ed out check -- for his position on reproductive choice. Given that they'd already invented one symbol for Mitt, why not give him double the checkmarks under the Guantanamo category?

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Weekend Baby Blogging

Standing up (with help)

Friday, August 03, 2007

Ten Million Daily Crossings Over Deficient Bridges

Both the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald both have front-page reports today on the state of Massachusetts' bridges, particularly the 588 of them that the Federal Highway Administration has deemed "structurally deficient", the same designation that the I-35W bridge over the Mississippi river had before it's tragic collapse on Wednesday. The Globe has a list of the top 100 deficient bridges as well as a map. Still, I wanted to look at the whole dataset (why stop at 100, after all?) and went to the FHWA's National Bridge Inventory and downloaded the Massachusetts dataset myself. Here are a couple of interesting (read terrifying) facts about those 588 bridges that the FHWA has classified as "structurally deficient":

  • Massachusetts drivers make an average of 10 million crossings daily over structurally deficient bridges.
  • Laid end-to-end, the span of these bridges would be just over seven miles.
  • The top six most heavily travelled of the bridges are used by Rt. 128, in Canton, Dedham, Newton and Wakefield
  • Forty-seven of the bridges are in the City of Boston. Fall River is a distant second with 15.
  • The majority of the bridges cross railroad tracks or another highway.
  • Fifteen of the bridges over the Charles River are structurally deficient. The next highest total by waterway is the Sudbury River with twelve.
  • The road with the most structurally deficient bridges is Route 2, with 19. The next highest is a tie between the Mass Pike and I-91 with 14 each.
  • The total estimated cost to repair or replace these bridges is over $2 billion in year-of-estimate dollars. Cities and towns are responsible for nearly $400 million of that total.
  • While this article claims that the Bourne Bridge is the most highly trafficked structurally deficient bridge in Massachusetts, the FHWA data shows that bridge as being only "Functionally Obsolete". Here's the difference:
A bridge is Structurally Deficient if it is in relatively poor condition, or has insufficient load-carrying capacity. The insufficient load capacity could be due to the original design of an older bridge that used lighter design loads, or due to deterioration. A bridge is considered Functionally Obsolete if it is narrow, has inadequate under-clearances, has insufficient load-carrying capacity, is poorly aligned with the roadway, and can no longer adequately service today's traffic.
Now, I should point out that the average daily crossings and total project cost numbers are given by the FHWA only for the year the bridge was last observed. That means I am somewhat inappropriately adding up trips and dollars from anywhere between 1996 and 2006. While normalizing these to get current-year costs and current-year trips would give us a better picture, the figures I've presented without doing so are good-enough for back of the envelope calculations.

Here are the top-ten communities in terms of average daily traffic over structurally deficient bridges:
CityTotal BridgesAverage Daily TripsCombined Miles
Boston 47 1,449,187 0.73
Dedham 5 455,000 0.04
Newton 8 384,317 0.13
Canton 3 321,500 0.04
Fall River 15 308,100 0.44
Danvers 5 267,610 0.03
Framingham 10 203,750 0.12
Attleboro 4 186,300 0.04
Northampton 12 185,813 0.14
Springfield 6 181,095 0.09

GOP Candidate Starts Airing Ads

The Herald's Casey Ross notes in his Daily Briefing blog that Republican candidate Jim Ogonowski has started airing ads in his bid for the Fifth Congressional District seat. The ad itself is well done if generic, though the images in the background flash a little two quickly. I also notice that it does not mention that he's a Republican -- probably a good move in a Democratic district.

Still, the ad buy does not really make sense to me. The only reason the Democrats have aired campaign spots thus far is that they have no choice given the September 4th primary. Ogonowski does not have a primary challenge to speak of; Tom Tierney, his only opponent, doesn't even live in the district. Because of that, he has the luxury of waiting until after Labor Day to start his advertising blitz. That's when people are actually paying attention, home from vacation, and willing to think about politics. I also have to imagine that he has pretty decent name-recognition already.

Oganowski had about $112,00 on hand at the end of last month, less than any of the Democrats except for Rep. Jim Miceli. The conventional wisdom in Washington is that the National Republicans are not all that excited to dump money into what they consider a likely loss in Massachusetts, particularly since they fundraising problems of their own. When Ogonowski is down ten points in the polls come October, I imagine he'll be wishing he still had the money he spent on this ad buy over the summer.

The only way this makes sense is if this is a small ad buy, made more to get media talking about the ad than to actually pay to air it. Otherwise, I think he's jumped the gun.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Five Dems Line Up to Succeed Barrios

The Cambridge Chronicle has the list of candidates who submitted enough signatures to get on the ballot in the race to replace former Senator Jarrett Barrios in the Middlesex, Suffolk and Essex Senate District. The final list looks to be Cambridge City Councilor Anthony Galluccio, Tim Flaherty, son of former House Speaker Charlie Flaherty, Chelsea City Councilor Paul Nowicki, Cambridge resident Jeff Ross, and Laurie Leyshon, also of Cambridge. Bob over at BMG had more information on all of them and a few that didn't make the cut. Bob also subtly urged me to attend a forum this Monday in Charlestown. I'll make every effort to get out there and report back.

The Chronicle does not mention, however, that all of these candidates are Democrats. That means for the third time in four legislative special elections, there will be no Republican on the general election ballot. If you count the special election in East Boston to replace now-Senator Anthony Petruccelli where a GOP candidate has yet to emerge, that makes four out of five special elections that the state Republicans have conceded. You could argue that most of these have been in areas unlikely to be friendly to a Republican candidate, but it's not like there's that much else going on for them to focus on. In any event, this means the election will be decided in the Sept. 11th primary. That means August 22nd will be the last day to register if you want to participate and haven't already.

Last Night's Progressive Forum

Last night, I attended the Fifth-District Congressional Debate sponsored by the Mass Alliance. While I thought that the debate was not very well attended, I talked to some DSC members afterwards who thought that turnout was in line with their expectations, particularly for a debate in Lawrence. Most of the attendees seemed to already be supporters of one of the candidates; I felt like I was the only one in the auditorium not already wearing someone's sticker -- and I can't even vote in this race. I spoke briefly with Mimi from Left in Lowell who confirmed that this was the case for nearly all of the other debates as well.

Outside the school where the debate was held, volunteers lined the street for all candidates except Rep. Jim Miceli. In both debates I've attended, Rep. Miceli has come alone and left alone. I'm sure he has supporters, but I'm starting to wonder if he's a serious candidate if he can't get them to show up anywhere or give him any money. Rep. Barry Finegold had the biggest signs and loudest supporters, but that shouldn't be much of a surprise given that Lawrence is his home turf, so to speak.

The format of the debate was fairly standard. The first round consisted of questions from three panelists -- Carl Nilsson of Neighbor to Neighbor Massachusetts, Cathy Dwyer of the American Federation of Teachers, Massachusetts and Angus McQuilken of Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund. The next was a lightning round conducted by Emily Rooney of WGBH, and following that the candidates were allowed to ask questions of two others. Frankly, I think the panel was wasted -- anyone could have been up there asking questions -- and perhaps we'd have been better served if the panel members could ask follow ups rather than move on to a completely different subject for a second question.

I'm a big fan of Emily Rooney's interviews on Greater Boston, but I'm not sure her style works in this format either. She forgot the opening statements, but she did, I think, keep the candidates honest when they strayed into talking points without answering the question -- at least in the second round.

The questions, as expected, ran the gamut of progressive issues. The candidates were asked about their opinions on the Bush Tax cuts (all are against), the war in Iraq (almost all want out as soon as possible), reproductive choice (one pro-life, four pro-choice), NAFTA (only Tsongas admitted that she would have voted for it at the time), Climate Change, the ERA, DOMA, Health Care and so on. The subjects seemed to be a natural fit for Rep. Jamie Eldridge, who is arguably the most progressive candidate in the race and was the only one of the five to have been endorsed by Mass Alliance in a previous race. It's hard to tell, however, who did well in this debate since most of the ground that was covered had been gone over in previous debates and the format prevented in-depth discussion of any single issue. I felt like I left the forum without having learned much.

There were a couple of interesting moments, though. Rep. Miceli grumped about how no one is paying attention to where the other candidates are getting their money during a question on campaign finance, and Rooney disagreed with him, offering to list the names of all the PACs that had contributed thus far. Miceli also spent his closing statement touting his experience and taking thinly veiled jabs at fellow candidate Niki Tsongas, saying how he couldn't believe someone could be elected to Congress without so much as even local-level experience. Eileen Donoghue also took some shots at Tsongas, pointing out how Tsongas promised ten years ago to bring a Performing Arts Center to Middlesex Community College, yet she couldn't deliver on that. In her defense, Tsongas offered up that the center was "too expensive" but still a possibility. Donoghue also took Rep. Finegold to task for voting in line with the wishes of some campaign contributers, but I feel that this lost a lot of its punch since Donoghue was forced to defend her own acceptance of PAC money earlier in the debate.

I have notes, but unless people are clamoring for a blow-by-blow account, I won't bother transcribing them. My laptop ran out of juice after about the second question and I have only my barely decipherable chicken scratchings to go on for the last hour and a half of the debate. Unfortunately, I could not get a wireless signal otherwise, I'd have live-blogged.

For more, see Marie's post at Dick Howe's blog.

Update: Here are the reports from The Boston Globe and the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

No Place for Genocide Deniers

What started out as one man's crusade to be able to hate gays "and not be called on [it]" has now ventured into the world of international politics and landed on the front page of the Boston Globe. At issue is Watertown's participation in the Anti-Defamation League's No Place for Hate program, and specifically, the efforts of ADL national director Abe Foxman lobbying against a Congressional resolution that would recognize the Armenian Genocide as exactly that. From the Globe:

Sharistan Melkonian -- chairwoman of the Armenian National Committee of Eastern Massachusetts, based in Watertown -- accused Foxman of engaging in "genocide denial" in an interview with the Globe. She said she will call for the Watertown No Place for Hate program to sever its ties with the ADL unless it denounces Foxman's position and acknowledges the genocide.

In a separate interview, Foxman countered that it would be "bigoted" to dismantle a program focused on fighting hatred simply because the ADL does not share the Armenians' point of view. And Foxman maintained his position that the ADL, which has spoken out against ethnic cleansing in the Balkans and genocide in Darfur, does not have a role in the long-standing dispute between the Armenians and the Turks.
See this Daily Kos diary for more background on Foxman and the Armenian Genocide.

Previously, complaints about No Place for Hate were nonsensical claims about how it was some sort of left-wing mind-control conspiracy. But now that it has become known that the program's sponsors are linked to deniers of the Armenian Genocide, the controversy has exploded here in Watertown, which if you believe Wikipedia, has the third largest population of Armenians in the US.

The ADL's regional director Andrew Tarsy wrote a letter in last week's Watertown TAB trying to defend the ADL and Foxman's stance -- or lack thereof -- on the Armenian Genocide. Here's what he had to say on the matter:
Neither ADL nor our national director, Abraham H. Foxman, has lobbied against the legislation. Rather, when asked by media, we expressed an opinion that the issue was one to be resolved between the two countries -- Armenia and Turkey.

There may be disagreement with our opinion, but, as you rightly say, getting rid of "No Place for Hate" is not the answer.
Now the ADL has done a lot of admirable work, but I have to say that if someone had said the same thing about the Holocaust -- that it was a matter for Germany and Israel and the rest of us needn't have an opinion -- they'd surely consider that Holocaust denial and denounce it (as well they should). Certainly they would not chalk it up to a mere difference of opinion, as Tarsy does. Nor does Tarsy go on to explain that their 'opinion' implies that the US should not, in fact, recognize the Armenian Genocide. Given how concerned they are at fighting Holocaust denial, it seems to me to be hypocritical for them to turn around and deny an earlier genocide because they don't comment on "something that happened in the past". I also find it particularly offensive that Foxman himself would claim that it's bigotry to fight for recognition of the Genocide.

Personally, I can't fathom why the ADL doesn't have a position on the Armenian Genocide. After all, inscribed on one of the walls of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington is this quote from Hitler himself: "Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?" One would think that the ADL would take that seriously.

I do, however, understand that Israel needs the support of a friendly Turkey, and pro-Israel groups may be hesitant to antagonize that country. Still, fighting prejudice in general and genocide in particular sometimes means you have to be critical of your friends. I would have more respect for Foxman if he admitted that this was the real reason why the ADL refuses to take a stand, but that does not excuse his denials.

In any event, the position of the ADL on the Armenian Genocide has little effect on the work of the Watertown No Place for Hate committee, which is according to its chairpersons, an autonomous local group that "fully recognizes" the genocide. It does, however, receive program grants through the ADL. According to the Globe, the committee plans to meet with Tarsy and question the ADL's stance on the Armenian Genocide and will consider their options after that meeting occurs.

It would be the height of irony if the NPFH committee were forced to sever ties with the ADL because they didn't live up to their own standards. Yet that might be how it shakes out. I would hope that the Watertown No Place for Hate committee could continue its work without the support of ADL grants, either under that name or as a new group committed to promoting diversity and preventing hate crimes.