Maura In The News

Hennigan tries for win number 12

HENNIGAN won't dance with Boston's political machine.

A POTHOLE GAPES from the crosswalk at the corner of East and West Broadway in South Boston, creating dangerous terrain for anyone using a wheelchair, pushing a stroller, or simply not looking at the ground while walking.

Last Saturday, at a stand-out on that corner, City Councilor Maura Hennigan noticed the pothole and became incensed. In May, the at-large city councilor who is running for re-election in November was marching in a Haitian-unity parade when she tripped in a pothole on Blue Hill Avenue in Dorchester and broke her ankle. After the incident, she launched a vigorous campaign to eradicate potholes (she calls them a "menace" to pedestrians and drivers alike) citywide.

Hennigan points out that while the city has $22 million to spend on pothole repair, it doesnt use the money. So, to help track and enforce this critical maintenance, Hennigan is developing a Web site that will allow Boston residents to report potholes to the Department of Public Works and periodically check on repair status. She describes the Web site as a kind of police log, where citizens can keep tabs on their public officials, and calls for fining utility companies that fail to fix potholes properly. So great is her enthusiasm, it seems distinctly possible that the 51-year-old city councilor would consider tackling the potholes on her own, if given the chance.

Potholes arent the only issue that gets Hennigans blood boiling. One crusade at the forefront of her campaign is education. Because she is reluctant to return to a neighborhood-based school system before every neighborhood actually has enough schools, as some councilors have proposed, she argues for following through on school-construction plans before eliminating busing. As District Six councilor (a position she held for 18 years), Hennigan was instrumental in advocating for the construction of the Patrick J. Lyndon Pilot School in West Roxbury, an endeavor that addressed two of her major concerns: creating new educational models and providing more seats in Boston classrooms. Shes also passionate about affordable housing. Criticizing Mayor Tom Meninos office for not addressing housing woes directly in the city budget, she talks of setting aside 10 percent of the citys growth revenue every year to help leverage state and federal funds for affordable housing. And she is fiercely supportive of "financial literacy" initiatives so much so that she took her pay raise last year and distributed it to seven nonprofit agencies around the city for classes that would help both adults and children learn to manage their money.

Indeed, on many issues Hennigan stands out as an independent voice on the council, much like her predecessor Peggy Davis-Mullen, who left the council in 2000 to run for mayor against Menino and lost. Hennigan has spoken out on everything from the state of Bostons animal shelters to rebuilding Fenway Park to transgender rights. She sets herself apart from what she calls Bostons "political machine." "Im not on that dance card," Hennigan says, while stressing that her tendency to agree to disagree is "very different from being contentious." She does sound frustrated, though, when talking about "some of my other colleagues" who she says dont take the same political risks. Davis-Mullen, who describes todays council as continuing "to struggle with its independence," says Hennigans voice stands out because "there seems to be even fewer voices of dissent and debate" than in the past.

By taking political risks for example, last week Hennigan was the only councilor to question a settlement between Bostons Inspectional Services Department and a former employee who claims she was fired when she tried to blow the whistle on the administration Hennigan thinks she has pretty much alienated the "institutional support" in already-established political and fundraising circles that some of her opponents will get. She relies more on neighborhood voters who see her at stand-outs, events around the city, and community meetings year-round. But however loyal, those voters cannot be expected to turn out in droves for elections that run only city councilors on the ballot. As Hennigan herself observes, "The higher the turnout, the better I usually do."

Hennigan blames her relatively weak showing in the September 23 preliminary election on low turnout, saying many of the voters who participate in preliminary council elections are members of city unions, City Hall workers, and activists all of whom are, generally speaking, more politically active than many of her supporters. Davis-Mullen agrees. "People on the city payroll make up a large number of the people who vote," she says. "And sometimes they are pressured." (Hennigan placed fourth in the preliminaries, garnering 14 percent of the vote behind incumbents Michael Flaherty and Stephen Murphy and newcomer Patricia White. Fellow at-large incumbent Felix Arroyo got 12 percent of the vote.) On Election Day, when turnout will certainly be higher, Hennigan says she is confident she will make the top four.

To do so, shell have to do battle with Arroyo, whom she considers one of her progressive allies on the council. While Arroyo, a Latino, and African-American councilors Charles Yancey of District Four and Chuck Turner of District Seven have used recent debate over the councils Rule 19 to cry foul along racial lines (see "Local Color," page 18), Hennigan suggests the bodys divide is more generational. She worries that younger councilors (including Flaherty, District Six councilor John Tobin, who was elected to Hennigans old seat two years ago when she decided to run citywide, District Eight councilor Mike Ross, District Five councilor Rob Consalvo, and District One councilor Paul Scapicchio) are calling for new blood while downplaying experience and knowledge.

"Theres this dynamic that we only want to use the new people. When I first came in, I wanted to learn from Ray Flynn," she says of the veteran councilor who went on to become mayor. "I asked them, What do you think? Because the more you know, the more information you have.... I think the dynamic that has developed hurts the body as a whole."

Now Hennigan, who has served 22 years on the council first as an at-large councilor when all seats were citywide, followed by 18 years representing Jamaica Plain and West Roxbury until she was elected at-large councilor two years ago is in the position to provide insight and guidance, if anyone will take it.


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