For Boston City Council
MAINTAINING a good mix of veterans and newcomers on the 13-member Boston City Council promotes sensible and forward-looking legislation. So-called ''Young Turks'' occupy the council presidency and five of the body's nine district seats. Institutional memory runs deep in the at-large seats, where four incumbents hope to turn back as many challengers on election day next Tuesday, Nov. 4.
While welcoming to new talent, the Globe endorses all four incumbents in the at-large race -- Maura Hennigan, Stephen Murphy, Michael Flaherty, and Felix Arroyo -- for a two-year term. None of the challengers offers convincing reasons why experience should be pushed aside. On the contrary, another year of anticipated cuts in state aid for cities and towns argues for practiced hands to help shape the city's $1.8 billion operating budget.
Maura Hennigan, an 11-term councilor, was looking politically peaked before last May, when she regained her form after stumbling on poorly patched pavement in Dorchester. In just a few months, Hennigan was an expert on the best compacting materials to fill trenches, the digging habits of utilities, and the $22 million deposit account for street repairs held close by a stingy Menino administration. She even launched a website for residents to report ruts. Hennigan's attention to such an unglamorous issue is emblematic of her overall concern for quality-of-life issues.
Stephen Murphy used his Beacon Hill connections to good purpose last summer when fighting for local aid restorations for Boston. The 46-year-old incumbent, serving his third full term, acts as a bridge between younger and veteran councilors. He also weathers Mayor Menino's political paroxysms better than most.
''If he screams, half of them dive under their desks,'' says Murphy of his colleagues. The councilor from Hyde Park may appear rash, but he's smart and attentive, as evidenced by his recent role in reforming an ill-conceived state law requiring Boston to set aside disproportionate funds to pay abatements on property taxes.
The City Council president, Michael Flaherty, has been assailed in recent weeks by a district councilor who pegged him as autocratic and complicit in ''institutional racism.'' It can be argued that Flaherty has been arbitrary when applying a procedural rule used to silence councilors who stray from direct city business. But the racism charge was deeply unfair. Flaherty, 34, represents the new political leadership in Boston that rejects the racial divisiveness of the past.
Flaherty recognizes percolating issues. He tracks potential land sales by the Archdiocese of Boston for use as schools or inexpensive housing. He argues passionately for city funds for drug treatment to block further inroads by heroin dealers. And he used his Council clout to pressure Manulife Financial Corp. to make good on its commitments to city housing and job training trusts. Flaherty understands the city's pressure points, and he uses that knowledge responsibly.
Felix Arroyo, who finished fifth in last month's preliminary, is fighting gamely to retain his seat. The city's first Latino councilor boasts an impressive resume, including stints as a member of the Boston School Committee and personnel director for the City of Boston. Arroyo will ensure equity for minority students if the School Department, as expected, expands its system of walk-to neighborhood schools. And he brings an understanding of how tough it is to make a go of it financially in Boston, a point made well when Arroyo speaks of needing a relative's help to make a down payment on a family home.
It should be noted that challenger Patricia White, the 33-year-old daughter of former Mayor Kevin White, ran third in last month's preliminary. She's adroit at handling political scripts but tends to get lost in deeper issue discussions. White appears tenuously connected to the city's problems despite having grown up in one of the best seats -- politically speaking -- in the house.
Another credible challenger, 24-year-old Matt O'Malley, is bright but brash. He urges the abolition of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, the agency that promotes development at the same time that it shapes the city's urban planning efforts. It's useful to compare that approach with Arroyo's more measured home rule petition to resolve the agency's conflicting mission by creating a Boston City Planning Department.
For District 4
The wisdom of retaining incumbents does not extend, however, to District 4, where 20-year veteran Charles Yancey has lost focus. The challenger, 30-year-old Ego Ezedi, is knocking on the doors of the district with a strong message for change. Ezedi, on leave as an aide to US Representative Michael Capuano, is no political upstart. He brings constituent service experience and a willingness to tackle tough economic development issues facing parts of Dorchester and Mattapan. Ezedi speaks with authority about the economically diverse district, including the need to bring jobs to depressed Bowdoin Street and quality housing to middle class sections of Mattapan. The Globe endorses his candidacy.
Yancey is running on a long record. But he broke faith with Boston's students in 2000 when he opted to vote against a nearly $98 million loan order to build three new schools in the city. Yancey says he opposed a middle school in a residential section of his Mattapan district because better and cleaner sites were available. But in the campaign he has claimed that he voted to support the construction of two other schools in Dorchester and Roxbury. Council minutes make clear, however, that Yancey voted against the loan order for all three school not once, but twice. It was a shortsighted view for a councilor who insists that his record on education stacks up against that of any sitting councilor.
Yancey's knowledge of the city budget is superior to Ezedi's. But the challenger will learn the numbers. Yancey, who says he would vote the same way on the school loan orders again, has become too set in ways that don't always serve his district.This story ran on page A18 of the Boston Globe on 10/29/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.