Maura In The News

Backbone deserves vote
By Brian McGrory, Globe Columnist, 11/4/2003

Exactly one decade ago, after covering Thomas M. Menino's first election as mayor, I set a lofty journalistic goal. My goal was to never spill a drop of ink writing about the Boston City Council, because no reader with even the hint of a normal life could possibly care about the collection of political miscreants and misfits who make up that perenially underachieving group.

Today, I fail in achieving that goal, though it's been, from my perspective anyway, a terribly gratifying run.

I fail because today is the City Council election, and my native city seems about to make a huge mistake. The electorate appears ready to oust the most consistent voice of dissent on the council. I ask you to carefully consider your choice.

First, here's the unvarnished truth about Boston politics in 2003: It's boring beyond belief, bleached of even the slightest splash of color, drained of the legendary campaigns. Once, we were an incubator for creative ideas, bruising politics, and fascinating candidates. Now we offer the nation John F. Kerry, and the nation in turn offers us a collective yawn.

Through good times and bad, the City Council has always been good for a laugh, whether it was the ever-mortifying Dapper O'Neil slurring another group of minorities whose names he couldn't pronounce or Jimmy Kelly threatening fisticuffs on the council floor or a resolution demanding peace in some far-flung place like Tibet.

These days, we don't even have that. Led by Michael F. Flaherty, the council is a group of intellectual and political lightweights hoping against hope that Menino will retire and endorse one of them to take his place.

In fact, this is the most sycophantic City Council in modern history. It very intentionally creates no waves. It offers no check upon our powerful mayor. Its theme song might as well be "The Sounds of Silence."

Take, for instance, the case of mayoral friend Kevin Joyce. He is the head of the city's Inspectional Services Department who was accused by his onetime assistant of rigging bids and then demoting her for refusing to play along. The city paid her $240,000 to go away and then kept Joyce on the job.

And where's the council? Profile in courage Mike Ross said of Joyce, "I would argue he has a very good record in local government." And Bonnie and Clyde were fastidious bank patrons.

Flaherty was probably out doing what he always does: begging people for money as part of his quaintly naive dream of someday being mayor.

And the rest of the council was silent -- the rest of the council, that is, but one, and that one was Maura Hennigan.

Admittedly, she is a mediocre campaigner and an occasionally unpleasant presence. I wouldn't want her as mayor.

But on my City Council, she's got the top slot. Why? Because she has a backbone. Because she's unafraid to point out flaws. Because unlike the rest, she leaves footprints where she walks.

The city's dog owners should break through walls to get to the polls on her behalf. Hennigan uncovered the fact that the famously obnoxious Animal Control office dumped dog carcasses in the trash. Then she single-handedly hounded its incompetent director, Steve Crosby, right out of his job.

She chronicles the city's worst potholes on her own website. She was the only critic of keeping Joyce on the job. She says things that other city officials don't want to hear.

Understand, I like Menino. He's a good man doing a good job. But opposition makes every politician sharper. A monopoly allows people to get lazy and to overreach.

You get four votes for at-large councilors today. In a tight race featuring four incumbents and Patricia White, the daughter of the former mayor, Hennigan appears to be the odd one out.

It's exactly what Menino, Flaherty, and so many lemminglike councilors want, which is exactly why you should give Hennigan one of your votes, a vote of balance, a nod to common sense.

Brian McGrory is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]

© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

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