Boston Herald ~ Mayor, council star in urban comedy

February 16, 2001 under Boston HELP

by Tom Keane

It once was that when I walked by the Beacon Street headquarters of the Church of Scientology, church followers would accost me, asking me to take a personality test. Now, thanks to the largesse of the city of Boston, I expect they’ll be demanding I take a literacy test.

Boston’s inadvertent grant to the Scientologists to promote reading has provoked an outcry because when we talk about government aid to faith-based organizations, we don’t mean those faith-based organizations. We mean our faith-based organizations.

It has been a hectic few weeks in the urban comedy that is Boston.

Down at City Hall, there’s a hue and cry over the stratospheric earnings last year by the city’s police officers. Many made over $100,000, a few over $200,000. This is an outrage because police officers are only worth, well, I don’t know how much they’re worth. But there’s no way they should be making as much as 25-year-old, first-year associates at law firms who are trying to keep out of prison the guys the cops are arresting, right? And they certainly shouldn’t be making as much as the jean-clad, Foosball-playing dot-com executives who just wasted $20 million of their investors’ money building a company that went belly-up last week.

Meanwhile Mayor Thomas Menino, still hoping that the current hit movie “Thirteen Days” is a description of how long he’ll have to spend on his re-election campaign, has been spearheading efforts to fix Boston’s Web site. A column in this space a year ago took the city to task for failing to update the site. The mayor’s schedule, for example, was three months out of date.

Well, Menino took care of that, all right.

The mayor’s schedule is no longer posted on the Web site.

Menino in any event is basking in glory. He’s in the last year of his second term and looking forward to another four years of what he has frequently called the “best job in America.”

The latest triumph?

The mayor has just gotten approval to install eight public bathrooms around the city. It took four long years of toil, filled with dark machinations and secret backroom deals, but, dadgummit, he got it done.

That, my friends, is power.

And it’s power Menino intends to keep as his own. Two city councilors are currently nosing around, trying to figure out whether they should run for mayor. One, Mickey Roache, reportedly just spent $4,800 for polling. He says the numbers look good for him.

Bad news, Mickey. A decent poll costs at least $15,000. Going cheap probably means you hired friends to make the calls (“But Mickey’s a terrific guy! Are you sure you wouldn’t consider supporting him?”). If they’re telling you to run, think twice.

Besides that, you’re better off staying in the City Council, where the proposal du jour is to have city councilors, rather than the mayor, run the schools. Backed by Menino’s other possible challenger, Councilor Peggy “If Menino says it’s Tuesday, then it must be Wednesday” Davis-Mullen, it would end up taking away most of the mayor’s power and handing it to the council.

(All of which makes one wonder: If Peggy really supports this idea, why then would she want to be mayor?)

I think it’s a great idea. It’s time we got the school department to focus on its real mission: hiring friends and campaign workers of politicians.

But why stop with the school department? Let’s have the council run public works as well. Right now when it snows, the city clears major roadways first. Once the council’s in charge, that’ll change.

First to be cleared? South Boston. It’s No. 1 in voter turnout. Then it’s on to neighborhoods like West Roxbury, East Boston and Charlestown. And the financial district? All those workers live outside the city anyway. The spring thaw will take care of them.

I also think the council should run the election department. Today, challengers to incumbents can walk right into City Hall, file their papers and get on the ballot. The council will put a stop to that. “You want to run against whom? Just a second . . . Oh, I’m sorry. There seems to be something wrong with your signatures.”

This will have the added advantage of doing away with elections entirely, saving money and making sure that councilors can focus on the people’s business rather than wasting time knocking on doors.

And that business? I saw a group of Hare Krishnas chanting in Copley Square a few days ago. Now that we have the Scientologists tutoring our kids in reading, perhaps we can pay the Krishnas to teach them to sing.

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