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As sketchy farces from Chelmsford and Lawrence try to infiltrate Lowell politics, they bluster glowingly of a “Strong Mayor” system, while concurrently disparaging the civic leaders that hold Lowell up as a model for peer communities for follow.
Former Boston City Councilor Sam Yoon, on the heels of Boston Mayor Menino’s statement to not seek another term, wrote an article of the pitfalls Boston has experienced with a “Strong Mayor” system.
Tom Menino did not create this system. He inherited it. It has been passed through generations of Boston mayors, beginning in the 1940s and 50s. City jobs, city-employed campaign workers, building permits, and kickbacks — legal and illegal — were all tools that mayors regularly used to accumulate power. It was a power that both citizens and councilors feared and respected. So much so that for decades it enabled these mayors to decide on their own terms when to end their mayoralties. The last Boston mayor to lose a bid for re-election was James Michael Curley in 1949. After Curley served a five month prison sentence in 1947, he famously returned to City Hall and promptly insulted the city clerk John Hynes, who had been running the city in his absence. In a fit of pique, Hynes ran against Curley and won.
But would Boston be better if things were different? Yes, if the people were given an alternative. But because the mayor undermines competition for good ideas, there is only one viewpoint, only one party, and only one leader. People generally make the right choice when they hear opposing points of view, but in Boston, for the last 60 years, there has only been one choice.
The ill health of democracy in Boston is why I gave up my safe seat on the City Council in 2009 to campaign for mayor and talk about this problem. I argued that a free flow and exchange of ideas is essential in a democracy, and that in our current strong-mayor system, we didn’t have it.
During my four years in City Hall, debate and deliberation were too often viewed with suspicion or tinged with fear of retribution. As a city councilor I learned why not to ask how taxpayers would be reimbursed if the mayor went ahead with plans to build a skyscraper on a city-funded garage. Why not to ask how much it costs to maintain obsolete fire safety equipment. Why not to ask for more funding for youth programs. There were severe political consequences just for asking. This was bad for the City Council as well as for the voters and taxpayers of Boston.
Yoon’s warnings are not an attack against Mayor Menino, but of a type of government that is easily led astray by a small ‘bubble,’ while most focus on their work-a-day lives. I think we, in Lowell, would be well served to hear what Yoon is trying to tell Bostonians.
Lowell is not Boston and Lowell is not Lawrence. We should emulate the positives and shun the negatives.
OK, it seems that the blog has been a little slower as of late. Thankfully, Jack has added his own special blend of herbs and spices to our recipe. But it still feels like it could use some more frequent posting lately.
Toward addressing that end (in consultation with the landlord) I’ve decided to add my own flavors to the mix. I’ve only posted on the front page a few times on the blog here, having posted a bit at BlueMassGroup. I have, however been very active sharing links I find interesting on Facebook and over email. It occurred to me that I could take a cue from what atrios does occasionally (he used to do it more) and offer the links with a minimum of commentary.
So here it is, the first of what will probably be a regular occurrence that we’ll call “The Mr.’s Corner”. You’ll find I tend to follow more national stories and like many posters on the internet you’ll find some sources for items of interest tend to be visited more often than others. For today, I apologize to people who follow me on Facebook for the redundancies in this post.
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