September 5, 2008
Each Friday, Paul McMorrow will take you inside the smoke-filled rooms and darkly-lit corridors of government to bring you the hottest and juiciest political tidbits. This Week: Mitt Romney in 2012! What’s with the mayor and CVS? Plus: Running against DiMasi in Framingham.
ormer Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney didn’t get a ton of national play during this past week’s exercise in Republican
media baiting democracy, mostly because his teenage sons have, thus far, avoided becoming impregnated by finger-tatted hockey players. But that doesn’t mean the state’s onetime one-term chief executive wasn’t making moves in Minneapolis.
Aside from decrying “eastern elites,” “radical violent Islam,” porno, unions, promiscuity, government, liberals, liberals serving their government, Al Gore and/or air travel, China (and, we think, capitalism?), not to mention newspapers and the lying liars who write them, Romney was busy laying the groundwork for a second, assumedly less-disastrous, run at the White House.
Assuming that hectoring the nation about taxes and Paris Hilton proves insufficient, and assuming that John McCain follows other people’s worst instincts into horrible, ass-freckly defeat, the Republicans will need somebody to swoop down in 2012 and stop surrendering to terror already.
By all indications, that person will be Romney. The National Journal polled a number of party insiders this week, and a full 55 percent believe that, in 2012, Romney will be hitting Jack Abramoff’s leftovers as the GOP’s standard bearer. Romney blew everybody else away – placing a distant second with 15 percent was “Nobody.” (A delightful prospect, to be sure.) Jeb Bush trailed “Nobody” by seven full points.
Romney’s already talking the part, assailing the government that, for all practical purposes, his own party controls. “We need change all right,” he thundered Wednesday night. “Change from a liberal Washington to a conservative Washington! We have a prescription for every American who wants change in Washington – throw out big government liberals and elect John McCain.”
These days, nothing says “ready for primetime” like the ability to whip up stinging feelings of victimhood in the poor, abused majority without betraying a shred of irony.
Locally, Romney’s tenure in the State House generated near-universal derision for its ruthless, naked, utterly transparent ambition. And it looks like that ambition just might pay off. The guy has money and he has built a national organization. He spent the week shoring up the latter, holding daily receptions with supporters.
Safe to say that Jane Swift wasn’t first in line to mingle with Mitt. State House News reported that the former governor, whom Romney elbowed out of the Corner Office in 2002, skipped her successor’s big speech. “I was unfortunately doing another press interview,” she confessed, adding, “I’m sure he did a great job.”
So irony’s not dead after all!
Speaking of Swift, McCain’s vice presidential pick, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, has begun attracting comparisons to the high-flying former acting governor. For those of you reading this from the great frozen north, that’s not a good thing.
The Hill and the Hall spied Brad Jones on CNN during Palin’s speech the other night. He appeared to be listening intently, and was not wearing a cowboy hat. Well done on both counts, sir.
The Boston Public Health Commission’s efforts to ban restaurant patio smoking should generate significant public outcry, but it’s another of the commission’s proposed regulations – the one that would bar pharmacies from selling cigarettes – that is sure to get the city’s political class talking.
While researching his Power profile, we were told by one mayoral observer that the unrestrained vehemence Tom Menino exhibited towards CVS’ in-store clinics (they “seriously compromise quality of care and hygiene,” take advantage of poor sick people in a way that’s “wrong,” and “jeopardize” public safety, Hizzoner said), didn’t just have its roots in the mayor’s fierce allegiance to Boston’s community health centers. It also stemmed, we heard, from a decades-old grudge the mayor nurses against CVS – one that dates to his days as a lowly city councilor.
So is it possible that, having lost the battle to derail the pharmacy’s clinics, City Hall turns around and decides to take a significant chunk out of the store’s bottom line? It certainly puts the explanation in yesterday’s Globe – “Why, in a place where people go to get healthy and get information about staying healthy, would you want to sell something that has absolutely no redeeming value and ends up killing a lot of people?” – in a different light.
News from the suburbs: Somerville isn’t the only city whose residents are being asked to vote in a prospective State Rep specifically because of how little pull that Rep will have with legislative leadership. Framingham’s in on the act, too!
At a forum this week, the town’s incumbent Rep, Pam Richardson, came under fire for staying on Speaker Sal DiMasi’s good side. “I’m not counting on Sal DiMasi looking out for Framingham’s best interest,” one of Richardson’s opponents blasted. Future back-benchers of the world, unite! (Unite, that is, in the cause of not getting any earmarks passed ever.)
Wire services flew to Minneapolis to contribute to this report.
September 12, 2008
Each Friday, Paul McMorrow will take you inside the smoke-filled rooms and darkly-lit corridors of government to bring you the hottest and juiciest political tidbits. This Week: The Boston City Council makes no secret of loathing the Herald; checking in on our politicians’ finances; Plus:The further (alleged) capers of Richard Scirocco.
And you thought John Tomase had it bad. On Wednesday morning, the Herald splashed with a terrifying scoop: The City Council was “mulling a scheme to keep their business secret from the taxpayers who elected them, creating a cone of silence that would make the Hub the only city in the commonwealth exempt from the state’s Open Meeting Law.” The story cited an 80-page internal report up for discussion that morning.
The report was indeed dealt with. But, as the council’s rules committee gathered to digest the document, they also addressed another issue at great length: The evils of the Herald.
“This is a dose of reality that no good deed goes unpunished,” council president Maureen Feeney said, as several of the assembled councilors shot icy looks at Herald’s reporter, who was present to follow up on his scoop. “Instead of being recognized for our efforts to be more transparent, to see how we can function better, we’re villainized and accused of hideous things. On a personal note, I was offended. I take my integrity very seriously. My goal for my political career was to leave with the same level of integrity I entered it with, and when people take your sincere efforts and turn them against you, shame.”
And there was more. Much, much more. (The Herald might not get a cooperative quote out of the council for a long time, but to its credit, it reported the various assaults on itself.)
“The press is positioning this body to look like villains,” Steve Murphy added. “They’re trying to stampede the public. I was completely outraged this morning.” The story, he said, “is false, outrageous, and disgraceful. The news media has decided that this is where we’re going. Thank God we don’t elect them.” He added, for clarity, “We won’t be stampeded by an out of control local media.”
Decrying the paper’s “inflammatory headline,” Feeney argued that the report, composed by a council staffer and in the works for well over a year, tried to address what the councilors can and can’t legally say to each other in an era when they’re facing perpetual Open Meeting Law lawsuits.
“Our focus has been, how do we continue our efforts to be transparent? It’s been turned on us, to where we’re asking how we sidestep transparency. We try to do the work of they people. Nobody here took an oath to circumvent the process. We are the process. And we’re all looking for reassurance that we’re not putting this body in harm’s way,” Feeney said.
For transparency advocates, the report will read a bit like the Yoo torture memo—a stack of sane-sounding legal arguments that wind up justifying an unjustifiable end. Half of it deals with the Open Meeting Law, which, it concludes, unjustifiably and unconstitutionally bars councilors from huddling behind closed doors to discuss city business.
“Speaking with a select group of colleagues or even a lobbyist with business before a legislative body, is what elective officials do and are expected to do,” the report argues. Preventing them from doing so, it says, assaults their rights to speech, assembly, and political association. For added effect, it claims that the Continental Congress and the Declaration of Independence would’ve run afoul of the law today.
And for that reason—because the Founding Fathers wanted it so—the council should be allowed to huddle with the BRA behind closed doors. It recommends three possible changes to the law, all of which could very well guarantee the public’s full right to witness the perfunctory approval of legislation that has been settled far away from the public view. It works for House Ways and Means, after all.
On its face, the Open Meeting Law seems clear: Lawmakers can have dinner together, but a majority of them can’t gather (as the Legislature, which exempted itself from the law, does) to hammer out their business behind closed doors. Having been found guilty of doing this a while ago, the councilors complained Wednesday that the courts had effectively barred them from talking to each other about constituent issues or asking each other to sign on to legislation.
The committee sent the report to the attorney general, the city’s lawyers, the Mass. Municipal Association, and the state clerks’ association. There’s at least one great irony there—when the council was sued for illegal meetings with the BRA, the city’s lawyers argued that the violations weren’t violations because, effectively, the city council doesn’t have any power.
Any action will get a full public hearing—a guarantee that Sam Yoon insisted be put in writing, and one that ultimately was, after several minutes of debate in which the councilors chased each other’s tails around in circles. Yoon later tied abysmally low turnout in the last council election to “the perception that we take action behind closed doors,” saying, “Ultimately, this is an issue that has to do with the council and the public, not with our interpretation of the law. It’s about that relationship.”
That’s much too even-keeled a note to end on. So, Chuck Turner, take it away: “After years of being kicked around by the mayor and the courts, I don’t give a damn. You can print that. I don’t give a damn what the mayor says. We’re going to stand up and say we have a right to have power in this city. The rights of this council have not been defended by the courts and the mayor. This report lays that out clearly. It’s an affront to democracy. The papers beat us up no matter what we do. I’m incensed by the fact that we’re treated like we’re nothing. Now we finally have the material to fight back. I don’t give a damn what you all think.”
That last bit was punctuated by, you guessed it, a hard stare at the Herald’s scribe.
OCPF pre-primary campaign finance reports for Reps, Senators and assorted wannabes just came online. For reporters, it’s like Christmas and Hanukkah and Christmukkah all rolled into one! So let’s see what everybody’s been up to these past nine months.
First up: Senate President Therese Murray. She hasn’t had a serious challenger since 2004, when she faced down some droplet of Mitt Romney’s sweat that grew up into a real live boy. Nevertheless, she’s raised north of $300,000 in the past year.
$250,000 of it went right back out the door in the form of powerfully terrifying communications services (a total of $27,200 to Regan Communications), office furniture ($3,517.80 worth from Jordan’s), consulting ($24,000 to Plymouth-based Creative Strategies), wicked good times ($10,208 for a holiday party), transport ($5,283 in vehicle lease payments), and, obviously enough, flags ($2,424.20 worth of them, actually).
There was also a $200 “charitable donation” to the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council in August, and $1,141.50 in “professional fees” to Cosgrove, Eisenberg and Kiley. One of the firm’s principals, Tom Kiley, is former Senate President Robert Travaglini’s business partner and longtime friend.
Murray now has $243,971.02 in the bank.
Murray’s Senate colleague, Dianne Wilkerson, could certainly use that type of bankroll. She has just $5,233 in the bank after blowing through $156,647 this year. (After those numbers went public, a “Wilkerson campaign source” told State House News that the senator had just raised an additional $40,000.) Nearly half of Wilkerson’s expenses went to consulting and staffing, and another $11,600 for her awesome new website. For that kind of money, it had better be awesome. And able to vote 1,500 times on Tuesday.
By contrast, Wilkerson’s challenger, Sonia Chang-Diaz, ended August with $51,000 in the bank, after raising $132,585 and spending $81,575 in 2008. One wonders how much those numbers—and the polling data Chang-Diaz’s campaign released last month—had to do with Bay Windows jumping ship this week.
For what it’s worth, Chang-Diaz has spent less than half what Wilkerson has on consulting and staffing. And her office furniture? She bought $50 worth, and it came from Craigslist.
The election season’s other great exercise in the politics of bloodsport, the 34th Middlesex State Rep race, also yields some interesting finance data.
Carl Sciortino, who began the year with just $7,620 in his account, has raised an impressive $91,623 this year, and has $40,372 of it left. Among the campaign’s more hilarious expenditures: On June 6, the incumbent himself dropped $10 on a map of Medford. And the source of that hilarity: In this week’s Somerville News, Sciortino’s Speaker-thumping challenger, Bob Trane, suggests that “Carl Sciortino really should invest in a map of the 34th district.” Way ahead of you, Bob!
Trane has $6,215 remaining—slightly less than he began 2008 with. He has burnt through every penny he’s raised this year. Although signs don’t vote, he’s got a ton of them out there. Word from the left side of the left side of the aisle is that Sciortino’s field ops will impress on Tuesday (who’s bothering to vote in this primary, anyway?), but the Herald’s Wayne Woodlief says this one’s already over.
House Ways and Means chair Bob DeLeo and Majority Leader John Rogers have been sizing each other up for most of the year now. Let’s do the same.
DeLeo took in $229,339 this year, and he has $354,039 in the bank. That amount dwarfs Rogers’s $78,654. The Majority Leader has raised, and then spent, $56,000 this year. These differences could matter, if votes really are for sale.
One item on DeLeo’s tab stands out, and it’s not the $7,300 “office dinner” at Grill 23 during the height of the summer’s leadership battle. It’s the $78 meal he had two days later, at Comella’s in Wellesley, billed as “Lunch W/ Rep Petrollati.” SIC!
John Buonomo is dead (politically). Long live John Buonomo!
Or, alternately, long live whoever’s been pulling a John Buonomo—to the tune of twelve large—over in the Suffolk County register’s office. This stuff just doesn’t end.
How badass is it that Woody Kaplan lists occupation as “provocateur” on his campaign finance records? (Answer: Wicked)
Thanks to vicious deadlines and us being dumb and all, the Hill and the Hall neglected to mention last week that Richard Scirocco, the alleged Somerville domestic batterer who mounted a caustic, possibly death-threat-filled, and astoundingly unsuccessful bid to unseat Mayor Joe Curtatonelast fall, was recently arrested. With a bunch of cocaine. And a double-edged knife. Natch.
Troopers busted Scirocco and a 21-year old man in Revere on cocaine distribution charges two weeks ago, after noticing the pol’s truck speeding and committing various marked lanes violations. The kicker? Scirocco, who once complained that media coverage of the various restraining orders the four mothers of his children had taken out against him was “completely the reason I lost” to Curtatone, got busted holding his coke package in a school zone. That’s usually a no-no for former Little League officials.
September 19, 2008
Each Friday, Paul McMorrow will take you inside the smoke-filled rooms and darkly-lit corridors of government to bring you the hottest and juiciest political tidbits. This Week: All the primary day madne$$; Why is John Rogers investing in real estate, of all things? John Buonomo wins?Plus:How Sal DiMasi spent his money.
Democracy happened on Tuesday, and what a mess it left behind. John Kerry beat back some RFK lookalike. Longtime Senate fixture Dianne Wilkerson was overthrown by an astronaut’s daughter in a low-turnout race that broke largely along racial and neighborhood lines.
A machine boss’s daughter brought gubernatorial hellfire upon her head in a race she already had sewn up. And Carl Sciortino, the kid Rep who lost his nomination papers and couldn’t find anybody in Somerville to give him money, won on stickers over a guy who actually had his name on the ballot. Wicked drama all around.
Way back in January, this column compared Mayor Menino’s field ops to a rusty Datsun. The results of the New Hampshire primary, where Hizzoner went all-in for Hillary Clinton, certainly belied that analysis. Wilkerson’s loss is another story. It’s the latest in a string of local races (Tom Reilly,Jeff Drago, Boston’s presidential primary) that the mayor has put his shoulder into, and still lost.
“The urban mechanic needs a tune-up,” a source inside City Hall quips. “City Hall was a ghost town on Tuesday. The lights were on but nobody was home.Michael Kineavy dispatched City Hall staff to work the polls, man the phone banks, and get out the vote, and Wilkerson still lost. The mayor’s machine is rusty, and while he may have high favorability in the polls, it’s certainly not translating into votes.”
Last week we detailed Majority Leader John Rogers’ latest campaign filings ($56,000 spent on cars, food, phones and golf). There’s another sizable withdrawal coming out of that account soon: A $30,000 settlement with state campaign finance regulators.
OCPF announced the settlement—not a fine, mind you—yesterday. OCPF’s investigation into a June, 2007 Globe story about the Majority Leader’s questionable use of campaign funds (he’d funneled nearly $200,000 into a consulting business his former law partner had set up for the apparent sole purpose of consulting for him) revealed that some of that money ultimately paid mortgage bills on a Falmouth vacation home one of the consultants jointly owned with the Norwood Democrat.
The way it works is: Rogers sends money to a friend, who pays another friend a salary, and right after getting paid every month, that other friend makes a payment on the Cape house. A house which Rogers co-owned. Nice system, that.
Some people will doubtlessly react to this news by saying that the settlement effectively kills any chance Rogers has of beating back theDeLeo/Petrolati forces and becoming the House’s next speaker. (After a long, long, long, long, long, long time, obvs.) Others might say that it’s proof that Rogers is ready to lead from Day One.
The Hill and the Hall has different concerns. It’s not so much how Rogers’ vacation home gets paid for, but the fact that he’s apparently funneling campaign cash into the real estate market. Real estate? In this market, Mr. Majority Leader?
There are so many better ways to get rich off sketchy 75 State Street schemes these days. Think inelastic demand. Card games, stolen cigarettes, what about bankrolling dog fighting, maybe?
This is the (alleged) thievery portion of our weekly report, apparently. So let’s point out that (alleged!) thief John Buonomo rolled to victory on Tuesday, despite having quit his post the week before. Let’s also point out that, while Buonomo is widely expected to take his name off November’s ballot, he has yet to do so, and that, when given the chance to rule his client out of the race, Buonomo’s lawyer refused and deferred comment to the Secretary of State’s office.
And this is what Bill Galvin’s office had to say: “We can’t say yes or no until we get something from them.”
(Please, please Lord, let this guy think he has a shot of getting re-elected in November. Please let him run. It would be a truly spectacular spectacle. Truly.)
And besides, Buonomo’s sitting on top of nearly $135,000 in campaign funds. What’s he going to do with that if he skulks off the ballot and out of office? Buy a house?
Final numbers aren’t in yet, but let’s assume that right now, Ed O’Reilly is still on the hook for $400,000 in loans to his campaign. (He was in for upwards of $600,000 of his own money, but at last report, had been able to reimburse himself for something like $200,000.) Now, according to our dreadful math skills, O’Reilly’s 153,636 votes cost him $2.60 apiece. Of his own cash. That’s one hell of a vanity run.
But take heart, Ed. Your own personal financial disaster is nothing compared to Mitt Romney. The former governor spent $1.16 million per delegatefor the privilege of failing in front of the whole country. Mitt’s $40 million in personal funds shook out to $147,601 per delegate.
So, Ed, next time somebody comes up to you and tries to say that challenging John Kerry was a fantastically dumb thing to do, remember this: It wasn’t as dumb as it could’ve been.
We neglected to mention one big name missing from last week’s orgy of OCPF data: House Speaker Sal DiMasi. Here’s what the big guy’s money has been up to these past eight months.
DiMasi raised $234,000, spent $209,000 of it, and ended August with $416,491 in hand. He dropped $12,534 on lawyerly stuff with Tom Kiley‘s firm, nearly $10,000 on printing and mailings, over $1,000 in “gifts” from a Newton liquor store, and roughly $900 for rounds at the Ipswich Country Club.
And while much has been made about the $30,000 DiMasi spent on feeding himself and others, there are other line items that pop out. Like the two $1,000 expenditures for “professional services” with Vitale, Caturano & Co. in February.
Beyond that, there’s the torrent of money flowing towards Sage Systems, the controversial consulting firm headed by a DiMasi associate, Bill Carito. DiMasi’s own campaign account sent over $58,000 Sage’s way; his Committee for a Democratic House PAC added $42,872 this year. The PAC sent over $48,000 to Sage in 2007.
Sage has long been the subject of grumbling among backbenchers and old Finneran loyalists, who have claimed the Democratic House PAC is being used as a sop for the Speaker’s friends. The PAC funds the maintenance of voter analysis software, and House members have to pay to access the data; Finneran’s PAC, by contrast, made direct payments to Reps facing re-election fights. (This year, the Mass. Republican House PAC made $500 maximum contributions to 12 candidates. When the issue was raised earlier this year, the Speaker’s political aides argued that the firm’s work has a much greater impact on local races than $500 contributions would.)
But Sage is also doing quite well for itself. From January, 2007 to August, 2008, it pulled in over $855,000 worth of business. The Speaker’s campaign account, his PAC, and the Democratic State Committee paced that business.
Still, in this election cycle, just 38 House Democrats took advantage of Sage’s services. Tony Verga did, to the tune of $21,500. He lost on Tuesday.Paul Donato, one of the speaker’s close confidants, dropped $13,000 with the firm and easily won his re-election fight. Charlie Murphy spent well over $66,000 with the firm. For that kind of money, Sage should throw in free tickets to St. Croix. Or not.
Wire services contributed to this report.
September 26, 2008
Each Friday, Paul McMorrow will take you inside the smoke-filled rooms and darkly-lit corridors of government to bring you the hottest and juiciest political tidbits. This Week: You thought Dianne Wilkerson would go away? Holy Sam Yoon! How the city councilor might shake things up if he gets in the race for the Mayor’s office; Speaking of the mayor’s office, you guys sure you want the job?
This city is dying for a great political race. What we’re getting instead is a race about race, and it’s going to be filthy.
Dianne Wilkerson is scrambling to retain her Senate seat. She lost last week’s Democratic primary to Sonia Chang-Diaz, and responded in familiar fashion: Surrounded by adoring supporters, she spoke defiantly, blamed her misfortunes on outside forces, and vowed to fight on.
Three years ago, the AG was suing her for campaign finance violations; she countered with a farcically exploitative rally in a Mattapan church. The setting was different this time around—a Grove Hall lodge – but the message no less subtle. When Wilkerson is in a corner, her troubles cease being her own. They’re shared by anybody whose skin looks like hers.
If Tuesday’s rally was any indication, here’s Wilkerson’s strategy for November: Divide an already divided district, cast Chang-Diaz as a white (white enough) interloper, and hope that Barack Obama pulls more votes in Roxbury than he does in JP.
Tuesday’s rhetoric had aggressive racial overtones. Wilkerson’s staff cried fraud and disenfranchisement and Florida. Bob Marshall put Chang-Diaz among “the wine-and-brie crowd.” Chuck Turner said Wilkerson’s seat was “rooted in the politics of the black community.”
Asked to clarify her contention that, “This is the first time in a long time we will not have a senator who is a person of color,” METCO executive director Jean McGuire told the Dorchester Reporter, “There are white Hispanics and black Hispanics,” adding, “She is not a person of color.”
The politics of hope it ain’t. Small wonder the mayor wants nothing to do with this thing.
Mayor Menino, of course, has troubles of his own to worry about. Michael Flaherty, he can handle on his own. But next year’s mayoral race might’ve just gotten a lot messier.
On Thursday, the Globe reported that invitations to a California fundraiser cast at-large city councilor Sam Yoon as being on a “quest to become the first Asian-American mayor of Boston.” The Hill and the Hall got on the phone and practically begged Yoon spokesman Curtis Ellis to rule his guy out of the mayor’s race. What we got was firm noncommittal.
While forcefully emphasizing that, “Absolutely, in no way were these invitations approved or designed by Sam,” Ellis went on to say, “He has not made a decision about running. He’s thinking about it. What councilor hasn’t thought about it? He has not made a decision, and he’s not going to make a decision.”
That’s a lot of words right there, and “No” wasn’t one of them.
The news caught many people inside City Hall off guard, but not all of them. To these people, they can see it in the way Yoon has been walking around City Hall lately. He thinks he can pull this thing off. Deval Patrick did it. Obama’s doing it. Why not him, too?
“It’s on,” says one person inside the Hall. “There’s no sense announcing now. You have to wait until you can get some exposure in the papers. But the cat’s out of the bag. I think he’s in.”
Asked if Yoon might be flirting with the mayor’s office one term too soon, another City Hall insider replied, “He views these things differently than conventional political wisdom. That’s appealing to some people. It definitely makes things a lot more interesting than they were the day before yesterday.”
Interesting, because three candidates means a preliminary election in September. It means a much longer campaign calendar. It means a splintered base, and more bruising exposure for the mayor. And, with two challengers presumably in the race, it’s exponentially more likely that we’ll see other people jump into the race, too.
“The floodgates are gonna open,” City Hall Insider One predicts. “It’s going to be a nightmare” for the mayor’s people. Bruce Wall could jump in and start banging heads. Or somebody from the private sector. Or somebody from inside the State House. As the political sage Kevin Garnett says, now,anything’s possible.
The undercard to this battle might actually be worth watching, too. The council race has been sleepy thus far, but two potential at-large openings on the City Council “creates a highly competitive race, and draws in a ton of candidates,” City Hall Insider Two says. The smart money has both of those spots going to candidates of color. “I suspect there’ll be some candidates who might not have been considering themselves candidates until yesterday.”
All of which should make for an intrigue-filled year on the fifth floor of City Hall, as the administration squeezes its enemies from the inside. Flaherty’s already “toxic in the building,” City Hall One says. “Everybody’s afraid to talk to him.” And forget about getting anything done. Right now, if the Southie councilor called in a pothole, DPW would go out and dig a bigger one right next to it.
There’s another question that needs to be asked: Who wants to be mayor right now, anyways?
New York magazine recently speculated that Wall Street’s implosion, and the government budget crises it will unleash, could resurrect “the bad old days of the seventies” and break Michael Bloomberg. Things in Boston will be even bloodier.
New York can at least fall back on meals and rooms taxes. Boston is handcuffed by home rule. It can’t raise money on its own. So it’s dependent on a shrinking, over-stressed property tax base and local aid from the state. And you can kiss the latter goodbye. Growth in the state budget has been driven by capital gains—surges on Wall Street—not by any meaningful economic growth.
As the stock market goes, so goes the budget. The legislature has been skating by for years, preferring to fund politically popular programs and earmarks and borrow against higher tax collections, rather than close the state’s structural budget deficit. That tactic won’t work this year. And it’s Boston—the largest recipient of state aid—that will pay.
And while revenue is dwindling, costs (driven by health care and labor contracts) continue to swell. Menino has thus far managed to plug holes with one-time cash infusions and creative borrowing. But whoever is mayor for the next four years will, in all likelihood, have the honor of slashing the city’s budget, and presiding over school closings, and labor unrest. If basic city services like trash pickup, pothole-filling and parks maintenance don’t crumble altogether, it’ll be a victory.
At least one political observer believes that these concerns will shape Menino’s thinking next year. “The economy weighs heavily on whether he runs again,” this person says. “He gives every appearance of running. But he’s had, for the most part, a good ride on the economy. With this downturn, and shitty contracts he’s given out – is it time to say, Hey, I’ve had enough of this?”
There’s a flip-side to that thinking. A race dominated by the economy would force challengers to tilt at the mayor’s strengths. Yes, several people inside City Hall believe his political operation is weak and exhausted and, frankly, sick of jumping for Hizzoner whenever he comes calling.
But anyone challenging Menino next year will be fighting him on his own ground: Few pols in the country, let alone in this town, have been as aggressive as Menino has in defending homeowners from the current market’s ills. That’ll be a high hurdle for anybody to clear.