Sunday, April 08, 2007

City Manager for Boston

Issue Date: 4/5/2007, Posted On: 4/4/2007

Boston and Beyond

Kevin John Sowyrda
Crime is “not out of control” and, “this city works” and “the bad guys don’t control the city,” Mayor Menino told the people of Dorchester earlier this week. Between gun shots and belly laughs, that is. Had he continued to share his eccentric view of the world at large, he probably would have added that Elvis is alive, the Celtics play mind-boggling basketball and that he’s soon to be beaming up to the Mother Ship for advice on a presently doomed reelection bid — which would explain his present politically catatonic state of mind.

Mayor Menino is not well, anymore than the city is well. This is the nature of politics given the fact that leaders and their spheres of influence have purely symbiotic relationships. When the mayor is sick, the city is ailing; and when the city is failing, so too is Hizzoner.

With a nearly 50 percent increase in the Hub’s murder rate compared to that of last year, the mayor’s painfully oblivious attitude and his moribund intent to paint a Norman Rockwell picture of a mountain of crime scenes is disturbing, at best. I’m beginning to consider the possibility that Hizzoner just rented the new Marie Antoinette movie staring Kirsten Dunst and simply took to heart the Queen’s blissful oblivion amidst popular suffering, figuring maybe that little Austrian was on to something. But the mayor must have missed the movie’s ending, don’t you think?

Today’s suffering will be ignored by our leaders only at their peril. The suffering can be seen in the faces of victims’ families who seem ill satisfied by a figure head at city hall who wants us to eat cake. After all, Hizzoner is hardly affected by pedestrian life in Boston — given the many armaments I suspect are tucked underneath the JC Penny suits of his around the clock body guard detail.

Accordingly, putting all hyperbole in a lock box for however brief a moment, we should consider the following. It’s time for the city to self-revolutionize and form an entirely new government structure which has the expertise to address the mounting challenges of the day.

The era of boss hog politicians running the melting pots of America should be over and give way to the growing trend of professionalizing municipal government. This wave of depoliticizing local services first began in the Commonwealth in the 1950s. Since then there has been a gradual march to reform and improve city and town governance by vesting executive powers in appointed public policy wonks, as is the case in Cambridge which is administrated by City Manager Robert W. Healy. If you ever wondered what people do after graduating from the Kennedy School of Government, now you know.

Boston should just do it. An appointed, ceremonial mayor — from the ranks of the city council — would be just fine for the mundane tasks of ribbon cutting and parading handsomely at holiday occasions. But a qualified city manager, given a lengthy contract for cover from undue political influence, will clearly alleviate the growing anxiety in the neighborhoods that there’s no one at the City Hall helm who has the intellectual power, the imagination or the political independence to lead the Hub through the tough times ahead. Imagine a city chief executive forbidden to raise campaign funds. Imagine a city chief executive who doesn’t have to worry about what the pollsters say or what the developers want him to do. Imagine a city chief executive who can actually speak the English language.

I’m not holding my breath for things to change in Boston overnight. I sadly anticipate that Menino’s failure to lead during this crime crisis will continue long after my hair turns even grayer. That’s why those citizens who are able to will continue to pack up the U-Haul and head for the ’burbs because many people think that Boston is no longer a safe home for families.

But before the Diaspora of the middle class reaches a critical stage, Boston needs to terminate business as usual. The overtly strong mayoral form of government has done little to improve life in Boston, and a significant change in the city charter is long overdue.

It would be difficult for present circumstances to be any worse under the changes I propose. And I’m the first man who will support Tom Menino for the position of ribbon cutter and parade marcher at large.

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