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A trip to City Hall

Tuesday was the last day of the signature gathering period, and I spent part of the afternoon gathering signatures for Annissa Essaibi-George, who is running for a second term as one of our four At-Large, or city-wide, City Councillors. She was elected in 2015 after also having run in 2013, the year Marty Walsh was elected Mayor of Boston. That year, 19 candidates made the At-Large ballot, necessitating a preliminary election. In September, Annissa placed 7th, well enough to advance to the general. In November, she finished 5th:  not well enough to win, but a strong enough showing to position her for a successful re-match two years later. Like Marty, Annissa is from Dorchester. She has taught in the Boston Public Schools and has operated her own business, Stitch House, a knitting supply and service center in Dorchester’s Savin Hill neighborhood.

I had run into Annissa on MLK Blvd the previous Saturday morning, having taken a walk on Washington St from Egleston Sq, in the direction of Dudley. The purpose of my stroll was to see to a distressed property I had learned about on the internet. I was keen to determine whether the house is occupied, since it appears to be owned by DEUTSCHE BANK NATIONAL TR CO, which holds 8 other residential properties in the City of Boston, according to a search of the Boston Assessing website. All of these bank-owned houses are located in Dorchester, Roxbury, or Mattapan. Unable (or unwilling) to afford a home in most areas of Boston, I have begun to research the residential foreclosure market, and hope to attend an auction in the near future.

Fixer upper

After investigating the property, I was sitting in Malcolm X Park, the namesake of which lived in the neighborhood during his youth, when I saw the City Councillor, on her way to or from one of the day’s many ribbon cutting ceremonies (the opening of a renovated JP library, for example). After signing her papers, I mentioned that I would be attending an event that evening, a community movie screening in the “White City” neighborhood of Forest Hills; and that most of the 20-30 attendees might happily sign for her, too. Employing one of the first and best pieces of political advice I ever received – “Multiply yourself” – the Councillor handed me a nomination sheet and asked if I would do her the favor.

While the garage cinema showing of Mystic River was well-attended, much of the audience was too entranced by the pre-film lecture to lift pen to paper and donate their John Hancock. So on Tuesday, I decided to enjoy some time in the sun outside JP Licks on Centre St in JP. The day was partly sunny and a bit muggy, so the coffee and ice cream businesses were brisk. I asked the passers by if they’d be willing to sign for the City Councillor, and several asked me for more information about the candidate and her positions. For example, one young man asked immediately whether Annissa had supported Hillary or Bernie. When I pled ignorance, he then asked about her opinion on the Patriot Act. I mentioned to him that City Councillors are part of the municipal government: mainly responsible for things like police, fire, and schools; he asked whether Annissa had been in favor of Question 2, which he reminded me concerned the expansion of charter schools. Again unable to say for certain, I was relieved when the gentleman politely declined to sign. Although I find these sorts of policy discussions interesting, one must be careful to stay on task while campaigning. I was glad to interact with an active and enthusiastic Democrat, and found it notable that his first question, even about a local candidate, concerned their presidential preference.

Municipal brutalism

After about 1.5 hours, my sheet complete, I stopped by my apartment to make a digital scan of both sides, before hopping onto the Orange Line, bound for Government Center. I arrived about 15 minutes before the 5pm deadline, and saw one of the chairpersons of my local Democratic Ward Committee, as I approached the office of the Elections Department. I was happy to greet Sabino, an elections official and stand-up guy, before receiving an enthusiastic hug from Jean-Claude Sanon, a 2017 candidate for District 5 City Councillor and a member of the “Class of ’09” — 15 mostly first-timers who ran At-Large in a strong and diverse field of candidates, in a year when two of the 4 city-wide seats were open, due to decisions by both At-Large Councillors Michael Flaherty and Sam Yoon boldly to challenge the Honorable Thomas M Menino. After the preliminary, they combined their formidable forces, forming the famous Floon ticket, but were unable to unseat the longest serving Mayor in Boston history.

Also in the room was Tito Jackson, District 7 City Councillor, candidate in 2017 for Mayor, and member of the aforementioned “Class of ’09.” Tito ran At-Large in 2009, placing 5th in the November general election, and debuting the catchy “Vote for Tito Jackson” song. Coming in 5th has long been either a stepping stone to being elected one of Boston’s four At-Large Councillors, who must campaign in many neighborhoods and regularly receive 70-80 thousand votes in election years coinciding with a mayor’s race; or a more direct means of doing so — the incumbent who lost “his” seat to Annissa in 2015, Stephen J Murphy of Hyde Park, first gained his seat on the Council by coming in 5th, and being elevated later after the departure of a dear colleague. 2017 could be a year in which a 5th place finish promises future fortune. Ideally positioned for this prospect is Althea Garrison, former State Representative, experienced political candidate, and indefatigable signature gatherer: I saw her recently at Roche Bros in West Roxbury, a very popular spot that was also manned at the time by two paid workers for Joseph A Wiley of East Boston, a candidate for Mayor whose appearance on the ballot forces a preliminary election in September (which will benefit some 2017 candidates more than others). Besides Pat Payaso of Roxbury (about whom I know nothing except what is stated on his OCPF filing form), Althea is the only non-incumbent, so far, to have been certified: she has, therefore, an excellent chance of placing 5th.

Tito was signing a stack of nomination papers. As I began to chat with him, Sabino kindly informed me that my single sheet would require Annissa’s signature in order to be certified. It was already 4:55 — I raced by the parking ticket payment windows, up the escalators, through the front plaza, past Frank Baker of Dorchester, District 3 Councillor, and up the decorative central staircase that leads directly to the annex, and then to the main offices of the Boston City Council. I was fortunate to find my Councillor present and available: a great benefit of local government, as opposed to rule by a distant elite. Successful, I returned just in time to watch as the Elections Department doors were locked, stranding a few late arrivals outside. I wished Tito the best of luck: he still had a stack of papers left to sign, but was kind enough to pause for a selfie. His departure from the District 7 seat has given rise to a multi-candidate scramble for the relatively small number of Roxbury voters who will separate the top two voter-getters from a scrum of unsuccessful, but hopefully satisfied candidates. September 26 will be a chance for Tito to show that he is a serious challenge to a Mayor who is running against a much smaller field than he was in the 2013 preliminary election, part of a Mayor’s race for the ages.

Tito Jackson, 2017 candidate for Mayor of Boston

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Stony Brook: now and then

On Monday morning, from about 8 to 9, I collected nomination signatures for Mayor Marty Walsh, at Stony Brook station on the Orange Line in JP. Stony Brook lies on the border between Ward 19, where I grew up, and Ward 11, where I now reside. Leaving my apartment just before 8, I realized that (as on every Monday morning) several sides of local streets were slated to be swept, and an inevitable few vehicles would fall victim to the merciless machinery of the state, in the form of the tow truck man.

I sprinted to the home of the neighborhood watch lady, who quietly observes everyone and everything, and asked if she could tell me the identity of the owner of the blue Honda Accord parked on the corner, beside a flashing-yellow Boston Transportation Department vehicle. I crossed the street, rang the doorbell of the owner’s apartment, and warned a female occupant of the urgent need for a parking alternative. I was the town crier, warning neighbors of an evil’s approach, making the common law hue and cry in the face of a legal larceny.

“Ma’am, would you sign for Marty?”

I brought my blue, plastic 14″ clipboard (with an interior compartment good for keeping sheets of signatures safe) and displayed my chosen candidate by placing a red, white & blue Marty sticker on the backside, where it would be visible to approaching AM commuters. I wore a red baseball cap featuring the JP little league’s insignia, and avoided sun-glasses. I brought a few extra pens, and was aided at the station by the somewhat recently-installed digital monitors, which show the number of minutes until the arrival of the next Oak Grove and Forest Hill trains. This morning, trains were arriving every 4-5 minutes.

Stony Brook station roughly replaced Egleston Square station, which had featured several street car lines in addition to light rail, before the bustitution transition of the 1940’s and 50’s. When the El came down, Egleston was left with a vast, vacant look to it and seems stuck in a state of underdevelopment. Will the rush of construction, now plowing up Washington Street from Forest Hills ever reach Egleston? Perhaps the southwest corner of Roxbury will benefit in the future from a better-designed, taller, mixed-use anchor building; and a calmer, more pedestrian-friendly urban environment?

“Sir, do you have a second to sign for Mayor Walsh?”

As a kid, I rode the old elevated Orange Line a few times. I best remember the rides I took in 1987, with my father, who had recently bought a Panasonic home video recorder, one of the first ever to use VHS tapes. It fit comfortably on one’s shoulder, and he would have been excited to use the cutting-edge device, especially on so important an archival mission: preserving the memory of the City’s last elevated light rail line, just before it was to be torn down and replaced, from the front window of the first car of a hurtling, dirty piece of Boston history.

The new Orange Line’s southern branch was placed into the Southwest Corridor, an old railway right-of-way that had been widened in anticipation of a brand-new highway planned to extend from downtown Boston, through several residential neighborhoods, all the way to Rt 95. Construction was halted after community activists laid down in front of bulldozers. Many homes along Columbus Ave and Lamartine St were demolished to make room for the aborted road, and some of the parcels still sit empty today, eagerly eyed by developers and attorneys.

“Hello, will you help me nominate Marty Walsh for a second term?”

When the new Orange Line was completed, a linear park was created with the left-over land: I grew up next to it. I rode the train to the Back Bay, for music and dance lessons; I played long toss in the big, green fields along the tracks. I was bitten on my arm by a kid at the playground. It was into the bushes that the robber threw the camera bag containing all of my family’s undeveloped rolls of film from our first trip to Ireland. I ran on the granite stones lining Lamartine, leaping at gaps where trees never took, while my father strode the walk beside me, reading his folded-over newspaper, his leather back pack keeping time.

Halfway through my signature gathering effort, I was approached by an older man, with a bag and with a small notepad in his hand. After 45 minutes of repeatedly questioning strangers, someone asked something of me, instead. “Can I use your pen?” He scrawled some numbers onto his pad. I told him he could keep the pen, and he asked – twice – if he could keep it. “It’s yours,” I said, and neglected to ask for his signature, though I’m sure he would have been happy to give it to me. I was glad I’d brought a few extra pens.

“Morning, Miss, will you be kind enough to sign for the Mayor?

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Signature period

In order to have your name placed on the ballot in Boston, for the offices of Mayor or City Councillor, you must “pull papers,” and gather signatures from registered voters who reside in the area you seek to represent.

If you wish to run for Mayor, you’ll need 3000 certified signatures; if you are running for one of the 4 City Councillor At-Large (city-wide) seats, you must gather 1500. If you’re interested in one of the 9 District City Councillor seats, you’ll have to return 200 signatures (fewer in some districts) to the Boston Elections Department, during the signature period, traditionally running from 9am on a spring Tuesday until 5pm on the Tuesday three weeks following.

In 2009, when I ran At-Large, I found the signature gathering period to be a challenging task, even after receiving excellent and critical advice from John Donovan, who worked for the elections department at the time. As a first time candidate (sort of), I was fortunate to receive advice from someone who knew the mechanics of Boston politics. As a benefit to other first-timers, I distill his advice into a few key points.

1. Gather signatures every day, and turn them in by 5pm, each day. When signature sheets are received by the elections department, they are numbered in the order they are received, and then certified in that order. For a race with a single winner, like Mayor, a voter’s signature is only supposed to count for 1 candidate, i.e. the first to turn in that voter’s signature. In the At-Large race, each voter can nominate and sign for 4 candidates, just as they can vote for 4 candidates, in the municipal preliminary (if necessary) and general elections.

2. Since many signatures will be disqualified (i.e. not certified), due to the voter being registered at a different address, or already having signed for another candidate, or not living in Boston (or in the Council District), or having a signature that is illegible or smudged: continue to gather signatures even after you have turned in enough to make the ballot. In 2009, after my first 3 sheets were processed, I found that about 75% of my signatures had been certified. I decided to set a goal of 2200, so that even if my signature success rate dropped below 70%, I would still likely make the ballot. On a sunny day, if things were going well, I would go an extra hour, because I found that rain made gathering signatures difficult, even under awnings.

3. Gather signatures in locations that offer access not just to a large quantity of Boston (or District) voters per hour, but also to:

a) voters who will be willing to consider signing and who are likely to vote in the fall. These include voters in Boston’s more politically oriented precincts, which can be easily discovered by comparing voter turnout numbers available from the elections department. The voters who sign your nomination papers may be the first with whom you interact, and you will learn a lot of useful information about what issues are currently important to the people who will ultimately be determining the outcome of the election. With their name and address, you can later contact them and appeal to them to vote for you.

b) voters who will definitely be registered to vote, already, at the address they write on the sheet (meaning their signature is unlikely to be disqualified). I tested several locations and found a few that were clearly superior in this regard, some of which attracted several candidates at one time. Some locations have their own “home-town” rules for who gets to stand where, or how many candidates are allowed to gather signatures at one time. Break these rules at your own risk!

4. Obtain a current list of Boston registered voters and, after photocopying and turning in each day’s sheets (some of which will be partially incomplete), cross off the signatures that clearly won’t count and verify the others. This will give you a better and earlier idea of which locations are working, and during what hours.

In 2009, unless I am mistaken, 22 people pulled papers to run for City Councillor At-Large and 15 made the ballot, more than enough to trigger a preliminary election in September, narrowing the field to the top 8 candidates. This year, so far, 11 people have pulled papers, so we can expect a field of only about 7.5 candidates. There will certainly be several District Council races with preliminary elections on Sep 26: Districts 1, 2 and 7 feature open seats and several serious candidates for each of those seats. Less clear is whether there will be preliminary votes for City Councillor At-Large, or even Mayor. I fully expect Tito to gather the 3000 (or 4400) signatures necessary to be nominated for the office of Mayor: but at least one more person would have to make the ballot, in order to force a prelim.

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Opening Day

I was happy to greet several local luminaries at this year’s Red Sox home opener, held at 2:05 pm on Monday, April 3rd at Fenway Park.

While not able to greet Marty Walsh personally, we exchanged long-distance nods through the netting that was extended to the dugouts before the 2016 season. He and his coterie were on the field to help with the opening ceremonies, which included appearances by Patriots and a flyover by two military aircraft at the end of the National Anthem.

I was glad to see Mike Barnicle, former columnist for the Boston Globe, and current contributor to the political discussion on MSNBC. Since he was seated next to a former politician, in the seats reserved for Red Sox ownership, I wasn’t able fully to inform him of my latest political prognostications.

At the bottom of the ramp, with my Budweiser bin on my head (empty of beer, but sloshing with ice water), I greeted future-Commissioner Willie Gross of the Boston Police Department. Always happy to address him by his future title, I have now met the (former?) Milton resident at several parades and formal events.

As he exited the box seats, bound for an extremely elite location, no doubt, I greeted former Naval officer, Senator, presidential nominee, and Secretary of State John Forbes Kerry. I gave him a copy of my political palmcard, and invited him to attend all upcoming Ward 11 meetings. He said, and I quote: “Good for you.”

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls: welcome to Fenway Park.

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Hello, and welcome to Sean for Boston.

2017 is a municipal election year. I hope you will join me in discussing the political issues, persons, and events that are important to the residents of our City.

Sicut Patribus Sit Deus Nobis : May God be with us, as He was with our fathers.