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Stony Brook: past and present

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 8am, 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 my neighbors of an evil’s approach, making the common law hue and cry in the face of 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 baseball cap featuring the JP little league’s insignia, but avoided sun-glasses. I brought a few extra pens, and was aided by the somewhat recently-installed digital monitors showing the number of minutes until the arrival of the next Oak Grove train. In the morning, trains were arriving every 4-5 minutes.

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 a hurtling, dirty piece of Boston history.

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

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 it seems stuck in a state of underdevelopment. Will the rush of construction, 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?

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 residential neighborhoods, to Rt 95. Construction was halted after community activists laid 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 soccer in the big, green fields along the tracks. I was bitten on my arm at the playground. It was into the bushes that the robber threw the camera bag, containing all undeveloped rolls of film from our first family trip to Ireland. I ran on the granite stones lining Lamartine, leaping at gaps where trees never took, while my father strode the sidewalk 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. “Can I use your pen?” He scrawled some numbers onto his pad. I told him he could keep the pen, and he asked – two times, doubly to confirm – if he could actually keep it. “It’s yours,” I told him. I didn’t think to ask for his signature, even though I’m sure he would have been happy to give it to me. I was glad I brought some 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.