Man Versus Machine
Because Flaherty isn’t exactly a man of sweeping oratorical prowess, the hook is vision. Namely, offer a grand one, and try not to get too disheartened when the mayor starts cherry-picking your initiatives. So far, Menino has poached readily from the Flaherty campaign, raising the cap on charters after years of resistance, implementing single-stream recycling after years of resistance, and introducing e-mapping technology so residents can track crime in their neighborhoods in real time, after years of resistance.
Provided Flaherty’s platform hasn’t been completely stripped of planks come the election, his vision of post-Mumbles Boston goes like this: Federal stimulus money will be combined with the city’s summer jobs program to help at-risk kids develop green skills that they can use in the future economy. The hated City Hall Plaza will be ripped up and replaced with grass and trees. The city will arrange cheap trash pickup for local restaurants, whose food waste will be composted for use in city parks. The firefighters will agree to mandatory drug testing, and not in exchange for a pay raise (Flaherty says he’s already gotten them to agree to it in exchange for long-overdue equipment upgrades). The city’s principals will be empowered to tailor their approach to education to the needs of their individual schools, with the same going for police district captains. This decentralization of power will foster a thriving marketplace of ideas.
Moreover, the Internet—long viewed warily by the Menino administration—will be summoned to satisfy all manner of goo-goo fantasies, from tracking the progress on a pothole, to monitoring the performance of individual city departments, to accessing a comprehensive list of city vendors (Flaherty swears he’s learned his lesson from that open meetings business). All in real time. He even says he’ll agree to term limits if the city council so wills it. And did we mention finally installing a voice-mail system at City Hall, as if the year 1997 had finally arrived? It’s all downright utopian.
In consciously raising people’s expectations of government, a politician is usually asking for trouble (hi, Governor), particularly in this case, where good-to-better is considerably more difficult than dismal-to-good. But after 16 years of all power and ideas radiating from a single room in City Hall, it’s an undeniably compelling vision. And a surprisingly practical one: Many of these initiatives are already in place in more-progressive cities. “This administration has always masterfully lowered people’s expectations,” Flaherty says. “So as Bostonians you come to expect filthy streets and underperforming schools. You’re almost immune to it.” He thinks he can attract those younger voters, and pick off enough traditional voters in the neighborhoods fed up with the status quo to carry it.
Whether he will succeed remains to be seen: It’s a long way from here to November. But the mere attempt has single-handedly reinvigorated a local political scene that’s been half-dead for what seems like ages. That alone makes his run worthwhile. “Boston needs an infusion of new energy and passion,” Flaherty says. “I’ll give this city the race it hasn’t had in 16 years.”