The Menino Dialogues
You could argue about whether Menino was a good mayor. So thatâ€™s exactly what we did. Jason Schwartz and Rachel Slade agree to disagree.
JASON SCHWARTZ When you zoom out to 30,000 feet, Boston is in amazing shape. The city is booming, the population is growing, people want to move back here, and the economy is particularly well poised for the future.
RACHEL SLADE Thereâ€™s nothing wrong with a booming economy. But Iâ€™m concerned about how business was conducted under Meninoâ€™s administration. Maybe Iâ€™m an idealist, but I prefer a more-egalitarian approach to leadership. His was a closed society in many ways. Some ideas got muscled through, while more-nuanced ideas of how a city should grow and operate didnâ€™t thrive. Our school system is in dire straits, and all those people moving into the city are sending their kids to private school.
JS Thereâ€™s no doubt he played favorites. But I think itâ€™s worth noting that while lots of people got rich under Menino, he wasnâ€™t one of them. Thatâ€™s a remarkable feat for a northeastern political machine.
RS Congratulations to the mayor for not being on the take. While there have been noticeable improvements in infrastructure, there were many missed opportunities, projects that would have benefited from better cooperation and a more open approachâ€”the Greenway, for one. He didnâ€™t like the Turnpike Authority, for personal reasons, so he blocked developments like Columbus Center that wouldâ€™ve stitched the city back together.
JS I think the same control-freak gene that led to the development issues youâ€™re describing also made the rest of the city work really well. Meninoâ€™s attention to constituent services like trash pickup and potholes has been talked about endlessly, but when Iâ€™m in other cities, those places always look worse. Boston is incredibly clean! And all of these little things add up to creating conditions that result in people wanting to be here. We just had an awful summer, but the crime situation in Boston is good compared with other big cities.
RS Yes, thereâ€™s less crime, but weâ€™re a smaller city thatâ€™s becoming safe for the rich and the private-school crowd.
JS Affordability is definitely a huge problem, though the city is in tremendous financial shape. If you were going to pick one thing he unequivocally did not screw up, it would be the balance sheet.
RS It doesnâ€™t take a genius to balance a budget. Meninoâ€™s been Puritanical about spending, but thatâ€™s to feed the machine, and the machine is giving tax breaks and subsidies to major corporations that do business here. In fact, Meninoâ€™s policies starve the city of money. Weâ€™ve got Vertex, State Street, Liberty Mutual, and now Converse all reaping major tax breaks to stay here or set up shop, and Iâ€™d argue itâ€™s hurting the city.
JS I agree, itâ€™s a race to the bottom. But in the case of Vertex, I think it may be fair to carve out an exception, because itâ€™s hard to argue against the value of having an anchor tenant like that in the Seaport. We all laughed at Menino when he decided that the Seaport would be the â€śInnovation District,â€ť but when you got Vertex there, well, itâ€™s actually an innovation district!
RS Okay, but what we really needed there was a neighborhood, and weâ€™re 20 years behind on housing supply. Look, to make this city sustainable you need neighborhoods and supermarkets and livable streets. Ultimately, is Boston a good place for a complete mix of people?
JS Despite some deficiencies, I think he deserves a lot of credit for the cityâ€™s progress over the past two decades. Boston is arguably one of the best-run cities in the country, and we take a lot of it for granted. Clean streets, no union strife, no debt issuesâ€”itâ€™s allowed a lot of good things to happen here.
For more of our look back at Mayor Menino’s time in office, check out “A Mayor in Full.”
Source URL: http://www.bostonmagazine.com/news/article/2013/09/24/mayor-tom-menino-dialogues-debate/