The Unfortunate Change of Rob Consalvo

Why Consalvo’s plan to add 200 police officers makes us wish he’d talk about rubber sidewalks, illuminated crosswalks, or shopping carts instead.

I first met Rob Consalvo almost 10 years ago. I was in City Hall working on a story for the Boston Phoenix and wanted a comment or two from him. He obliged. Then, having lured me into his office, he proceeded to talk my ear off about shopping carts.

Consalvo, at the time, had a plan for an ordinance to prevent people from taking shopping carts out of supermarket parking lots, from whence they eventually cause clutter and add to blight and even block up water collection systems. I don’t remember the details; what I do remember is that I was bemused at the absurdity of an elected official trying so hard to get me interested in shopping carts—and that, by the end of the conversation, I was actually convinced that this was a well-researched, balanced solution to a small but legitimate problem affecting quality of life in Boston.

That’s the Rob Consalvo I like. Most people do.

At times, we’ve been able to see that Consalvo during this mayoral campaign—when he talks eagerly about rubber sidewalks and illuminated crosswalks and that sort of thing. That’s when he’s the optimistic, energetic guy who wants to find realistic ways to make everyone’s city life a little bit better.

Then there’s this totally ridiculous Rob Consalvo who’s out there saying that he’s going to stop shootings by putting 200 new police officers on the streets of high-crime neighborhoods in the next four years.

This is not a serious proposal. When Consalvo has a serious proposal, you know it: he’s usually got some article clipped from Governing magazine, and a couple of examples of cities that have done it, and an explanation—based on conversations with stakeholders—of how we would want to adapt it for Boston.

In this case, nothing has been thought through at all. For the most part, Consalvo has not even pretended to offer an explanation for why 200 new officers would do the trick as opposed to 50 or 150 or 425; or a cost estimate for recruiting, training, and hiring all these officers in that period of time. When asked by other news outlets where the money would come from, his answer has been, literally: “the budget.”

His campaign gave me a slightly more detailed answer in response to my inquiries:

A 10% increase in sworn BPD officers is what we estimate we will need over 4 years to staff the new initiatives presented in Rob’s public safety, keep pace with retirements, injuries and other attrition on the force and account for projected population increases.

Police personnel estimates always operate with the unknowns of retirements and on the job extended injury and sick leave. So, we’re making a reasonable estimate that balances the need for new hiring with budget limits. We may well need more than 200 additional officers.

Hiring an additional 200 officers will cost about $20 million over 4 years. Much of the money needed to hire the new police officers will come from the benefits package from the new casino. The rest will come from making city government more efficient and shifting budget priorities. Especially in light of the violence we saw last weekend, the bottom line is that we can’t afford not to add more cops to the BPD.

So, we need 200 because we estimate that’s what we need, or, because that’s how many we can almost kind of pay for with casino mitigation funds. And nevermind the long-term financial liability of 200 more officers, we’ll deal with that later.

Similarly, Consalvo is out with a lengthy education plan that promises all manner of vague wonderfulness, most of it involving spending more money, which then magically transforms into fabulous results. It is only slightly more edifying than this marvelous bullet point that caught my eye earlier in the campaign on his website, under Rob’s Vision for Stronger Public Schools:

–Address disparities between our schools’ resources, programs, facilities and personnel by investing more funding in our Boston Public Schools.

Oh, well sure, why didn’t Menino think of that?

I don’t know why Consalvo has morphed from the pragmatic optimist to the money-grows-on-trees, promise-the-world, nonsense-peddler, but I have to be honest: it makes me long for the days when he was trying to get rid of shopping carts.

  • jonshore

    “State law requires BPS to drive charter school students to their schools even if they are outside
    their home zone, which is a much higher level of service than is provided to most students in BPS. Transportation costs are expected to rise $20.3 million in FY14 as the number of charter school students in Boston increases.”

    Boston needs a hero and, truthfully, I don’t know who I am voting for yet, but will not be for a pro-charter school candidate or a candidate who side steps the charter school question. $20.3 million to bus children around the city will take away too many resources from our traditional public schools and Boston’s neediest kids.

    Rob Consalvo is a proponent of Boston PUBLIC Schools, I can’t help but think that, maybe, he is not showing all his cards. $20.3 million dollars could fill a lot of shopping carts!

    http://www.bostonpublicschools.org/view/fy13-budget

  • Karen Kast

    Addressing the disparities, resources, programs and facilities by investing more funding into our BPS schools… maybe you don’t parse language the way I do David, but Rob does actually lay out some of the ways he plans on funding these things in his plan:
    1) finally someone is willing to say we need to make Congress hold up their end of the funding for special education,
    2) he proposes using funding from casino to fund some of it
    3) Boston compact

    My question to you: Rob is the only one who has ANYTHING in his plan about where he plans to get the funding for his proposal from, how come you aren’t asking other candidates about their vague promises without any true details?

    And fyi – the majority of us edugeeks know Rob’s plan isn’t vague and actually has details and answers to questions that we would have loved to get during the school assignment process, BSC meetings etc. Proving HE gets education, whereas others who are not immersed in it like teachers, students and families will never fully understand how incredible it is to see that someone is taking education seriously.

    I wonder, why are you suddenly so actively trying to make Rob look bad? 12 candidates, 90 seconds per candidate for most answers in most places you are able to hear from them, hectic schedules – Rob still waxes poetic about the sidewalks etc – he just has less time right now to do it… I would think as a political reporter you would recognize that what is going on is crunch time before an election…

  • Heather Cochran

    Does it occur to you that a good leader not only needs to talk about the smaller, yet still important details about a city such as shopping carts and illuminated sidewalks, but also the “larger ticket items” such as crime prevention and improvements to the school system? As mentioned in the other comments, Consalvo’s ed plan does, in fact, give details on where the funding will come from. I have not had an opportunity to carefully read the plan for adding new police officers, but knowing Rob Consalvo, I am quite confident that he has more to say about where that money will come from as well. Rob does not just talk to hear himself talk or to, despite what some say “pander” to voters. He is genuine, informed and brings research and facts to the table. You described this side of him well in the paragraph that described what endears Rob to all of us. We, the citizens of Boston, are the stakeholders, and Rob has spent thousands of hours over the last few weeks meeting us. All over the city. Crime and education are absolutely the top two issues and his announcement today, following last week’s release of the education plan shows that he is on top of it.
    Look at his record and compare it to the other 11 candidates. Tell me what they have accomplished for the good of the city. Where are the passed initiatives, programs and laws? Look at Consalvo and you will find them.

  • J. Radosta

    I’m sorry, I’m having trouble figuring out what the “unfortunate change” is. Rob puts out the only credible, sustainable Education plan of any of the dozen candidates. He’s the only one who actually cares about keeping public money in public schools, and wants to push back against the ravages of corporate ed reform. He puts out a sustainable plan to put more police on our streets, and the only critique you can muster is sarcasm. So again, I’m sorry, but why would you go out of your way to torpedo the only candidate who has the credentials, the list of concrete achievements, and the sincere desire to help the City?

  • googiebaba

    I don’t understand what is so absurd about the suggestion that adding more police officers in high crime neighborhoods will decrease crime. It’s not like he is proposing to bulldoze city hall.

    I live in the Bourne area and we have all manner of mayor candidates promising to rebuild the Casey Overpass because they know that will play well there. I asked Consalvo about the Casey Overpass. I was impressed with his knowledge of the issue even though it wasn’t his district. He said that he was against the at grade solution but that he had spoken to DOT and the decision had been made.

    That is when I became interested in him as a candidate. It would have been so easy for him to say that he will fight for the bridge to be rebuilt. But he told the truth. You always know what you are going to get with Consalvo. He is not going to tell the electorate that he is going to do something if he knows it is not legally or politically possible.

    • Dorian

      I also live in the area and most people I’ve talked to are actually for the at-grade solution. I’ve found that the majority of the pro-bridge crowd really just don’t want 3 years of construction and for some reason think that building a new bridge won’t be as hugely disrupting – when in reality they would have still had to dismantle the old bridge, build new supports, reroute existing streets, etc… it would be a mess no matter what. plus there’s the whole not liking change or the unknown…

      the amount of existing traffic in the area really doesn’t justify an overpass anyway (and the existing snarls are all due to the signal-timing at the off-ramps) – the at-grade we get more amenities.

      anyway – in my mind- candidates who say “rebuild the bridge” are just trying to drive a wedge in the community. it definitely wouldn’t play as well the further south you get toward roslindale. Consalvo is smart – say he’s pro-bridge but defer to the DOT because he wouldn’t get trapped by the rabid pro-bridge people and alienate the rest of the community who feels very differently.

  • Thomas

    I agree Rob hasn’t really said what he will do too pay for these things, casino revenue is far from a done deal, don’t they have to actually vote for one first. Not to mention if you look at twitter they are openly the most negative campaign going, all attacks and snark all the time. True leaders wouldn’t let their operatives act like that. He really lost me with his campaigns tone. And I know I’m not alone.

    • Rob

      What do you mean? I think his team is actually pretty funny on Twitter. To each his own I guess. Snarky they are for sure but not attack dogs. This campaign has been short on any negativity really.

  • Rob

    I like you, David, but this is an unnecessary hit piece. Consalvo is hardly the first candidate to propose an idea with estimates for numbers, a quick view of any mayoral candidate’s website shows the same thing! And putting more cops on the street is one of the few things a mayor can do quickly that is proven to at least lessen the crime rate. He explains broadly how he will pay for it, this isn’t pie in the sky. This piece is very unfair to him and not up to your usual standards. And no, I am not him posting.

  • The Maestro Zoom

    It appears to me David that you are of a small group of people in our city with an issue about growth and change. Granted you have a bully pulpit, and so your word matters. As you know, I am a very public, and active part of the campaign, and so I know that you either did not ask for, or were too impatient to wait for a more detailed response from the campaign on these issues. I can tell you more about the policies than what you gave as examples of Rob Consalvo explanations of his policies.
    As a journalist you have a right to print from your perspective, but you also have a right (and responsibility) to give the entire story. I was born, and raised in the Dorchester section of the city, and crime/ violence is not a laughing matter. We as a city are going to have to find all kinds of new and innovative ways to combat some of what plagues us.

    Since the time of my childhood, there has always been a clear dichotomy of mentality between local residents and the officers that patrol many of our most low income, and violent neighborhoods, but Rob Consalvo’s full Public Safety Plan has a possible solution to help cure this community ailment.

    The reality is that no matter who gets into office it’s going to be a combination of things that make them successful (and make us all successful as a city). The level of experience going in, and implementing the proposed plan (without rapidly changing everyone’s life) once you are there.

    Rob Consalvo has had his organizers/ volunteers going door to door in this city to ask the voters about their issues of concern. I will not speculate as to the amount of contacted voters, but I think that Rob Consalvo will be a welcome change to our city.

  • Thomas

    I’m getting a kick out of all these woe is me Bernstein is out to get Consalvo types. Bernstein predicted your guy would win! He kept mentioning him when everyone else just laughed. Now apparently he’s the arch nemesis. Just accept that during the campaign Consalvo has changed in a way that negatively affected a previous cheerleader for his campaign and he wrote about it. I promise he’s not the only disappointed one, or even a part of a “small group”, and move on.