Feeney Reelected; Mayor Fumes

1199734606As expected, City Councilor Maureen Feeney was reelected Council President today, and on the same day the Globe ran a story about the amiable Feeney, generally a Menino supporter, sticking her thumb in the mayor’s eye. Sort of.

The story concerns Feeney’s proposal for a a broad-based, one-day forum for city residents and activists to come in, vent about their troubles, propose ways to fix them, and basically make City Hall stop sucking at life. “I would like people to think about their role, to reorganize their role in shaping this city… This is a day for us to reach out and say, ‘What can we do better?'”

This may seem like a good feeling, puppydogs-and-rainbows proposal destined to devolve into a chaotic gripe session, but it is, in its own way, precisely the sort of thing the mayor hates. And that is why he’s opposed to it.

“That’s the worst thing you can do in government,” he snorted to the Globe. Basically, he believes that by getting people into a room to discuss ways to improve the city will fill them with dreams, costly dreams, which will inevitably be crushed once the city’s tight finances are factored in, making people mad at the dream-eating mayor.

Of course, in reality, our Mayor for Life doesn’t like the idea because to hold a forum to discuss how to improve city services suggests that city services aren’t absolutely the balls right now—something that may stain the cloak of near-Papal infallibility in which he has wrapped himself.

But there’s another dimension here. The mayor, worried that potential challenger and former council prez Mike Flaherty was getting a little too much press (and amassing an unacceptably big war chest), backed longtime ally Feeney for the presidency last time around. The thinking then was that Menino wanted to reduce Flaherty’s visibility, and use a stalwart supporter as a prophylactic against any insurgency Flaherty was plotting just yards from from Hizzoner’s concrete bunker.

It’s always been said that when Menino steps down, he’ll do so mid-term, so he can handpick his successor (power’s a bitch to give up cold turkey), so when he backed Feeney, who at that time had no interest in being mayor, it was also seen as a signal that he wasn’t going to be stepping down soon (judging by his camp’s fundraising activities of late, this seems to be the case).

But Feeney is hitting the mayor where it hurts with a stunt that seems to suggest, however gently, that the mayor has lost touch with the people (probably not true) and is resistant to outside ideas (true, unless he can pass them off as his own). And refusing to back away after the mayor pisses all over the idea in the city’s leading daily, suggests that she’s perhaps not the reliable ally he hoped she would be.

It’ll be interesting to see where Feeney goes with this. Some say she just needed to buck the boss to gather the votes she needed for reelection. But the Southie convention center has offered the space, and a few councilors are on board already, so it seems like things, if not a total go, are at least gathering some steam. Given the nature of the proposal, the timing and the prominent media play, it’ll be hard to get this genie back in the bottle after a few days.

As for the idea itself, it needs to be focused so it doesn’t turn into the aforementioned gripe session. I’d personally love to see a big forum to look at best practices and big ideas, have noted urban thinkers and forward-looking city officials from around the world come together to share insights on running cities in the 21st century, which we can then steal at will (I did a Contrarian column on how bad we are at this some months ago).

But then again, this would really piss the mayor off because it would imply he doesn’t have vision. Still, it’d be great to see.