Scenes from State of the City
I pick up a cab on Mass. Ave. yesterday afternoon to catch a ride over to Dorchester for the Mayor’s State of the City address, and who do I get, but a guy named Oliver, a Haitian immigrant who’s lived here for 23 years, hates Bush, and loves—and I mean loves—Tom Menino. And did I mention he’s Menino’s neighbor in Readville?
“Mayor Menino—he is the best man in the city!” says Oliver, excitedly. “I vote for him for anything! For governor!”
I ask Oliver what he makes of the early jockeying to oppose Menino in 2009 and he says he’ll back whoever the mayor says to back. “He points his finger, I vote for that man!” We drive past the South Bay Center. “That’s the new market. The mayor built that. It’s beautiful!”
We hit the intersection of Mass. Ave. and Columbia Road, and Oliver makes an expansive gesture: “Dorchester,” he exclaims. “Mayor make all that area beautiful!” He’s then cut off by a Celica at the light. “Ooh! Lookit! Why he can’t wait for a second!? Jesus Christ!!!”
At The Strand Theatre, at 4 p.m., the firefighter union heads are huddled around a pulpit, waiting to bash the mayor. Ed Kelly, the head of the union steps up to the podium, which has six mics, and starts talking. But none of the mics are plugged into anything, so it’s hard to hear what he’s saying. He does, though, allege that the Menino administration and the Globe are engaged in a conspiracy to undermine the contract negotiations and tarnish the reputation of our jakes by pointing out how many of them seem to be drunks and grifters.
While Kelly rattles off his grievances with the city, a busload of school kids rumbles by. One kid yells at the assemblage, “Who’s that!?” Another hangs out the window and screams, “I have a dreeeeaaaaaam!!!!”
Kelly fields a couple questions and then scampers off without confirming if the firefighters planned to picket again this year. Back in 2001, during an especially heated picket spat at the
Strand State of the City, one jake spit at the mayor’s daughter as she walked into the theatre. I suggest to the reporter next to me that perhaps they could just spit at one of the mayor’s nieces or some other lower-value target this time, as a sign of good faith.
After a few pints and a meal at The Banshee on Dot Ave. (try the Cottage Pie), I return to the Strand, and am disappointed to see that there isn’t a mob of angry jakes lined up outside. Instead, there’s a lone protester wielding a sign contending that Bush blew up the World Trade Center. I observed the young man for a moment, and was further disappointed when he didn’t spit on a single person. Not a pol, not a cop, not a child. No one. What is happening to the state of political discourse in this city?
Before the mayor went on, seven adorable local school kids got on stage and welcomed the attendees in seven different languages. The first six include Arabic, Spanish and sign language. The English speaker, a tiny, towheaded kid in an amazing suit, is saved for last. He stumbles badly, and I say to the reporter next to me, “Wait, I thought this was supposed to be the English speaker.”
The reporter just looks at me. The kid wraps it up. “I want to thank…” Pause. Pause. Uh oh. Pause. Is he blanking? “Mayor Menino… For letting me stay up after my bedtime.” The crowd roars. Shameless.
After the National Anthem, Martin Luther King III takes the stage, and talks about how pleased he is that the city’s erecting a statue of his parents. “Although I’m not a preacher,” he says, “I come from a great line of preachers.” He says given that he’s from a line of Baptist preachers, he could go on and on, but he’s been asked to be brief. He is.
Then a video comes on the screen behind the podium. The music at first sounds like “My Sharona,” but turns out to be a generic feel-good job whose pounding happy-drums make it even harder to understand what the mayor is saying.
The video is a montage, essentially, of Menino kicking ass, black kids and cops dancing together, Brighton High winning the Super Bowl, the Sox winning the series, Menino chumming with Big Papi, recommending Carol Johnson to head the BPS, talking tough about violent offenders. At one point, a woman’s voice says, “I’ve never seen a mayor that is a bigger rockstar than Mayor Menino.” I don’t know who the voice belongs to, but, Jesus, seriously? What happened to artistic integrity? The video ends with the words: “BOSTON: HOW FAR WE’VE COME”
The mayor takes the stage and gets a standing O. I won’t get into the guts of his speech, as all that is available online and in the papers, but I will say, knowing how tired a point this is, this man is a truly dreadful speaker. He’s wooden, uncomfortable. For a minute, he uses his left hand to punctuate arbitrarily selected syllables. Then he shifts to his right for the next minute. And so on. He thanks “Martha Lutha King… the Third” for giving the invocation.
The speech is underwhelming, almost designed to not really draw attention to itself, as his speeches tend to be. The text was straight third grade, and his delivery, as always, is unnatural. He lays the emphasis in weird places, his pacing is strange, speeding up and slowing down according to a syntax that only the mayor could grasp. He’s like a foreign speaker taught to speak English phonetically, reciting words without knowing what they mean. Or a parrot.
(As a side-note, the idea, floated last night, of leveraging everything from schools to libraries to community centers to boost test scores and combat violence is a good one, a throwback to the days of “networks of capacity” that created the Boston Miracle, before budget cuts and infighting dashed the coalition. And single stream recycling is great, because you don’t have to do as much. Everyone wins. Except the poor guy at the plant who needs to sort that shit. Is he in a union, I wonder? Is he a spitter?)
Menino took a couple sentences to kick the firefighters around for being unreasonable. But while that was notable, the most interesting thing was the look on the sign-language-intepreter’s face as he did it.
Throughout the speech, she was happy, cheerful. When they get to the firefighters, she darkens her face, knits her brow, and shakes her head, shruggling occasionally as to say, “Can you believe these fucking villains? This is an outrage!” She may have actually been saying that with her hands—I wouldn’t put it past T-Mizzy—but I don’t speak sign, so I can only assume that that’s exactly what happened.
Another highlight: When Menino thanks Sal DiMasi and Therese Murray for showing up, the camera fixes on Sal, and Sal makes this face—a combination of fake modesty and fake extreme arrogance, like Mussolini taking a compliment, or Don Fanucci greeting the citizens in the second Godfather. It was hilarious. He then immediately starts nattering at Murray, who just sits there, half-slumped and looking decidedly not into it.
After Menino stumbles through the last of the speech, I quit the crowded building and stand out on Columbia to listen to people’s conversations, which were all pretty positive, if not enthusiastic. Substance-wise, the speech was fine, solid, and successful in making the point that, in spite of everything, 2007 was actually a pretty good year for the city.
To drive the point home, I decided to walk from Upham’s Corner back to JFK/UMass at night, something I wouldn’t have done on a dare five years ago. The neighborhood, like Oliver said, is looking pretty good these days, and I was able to get home without being descended upon by blood-drinking goons, which is always the mark of a successful evening.