Intersection of Andrew & Wilmont…

City Council Chamber before meeting (WMassP&I)
Days after at-large Councilor Jimmy Ferrera offered his cynically and politically worded resolve before the Springfield City Council and Ward 3 Council Melvin Edwards slapped him down with a rhetorical stroke that summoned a cheer from the audience, irony struck.  In the period of less than a week, the city clocked in two homicides in as many days bringing a deadly total for the summer and pushing the city perilous close to a recent high in annual homicides.  Troubling still is that both victims, appear, according to press accounts, to be innocent bystanders.

Jonathon Tallaj was killed on Wilmont Street in the city’s Forest Park neighborhood, a street that has had a particularly troubled history over the years.  Meanwhile not far away Kevin Gomez was murdered at a party on the one year anniversary of the murder of Cathedral student Conor Reynolds.  Another youth died from a gunshot wound on Washington Street this summer.  The murders frame, to some extent the roughest parts of Forest Park, vaguely defined by Belmont and Dickinson to the West, White Street to the East, Orange Street to the North and either Washington or Fountain Street to the South.

The city’s other recent homicide victim, Carmen Melendez, 16, was killed on Andrew and State street seemingly the victim of a stray bullet.  She died near where the all too ironically named Sheldon Innocent was murdered by an escaped convict whose rampage included other victims, including cops, that survived their injuries.  All but three of the fifteen victims this year, have been under 40 and most were under 30.

Councilor Ferrera (Urban Compass)
It would seem that after the most recent barrage of gunfire that Ferrera was right and that more overtime and more money is automatically the answer.  The police need to get tougher and offer a display of force, some may say.  Such decisions can certainly be made after the council returns from its huddle with the mayor and police commissioner, the only tangible demand left credible from Ferrera’s resolve after Edwards slapped his colleague down.

If the council, the mayor and Commission William Fitchet divine any insight from such a meeting, if it ever happens, we should hope knee-jerk reactions or the throwing money is not the result.  The answer to the city’s crime problem will not, in itself, be more cops on the street or more overtime available to the police department.  It will not be more gunshot detection technology or cameras downtown alone.  The problems are simply to complicated to be solved with such glib answers.

As Edwards somewhat wryly put it last week, he could kill his wife in the privacy of his own home regardless of the number of cops on the street.  Likewise, is there anything that more police would have done to prevent the most recent back to back killings?  It is possible that were more police on the street or riding in a patrol car, their mere presence might have stopped the perpetrators from pulling the trigger.  However, that may have only delayed the bullets by minutes and different victims may or may not have been come to be.  As for the victims with known histories of drugs or violence, if their killers were determined not even the best policing the world could stop them.

There is no doubt that the police are a critical component of solving the city’s crime problem.  There needs to be more engagement between residents and the police.  That’s a two way street on the part of both parties.  However, laying much of the responsibility before the police department or policing generally may do little, but offer some security theater right here in Springfield.  Residents can be reassured by statistics that show investment in the police department is up coupled with a more visible police force (probably in the least dangerous neighborhoods).  Meanwhile politicians can be rewarded by a (falsely) reassured voting public and by a police department whose members’ support can make or break a candidacy.

But to actually reduce the crime in the city and thereby make it more attractive to businesses and investors, more than such visual displays of civic action must occur.  First and foremost, the city’s crime problem needs to be put into perspective by city officials and by the media.  Not to minimize the death and terror that haunts the streets of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, but frankly murder is not the city’s biggest problem, a detail often overlooked by “Most Dangerous City” rankings that scream from this publication or another.  Robberies and assaults, generally, do more to harm the city’s image in the eyes of potential investors because those more directly translate into costs for insurance and the like.
Baltimore’s Crime is Far Worse than Springfield (Image: Wikipedia)
Additionally, these statistics that sound the alarm on the city’s dangerousness weigh many crimes equally.  According to CLR Research a real estate firm (Admitted: we have no way to test their data’s reliability, but it appears accurate), Springfield’s problems are high by some measures.  However, the risk of most “dangerous” crimes in 2010, including homicides was lower in Springfield than Hartford, New Haven, Lowell even Worcester.  However, the figure that grabs all the headlines is the city’s homicide rate, which does appear higher than crime generally for a city of Springfield’s size.  However, to offer some perspective Baltimore, a city that normally appears with Springfield on these “dangerous” lists had a relative low of 223 homicides in 2010.  For Springfield to have that rate it would need to clock in 55 homicides in a year more than triple last year’s rate and near so even based on this year’s projected higher rate.

The city council and the mayor, whoever they may be now and in the future, also need to actually educate themselves and each other about where the problems are and for that matter how the police department actually works.  What is most bothersome of Ferrera’s resolve, which it is important to note was originally cosponsored with at-large Councilor Tim Rooke, is that it was divorced from reality.  The city’s police overtime budget was untouched by the city council.  However, the overtime budget is almost always one of the most reliable sources of unused budget funds at the end of the fiscal year.  With the tornado occurring in Springfield so close to the end of the fiscal year, it will be difficult to quantify for FY11, but projections for a surplus made prior to the storm likely counted on unused money coming from police overtime. 

Councilor Concepcion (the Reminder)
Councilors and, to some extent, residents need to put their fears into perspective.  To illustrate, Ward 5 Clodo Concepcion, blurted out an alarmed “We’re scared,” in offering his unconditional support to Ferrera’s overtime resolve.  Although one murder this year has occurred within the very edge of Concepcion’s district, the alarm behind his statement probably echoed a fear many of his constituents share even though to risk to them is statistically insignificant.  Pacifying that fear would likely mean more patrols through peaceful neighborhoods than violent ones.

Meanwhile, it was Edwards and Ward 6 Councilor Amaad Rivera, both of whose districts have sustained three murders that urged a more thoughtful and deliberative approach.  Indeed it would be those wards (in specific parts of Ward 6, however), in addition to wards 1 and 4 that need more attention from police assuming homicides are indicative of the prevalence of other crime and that police attention is, indeed the solution.  For the record Ward 1 appears to have two murders, Ward 4 has four while wards 8 and 2 have 1 each.  Ward 7 has had none.  This is based on approximating this year’s murder locations against the ward map, but some deaths were literally on the boundaries of wards.

The reality, is however, that some crimes and tragedies may be avoided by means other than focus on the police department alone.  More rigorous code enforcement might have kept closed the infamous lounge where Conor Reynolds was killed.  Better housing policies may help to dilute the concentration of poverty in parts of the city, which has led to slums where violence, turf wars and drugs mix together to form a potentially explosive situation.
Mural in City Hall (WMassP&I)
In addition better economic development policy and a reassessment of the city’s status as the social service epicenter of Western Massachusetts could improve the root cause of much crime: poverty.  Other changes like CORI and education law on the state level and drug and gun laws on the federal level could also help, but obviously that is out of 36 Court Street’s hands.

If there is one overarching point in assessing this situation it may be very simple even it chastises oversimplification.  Crime in Springfield cannot be bought away or with other simple, visceral and unimaginative solutions.  Like most of the city’s problems it needs intelligent and frank discussions about the cause and status of its ills.  That call goes out not just to the city’s politicians, but to residents of all persuasions, to move past their comfort zones and past excuses, gripes and tired solutions.

Manic Monday Markup 8/29/11…

…And the World: 

Following the anticipated resignation of Naoto Kan as Japan’s Prime Minister, the governing Democratic Party has selected Yoshihiko Noda to lead their party and by extension become Japan’s new prime minister.  Kan was criticized in the wake of the March Earthquake and Tsunami that battered Japan’s northeast and set off a nuclear disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant.  Kan’s resignation had been expected for several months, but the incoming PM faces formidable challenges both from the aftermath of the earthquake and the island nation’s economy.

The Feds:

Hurricane Irene came barreling into the Northeast late Saturday and early Sunday.  The damage, though bad, could have been far worse.  Widespread inland flooding appears to be the biggest problem so far.  Millions are without power as trees fell on power lines.  Trees that normally could have withstood the high winds lost their grip with the earth due to saturated soil conditions.  New York City, which anticipated outright disaster, was spared major damage and its transit system was up and running today.  Airlines are also getting back on their feet, but Amtrak remains out of service north of Philadelphia.  As of 3:15 PM this includes service along the Springfield line to New Haven.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) who voted for war, Bush tax cuts, Medicare Part D and more without demanding requisite cuts elsewhere in the budget remains adamant about cutting elsewhere in the budget to fund disaster relief from Irene.  Immediate disaster relief has not been hindered by Cantor’s extortion, but FEMA has had to transfer money intended for Joplin, Mo. relief efforts on a temporary basis.  Additionally, with the federal fiscal year near its end, how cuts at this point for more immediate relief remain unclear, without potentially poaching from next fiscal year.  Virtually all credible economists have said cuts that come too soon will harm the economy.  Incidentally, Mineral, Va, a town in Cantor’s district, was the epicenter of last week’s Earthquake.
The State of Things:

Flooding continues to keep roads closed throughout the Commonwealth, particularly in Western Massachusetts, which sustained the brunt of the flooding damage.  Portions of I-91 and US-5 in Hampshire and Franklin counties remain closed.  However, all, but a few pockets of US-20 near Westfield is open.  Bridges in Shelburne Falls remains closed as engineers check their structural integrity.  Water damage is rampant throughout the region.
This video from Shelburne Falls shows the high water and a building getting washed away.

And this video shows how high and swollen the Connecticut River has become as a result of all the rain and moisture.  In the past few years, the Army Corp of Engineers mandated that Springfield, West Springfield and Chicopee, among others engage in an expensive plan to build and support levees and dikes along the river.  Decried then, those levees are at least partly responsible for less flooding in those cities today.

Winner of the Crazy Khazei story?  Alan Khazei.  The founder of City Year and candidate for the Democratic US Senate nomination got more press than he could possibly buy at this stage in the game.  Bad news for him?  Elizabeth Warren was also in @Crazykhazei’s cross hairs.  See more below in Twitter Chatter.
City Slickers:

Next Monday, Springfield Mayoral candidates School Committeewoman Antonette Pepe, Mayor Domenic Sarno and City Council President Jose Tosado will face off ahead of the September primary, which will narrow the field down to two challengers who will face off in November.

Mayor Domenic Sarno appears poised to refuse a fairer furlough system for city employees unless he get back half of the cuts the City Council made to this year’s budget.  It is unclear, however, who has more leverage.  The City Council still needs to approve balance transfers from the city’s reserve accounts to balance the budget and find money for an increase in hotel taxes the council has signaled it will not approve for this budget.  Hanging over all of this is cost of disaster recovery from the June 1st tornado, which could top $13 million in un-reimbursed costs to the city.

Twitter Chatter:
You have probably have already heard about the @CrazyKhazei nonsense perpetrated by media strategist Eric Fehrnstrom, a close campaign aide to Senator Scott Brown.  Long story short, the longtime Mass GOP political strategist and former Romney Communications Director developed a parody account of Massachusetts Senate candidate Alan Khazei.  The mildly humorous, but just as often vaguely sexist and homophobic tweets, were connected to Fehrnstrom when he accidentally tweeted from his personal Twitter handle, @ericferhn when he should have done it on @CrazyKhazei.  This was uncovered by a Blue Mass Group poster, user ID Chrismatth and Kevin Frack, communications director for the Democratic Party of Massachusetts.  The twitter handle has since been shut down, but its tweets were archived at Blue Mass Group.  Brown released a vapid statement that contained no apology, but a promise this would not be allowed again, even as he dismissed it as juvenile.  However, Brown made no mention of the fact that another campaign aide had registered back in January, suggesting broader planning in smearing Khazei.

The entire affair stunk of dirty tricks and the very same negative campaigning (pointed out by Greta van Susteren) the Brown camp has accused its opponents of for months, starting with the League of Women Voters’ ad over Clean Air.  The Boston Globe has a great roundup of the CrazyKhazei nonsense, which highlights Brown’s hypocrisy. Methinks Brown doth protest too much!

Is it #HurricaneIrene or #Irene?  If you were watching Bay State impact it may be #MAIrene.  The Berkshire Daily Eagle, may have it right, though.


Take My Council Please: Grocery Ills…

The Springfield City Council held the equivalent of a double feature Monday night.  A regularly scheduled Hearings meeting, during which the council approves or denies permits, followed a special meeting where numerous items were debated.  City Council President Jose Tosado had scheduled the meeting to complete the final steps to pass ordinances related to foreclosures.  However, like any meeting, councilors could and did tack on whatever they wanted.  As momentous as the foreclosure ordinances were, it did not provoke the same level of back and forth, among the councilors at least, as other items.
First the easy stuff.  The Council formally accepted the withdrawal of a petition for an electronic sign on Dorset Street for the Martin Luther King, Jr Charter School.  Reports came from the General Government and Audit Committee over progress at the Putnam High Construction site, specifically possible violations of the city’s Responsible Employer Ordinance.  Also discussed, but ultimately referred back to committee was the agreement to a Tax Incremental Financing for a new warehouse for F.W. Webb, a plumbing supply company.  The TIF is a condition for the city to sell some of the remaining land on the city’s Smith & Wesson industrial park.  There is a great deal of controversy over the shockingly low number of jobs the project will create and concerns that the developers will make little or no effort to employ city residents.
The council also undertook the second and third steps necessary to approve two ordinances related to foreclosures.  The first ordinance requires the banks that own foreclosed homes to post a $10,000 bond that can be used by the city to maintain the property.  Presently, the city must cover the cost of maintenance necessary to keep the foreclosed properties from blighting the neighborhood.  This ordinance would transfer that cost, if any, to the banks.  They would recover the bond fully upon sale of the property.  The other ordinance mandates mediation between the bank and homeowner when foreclosure become likely.  Banks would be fined for refusing to attempt mediation consistent with the ordinance.  After the second step passed, many of the people in the council chamber in support of the bill erupted in cheers.  Little did they realize that the ordinance had not yet become law.  As they marched out of the chamber and onto the steps of City Hall the council debated several resolves before finally passing both ordinances with a pair of 13-0 votes.
The foreclosure legislation is believed to be a model in the commonwealth if not the nation as a whole.  There are some rumors that congressional Democrats have contacted City Hall for more information about the ordinance.
Some of the biggest fireworks, however, occurred over a resolve, sponsored by at-large Councilors Jimmy Ferrera and Tim Rooke.  The resolve, whose campy language could appeal to anybody favoring style over substance, called on the mayor, police commissioner and Chief Administrative and Financial Officer to meet with the council to find money to add to the police overtime budget to combat the rise in crime.  In short, the resolve wanted more police overtime money because that would reduce the city’s crime rate.  Ferrera suggested that the city should raid its cash reserves and other backups immediately to fight crime, even though the city’s overtime budget was left completely intact in the 2012 budget.

Councilor Edwards (Facebook)
Ward 3 Councilor Melvin Edwards, however, was not amused or impressed.  In an impassioned, biting and articulate speech, Edwards slapped Ferrera down for advocating pouring money down a very specific hole to solve a problem as complex as the city’s crime problem.  He asserted that he fully supported the police department and whatever it needed to keep the city safe.  However, Edwards rejected the notion that throwing money at the problem (or put another way, playing stat games) was the solution.  “If I choose to strangle my wife in the privacy of my own home,” Edwards said, “it would not matter if there were a thousand cops on the street.”  Even though Ward 5 Councilor Clodo Concepcion stood up in support of the resolve saying “We’re scared,”  it was clear that Edwards speech had a deep and instantaneous impact.

Councilor Rooke, a sponsor of the resolve, quickly pivoted saying the call for a meeting with councilors should and must “look more broadly.”  Other councilors also stood in support of the resolve, but with the intention of looking more broadly as Rooke suggested, mindful of their sense that the mayor does not include the council often enough in policy discussions.  When Ferrera spoke again on the resolve, it was clear he was on the defensive.  He hastily pointed out that his resolve called for a meeting and that increasing overtime for the police department was merely an idea.  He even pointed out that the city clerk and not he had put titled the resolve as one advocating more overtime.  Tosado acknowledged Ferrera’s concerns and City Clerk Wayman Lee promised that the record would reflect it.  The resolve passed in a brilliant display of political theater.

Fmr. Councilor Williams w/ Other  Honorees (WMassP&I)
Other resolves and proclamations passed with little fanfare urged Governor Deval Patrick to not consider raising the gas tax; recognized Carribean heritage week with an appearance by former councilor and current council candidate Bud Williams; recognized a participant in the Special Olympics from Springfield going to Athens for a future competition; and recognized emergency response personnel in advance of September 11 (the council’s next meeting will not happen until the next day).  A resolve was also passed to encourage the school committee consider a local candidate for Superintendent of Schools.  The resolve came after revelation that Superintendent Alan Ingram used his $30,000 in relocation expenses to NOT buy a home in the city.  Councilors batted around various ideas including avoiding a national search, refusing side deals and having a councilor on whatever search committee is formed.  The final idea was adopted into the resolve by friendly amendment.
With its special meeting business done, the council began its permits hearing.  First up was a special permit for an amusement license for an Internet Cafe on Boston Road near the intersection with Pasco Road.  The Internet Cafe appears to be similar to the ones allegedly to be effectively slot parlors like the one in Five Town Plaza on Cooley Street.  Although the Pine Point Civic Association recommended a referral to committee until they could meet with Beverly Baker, the petitioner, the council rejected the permit altogether.  The facility had a lengthy record of operating more than five machines without a permit.  Baker justified the multiple violations by saying some employees do not know the rules.  The permit was crushed on a 13-0 vote.  As with all special permits nine were necessary for passage.
The council reacted much more favorably to a car dealership in the Pine Point neighborhood.  The civic association there supported the permit and it was approved on a 12-0 vote.  Ward 2 Councilor Michael Fenton had stepped out during the debate and missed the vote.
A Save-A-Lot to be in Waterbury, Conn (Wikipedia)
Finally the last permits seemed to epitomize the classic struggle Springfield has faced since it has faced the realities of urban decline.  Supervalu, Inc., namely its subsidiary Moran Foods is proposing to transform the Goodwill Store in the “X” of Forest Park into one of its Save-A-Lot grocers.  The city already has two locations on Armory Street and on Main Street in Indian Orchard.  The developers need the permits for extending a pre-existing, non conforming structure and for site development and design overlay.  That description of the permits does not do them justice, but absent a lengthy monologue on zoning (Oooo, Fun!), let’s just say that absent these permits there is no project.
For the record, Supervalu also owns Shaw’s Supermarkets, their only property with any significant presence in the area.  Shaws are prevelent in the Eastern end of the commonwealth and elsewhere in New England including one store in Enfield.
However, the proposal is not without its own downside.  First of all Save-A-Lot’s plan would not have an entrance that faces Sumner Avenue.  The company’s lawyer, Brian McGrail claimed that it would be impossible to have an entrance facing both the street and the parking lot located behind the building.  One wall or the other needed to be the location of the refrigeration unit.  It seems that the real reason was probably due to the high cost of building two entrances.  An entrance spine built along one edge of the building with exits on each end and on common entrance to the supermarket certainly seems doable if not financially possible for Supervalu.
Additionally, there are concerns that Save-A-Lots “discount” image is somewhat incongruous to the “X” or at least the perception of what the “X” should be.  This opinion was more or less expressed by Forest Park Civic Assocition President Jane Hetzel who, while supportive of the project said the association was “not trilled” that Save-A-Lot would be the supermarket moving in.  Many had hoped a Trader Joe’s or, even more optimistically, a Whole Foods would be possible.  However, according to some familiar with the project, both companies told some city officials that they would never locate in Springfield.
Nevertheless, Supervalu’s representation expressed enthusiasm for their project.  Atty McGrail noted that this would be undertaken at no cost to the city, that is without a TIF and could draw in more business to the “X” generally.  Several dozen construction jobs will be created and a dozen or so permanent jobs will also be located.  Supervalu identified the area as a food desert and hoped to fill the need of the poor population centered ” along Belmont Avenue and Dickinson Street near the “X”.  Hetzel noted Save-A-Lot’s promise to offer healthier foods as part of her reason for supporting the project.
While there were legitimate concerns about traffic and pedestrian safety (the “X,” despite its overlay requirements encouraging street level retail is not a particularly safe pedestrian zone), the front of the store remained a sticking point for many.  Local residents and the city’s planning department were very aprehensive about making an exception to the requirement that an entrance face the street.  Neighbors along Lenox Avenue were worried about how the increase in traffic would clog that street and Cliftwood.  Save-A-Lot’s traffic engineers assured that car traffic would only increase slightly, although there was a discrepancy as to how many trucks would service the store.
Councilor Rivera (Facebook)
Amaad Rivera, who as Ward 6 Councilor represents the “X,” took great pains to emphasize the job creation and that Save-A-Lot, while never relenting on the Sumner Avenue entrance, did modify its facade plans for the street side to fit the neighborhood and include displays of local art.  With Goodwill planning to vacate the building no matter what, it seemed unlikely that any outcome other than passage of the permit was likely.  Many councilors made comments similar to Rivera’s with Fenton and at-large councilor Kateri Walsh still gravely concerned about the impact of the anti-pedestrian design would have on the heavily trafficked intersection.  In the end, they would be the only two votes against the permit with eleven votes in support.
In some ways the comments made by a reprentatives of a neighborhood business group, reflected the concerns many of the opponents and supporters of the project had.  He said, “Would we oppose this project if it were a Trader Joes” that is would the group’s oppose Save-A-Lot simply because it caters to the poor.  In the end, his group could not and would not oppose the project on those grounds alone (although their support was contingent Save-A-Lot fulfilling other apparently agreed ti terms).  None of the opponents appeared to oppose the project for that reason, but the decline of the city and its limited options for new developments seem more evident because of projects like this.  On the other hand, the “X” is already the home to several dollar stores and other businesses that cater to the economically disadvantaged almost exclusively.  Is a Save-A-Lot truly a step down then? 
In the end the planning concerns about the project may have been the only politically valid argument, albeit one a city like Springfield seems unprepared to fight in its current economic state.  Similar issues arose with developments by Colvest in Sixteen Acres which lacked street-fronted buildings.  Indeed that original project was rejected only to be replaced by a CVS, which likewise does not front the street.  Work is still underway to rehab the city’s zoning ordinances to encourage street-fronted developments that will encourage walking citywide (only the “X” has this rule now).  As for the “X” if pedestrian activity is the hope then some additional traffic engineering, something Rivera and others support.
On balance, the council had a somewhat successful meeting in that it accomplished real changes like the foreclosure ordinances while held back the impulse for vapid showmanship.  When it did drift toward cynical political benefit, we can thank Edwards for drawing us back toward reality and purpose.  The difficulty of the “X” development was not between approving the permit or not (rejection was never really an option). Rather it was accepting what the city can and cannot do and what business it can attract in its current economic state.  The encouraging irony may be that the key to stemming and reversing examples of the city’s decline may be more thoughtful, serious and effective meetings, such as this one.

Manic Monday Markup 8/22/11…

…And the World:

While fighting is ongoing in Tripoli, especially in areas near and around Col. Qaddafi’s compound, it does appear that the rebels, who are technically the US-recognized government of Libya, have all, but defeated the dictator of 42 years.  Meanwhile, three of Qaddafi’s sons have been reportedly captured by the rebels.  The push into Tripoli happened swiftly and occurred only days after the rebels captured a key oil refinery and a few weeks after many questioned whether the rebels could withstand the assassination of their top general.

In Canada, the leader of the Opposition and the New Democrat Party Jack Layton has died due to cancer.  Layton’s party secured 103 (of 308) seats in an election earlier this year by creaming the Bloc Quebecois in their eponymous province and pushed longtime political powerhouse the Liberal Party aside to become the official opposition.  However, as the New York Times writes, the future of  Layton’s party is uncertain without him.  As the prime minister, Stephen Harper and his party, the Conservatives, hold a majority of seats no new elections are likely to scramble Parliament again for several years.

The Feds:

President Obama is vacationing in Martha’s Vineyard.  However, he made a statement on Libya today.

Meanwhile the GOP is shutting down not only talk of job creation within the Super Committee, but extending the payroll tax cut as well.  After all extending a tax cut for the middle class does not help the economy.  However extending a tax cut for the uber-wealthy creates jobs.  That’s why we cannot let the rates rise on the wealthy or even the Super Rich in this country.  However, it is economically inefficient to give actual consumers more money in their pocket.  Point of reference, tax cuts for wealthy have existed for over ten years now.  We’re awash in jobs.  Right?  RIGHT?

The State of Things:

Elizabeth Warren’s listening tour has continued through the commonwealth.  We can confirm she met with activists in Agawam this week and her visit to Pittsfield was reported in the Berkshire Eagle.  There has been some flack about Warren not meeting with the press, but it is largely noise.  It is foolish to think Warren won’t talk to the press when she is actually a candidate.  Right now, she’s laying to groundwork to have a grassroots campaign.  She need not brief the press before she briefs the voters.  Meanwhile, Scott Brown is hawking Bobble Heads again, perhaps unethically (see link), but liberal groups are hitting back.  Lucky for him the resemblance is terrible.  Still, the idea of the Bobble Head Brown in his truck is only more evidence of Scott Brown construction.

The Verizon strike is over pending further negotiations on the contract.  The upside is that workers are going back to work, the down side is that there is still no contract.  Union leaders called off the work stoppage after Verizon faced two weeks of complaints from customers and inadequate response from replacement workers.  Many have worried that it took a strike just to get Verizon to negotiate and not demand, but working is better than not…ad interim.

City Slickers:

Amaad Rivera’s campaign finance disclosure forms are in.  Read up.  They’re pretty boring, if however unfashionably late.  Our story on municipal campaign finance law generally, here.

Eyes are turning to Stephen Lisauskas the Executive Director of the Control Board when Alan Ingram’s side deal was signed.  Meanwhile, some remain uneasy about City Solicitor Ed Pikula judging what public documents from the Control Board are public records and which can be legally withheld.  The preferred choice would be City Clerk Wayman Lee, largely seen as a disinterested third party (and one whose fate lies in the City Council and not the mayor’s office).  The requests have been filed in response to Ingram’s side deals.

Next steps on foreclosure ordinance today at Special City Council Meeting.  Kateri Walsh and John Lysak have resolve urging Governor not the raise gas tax.  (But what about Republicans in Washington threatening to eliminate it and highway funding altogether?)  Formal warrants for elections on agenda as is more special permit for, ostensibly slot parlors.  Our meeting write-up tomorrow.

Twitter Chatter: 
In addition to Libya, Paul Ryan made news by not making news.  The “Punk Who Tried to Take Your Medicare and Turn You Against Your Children” (our quote), has said he will not run for president in 2012.  Republicans not adding another candidate with significant shortcomings to the pile.  Greg Sargent sums it up, pretty well.


Campaign High Finance…

**This post has been updated to reflect new information obtained from the governor’s office.**

Councilor Rivera (Facebook)

It is always hard to measure what impact scandals will have on a politician.  Nobody seemed to care that Rick Perry received a $25,000 donation from Ken Lay and an Enron executive got a seat on the Utility Commission in Texas.  Likewise, prognosticators assessments notwithstanding, it is hard to know exactly what impact Ward 6 Councilor Amaad Rivera’s failure to file his campaign finance disclosure forms will have.  Part of the problem is that there is an open seat and well-known names win.  Another complicating factor is that Rivera courts, more than virtually any at-large candidate has in recent memory, a segment of the electorate that has historically low voter participation rates.

However, the entire affair has spurred us to investigate, not Rivera’s doings, but rather the municipal campaign financing in general.  As we have said for years, and especially during the Biomass debate, the same pool of donors tend to give to anybody running for office in Springfield.  However, what about the laws of disclosure themselves?  How have they changed and what impact do they have?  Just as important, what is the record of Springfield candidates generally?

McCormack Bldg, Boston (Wikipedia)
Campaign finance laws are administered by the Office of Campaign and Political Finance.  That agency, headquartered in the McCormack Building next to the State House, enforces campaign finance laws in the commonwealth.  Established in 1973, the office was among many that were established, nationwide, during and after Watergate amid concerns about the influence of money in politics.  While those concerns have erupted once more after Citizens United v. FEC and the Supreme Court’s striking of a Arizona Public Financing Law, disclosure requirements, which exist in most states, remain a crucial, if shaky, foundation of efforts to clean up elections.

Chapter 55 of the Massachusetts General Laws, and nominally 55c, the commonwealth’s emaciated public financing law, are the laws that OCPF enforces.  However, the office is also the “depository” venue for most candidates to file their fund raising, expenditures and other reports.  Under current law, all candidates for State Office, including the legislature, governors council and the executive constitutional officials, must file with OCPF. 

However, before January 1, 2010 only mayoral candidates and city councilors running for at-large seats in the commonwealth’s five largest cities needed to file with OCPF directly.  Even if you were not required to file with the state, candidates raising money for their campaigns for any municipal office had to file reports with their town or city’s clerk, or in the case of Springfield, the Election Commission.  Just as Springfield undertook its first ward-based elections in decades, whose candidates needed to file only with City Hall, the commonwealth’s municipal campaign finance law received a major shake-up

Gov. Deval Patrick in 2008 (WMassP&I)

The laws that changed this came about amid scandals, resignations and public pressure.  After former State Senator Dianne Wilkerson was arrested for bribery, Governor Deval Patrick convened a task force to suggest changes to public integrity laws.  Ultimately the legislature and Governor Deval Patrick enacted legislation that would toughen the commonwealth’s ethics, lobbying and campaign finance laws.  However, passage of that bill, along with reforms to pensions and transportation were in doubt until Patrick said he would veto an increase in the sales tax unless the reforms reached his desk first.  At the bill signing, Patrick said at the time, “This law demonstrates our firm commitment to governing with integrity, with openness and with the public’s interest foremost.”

The changes expanded the crop of municipal candidates who needed to file wtih OCPF.  On the first day of 2010less than two months after the last municipal electionmayoral and all city council candidates in Boston, Worcester, Springfield, Lowell, and Cambridge were required to file with OCPF.  Mayoral candidates with populations in excess of 40,000, too must now file with OCPF.   For example, a mayoral candidate in Chicopee needs to file with the Boston-based agency, but city council candidates in that city as well as mayoral candidates in Agawam, do not.

Another notable change, though one mostly irrelevant to Springfield, required that city and town clerks put online the campaign finance reports candidates file locally. All of the above revisions to campaign finance law were contained in Chapter 28 of the Acts of 2009.

City Council Chamber (WMassP&I)
Under Springfield’s all at-large system, all council candidates already had to file with OCPF.  Therefore, anybody running for city council would be familiar with the system.  However, the introduction of ward-representation, approved by voters two years before the legislature changed the law, threw a monkey wrench into the process.  While it is true that ward or district councilors in the commonwealth’s other large cities still had had to file with their clerks for years, that a seminal election in Springfield would take place under a fractured campaign reporting process seemed problematic.

For some it was not an issue.  Ward 5 Councilor, Clodo Concepcion was a perennial at-large candidate and had a file with OCPF.  However, his 2009 records at City Hall were quite spare and seemed to rely heavily on less than $50 donations, which need not be reported unless that person contributes again and crosses the $50 threshold.  Ward 8 Councilor John Lysak, too, had run in the past. as an at-large candidate.  Others took their reporting particularly seriously and submitted typed reports instead of handwriting information onto commission-issued forms.  But notably, the reporting requirements were not as thorough as the OCPF’s, which requires more frequent bank and expenditure reports.  Still, were there a violation or omission, the Election Commission could refer the matter to OCPF, who could then audit a committee that does not file with them.  None of the substance of the disclosure, contribution or expenditure laws vary whether a candidate files with OCPF or not.

Chapter 28 of the Laws of 2009 was quite a departure from the previous law in terms of the scale of work needed to be done.  Jason Tait, a Public Information Officer at OCPF, characterized the transition as “lots of work.”  Needless to say, this effort involved working with city clerks in the commonwealth’s largest cities to adequately inform candidates of the change and transition more responsibility away from clerks and to OCPF.  Gladys Oyola, the head of Springfield’s Election Commission described the switchover as something of a relief as her office lacked the legal resources to answer all ward candidate’s questions, whereas the OCPF does generally.

In a memo the OCPF distributed, the office said that all candidates must continue to file if they have money in their committee bank accounts or have outstanding liabilities.  A candidate’s committee can not be dissolved if either of those two applied.  However, if a committee has neither and does not file for dissolution, it can be administratively closed by the OCPF, or for a municipal filer, by the clerk’s office.

Orlando Ramos (Facebook)
The transition in Springfield caught more than Amaad Rivera in the cracks.  According to campaign finance records retained by the Election Commission under the old law, council aspirants Gumersindo Gomez and Michael Rodgers, who ran for the Ward 1 and 7 seats respectively, had yet to file any reports more recent than 2009.  The latest paperwork in both former candidates’ files showed balances in their committee accounts.  Other candidates for the general election in city’s other six wards had closed their accounts with City Hall, or in the case of Orlando Ramos of Ward 8, continued to file with the Election Commission rather than OCPF, as he technically should have.  Tait, the OCPF spokesman, said that letter of the law violations by a losing candidate, like Ramos, would largely be ignored.  Ramos began filing with OCPF earlier this year.  The former candidates were also, to some extent, ignored, although arguably the candidates that closed their accounts with the Election Commission did so after being notified.

Even before the law changed, at-large candidates needing to file with OCPF had problems.  Tim Rooke, an at-large member of the council and presently the dean of the body, faced several thousand dollars in penalties for filing his 2005 year end report 250 days late.  Rooke appealed the finding, and was denied although part of his fine was suspended.  Ultimately, the hearing officer rejected the appeal because Rooke’s excuse that his “intent was not to deceive,” was irrelevant in light of OCPF’s purpose, which is to enforce disclosure.  In addition, they noted that Rooke’s committee had a history of late filing.

Other former candidates have been hit, too.  Morris Jones has two recent violations on file, including a fine for failure to file paperwork on time in 2009.  James Anziano, a candidate in 2005 was likewise behind.  A file for John Lysak, suggests no violations, but OCPF ruled his use of a building for his campaign headquarters an in-kind contribution that needed to be reported.  Consequently, the OCPF found fair market value for that space exceeded the $500 contribution limit.  Lysak’s campaign subsequently paid the difference to the landlord.

As Tait explained to WMassP&I, the OCPF’s primary concern is disclosure.  To that end, OCPF is more than willing, Tait said, to engage with candidates who may not be filing for whatever reason, if it means that their donations, expenditures and committee financial activity is disclosed.  Incidentally, as of late last week, Councilor Rivera’s forms were filed with OCPF.  There is no word yet on what, if any penalty, may be levied against him for the tardiness.

Campaign finance regulations, which also include things like attribution (“I’m X and I approve this message,” is the simplest example), are in flux in light of Citizens United, but they were facing an unknown future anyway.  The advent of Facebook and Twitter has shaken up the campaign finance status quo, which has changed little since the initial push in the 1970′s.  Alaska, for example, has recommended separate Twitter accounts for officials in their capacity as officeholders and in their guise as candidates.  Many, if not most US Senators follow this rule, but it is unclear if this is due to federal law or Senate rules.  Massachusetts has no such rules yet, but it seems likely that no further steps will be taken until the full jurisprudence of Citizens United pans out and further legislation pursued by the feds.  However, under current political conditions that may not be for many years, especially if amendments to the Constitution prove necessary.

Manic Monday Markup 8/15/11…

…And the World

The rebels in Libya, who are technically the government of that country in the eyes of the State Department, have suffered through several demoralizing losses and are plagued by discord and infighting.  Still, developments continue to swing in their favor.  Another defection seems likely as the Interior Minister arrives in Egypt.  Meanwhile, rebels fighting in the west of the country (the provisional capital is in the eastern city of Benghazi) are nearing a major supply point that could choke off the actual official capital, Tripoli.

The Feds:

In the GOP field Texas Governor Rick Perry is in, Minnesota former governor Tim Pawlenty is out.  With fellow Minnesotan Michele Bachmann in the race, Pawlenty could not stir up the midwest lovin’.  Were this a normal political environment, his now-disavowed moderate record could pose a serious threat to Barack Obama, but with the possible exception of the Mormon Twins, Mittens and Huntsman, moderate is almost as disgusting to GOP primary voters as compromise.

As for Rick Perry (and we will be following this closely), his Texas miracle has been questioned and that skepticism may bear some fruit, especially if he becomes the nominee.  While Texas has weathered the recession better than most states, its unemployment rate is not impressive, many jobs are really low paying, other jobs are public sector, now facing layoffs and much of the economic growth can be attributed to oil prices and military spending.  Put another way, Texas’ economic miracle, if you can call it that, is made on the backs of our gas price misery.  Also, Texas did not fall as low during the recession because of, you guessed it, regulation in the housing finance market.  Finally, Texas had a nearly $27 billion deficit for its two-year budget.  Sorry, but you can’t blame public sector unions for that one, they lack collective bargaining rights.
Meanwhile a shout-out to Democratic Cong. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois for introducing the first coherent jobs bill of this Congress.  The GOP has 0.  They have a nice 10 page report though with full-page clip-art, though.

The State of Things:

Still a regional issue, but the CWA and IBEW remain on strike.  Show your solidarity with working folks today.  Join a picket line at a Verizon Wireless Store or on State Street in Springfield.  Defer a new cell phone purchase or refuse to renew your wireless contract until a new contract is agreed to.

Elizabeth Warren made her clearest signal yet last week when she posted to the blog Blue Mass Group and it was revealed she is working with top Democratic strategists in the Bay State, both former Deval Patrick staffers.  The folksy posting was an invitation to Bay Staters to talk about the issues that matter to them.  The far right hit her position as a Harvard Professor (she’s wicked Smaht, so what?) and the lobbying activities of the Patrick staffers (Find me a politician who isn’t talking gambling in Mass these days).  Because many of the organics we have discussed in the past are suspicious of a candidate being forced on them, talking to the progressive grassroots on their turf is especially canny and could benefit her candidacy.  In a related note, the Boston Globe, unlike virtually every other media outlet, did not refer to Blue Mass Group by name until it wrote an editorial asking Warren to be less coy about her intentions.

In a related item, the Progressive Campaign Change Committee, who fought for Warren’s nomination to lead the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, claims to have raised $100,000 for a Warren Senate run.  They began the effort mid July after Richard Cordray was nominated by the president to lead the CFPB.

City Slickers:

Alan Ingram, the superintendent of schools for Springfield has announced he will resign at the end of next school year.  It seems odd to call it a resignation since his contract expires then anyway.  Ingram has come under fire for accepting a $30,000 side contract for relocating to Springfield.  However, it appears that instead Ingram continued to rent and refinanced his Oklahoma home.  Maybe Springfield should look local next go around instead of national headhunting.

The Springfield City Council does not appear to have any regular meetings scheduled until September 12th.

Twitter Chatter:

Without a doubt, Rick Perry is dominating our feed, now.  However, we recommend @texastribune and @wayneslater for news about the man who followed Bush as governor of Texas.  The Texas Tribune is a non-partisan non-profit news organization in Texas.  Many of its work also appears on the New York Times website.  Wayne Slater is a political reporter for the Dallas Morning News and has appeared on the Rachel Maddow Show.  He has followed Perry’s career quite carefully.

Our One Hundreth: Taking on Water…Will Scott’s Heart Go On…

RMS Titanic (Wikipedia)
Two things bookend year one of Scott Brown’s career as the junior Senator from Massachusetts so far.  One, is an image of him sailing out from his front door ahead of  a trip to Washington before his swearing-in a few days later.  The other is his impressive, unsinkable approval numbers a year later, after his party gained little or no traction in his home state.  Despite a rejection of Brownism in Massachusetts, Brown had numbers that were bigger than all the other Massachusetts pols.  From that position, Scott Brown’s maiden voyage in the Senate confidently moved on toward reelection.

It is too early to tell, but with each passing month, his second year in the US Senate is not shaping up to be as good as the first.  Brown seemed to avoided catastrophe after last November or so he may have thought, but the fact is that troubled waters lay ahead.  The ocean between his unexpected win and his reelection is vast and not without peril.  But Scott Brown is unsinkable!  So what if there political icebergs out there, they can’t take him down!

The Titanic parallels are not without their purpose.  As the arc of history has moved forward, it has become possible to see that Brown faces a bend away from further glory and adulation.  What started as a leak earlier this year when Brown thought he saw a dead Osama bin Laden has become an outright flood.  It is not clear or inevitable that the water will overwhelm more than his forward four watertight compartments.  However, if July and August are any indication, it does not look good for the S.S. Scottanic.

Image by WMassP&I from fair use material

For several months now, but with increased fervor recently, the Massachusetts Democratic Party has hammered Brown for holding nary a single town hall meeting.  Indeed, Brown’s interaction with the public has been limited to scripted events, ed-ops, friendly media encounters and fundraisers.  His jobs tour, which we’ll get to in a moment, has been a feeble attempt to counter that argument, by seeming responsive to the fact that Americans care about jobs and not the deficit nonsense.  The wheels began to come off with the bin Laden photo flack, but it becomes so much easier to see Brown’s PR strategy in context following that disastrous interview.

However, Brown’s opportunity to stand out on the debt ceiling was flubbed when he announced he would vote for any plan that raised the debt ceiling.  What was intended to be a declaration of reasonableness amid fiscal lunacy ended up being a pathetic appeal for action from a powerless Senator who made his campaign all about the power of stopping Barack Obama.

Shortly after that, Brown voted for the debt deal that would automatically cut, among other things, funding for disaster relief.  That is the same disaster relief that Springfield and the surrounding communities are applying for in the wake of the June 1st tornado.  Meanwhile, Brown’s website has bellowed out a reminder to victims that now is their chance to apply for such aid.

Brown then got into trouble with the gay community, which he had long sought to neutralize by voting for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (after months of indecision and supporting of filibusters against it).  Last month, nearly every member of the Massachusetts delegation to Washington participated in filming an “It Gets Better” video, the project of Dan Savage and his spouse to help give troubled and bullied gay young people hope.  Brown declined to participate citing his focus on jobs.  Initially, it did not matter.  The gay community was mad Brown, who cares?  
Dan Savage (Wikipedia)

Well, then the National Republican Senate Committee attacked Dan Savage for his past rhetoric and activism (Google Santorum, on second thought, DON’T).  The problem with the attack was it appeared to hit “It Gets Better” as much as Dan Savage.  Nobody cares about Savage’s reputation, but it is fair to say most Bay Staters would support an effort that was started in response to a spat of teen suicide.  The NRSC’s attack, however, inadvertently put Scott Brown on the wrong side of that issue.  The GOP in Washington need to remember that they can’t defend a Massachusetts Republican like they would an Alabama Republican.

Then there is the Brown jobs tour.  Announced to little fanfare, and even fewer details, Brown planned to tour the state to promote jobs.  The tour was intended to deflect the criticism of Brown’s town halls (or lack thereof) and to focus on local issues, since Brown has shown, increasingly, that he is ineffectual in the Senate.  It does not matter that Brown is not trying to work on jobs, he can see Americans are not buying the deficit as issue one so he will talk about jobs, even as he filibusters jobs bills.

However, the jobs tour has been fraught with PR problems.  Although the shots of him playing basketball were innocuous, if irrelevant to job creation, some of the other stops were just strange.  Brown spoke to a largely retired audience at a Jewish community center in the Boston neighborhood of Brighton.  The Globe described the event as not open the public and Brown’s bombshell to his audience was that Medicare would need to be cut.  The Globe did not indicate that he qualified it in reference to future retirees, although that argument did not help Republicans that voted for Paul Ryan’s Medicare busting reforms.  However, there was a statement from one audience member in the story that offered nothing, but praise for Brown.  It was later discovered that Brown had touted a bill that would assist Iranian Jews facing repression.  In all seriousness, who would oppose that?

Rep David Camp (R-MI) (wikipedia)

Then Brown brought his tour to Amherst, the lion den of Western Mass liberalism, but restricted the tour to the New England Scenic Trail.  The location was chosen to highlight tourism’s importance to the state, which was at least marginally jobs related.  However, two things happened there.  One, he was met by protesters and hecklers, who did not have any praise to heap on him.  The other was that he reiterated his opposition to taxes as part of the deficit problem.  Brown could have been splitting the taxes vs. revenue difference, but he has ruled most loophole cutting out, which leaves him to the right of both Paul Ryan and Super-committee member David Camp, both of whom have not ruled out revenue.  To top off last night, Brown continued his jobs tour to Pittsfield where he would lunch with the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce.  The public could attend: for $45.

Brown’s jobs tour continues to other densely populated areas including Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.  Those are all separate stops on the tour not one.

Richard Cordray CFPB Nominee (Wikipedia)

However, what may have set Brown off on a jobs tour was not the Democrat’s poking.  Nor did logic or reason bring him to support whatever bill could exit the Senate.  No, it was an announcement in mid-July that President Obama would finally select his pick to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Richard Cordray.  He did not, despite liberal grousing, name Elizabeth Warren.  Frankly, it was one of the canniest political move the president made going into 2012 in the effort to hold the Senate.

The Senate did not take an official recess this summer and will probably not do so until Christmas at the earliest, if at all.  No amount of fighting would get Warren into the directorship before then.  She would be idled until Republican allowed a vote or checked out.  Cordray, on the other hand, had nowhere else to be in a hurry, or any competing interest asking for his time at this moment.  As early as January of this year, Warren speculation for Senate had begun.  That is why Brown did not sign the Republican letter opposing changes to the CFPB.  He wanted Warren nominated, confirmed and kept in Washington.  That did not happen and no doubt Brown HQ went batty that week.

It got far worse today for Brown.  As self-inflicted wounds and the small unexpected ice flows upset Brown’s ship-shape campaign, rumors continued to swirl that Elizabeth Warren would join the nebula of candidates vying for the Democratic nomination.  The Progressive Change Campaign Committee, getting over their anger at Obama nominate Warren raised thousands for a still-undeclared Warren campaign.  Then this appeared, as part of a longer post, at Blue Mass Group.

I left Washington, but I don’t plan to stop fighting for middle class families.  I spent years working against special interests and have the battle scars to show it – and I have no intention of stopping now.  It is time for me to think hard about what role I can play next to help rebuild a middle class that has been hacked at, chipped at, and pulled at for more than a generation—and that that is under greater strain every day.

Elizabeth Warren (AFP via ABC)

The news quickly spread throughout the media, including The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, Huffington Post, and Wicked Local’s political blog.  Among other details reported were Warren’s plans to investigate a campaign with two former staffers to Gov. Deval Patrick and a pundits announcement that Warren would announce her campaign sometime after Labor Day.

Unless Scott Brown loses sleep over the suffering thousands of his constituents endure everyday (his behavior at the tornado walk-around does not inspire hope here), then tonight could prove to be quite a sleepless night.  The Brown camp and the State GOP has long fired off attacks against Setti Warren, who along with Alan Khazei and Bob Massie appear to be front-runners of the existing slate of Democrats.  Obviously, it saw Setti Warren as a real threat among the candidates even cobbling together a mission for Scott Brown in Afghanistan, which disappeared off the face of the media this summer.  If it ever happened, none of the publications that promoted it for the Senator reported it later.

The summer has not been kind to Scott Brown and with a record moderate in name only and President Obama at the top of the ticket the senator may be in trouble.  Moreover, if Elizabeth Warren becomes the nominee, she will be able to tap into vast liberal and grassroots fundraising that could reduce or eliminate Brown’s financial advantage.

Not to mention if Elizabeth Warren can parry Brown as well as Republican provocateurs, then Brown may need a fleet of trucks criss-crossing the state.  Then again, to afford such a motorized battalion may only prompt Bay Staters to further question Brown’s everymanhood.


Manic Monday Markup 8/8/11…

…And the World:
Riots have overtaken London after flaring up following the death of a man in the Tottenham area.  The riots have tapped into many of the social ills that has plagued British society for years (class, race, socioeconomics) and have only been exacerbated by the bad economy and recent austerity measures.
The Feds:
Stock Market Tanks on S&P Downgrade, though the immediate effect of that is to actually make US debt more attractive.  With Congress deadlocked, the only option left may be the Federal Reserve engaging in another round of Quantitative Easing.  In short, the Fed buys debt from banks in the hope they put the freed up money into the economy.
The President addressed the economy today.  Kind of sitting and spinning though until Congress comes back and even then…
The State of Things:
Scott Brown has began his jobs tour, which according to the Boston Globe does not include members of the general public.  However, in response a question from one intrepid infiltrator, he said he against taxes because it could harm the economy.  Aside from the fact that NOBODY is talking about raising taxes in this environment, Paul Ryan has even come around to more revenue.  That puts Brown to the right of Ayn Rand-lover Paul Ryan.  (thought: did Brown really support the Ryan plan and opposed it out of political fear)  Brown could be splicing the revenue/tax terminology, but probably not.  He also said bluntly Social Security and Medicare benefits need to be cut.  But he’s so athletic!  Meanwhile, among Brown’s public job tour locales are a lunch with the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce.  Only $35 for members.  $10 more for the peons.

This may not be the best place for it, but Verizon landline workers have gone on strike.  Members of the Communication Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers walked off the job after the company refused to negotiate on dozens of terms for the next contract.  Hot button demands include elimination of job security.  To support the workers check out some of these tips.
City Slickers:
Questions continue to swirl around School Superintendent Alan Ingram’s contract and its gratuity relocation expense.  This week the School Committee said it would formally ask for the $30,000 Ingram used for financial matters other than buying a house.  Ingram lives in a rented home.  If Ingram refuses…Plan B School Committee?
Arise For Social Justice will hold a rally at Springfield City Hall to protest the minimal interest ward representation races.
Twitter Chatter:
This hashtag says it all. #PrayforLondon

Manic Monday Markup 8/1/11…

…And the World:

Although the impact in the dollar’s value remains an open question, the stalemate over the debt and the brinksmanship forced upon us by the Republican party has cost us in the view of much of the world.  Although our debt and deficit like that of any global power needs to be brought under control, the hysterics of the tea party and paranoid delusions about an American Greece have brought American inertia to a new low.  In short the world cannot trust the US, and Congress in particular, to work in global financial interests.  While that may seem counter intuitive since those that benefit most from a humming system are the uber-wealthy, everybody suffers under rusty machine and as the President said, we may have a AAA credit rating, but hardly a AAA political system.

The Feds:

Congress passed the debt ceiling.  We can ignore Washington otherwise for another week.  If you want solid opinion, versus analysis on this sorry situation, read yesterday’s post.
One more Washington thing.  Gabrielle Giffords returned to the House floor this evening to cast her vote.

The State of Things:

The Legislature has sent a bill to Governor Deval Patrick that will revamp how the commonwealth’s troubled Probation Department makes future employment decision.  Last year the lid was blown off a patronage scandal at the department that began several state and federal investigations.  The legislation is not Patrick’s preferred solution, consolidating the functions with parole under the executive, but he is expected to sign.

Governor Patrick has signed a bill to institute a sale tax holiday the weekend of August 13-14.

City Slickers:

If you missed our earlier post on municipal elections only one Ward race is officially contested in Springfield.  John Lysak and Orlando Ramos will go at it again come November, but the other 7 ward incumbents have no official challengers.  Thirteen have qualified for the five at-large seats including all current councilors (except Jose Tosado who is running for mayor) and Ward 6 Councilor Amaad Rivera.  Incumbent Mayor Domenic Sarno, School Committeewoman Antonette Pepe and Tosado will square off in a September primary as will the thirteen at-large aspirants.

In an opinion piece published today Senator John Kerry and Representative Richard Neal announced a tax relief bill for victims of natural disasters.  It may pass it may not.  If the tea partiers learn that such a bill would be Keynesian then we might be in trouble.

Twitter Chatter:

It’s another visual chatter.
Rep. Giffords tweets had been her staff tweeting updates. However, tonight it seems she made an exception.
Amidst the division of the vote, emotion.
And never truer were spoken.


Debt Deal or No Deal…

**The post has been cross posted on DailyKos and Blue Mass Group.**

President Barack Obama has announced that a deal has been reached to raise the debt ceiling.  It is abysmal.  The unemployed, sick and poor are thrown under the bus.  That there can be no doubt.  However, for all that there are some bright spots to be pried out from under the rear bus wheel.

1. Congress cannot bind itself into the future.  There remains plenty of ammo for Democrats to hang onto as they venture forward into the 2012 Congressional races.  Although hits will probably be sustained in North Carolina new Congressional map and redistricting will protect Republicans elsewhere Democrats have some hope to hang onto in California and Illinois.  So recapturing the House remains possible and holding the Senate is not outside the realm of possibility.  Should both things happen and President Obama wins another term, though not a definite thing, the worst of this can be reversed.  Think reconciliation.
2. Although changes to the tax code are not included in the deal or seemingly allowed to raise revenue in the new Super Congress, the Bush tax cuts expire January 1 2013.  President Barack Obama has ZERO incentive to extend them again for the wealthiest before election day.  If Republicans want to protect the wealthy at the expense of the poor, let them.  Trying the opposite argument  bought Democrats nothing in 2010 and it will do the same in 2012.
3. The White House promises that most of the reduction will be done in the out years.  If true, see point number 1.
4.  Although the president consistently called for a balanced approach, it is worth noting that the tax revenue was really only ever an adamant requirement if the Big Three were cut.  Medicare risks knicking, but Medicaid and Social Security survive unscathed.
5. We finally make seriously cuts to our bloated Defence Establishment.
6. Although no unemployment or payroll deduction was included, we can now (hopefully) move onto job creation as our main conversation, even if this deal could weaken the economy.
7. All the details are not yet out.
Let me be clear once more.  The deal appears to be simply awful.  However, there is some wisdom, however disconcerting, to be taken from the New York Times editorial about the calculation of dealing with extortionists.  Unlike in years past, the extortionists were really willing to destroy the economy and frankly the longer term impact of that would have hurt Democrats and President Obama far more.  For whatever wrath some Republicans in moderate districts may fact, we need only remember that the GOP had higher unfavorables last year than Democrats and still won.  They would have destroyed the economy, but the Republicans that vote against this deal can and will have their irresponsibility shoved in their face either in primaries or generals (preferably the latter).
As many Democrats that can should vote against this deal.  However, the deal must still pass.  President Obama would be inviting political character assassination of an unprecedented degree if he exercised the Fourteenth Amendment option.  The White House could only have plausibly used this method if it lines up individuals affected by the debt ceiling to sue for it to be overturned.  By the time judges would get around to this, the damage may already have been done.
As liberals, it is always troubling to be shoved to the center when the leaders we have placed our hopes in fail to meet our expectations.  Arguably, we have experienced this for decades now.  However, uncomfortable fact though it may be, this situation would have been far worse if Republicans controlled the White House and none of the candidates on the GOP side could be trusted to do anything short of privatizing Medicare, “personalizing” Social Security and dumping the EPA, Medicaid, financial reform and education generally.  Some candidates, including several frontrunners, would even be a threat to the minimum wage, unemployment and virtually all assistance to the poor. 
It does not say much for our society when the alternative to what we have now is the destruction of our post-McKinley society.  Yet we, that is Democrats, liberals, leftists, progressives and indeed anybody who values fairness and compassion, have to keep fighting and NOT STOP fighting.  This time it was a bad budget deal, tomorrow if we give up, it can and will be far worse.

–Matt S, EIC WMassP&I