REFUSE IT OR RECUSE IT! A Challenge to the Cambridge City Council

There’s a cancer eating away at the integrity of our civic governance. And it begins, as it often does, with money. Money channeled from developers to our city councilors. And if the system isn’t rigged in favor of those donors, it certainly appears like it is to anyone who’s been watching the Normandy/Twining (N/T) assault on the city council.

City councilCity councilors accepting campaign contributions from developers whose projects come before the council is at best a bad idea; at worst a sure sign that influence on the city council is up for sale.

It is far from coincidence that last week’s “attack of the snarling wolves” featured council members who accept developer donations attacking the two members who don’t. Almost surreally, the merits of Councilors Carlone and Mazen’s proposal were never actually discussed. Once again, an angry council rejected an opportunity to create something they might have found helpful—a minor zoning change that could have negated N/T’s threats to build a lab if they didn’t get their 19-story luxury tower—assuming any of those self-righteous councilors cared a whit about having a stronger hand in negotiating with the developer.

I’m certain most of our councilors would express outrage at the implication that campaign donations could buy their influence or, worse still, their vote. Well, as a resident of Cambridge, I would like to express my own outrage that councilors whose most important function is to vote on zoning changes would take money from those who appear before them and not recuse themselves in situations involving their donors!

It is totally possible the $9,850* Normandy/Twining funneled to council members had little to do with the council’s unseemly rush to approve spot-zoning for the oversized tower and surrounding properties. Or that the project being put on a fast track had nothing to do with Mayor David Maher receiving a combined total of $1,950* from N/T interests.

Donations weren’t just handed out once, but fed to the councilors over a 3-year period starting 12/5/2012, the day before the council’s Ordinance Committee was scheduled to discuss zoning recommendations for Central Square. From all appearances, our councilors were played mightily by N/T, getting fed donations, like hits of an opiate, one after another as the project advanced, growing more and more comfortable with being in N/T’s debt, one would expect.

In all, N/T made 27 separate donations  in the two years prior to submitting their zoning petition on November 19, 2014. Those donations, totaling $6400, were made to 6 different Councilors. Housing Committee chairperson Denise Simmons received 5 donations totaling $900 during the four months preceding the filing of the petition, and Mayor David Maher received 5 donations totaling $1750 during the one month prior to the petition’s filing.

Here, in descending order, are the amounts donated by Normandy/Twining interests to our city councilors, as reported by the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance*: Leland Cheung, $2,550; David Maher, $1,950; Tim Toomey, $1,450; Denise Simmons, $1,400; Mark McGovern, $1,350; Dennis Benzan, $950; and Craig Kelley, a mere $200.

Am I being naïve when I propose that the City Council has an obligation to act in such a way as to appear fair-minded and honest? By accepting thousands from a developer with a lucrative project on the boards, accepting regular ongoing contributions as though being paid for their services, six of our councilors stepped far outside the bounds of acceptable behavior or the appearance of propriety. Nor did their behavior on April 13th, attacking their fellow councilors for not acting collegially, especially in light of their sub rosa financial relationship with N/T, prove not only unfair but almost comical in its self-righteous tone. By lashing out at the only council members honestly trying to solve planning issue problems they only highlighted how little they’ve actually been doing themselves.

I’m not accusing anyone of doing anything illegal in taking $9,850* from N/T, but I am stating it would be morally and ethically wrong for our city councilors to take the money then vote to approve the project.

And it definitely wouldn’t pass the smell test.

When you look at the wrongness of the proposal itself—the building’s precedent-setting height; its massive bulk; its total disregard for area zoning and architecture; its inevitable spiking of area rents; its negative impact on neighboring Jill Rhone Park; its strong neighborhood opposition—you might wonder why the project has any city council supporters at all.

I challenge all six city councilors who have taken substantial donations from Normandy/Twining to recuse yourselves from any further votes on the matter. This project cannot be debated honestly now; it has been debased by the cynicism that fueled N/T’s slow-drip, council-controlling donation strategy.

And further, I call on all city councilors to commit to higher ethical standards in your fundraising by either REFUSING Donations from Developers and associated business interests or by RECUSING yourselves from ever voting on matters relating to your donors’ business interests.

Like Caesar’s wife, city councilors must be above suspicion. Or the taint of influence peddling.

Right now, you’re anything but…!

 

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  • *Statistics from the Massachusetts Office of Campaign & Political Finance; see http://www.ocpf.us
  • All statistics mentioned in the article were updated from a previous post, and accurate as of 4/20/2015. Also a remark from an earlier post pointing out Dennis Carlone’s single developer donation became moot, and thus removable, since Carlone quickly returned the donation when he learned of the oversight.
  • In an interesting development since my first release of this essay, Denise Simmons received an additional $500 from N/T’s Attorney, Anthony Galluccio, 2/28/2015 around the time of the First Ordinance Committee hearing on Twining’s re-filed petition.

Sobbing On The Subway

He sits there alone on the subway seat, his body shaking from huge inconsolable sobs. A moment ago he was just sitting there quietly, seemingly lost in his own thoughts. A man in his late sixties, his Boston Red Sox cap its own promise of spring, of better days ahead. Then the crying erupted from his body in an instant, like lava spewed from a testy volcano. We are mostly alone on this Red Line subway car, he and I, at 7:45 on a Wednesday morning. I stare at his reflection in the darkened window while he continues to sob so hard I can almost feel his body shaking.

As the train glides into Harvard Square, the questions run through my mind like a fevered catechism.

Kenyatta Braithwaite. Always in our hearts!

Kenyatta Braithwaite. Always in our hearts!

Why, why why? Why did he have to die? He was so young; why him, why now? And what‘s ahead for his wife and young son?

Why indeed! I know this was my son-in-law, Kenyatta’s, journey, this early death of his, but still I have to ask “Why?” as if someone could ever explain such a cruel and unfair act of Fate. So cruel it seems malicious!

Keny was just 44, maybe 45, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is how young Keny was when he left us, how much greatness he still had left to discover; how many laughs left to share; how much of his warmth and loving presence (“Give me some sugar, baby!”) and hugs we’ll no longer enjoy. You can’t quantify the damage done; our family has been greatly diminished by my son-in-law’s loss and none of us can figure out what hit us or why?

I have seen this man sobbing elsewhere in the last 24 hours. On an elevator, in my local supermarket, sitting in the dark of his office, bathed in the glow of his computer screen. I have seen him break into tears and great, gushing sobs at a moment’s notice. It happened in the shower this morning. His sobs broke through my reverie. Whisking me from one second’s stillness into the next second’s frenzy of cries and wailing.

Was it the suddenness of Keny’s crisis, the tidal wave of ever-rising disaster that resulted from the simplest of surgical operations going awry; all of it mushrooming within a day into Keny fighting for his life? Was it the unexpectedness of finding someone we love fighting for his life when a moment before, we thought he was safe and getting care? Was there anything we could have done to help prevent Keny’s death?

Sadly, in the end we were all left to sob. Whenever the sorrow, pain and the damn injustice of the thing become too much to bear, those who loved Keny—those of us in the noisy front row of mourners— find we must release an eruption of uncontainable sobs. I can’t help myself. That’s just how it works. Anytime, anywhere, the sobs just flow, as if they are the physical manifestation of this grief that inhabits me and cannot be held back. Like this fellow’s obvious pain here on the subway at 7:55AM on Wednesday morning.

Such a sorrowful character. Wonder if he’s getting off at Porter Square?

Neither of us moves as the car empties further. Looking straight into the glass, I stare directly at myself, no longer pretending to stare at a stranger. No longer pretending to be a curiosity observed on a train. Looking across, at the reflection in the window, I see myself in a blue Red Sox cap taking deep breaths while wiping away the tracks of tears that ran beneath my eyes.

So hard to believe. No more Keny. It seems as if he’s been stolen from us. Death is not usually this perverse or insistent; so that only someone in his mid-40’s, someone who was both brilliant of mind and vibrant of life force, would prove acceptable. Either way, Keny fought the good fight; struggled to stay alive for his wife and son, but the poison in his body had already done its worst. And so I find myself the next day sobbing on subway trains. On elevators. In the supermarket…

It was so unfair, so heartrending. So sad…! There is no more Keny. No more blustery personality or charming smile. No more high-energy activity or comfortable presence. No more Kenyatta Braithwaite. So proud to have him as a respectful and loving son. So sad to lose him so young.

“It’s so sad!” I repeat as I wipe away tears from this latest wave of sobbing.

How else can one react? Fate came in and snatched away Kenyatta Braithwaite from the embrace of his friends and family. There was no warning. There was no way to fight this decision. No one to complain to! What choices were we given?

And now, what else can we do?

Except say goodbye…and sob.

 

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Keny’s wake is to be held at the McDonald Keohane Funeral Home – 809 Main St. South Weymouth, MA (across the street from South Shore Hospital), Monday, April 6th, 3pm-7pm. Funeral to be held Tuesday, April 7, at St. Francis Xavier Parish – 234 Pleasant St. South Weymouth, MA, 9:30am.

 

THE ECONOMIC CLEANSING OF CAMBRIDGE, Part 2

Money, Money, Money: The Three-legged Stool Of Cambridge’s Mad Dash Towards Gentrification

cambridgeOnly in Cambridge would a city invest $350,000, two years of hard work and untold citizen hours in a planning study for Central Square then abandon it abruptly—without explanation—in favor of the piecemeal development the study was meant to eradicate.

Only in Cambridge would all this happen behind closed doors with most of the city’s governing body totally unaware of why the C2 study was abandoned.

Only in Cambridge, as if by coincidence, would a developer come along at the same time and propose spot-zoning for a development that greatly exceeds the controversial height and FAR limits originally proposed by the C2 committee.

Only in Cambridge would most of the City Council almost immediately start wagging their tails to welcome this new development which claims to offer a large percentage of mixed income units when it actually offers fewer lower income units than required by law.

Only in Cambridge would this development be put on a hyper-fast fast-track, once again without the agreement, knowledge or understanding of most of the city council.

And only in Cambridge would the claim of increasing the stock of affordable housing so blithely excuse and obfuscate a bald attempt to wrest millions of additional profits for a building that will have two main impacts on its neighborhood. Those impacts being, first, its luxury unit pricing will send a ripple of rent increases into the outlying area, ultimately chasing out more lower income people and families than it will ultimately house. And secondly, its massive size and scale will block the sky, gin up the winds and wall off the Area IV neighborhood from Central Square while serving as a precedent-setter for future development.

Only in Cambridge can developments that drive out today’s residents in favor of wealthier future residents be foisted on its populace as an emblematic savior of those most vulnerable citizens.

Only in Cambridge can a housing shortage throughout the metropolitan Boston area be used as a shield for gentrification in our city, as if building more units in Cambridge could ever reduce the area-wide demand that reduces Cambridge to the status of a desirable Boston neighborhood.

And only in Cambridge could city councilors whose campaign chests are filled with donations from developers and related business interests get away with failing to look beyond the false assertions of developers and pro-development city agencies.

What we need right now in Cambridge are three commitments on the part of our city councilors…

  1. TO REFUSE any donations from developers, their employees or relatives, or from anyone whose business is directly involved with development, and that includes lawyers who represent developers.
  1. TO REFUSE to vote for a single up-zoning petition until the city manager forces the Community Development Department to provide metrics that quantify the impacts of gentrification. What value does it bring to our city to receive 11.5% of inclusionary units in a development if it turns out we are forcing out more people than we are housing?
  1. TO LEASH the dogs of development. It’s time to turn down the heat on rampant development. Laws and regulations that were enacted fifteen years ago to promote development have succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest expectations. Those laws are now fueling the fires of gentrification and displacement. City boards and agencies such as the Planning Board, the Community Development Department, the Traffic Department, and the City Solicitor must all be given a new set of marching orders, more in line with protecting our city rather than offering its jewels to the highest bidder. In effect, we must take down the FOR SALE sign visible to anyone coming into this city we all love.

 

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Click here to view THE ECONOMIC CLEANSING OF CAMBRIDGE, PART 1.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To You Who Are Different

File this under Paul Steven Stone’s Greatest Hits. “To You Who Are Different,” an award-winning anti-bullying video I wrote, directed and produced three years ago that features teenagers speaking to teenagers about the beauty and worth of being different. Kudos to my co-producers Sheara Seigal and Mona Rosen who put a lot of love, sweat and tears into the production.

Mitt Romney To Run Again For President—This Time As Democrat!

Washington, D.C. Who said America’s favorite BFF (Billionaire flip-flopper) was washed up; through with politics?

Mitt laughingly explains his latest political stance.

Mitt laughingly explains his latest political stance.

Having resolutely declared his exodus from American politics (“No, no, no, no, no, no…!”), Mitt Romney appeared to once again dip his toe in Republican Presidential waters. Ultimately finding the temperature too cold, especially with Jeb Bush putting a lip-lock on the party’s biggest donors, The Mittster yet again shocked the political world by declaring his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States.

“Yes, you heard that correctly,” Romney declared while the crowd of reporters erupted into an unruly chorus of shouted questions. “The Democratic nomination!” he repeated, with a deep-throated hyena laugh, then turned to his wife Anne for reassurance that this was, in fact, today’s political stance.

This was a morning few political junkies will ever forget, Mitt Romney stepping out of the closet and declaring himself a “full-blooded and full-throated Democrat.” No sooner had he pulled his hat out of the ring in the Republican race for the presidency, than he was signing up to challenge Hillary Clinton for the nomination of his newly-adopted political party.

“I’ve always been more progressive and more of a Democrat than Hillary,” Romney declared. “Heck, I was more progressive than President Obama, for Heaven’s sakes! Remember, RomneyCare came first, ObamaCare came second.”

Romney went on to explain, “I’ve always been a Democrat at heart, no matter what I may have said at stuffy Republican fundraisers. We Democrats take care of the poor and the middle class. And the seniors! Don’t forget the seniors! As a Democratic President, I won’t let Republicans cut or kill Social Security, that was all Paul Ryan’s agenda, not mine. On my watch, nobody falls between the cracks. Gosh, first thing I’ll propose as president is an increase in taxes for the wealthy. Who knows better than me, how much more the 1% can afford to pay. You’d be shocked how much money’s left sitting on the table.

When asked how he could just walk away from conservative positions he’s been avowing for years, Romney smiled sheepishly, asking “Why not, they were pretty stupid positions, weren’t they? All the time I was pretending to hate poor people, threatening to nuke the Middle East, and working to demolish the middle class, I was really chafing at the bit to declare my love for my fellow man.  When I promised to dismantle Obamacare on my first day as President I was not in my right mind, sharing a stage at the time with Rick Perry, John McCain and Sarah Palin. Besides that’s old business. This is the new Romney. And this Romney can’t wait to debate Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and others of my fellow Democrats.”

When reporters questioned more recent Romney comments condemning President Obama’s performance, the former Massachusetts governor appeared rattled. “Well, what would you expect?” he shot back, “The man took four whole years to turn around an economy that was sacked, gang-banged and left for dead by the Bush administration. What the hell was he doing all that time, playing basketball? Nor does it matter that he rescued the American automobile industry. Anybody in his place would have done the same thing. Hell, if you thought I was heartless in strapping old Seamus to the top of our family wagon, how does that compare to Obama walking away from Health Care Reform without putting a public option in place? Everyone knows the insurance industry will make hash of any real financial reforms without the presence of a public option.”

Speaking about the danger of once again being called a flip-flopper for jumping political parties, especially at a time when Jeb Bush’s fortunes were rapidly rising in his former party, Romney declared, “What if I promise voters this is the last time? Today—and forever—Mitt Romney truly believes women have a right to make decisions about their bodies. That humans are the cause of Global Warming. That Darwin was a scientist and not the anti-Christ. Yes, and the new Mitt Romney believes America lost its way when we attacked Iraq without a clear reason, or when we tortured prisoners and called it ‘enhanced interrogation.

“And lastly,” Romney continued with a sheepish grin, “I have to admit that corporations really aren’t…well, you know…people. Definitely not people! That sounded so lame not even Fox News reporters could repeat it without breaking into laughter.

“So in summation,” Romney concluded, “I hope Democratic primary voters will forgive my shifting affiliations and contradictory positions. As Emerson once said, ‘A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.’ And, please, remember, I may have dated Conservatives and Tea Partiers, but I never actually slept with them.”

“No, no, no, no, no, no…!”

 

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I hope my readers and, of course, Mitt Romney himself will forgive me if once again I return to the bottomless well of Mitt’s presidential ambitions to fish out an easy laugh or two. In all honesty, I felt the need to hear the sound of laughter instead of snow plows and apparently did not have enough character or willpower to resist.