. . . Reel in the City Manager . . . Do something about traffic . . . Do something about parking . . . Honesty is the key to love . . . Just say 'no' to special interest dollars . . .
The way to this voter's heart
A City Councilor was recently quoted as saying "I can't do anything more to make [the voters] love me." (Chronicle, 18 September, 2002). I don't sell my heart easily, but there are many things all nine Councilors could do to help me, and, I suspect other voters, love them. Here are just a few suggestions.
- Councilors should do better at returning emails, phone calls and letters. But they shouldn't don't stop there, they should actually provide a comprehensive answer, not simply a form letter saying that they've "referred the matter to the City Manager." If I wanted the matter to be referred to the City Manager, I'd have gone to him, not the Council. In fact, the unresponsiveness of the City Manager, or his appointees, is far too often where the problem lies. Which brings me to my next suggestion.
- Reel in the City Manager. His departments chiefs, starting with the folks at Community Development and Traffic and Parking, need to show the public a lot more respect and they need to be honest and forthcoming when Cambridge residents try to get involved in community issues. Sure, challenge Boss Bob and the Councilors risk forfeiting future pay raises and aides and they won't be much use to folks looking for City jobs, but true love doesn't come easy. For a lot of Cantabridgeans, you can love Bob or you can love them. It's the Council's choice, but in the end, Bob doesn't vote here.
- At City Council meetings, Councilors should actually stay in their seats for the entire public comment period. Sure, they might have to listen to some knuckleheads say stuff they don't agree with, but, to some extent, that's what their 50K-plus salary is for, right? Few things upset the folks whose love (or at least votes) the Councilors want more than to trek all the way down to City Hall to speak on some personally important issue only to find that the Councilors they hope to address (the very ones who all too often don't respond to emails, phone calls or letters) are in the Green Room eating a catered meal instead of paying attention to the public speakers.
- Do SOMETHING about traffic. When simply crossing the street in a marked crosswalk becomes a regular dance with death and biking in the City's professionally designed bike lanes actually gets people killed, it's pretty clear to those of us in the trenches that the folks up top don't care about the little people. I'd start by telling Boss Bob and Police Superintendent Watson that if City Councilors (or, more importantly from my point of view, me and my young children) can't step into a crosswalk and have cars actually stop at least 90% of the time by June, 2003, they'll both be looking for work. I know it's a high goal that will be tough to reach, but, when it comes to public safety, there should be no stopping short of excellence. The Councilors could consider it their version of Tough Love.
- Do SOMETHING about parking. Talk to anyone about any proposed project and concerns about losing valuable on-street parking is usually one of the first things mentioned. For starters, at least to show us voters they understand, the Council should get rid of their special spots behind City Hall. It'll do our hearts good to see Councilors mingling with the Common Folk looking for parking spots. And whatever they do, Councilors must make sure they don't park in illegal spaces or forget to feed the meter. It's been done before and, believe me, it leaves a lasting and unpleasant impression.
- Honesty is the key to love and the City Council must be honest about affordable housing. The City's current policy of creating overly dense, economically-segregated, self-contained affordable housing complexes in narrow portions of the city is a failure and is driving long-term residents out of the City. No matter how much money we spend, and how many complexes we try to stick in already dense places, we can't house everyone in greater-Boston who's looking for a place to live. In fact, building so much affordable housing in one of the nation's most expensive real estate market begs the question about how effectively those affordable housing dollars are being spent. But that's all theory- what we want from the City Council is a simple number. How much affordable housing is enough? And, on top of that, where are they planning to put it? Communication is important in all relations, and here the Council must be able to verbalize something more descriptive than "as much as possible, as cheap as possible."
- Just say 'NO' to special interest dollars. One has to say 'No' in all relationships from time to time, and I'd suggest Councilors start saying 'no' to developers and business interests looking to give them money. Folks in Cambridge like Clean Elections and they don't like thinking their politicians are owned by out-of-town big business interests. Councilors should each promise to run their next City Council campaigns for 15,000$, all of it coming in less than 100$ donations from Cambridge residents. It might not seem much by comparison to their past expenditures of 40,000 dollars or 50,000 dollars or even more, but it really ought to be enough to get them a seat. Especially if we love them.
- Spend the City's dollars wisely. It might sound mundane, but many otherwise strong relationships are ruined by financial woes. The Council needs to look closely at where the City is spending its money and, if necessary, tell Boss Bob to make changes. I'd start with my pet peeve, Police Construction Details. If we don't have enough money to get flu shots out to those who need them or put more teachers in the classrooms, why in the world are we paying police officers to guard folks laying bricks on City sidewalks? I know, challenging this sacred cow may cost you the endorsement of the City's Patrol Officer's Union, but love is all about doing what's right, even if it's costly.
I could go on, but these eight suggestions should go a long way in getting me, and many others, to love our Councilors. I'm sure it won't be easy for them to swallow some of my ideas, but then, true love is often something you have to work to get and, all too often, have to work even harder to maintain.
But, in the end, love's worth it.
October 2, 2002