Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The state of Menino’s city is a cut above

Boston Mayor Tom Menino’s 19th state-of-the-city speech last night was a welcome relief from the nasty partisanship and overheated rhetoric of the national political scene.
Locally, Boston’s unemployment rate is 5.7 percent, two points lower than last year. Menino noted that the Innovation District he created in the Seaport area is bringing jobs to the area. He wants to upgrade Madison Park Technical High School to do a better job on vocational education, especially by creating work-study opportunities with businesses.

Due to his focus on lowering health costs for municipal workers by joining the state’s Group Insurance Commission, the city will now save some $70 million. More police are walking beats, and the incidence of crime is down, including homicide. (Which is especially good since the rate of bringing the murderers to justice is lower than other cities nationally.) The idea that a leading politician, albeit a municipal one, can walk the walk when it comes to neighborhood and community, to knowing each other and working together, is a breath of fresh air.

There are several reasons why his stated recommitment to changing the student assignment process and having more children attending schools closer to home makes sense. Those reasons include the byzantine assignment process itself, the $70 million spent on buses that could be spent on books and teaching, and the learning time lost when the buses are chronically late. But last night Hizzonah also reminded us, without using the race-loaded name “neighborhood school,” that even more is at stake in the effect of the student assignment process on the texture of the community.

You can pick any street, he said. Of 12 kids, they probably go to 12 different schools. He asked, “Have you met more than half the people on your street? More than half of the folks in your church? More than half the parents in your kids’ classrooms?” He continued, “The more we know each other, the more we’ll trust each other, and the more we’ll accomplish.”

Yes, Tom Menino is not a polished orator. Yes, he still often mangles the language, even when working off a teleprompter. [And I know the rap on him for micro-managing, especially when it comes to matters of real estate.] But there are times when something authentic about this politician comes through in a very compelling way. Last night was one of those times.

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