Friday, September 21, 2007

Guest Column: The Man Who Wasn't There and the Man Who Should've Stayed

Anticipating that I would be busy trying to keep the questions flying like a horde of Monarch butterflies on Monday night, I asked Mark Trachtenberg if he would write a guest column for the Brighton Centered Blog, and he graciously accepted. His fee was remarkably affordable: a few slices of pizza Monday night. Don't tell the TAB. For those who don't know Mark: he ran unsuccessfully for the same City Council seat in 2002 ("a spirited campaign") and writes a column for the Allston-Brighton TAB most months. I would like to thank him for an interesting piece.


The Man Who Wasn't There,
The Man Who Gained The Most From Being There,
And The Young Man Who Shouldn't Have Quit

By Mark D. Trachtenberg

It was a total shocker.

Gregory Glennon, a District City Council candidate who had attended at least two Brighton Allston Improvement Association meetings since the campaign for the now-vacant Allston-Brighton (District 9) City Council seat began, failed to show up at the candidates' forum jointly sponsored by the BAIA and the Allston Civic Association this past Monday evening. He didn't call my good friend and fellow member of the BAIA board of directors Abigail Furey to tell us he couldn't make it, or even to tell us he'd be late. As Woody Allen is widely quoted as saying, "Half of life is just showing up." Uh, oh.

Greg Glennon didn't show up for a candidates' forum at the Fidelis Way housing project Wednesday evening, either, but at least he called that forum's organizers in advance to tell them he couldn't make it. Nonetheless, a no-show is a no-show, and it's always a self-inflicted wound.

Of the candidates who were present and accounted for at the BAIA/ACA forum, Alex Selvig was the one who benefitted most from his participation. The key moment came near the end of the event, when Selvig was asked about his position on casino gambling. "I will oppose it with every fiber of my being," Alex Selvig answered, which prompted BAIA board member Harry Nesdakis to yell out, "God bless you!" from the back of the room. Since Mr. Nesdakis is actually supporting Mark Ciommo, this is no small feat.

There's an important difference between Alex Selvig's candidacy and those of the other candidates: while the other candidates are merely running well-intentioned political campaigns, Alex Selvig is running a crusade. It turns out that the city does indeed have some jurisdiction to at least curtail casino gambling -- "You can squeeze it through zoning," Selvig explained after the BAIA/ACA forum. Aha! -- a clever, crafty crusader.

For the rest of the campaign, Selvig needs to be Selvig -- a protest candidate like him should never answer a question "maybe" (question 3) under any circumstances, as Selvig did to one real estate query in the written questionnaire that was distributed before the BAIA/ACA forum. Since most likely very few people at the BAIA/ACA forum actually read the questionnaire from start to finish, the damage was probably very limited. On the scorecard that I keep for candidates' forums and/or debates, I gave Mr. Selvig no deductions but an asterisk for the written "maybe" -- quite a strong performance.

Mark Ciommo's effort was solid and thoughtful, but he lost at least a little credibility as an independent advocate for the neighborhood when he was mentioned by some of the other candidates as a possible "mayor's candidate," as did Tim Schofield and Rosie Hanlon, especially since Rosie Hanlon nominated herself for this dubious honor. Alex Selvig benefitted from not being mentioned at all as the "mayor's candidate," as did the now-departed James Jenner.

Speaking of self-inflicted wounds, I count young Mr. Jenner's decision to exit the race as a big one (though my mother disagrees). For most of the campaign, James Jenner had seemed like a junior version of Alex Selvig, somebody capable of speaking his mind with a solid knowledge of the issues and confronting the powers-that-be. But when he threw his support to Rosie and became her "senior strategist" -- which I speculate might have been in exchange for Rosie appointing him as her chief of staff if he wins, although she could not be reached for comment -- he severely damaged his credibility as an antidote to "politics as usual," which is something that Tim Schofield, believe it or not, actually still has some of. After Schofield finished his closing statement at the forum at Fidelis Way last night, he patted Alex Selvig on the shoulder, as if to say, "Thank you for pushing me to be less of an insider." I think that Jim Jenner got impatient, Jim Jenner got greedy, and while no night school admissions officer is going to turn him away -- hey, I'd even give him a postcard to send to U.Mass.-Boston myself -- many of his supporters are going to be very annoyed at him for some time to come, especially the owner of the car I saw in the Burger King parking lot yesterday afternoon with the James Jenner bumper sticker. Most ordinary voters simply don't like politics done by backroom deals, and I think Jim Jenner may be suspected by some as having made a "politics-as-usual" deal. Too bad -- he's a nice young man.

This has been a remarkably friendly city council campaign, conspicuously free of nastiness or personal attacks among the candidates. Where I expected at least an icy stare -- between Schofield and Selvig -- I saw a pat on the shoulder, and in his closing statement at Fidelis Way last night Mark Ciommo comented, "There are four very good candidates." (I suspect Ciommo would have complimented Greg Glennon as well if Glennon had been there.) Given the highly emotional nature of the institutional expansion issue, the absence of angry finger-pointing among the candidates is noteworthy and commendable. "There is common ground," notes protest candidate Alex Selvig.

So there is absolutely no excuse for failing to vote in the preliminary election for the District 9 City Council seat in Allston-Brighton on September 25. The stakes are high, and the candidates have been on their best behavior. Do your civic duty -- the future of Allston-Brighton may depend on it.

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