Sunday, January 25, 2009

Snow, Southie, and the Mayor

The last snow emergency in Boston was two weeks ago, but residents across the city continue to guard their shoveled street parking spaces with all kinds of old furniture, cones, trash barrels, and the like.

Boston has an unofficial policy allowing such space-saving for 48 hours following a snowstorm. The Boston Globe reported Saturday that city employees aren't picking up the junk guarding parking spaces:
City sanitation workers, under orders to throw away anything left in the street more than 48 hours after a storm, cruised Dorchester yesterday collecting garbage. But parking space savers stayed in place.
Why aren't city employees picking up the junk?

Seven words: Michael Flaherty of South Boston for Mayor.

Many people consider snow removal to be the third rail of city politics. Screw up and you'll get voted out. Anger the public and they'll have your scalp. Just ask former Chicago Mayor Michael Bilandic.

The last time Mayor Thomas Menino made a big issue of enforcing the city's official policy banning such space-saving garbage he caused a near-riot that made national news. The late District Councilor James Kelly led the opposition to the Mayor, saying that Kelly had "more barrels than [Menino's] got trucks."

Compare the city's current silence on enforcing the ban to the Mayor's open involvement in 2005:
[Mayor Menino] extended the 48-hour grace period for holding spaces after snowstorms by four days.

Calling an end to the city's snow emergency today at 8 a.m., he said residents can keep their claims on spots until 8 a.m. Wednesday. Then, city crews will start picking up parking space markers -- everything from paint cans to trash barrels to a snow-packed picnic basket -- that now line the streets in some neighborhoods.

Councilor Flaherty is actually on record about the issue, looking for middle-ground:
"I don't think people should be entitled to the space until spring," Flaherty said. ''But I don't think 48 hours is enough. It should depend on the snowfall. If we get a light dusting, I don't think you should be allowed to put anything out. But in heavier snowfall, a week makes sense. It's fair and it's reasonable."
Since it's been two weeks since the last snow emergency, we can infer that Councilor Flaherty thinks that the city should currently be picking up the space savers.

In December 2007, it was hot line complaints led to the city taking action to remove the junk:
"The mayor's hot line has been receiving numerous complaints about space savers and a majority of those calls have come from South Boston," Menino spokeswoman Dot Joyce said.
Now in January 2009, will Councilor Flaherty's South Boston supporters flood the Mayor's 24-hour Constituent Service hot line (617-635-4500) with new complaints, forcing a confrontation with South Boston residents that could alienate them from the Mayor in an election year?

It seems backwards, but Councilor Flaherty's South Boston supporters might help out their candidate by forcing a confrontation over the space savers -- losing their spaces in the short-term.

If I were betting on the outcome at one of Governor Patrick's casinos, I would put money on the city quietly letting people save their spaces indefinitely. South Boston has a lot of votes; were the neighborhood to unify in opposition to the Mayor, he could have quite a fight this fall.

Image of parking space-saving fan by stephanie says provided through a Creative Commons license.

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