Charles Euchner leaves big shoes to fill at the Rappaport Institute

It may have been a native son of Cambridge who proclaimed all politics is local, but that has not always seemed the guiding principle at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. The renowned graduate school of policy and politics regularly plays host to leaders from the national and world stage, but rarely from across the river or down the road. Lately, however, the ambassadors and prime ministers who descend on JFK Street might find themselves bumping into a Somerville alderman or a mayor from Medford.

MARK MORELLI
Euchner: stepping down
after making a mark.

Credit the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston, launched four years ago with a $2.75 million bequest from Boston developer Jerome Rappaport. Convening forums on topics ranging from barriers to housing construction to regional transportation strategy, and publishing a series of book-length “field guides” to the cast of characters, institutions, and interest groups that make Greater Boston tick, the Rappaport Institute has become a source of fresh thinking on public policy dilemmas.

Much of this locally focused energy has emanated from the institute’s founding executive director, Charles Euchner, a former Holy Cross and Northeastern University political scientist who blends civic optimism with a pragmatism born of toiling in the trenches of municipal government himself.

“I used to say in order to understand a problem you had to write about it,” says Euchner, 43, who worked at the Boston Redevelopment Authority before arriving at Harvard. “Now I say that in order to understand something you have to try to change it.”

“Charlie’s been great,” says Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone, who started attending Rappaport Institute sessions as an alderman. “I find it like a continuing education model for governmental officials.” Influenced by Euchner’s enthusiasm for CitiStat, a tracking system for municipal services developed by the city of Baltimore, Curtatone, who was elected mayor last fall, is planning to set up a similar accountability scheme in his city.

Euchner will be leaving the Rappaport Institute at the beginning of June to pursue book-writing projects. A search for his replacement is underway, but the institute’s benefactor says Euchner will be a hard act to follow. “It’s hard for me to imagine anyone who could have committed more creative energy, more intellectual discipline, more objectivity and a sense of excitement than he did,” says Rappaport.

Euchner’s departure also comes as Rappaport’s initial funding commitment draws to an end, next year. An evaluation of the institute’s first four years will take place this fall, but Rappaport says his family foundation is likely to make a “primary financial contribution” toward a permanent endowment.

Some may see irony in Rappaport’s funding of a public policy center devoted to regional development and governance. After all, he is best known as the hardnosed developer whose signature project, Charles River Park, was built on the ruins of Boston’s working-class West End neighborhood, often cited as a case of urban renewal gone wrong. But he says he’s “very comfortable” with the project that made him notorious. “It’s very easy to have hindsight,” says Rappaport, 76. “One has to look at what the city was in the 1950s and the hopelessness that existed.”

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

Less widely known are Rappaport’s roots in reformist politics. Fresh out of Harvard–the Bronx-born whiz kid received undergraduate and law degrees by age 21–he worked on the 1949 John Hynes campaign that toppled legendary Boston Mayor James Michael Curley. He then helped to start a regional citizen group that was instrumental in establishing the Metropolitan Area Planning Council. Rappaport says he hopes the institute that bears his name will continue the search for solutions to local problems.

“Most public policy hits the pavement at the local level,” says Rappaport. “This represents an opportunity to have this interplay between ideas and vision and reality and experience.”