Spring 2001

Spring 2001

Tip ONeil man in full

Tip ONeil man in full

Tip O’Neill and the Democratic Century
By John A. Farrell
Little, Brown and Co., New York, 776 pages

Back in the Watergate summer of 1974, the syndicated columnist Mary McGrory was waxing eloquent about the men toiling to bring down Richard M. Nixon. “The night-school students are saving the country,” McGrory bubbled. “I don’t think [federal Judge John] Sirica or [House Judiciary Committee Chairman Peter] Rodino spent a day in a regular undergraduate school. And I’m certain that Tip didn’t.”

Actually, a colleague corrected her, Thomas P. O’Neill Jr.–then majority leader of the US House of Representatives and the grand strategist of Nixon’s undoing–was a graduate of Boston College.

“Oh, yes,” McGrory admitted. “But thank God it wasn’t serious.”

That story, recounted in Jimmy Breslin’s How the Good Guys Finally Won, speaks volumes about the perceptions and misperceptions that helped usher Tip O’Neill to power. For five decades, O’Neill prospered mightily in the business of politics because so many people–friend and foe alike–insisted on seeing only the side of him that McGrory saw.

That side was surely real: Tip O’Neill was every bit the glad-handing, cigar-smoking, favor-swapping Irish pol that his neighbors in North Cambridge knew him to be. But the rest of Speaker O’Neill–the lover of history, the sophisticated strategist and master of parliamentary maneuver, and the partisan gut-fighter with the sharpest shiv on Capitol Hill–all of that was real, too, and much more serious than the familiar caricature.

It was no leprechaun who took down Nixon and fought Reagan to a bloody draw.

In the 14 years since O’Neill came home from Washington, we’ve gotten mostly the McGrory side. O’Neill certainly contributed to the current image in his 1987 autobiography, Man of the House–an unusually good political memoir that nonetheless smoothed the rough edges off a lot of recent history. But it’s been since his death in 1994 that the myth-makers have been especially busy: O’Neill has been extolled, at least in these parts, as a sort of benevolent 280-pound leprechaun, a genial teller of stories and slapper of backs.

But it was no leprechaun who took down Richard Nixon, fought Ronald Reagan to a bloody draw over the fate of the Great Society, and in the process helped raise Congressional partisanship to a new and ugly level. Remembering that Tip O’Neill, warts and all, is a serious obligation–if only to make sure that history, unlike so many of O’Neill’s opponents, does not underestimate the man.

John Aloysius Farrell is clearly up to the task. Farrell is one of The Boston Globe’s most respected Washington hands, and Tip O’Neill and the Democratic Century is a smart, politically savvy biography. Farrell has a practical understanding of how things get done on Capitol Hill, and an ability to convey that understanding in crisp and lucid English. Unlike a lot of today’s press corps, Farrell sees Washington politics in perspective, and can explain them without getting all breathless.

Republicans should be warned that this is no Kitty Kelley, smash-and-grab bio; Farrell is an O’Neill fan, and he describes the Speaker’s philosophy in sometimes gushing terms. What most distinguished Tip O’Neill, Farrell writes, was “a magnificence of spirit, deep compassion and a rock-hard set of beliefs…. He reveled in the collectivity of purpose, in the fruits of charity, neighborhood and fellowship.” But for all the occasional rose petals, Farrell remains a sober judge of O’Neill’s successes and failures in the arena. He may be a sympathetic chronicler, but he is also a fair-minded one.

The book is, to be honest, more successful in recounting the details of O’Neill’s public life than those of his private life. We get much more about the House Rules Committee and the oil-depletion allowance than about, say, any of the Speaker’s five children. O’Neill always strove to keep his private life private, and in this book Farrell has been respectful–perhaps a bit too much so–of that desire.

But in so doing, Farrell has mercifully spared us the sort of glib psychologizing that pollutes so many recent biographies. Like his subject, Farrell has little time for the touchy-feely stuff. Tip O’Neill was a big man who did very big things on a very public stage, and his biographer has accordingly kept his focus on the stage, not the wings.

Thomas P. O’Neill Jr. became the embodiment of the Irish Catholic urban Democrat just as that peculiar breed was dying out. But while most analysts have emphasized the Irish Catholic element of O’Neill’s political persona, Farrell places at least as much importance on the Speaker’s fierce Democratic partisanship.

From the early days, O’Neill’s career was defined in partisan terms: He was the first Democrat to serve as Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, after engineering a stunning upset of the state’s somnolent GOP in 1948. Even after his election to Congress in 1952–succeeding John F. Kennedy as representative of what was then the 11th District–O’Neill remained a major force in state Democratic politics, and seriously considered running for governor as late as 1960.

Once he decided to pursue power in Washington, O’Neill defined himself as the most regular of regular Democrats. He began as one of Speaker Sam Rayburn’s loyal lieutenants on the Rules Committee, and emerged as a protege of Rayburn’s successor, South Boston’s John McCormack.

But it was not until after McCormack retired in 1970 that O’Neill began his dizzying rise to power. He shrewdly outmaneuvered a platoon of better-known rivals to win appointment as majority whip in 1971, and only six years later took up the gavel as Speaker.

Part of this rapid ascent can be attributed to fate: A plane crash claimed the life of Majority Leader Hale Boggs in 1972, allowing O’Neill to move up the leadership ladder. And part can be attributed to O’Neill’s subtle political skills: As Farrell notes, O’Neill “played the happy Irishman, with no small element of calculation. He had won the affection of his colleagues, while masking his ambition from potential rivals.”

But perhaps the greatest part must be attributed to a ruthless determination that most of his rivals did not recognize until it was far too late. O’Neill on his path to the Speakership left plenty of bodies in his wake: Phil Burton, Dan Rostenkowski, Dick Bolling, Wilbur Mills, and Wayne Hays, to name just a few. Farrell writes: “For all his good times and blarney, O’Neill never lacked the cold-blooded will to do what was necessary. When required, he could bring the hammer down and astound people with his cruel calculation.”

And if O’Neill had sharp elbows when infighting with fellow Democrats, he was stone-cold brutal to the GOP. It was O’Neill, more than anyone else, who as majority leader brought the hammer down on Nixon, serving as quarterback of the impeachment squad. Nixon’s resignation brought the accession of former House Republican leader Gerald Ford, whom O’Neill considered a close friend. But politics, for O’Neill, would always trump friendship. In 1976, O’Neill savaged Ford on the campaign trail, helping to defeat his good friend and elect Jimmy Carter, a Southern moralist he plainly disliked.

To O’Neill, there was no hypocrisy in any of this. He was simply playing by the old, familiar rules of Washington politics, by which Democrats and Republicans waged partisan warfare until 6 p.m., and then resumed their close friendships over cocktails and card games.

Carter never learned to play by those rules, and he and O’Neill never quite got along. Ronald Reagan, ironically, played the game–and got along with O’Neill–much better than Carter ever did, even as he and the Speaker waged a desperate war over the remains of the New Deal and the Great Society.

Politicizing Social Security was brilliant short-term politics,
but it forestalled needed reform.

It was during this war that O’Neill made a strategic decision with profound implications for the next 20 years of American politics. In 1981 the Speaker–taking a beating on Reagan’s early tax and budget proposals–decided that the Democrats would make their stand on Social Security, vehemently attacking any and all Reagan proposals to trim benefits.

The decision to politicize Social Security was brilliant short-term politics, helping the Democrats to a big victory in the 1982 mid-term elections. But it also forestalled precisely the sort of bipartisan reform effort that was so badly needed at the time, and locked the Democratic Party into an intransigent (but politically useful) position on any meaningful reform of Social Security or, in later years, Medicare.

To be fair, O’Neill’s stand was a product of more than political calculation. He was genuinely committed to standing up for the old and the poor and the disadvantaged, the “little guys” who relied on the programs of the New Deal and the Great Society. In his defense of those programs, O’Neill was being true to himself and his roots. But he was also playing a high-stakes game of power politics.

In the end, O’Neill won more than he lost. After 1982, Reagan’s legislative victories were few and far between, and the core of Roosevelt’s New Deal legacy remained intact. But the game itself was also changing, and before O’Neill retired in 1986, Washington was becoming a very different, and far meaner, place.

One of the biggest changes, of course, was the new ethical climate–the Watergate morality that O’Neill had done so much to foster. After Nixon fell, the number of ethics investigations mushroomed and the path was set for the sort of inquisition-by-special-prosecutor that defined the Clinton years.

O’Neill had several brushes of his own with the ethics cops. In his first few years as Speaker he faced multiple FBI investigations into his financial affairs, the most notorious of which involved Korean influence peddler Tongsun Park. O’Neill was cleared in every instance, though some of his dealings were of a fragrant sort that might not pass the smell test today.

Farrell is quick to excuse O’Neill’s financial misadventures. O’Neill “would trade favors, phone a judge, shave corners, bend the law,” Farrell writes. But at the same time, “this was a politician who was as determined to preserve from disgrace the good name of his family…as he was to succeed. His upbringing, his makeup and his pride kept him honest.”

True as that may be, O’Neill was undeniably a politician of the old school who had a hard time avoiding the financial-ethics trap that he himself helped create during Watergate. Two of his successors–Jim Wright and Newt Gingrich–would not be so lucky.

What O’Neill also helped create was, ironically, the era of Gingrich, Tom DeLay, and the Clinton impeachment. It was, after all, O’Neill’s in-your-face partisanship that triggered a reaction among Gingrich and his fellow conservative Young Turks in the mid-’80s. But those Young Turks had a better sense than O’Neill of where politics were heading in the media age.

Whereas O’Neill still lived by the “six o’clock rule,” Gingrich and the younger Republicans knew that there is no game clock on modern politics. In the era of 24-hour news coverage and live broadcast of House debates, there was no room for old-style congeniality or even civility. Politics was, to Gingrich and the new generation–now the generation in power–a 24/7 war, and fraternizing with the enemy was not allowed.

O’Neill seemed, in his last years as Speaker, not to understand the shift. At one point, Gingrich–then still a young back-bencher–bested the Speaker in a debate over the televising of House floor action, and the incident certified Gingrich’s status as a rising conservative superstar. O’Neill later told a key Gingrich ally, referring to both him and the future Republican Speaker, “I made you.”

In the 14 years since O’Neill last wielded the gavel, the climate in Congress has deteriorated badly. Partisanship of the most bitter sort infects debate and leads to gridlock, government shutdowns, and impeachment. Courtly lawmakers such as Daniel Patrick Moynihan leave Washington for good, bemoaning the hostile atmosphere. And the new president sees a need to devote much of his inaugural address to a schoolmarmish plea for “civility.”

This is surely not what Tip O’Neill had in mind when he first journeyed down to Washington in 1953. But it is an inevitable by-product of all he wrought.

Tip O’Neill and the Democratic Century is an admirable recounting of all the very big things that Speaker O’Neill did–and a reminder that not all of them turned out for the better.

Kennedys Bush game

Kennedys Bush game

It was a few days before the November election, and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy was determined to prevent the White House from falling into Republican hands. So he stormed onto the Senate floor to heap one last round of abuse on a Republican nominee whose ideology clearly appalled the liberal war horse.

“The Bush record in Texas is one of indifference and ineptitude–of putting powerful interests ahead of ordinary families,” Kennedy thundered. “His proposals are deeply flawed. . . . The Bush record in the campaign is one of consistent deception and distortion. The Bush proposals are at best inadequate and at worst harmful.” And so on.

And that was before the bitterness of the Florida recount. Who knew what Kennedy might say once Bush was sworn in. Would he refuse to address Bush as “Mr. President”? Boycott the State of the Union? Conduct a four-year filibuster?

Certainly, no one predicted the fast friendship that seems to have developed between Kennedy and the new president. Within a week of Bush’s inauguration, Kennedy visited the White House to talk about education policy, a longtime obsession. Emerging from the meeting, Kennedy declared the new president a good man, and amazed reporters by praising Bush’s education proposals. “There are some areas of difference, but the overwhelming areas of agreement and of support are very, very powerful,” Kennedy announced.

Washington was abuzz. After all, several other prominent liberals had ridiculed Bush’s education plan. Some, including Kennedy’s own son Patrick, a Rhode Island congressman, still refused to acknowledge Bush’s legitimacy. “Normally, the way you make news is by disagreeing with the president,” a Kennedy aide joked. “This time he did it by agreeing.”

That was just the beginning. Kennedy appeared with Bush at elementary schools to promote the president’s education reform plan. And he accepted an invitation to visit the White House for a screening of the JFK-centric movie Thirteen Days. (The film’s exaggerated Boston accents, by the way, didn’t amuse Kennedy. “Do we really talk that way?” he asked a CNN interviewer.) “He’s personable, he’s intelligent, he’s sort of feisty, he’s engaged,” Kennedy said of Bush in the Boston Herald, which declared the Kennedy-Dubya pairing “Washington’s most prominent political odd couple.”

What’s with all this chumminess? Kennedy says it’s all pretty simple. Working with Bush on his education and health care priorities, is “good politics and good policy,” he says. “If we’re able to get things done, then that’s the system working.”

Kennedy, of course, has a long and well-documented history of cooperating with his ideological rivals. Particularly since the Republicans took Congress in 1994, Kennedy has been determined not to spend his days perched atop a soapbox, ignored like some of his liberal colleagues. Instead, he has struck a rare balance between ideological crusader and legislative mechanic.

In the 1990s, Kennedy famously teamed up with Republican friends like Nancy Kassebaum and Orrin Hatch to pass major legislation reforming and extending health care coverage. He even joined with Lauch Faircloth, a Clinton-bashing North Carolina archconservative, to pass a bill to punish church burnings harshly. The Kennedy-Faircloth combination was so unlikely, a Kennedy aide told Adam Clymer, author of a recent Kennedy biography, that senators reacted to the bill by saying, “If Kennedy and Faircloth agree on this, I don’t even have to read it.”

Yet it would be a mistake to read too much into the early courtship between Kennedy and Bush. Rather than trying to create a new climate of bipartisanship in Washington, Kennedy may simply be trying to preserve his relevance.

For most of last year Kennedy dueled with a group of centrist Democrats over education reform legislation. The centrists, led by Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, sought to consolidate federal education funding and give states more leeway over how they use school dollars. Kennedy stubbornly resisted any effort to see the cherished pet programs he has cultivated over the years wiped away.

Bush, as you might expect, is much closer to the Democratic centrists than he is to the liberal Kennedy on education–which is what made Kennedy’s initial enthusiasm that day at the White House so surprising. Kennedy may have seen the writing on the wall: The new president was going to cut a deal with the New Democrats, and Kennedy would be dealt out. Thus, some saw the senator’s trip to the White House as an effort to cut himself into the action.

Staying in the action could be tougher for Kennedy. In recent years his extremely close ties to the Clinton White House guaranteed him massive clout on Capitol Hill. Especially as the new Senate Democratic leader, Tom Daschle, found his footing, Clinton relied heavily on Kennedy as his point man in the Senate. Ultimately, Kennedy was credited for much of the strategy Clinton employed to hold firm against the Republican Congress.

But Clinton is gone, and Kennedy’s place in the new Congress is uncertain. His own party continues to move to the right, as centrists like Lieberman, Evan Bayh of Indiana, and Lousiana’s John Breaux exercise ever more power. Kennedy admits, for instance, that the $900 billion tax cut plan Democrats have presented as an alternative to the Bush plan is bigger than he would have liked. And when Kennedy proposed an unprecedented filibuster of John Ashcroft’s nomination for attorney general, his colleagues let it be known they would not be standing with him.

And yet his name is still Kennedy, which counts for a lot. No other senator–with the possible exception of newcomer Hillary Clinton–enjoys the same kind of national constituency. That makes him an attractive friend for Bush, who is eager to be seen as a bipartisan conciliator. Kennedy, meanwhile, wants to be sure he doesn’t get cut out of the political loop, relegated to life as a mere rhetorician.

In Washington, that’s how strange political bedfellows get made. “I have this feeling that Kennedy and Bush both think they’re playing the other guy,” says one Democratic education policy expert. “Bush thinks he can charm Kennedy, and at the end of the day he’ll get everything he wants. Kennedy might think that, well, he’s Ted Kennedy and Bush has to pay homage to him.”

Bipartisanship, after all, is a tricky thing. Politics tends to be a zero-sum game. The benefits of short-term cooperation must be weighed against the long-term effects of strengthening your opponent’s political hand. Some liberals, hoping that Bush would never fully shake the taint of the Florida recount, might have preferred that Kennedy not paid that White House courtesy call at all. Help the Republicans today on education, and they may be stronger on tax cuts tomorrow. Is it worth it?

“Democrats have to be for things,” says Kennedy. We can never win by being against everything.”

Kennedy says it is. He argues that as long as it’s clear to the public which party is the driving force behind good legislation, there’s no danger of being co-opted. “We’ve got to elevate these issues so people understand who’s leading on them,” Kennedy says. In a capital where Republicans call the shots, he adds, “Democrats have to be for things. We can never win by being against everything.”

Kennedy has been careful to make it clear what he’s for: More funding for education‹specifically for teacher salaries and inner-city schools. A hike in the minimum wage. Further expansions of health-care coverage. And a long-stalled HMO Patients’ Bill of Rights–another area where Kennedy thinks he and Bush might get along. “There isn’t a big gulf,” Kennedy says. “I think he’d like to have it passed.”

But for the most part, Bush’s agenda consists of things Kennedy will be against. Expect the Ashcroft treatment, times two, for any demonstrably conservative Supreme Court nominees Bush might serve up–a point Kennedy makes sure to tack on to his talk of cooperation. “I do think we have a very important responsibility, particularly in the area of the Supreme Court,” Kennedy says. “We have to make sure that we’re going to have nominees who are going to draw the widest possible support. . . . If there’s a selection on the basis of ideology, that will be a legitimate struggle.”

And as Bush’s budget moves through Congress, Kennedy will find it hard to be cordial about the president’s trillion-plus dollar tax cut‹which will surely starve many of Kennedy’s favorite federal programs‹and Bush’s spending reductions in cherished departments like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Labor Department. Indeed, when Bush introduced his budget in February, Kennedy complained that it “leaves the needs and concerns of middle America behind,” a line that seemed to echo Kennedy’s harsh words from the presidential campaign.

If the Kennedy-Bush friendship seems too good to be true, it may be because it is.

CommonWealth Washington correspondent Michael Crowley is an associate editor at The New Republic.

Then and now

All is well in the Commonwealth–or so the state’s political leaders would have everyone believe. Certainly there is a lot to crow about compared to five years ago, when CommonWealth published its first issue: Incomes are up, unemployment is down, the real estate market is booming, and the citizenry is, for the most part, content, if not complacent. “People take politics more seriously in bad times,” says pollster Lou DiNatale. “Weld won [his first governor’s race] on real voter dicontent. The anger, literally, has drained out of the system from 1990 on.” But all is not rosy. Many pockets of Massachusetts have still not felt the economic good times. And how healthy is our civic life when the politician with the highest popularity ratings is Boston Mayor Tom “Pothole” Menino, and the least popular politician statewide has just ascended to the governor’s office? So take a look at a few not-entirely-random comparisons between then and now. Decide for yourself: Are we better off today than five years ago?

Most popular politician

Tie(within margin of error):

US Sen. John Kerry
(Favorability rating 61 percent
Unfavorability rating 23 percent)

Gov. William Weld
(Favorability rating 59 percent
Unfavorability rating 29 percent)

Mayor Thomas Menino
(Favorability rating 76 percent
Unfavorability rating 11 percent)
Least popular politician Former Mayor Ray Flynn
(Favorability rating 34 percent
Unfavorability rating 41 percent)
Lt. Gov. Jane Swift
(Favorability rating 21 percent
Unfavorability rating 63 percent)
Republicans in the Legislature 35 in House (22 percent)
10 in Senate (25 percent)
23 in House (14 percent)
6 in Senate (15 percent)
Governor’s salary $90,000 $135,000
Newton school superintendent’s salary $100,000 $155,000
Average salary of human service workers who care for the elderly, mentally ill, mentally retarded, and disabled $17, 260 $19,607
Unemployment statewide 4.3 percent 2.6 percent
Unemployment in New Bedford 10.5 percent 6.5 percent
AFDC caseload in Massachusetts

87,945 families
(241,371 people total)

42,929 families
(99,157 people total)
Annual state spending $16.85 billion $22.2 billion
Total state debt $10.1 billion $12.3 billion
State rainy-day fund $425.4 million $1.6 billion
Big Dig price tag $7.8 billion $14.1 billion
Median home sale price
Middlesex County
Hampden County
Comments on the public image of the House of Representatives

“I would ask the members to reflect on our public image, and the need to bring about the diligent rehabilitation of that image.”

–House Speaker Thomas Finneran

“We’re heading toward this rule–whatever Tommy wants, whenever Tommy wants it.”

–House Minority Leader Francis Marini

Sources: Media reports, the University of Massachusetts Poll, Newton school department, Massachusetts Council of Human Service Providers, state Division of Employment and Training, state Department of Transitional Assistance, Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, Warren Information Services.

Getting Unelected in Holland

HOLLAND–It is a quaint, wooded town of 2,300, nestled between Sturbridge and Brimfield on the banks of the pristine Hamilton Reservoir. A white, steepled church, a school, the town hall and a tiny library are all there is to the center; down the hill are a gas station and a pizza place, completing Holland’s commercial district. In the summer, second-home owners flock to their lakeside cottages, quadrupling the year-round population. Though only five minutes from Exit 9 on the Massachusetts Turnpike, “It literally is almost like the town that time forgot,” says its state senator, Stephen Brewer (D-Barre).

Holland Quick Facts

Founded: 1783
Population: 2,300
Town Meeting: Open


  • Named after Charles James Fox, a British loyalist who was rewarded for his fidelity with the title of Lord Holland.
  • A typewritten letter from President Ronald Reagan received on the occasion of Holland’s 200th anniversary hangs in the tiny town library. The March 30, 1983, letter reads, in part: “The spirit which has built and sustained your community reflects the energy which has forged America into the land of wonder.”

But Holland is a town in turmoil. The three selectmen here are locked in a rancorous dispute with the small, mostly part-time police force, which they accuse of improper documentation of confiscated drugs and weapons. But some citizens see the selectmen as out of line, and have pushed to recall the two who would otherwise not be up for election this spring–including one who has been ousted by recall before.

Before the month of April is out, Jim Foley, chairman of the board of selectmen, will face a recall election. Foley was pulled from office in 1997 following a dispute with the same chief of police, who has since quit to lead another small-town police department. This time, Foley’s detractors would also like to get rid of selectmen Carolyn Reardon and Paul Foster, who is also the town’s fire chief. Due to a mistake by the town clerk, the petition to recall Reardon fell a few signatures short. Foster’s term is up this spring, so there was no need for a recall drive to put his name on the ballot. But recall backers leave no doubt that they hold all three members responsible for the current mess.

“They ripped this town apart,” says recall organizer Donna Stearns.

In Holland, as in other towns small enough for time to forget, animosities run deep, and memories are long. “What happens, I think–and I’ve learned this at town meetings instead of from having been in the Legislature–is that you can argue about a dog problem in a small town and end up not talking to your neighbor for the next 20 years,” Brewer says.

The current troubles in Holland go back to June 12, when a full slate of new selectmen was elected to run the town. Though terms for the seats are staggered, all three were open: one selectman had passed away, another chose not to seek re-election, and the third–Foley’s wife Patricia, as it happens–decided to step down before her term expired. Foley, a Worcester County correction officer, won a three-year term by a small margin over a write-in candidate. He also backed Reardon, a retired accountant, who narrowly beat out Diane Balderelli, a five-year chairwoman of the Old Home Day Committee, for a two-year term. Fire chief Foster, who is also a former part-time Holland policeman and, like Foley, a prison guard (in Hampden County), won a one-year term.

No sooner had the new board members taken office than they picked a fight with the police department. In late June, the board voted not to reappoint John Jovan as chief, claiming that Jovan had not put himself on the list of officers he recommended for reappointment. Jovan said he had never done so in his eight years as chief. This dispute resulted in the town not being covered by a police force of its own for the first week of July–State Police stationed at Sturbridge were called upon to provide backup coverage–during which time a woman allegedly was assaulted while walking on the main road. On July 13, Reardon and a locksmith were discovered in the process of changing the locks at the Holland police station.

Jovan was soon reinstated, but his relationship with the select board deteriorated further. The board announced that two trash bags and a box of seized marijuana had been found in the police station improperly secured and accounted for, along with six machétés, gun ammunition, and martial-arts nunchucks. Jovan countered that the origin of most of the problems selectmen identified predated his tenure as chief, and that selectman Foster, in his days as a part-time town cop, was in fact responsible for putting away some of the seized property in question. Foster claimed that he was as surprised as anyone by what was found. In another vote of no-confidence in the local gendarmes, the selectmen also announced that they were contacting State Police to investigate missing dive-team equipment worth over $10,000. Jovan quit in October to become the part-time police chief of nearby Sturbridge.

Soon thereafter, Donna Stearns started collecting signatures. Rumors of an impending recall drive had, by this time, been circulating for several months. When the board named an interim police chief who had been accused of beating his wife (though that case was dismissed), Stearns got busy. She assembled 25 people in a room to sign an affidavit in the presence of a notary public, then proceeded to collect a total of 217 signatures–15 percent of registered voters–on the recall petition. “It’s a lot of work,” she says.

But critics of the removal drive say it’s not hard enough to stage recalls in Holland. “They should be used if someone is involved in criminal behavior,” says former selectman Paul Gillis. “But just because you have political differences–we have a process for that: an election.”

Under Holland’s procedure–each town establishes its own recall rules, with approval of the Legislature–once the recall petition is in hand, selectmen have five days to notify the subject of the recall, who then has five days to resign. If he does not, an election must be held 60 to 90 days later, with the sitting official challenged by an opponent nominated by an open town caucus. So now, on April 24, Foley faces Christian Peterson, a newcomer to Holland politics, in a race for the seat Foley won less than a year ago.

Town Clerk Robert Ford, a former schoolteacher from Connecticut who retired to Holland after spending many a happy summer there, agrees that the rush to recall puts a burden on the town. At a cost of $1,000 per balloting, these supplemental votes put a strain on his $8,500 election budget, he says.

The worst thing about recalls, in the eyes of some, is the effect they have on civic life.

But the worst thing about recalls, in the estimation of some, is the effect they have on civic life. “I lived through two in the town of Holland,” says former police chief Jovan, who calls them “stressful and divisive.” He adds, “What gets lost in the big picture is what’s best for the town.”

Stearns’s petition drive has put Foley on the electoral firing line, but Reardon was a near miss. Ford had thought that the 25 affidavit signatures could count toward the total, but town counsel overruled him, and the anti-Reardon petition fell short of the required 217 signatures. Reardon says she could withstand any recall assault, either now or later. “They have to have a good reason” to remove her from office, she says, “and I don’t think they can come up with one.”

Unless score settling counts. Recall organizer Donna Stearns is the sister of Diane Balderelli, the candidate for selectman defeated by Reardon, whom Foley supported. “It’s just small town politics, very hateful,” says Foley. Stearns denies the charge, saying Balderelli refuses to have anything to do with the recall.

But in the small world that is Holland, the family ties don’t stop there. The husband of a third Balderelli sister–and “the Balderelli sisters” is exactly how their political adversaries refer to them–found himself in an altercation with the wife of selectman Paul Foster last fall. At the scene of a fire, Ruth Foster allegedly struck Holland fire captain Stephen Petrello, who was issuing orders in conflict with those of her husband. Petrello quit the fire department on the spot, stripping off his gear and walking off in tee shirt and shorts. He later charged that the incident was related to his questioning of Foster’s dual role as selectman and fire chief. (In March, Ruth Foster answered assault charges in Palmer District Court by agreeing to write an apology for the incident.)

“The Balderelli crowd is behaving like juveniles,” says former selectman Gillis, a retired civil engineer who has served on many town boards. But he concedes that Foley has a certain bull-in-a-china-shop quality.

“Jim Foley made a capital mistake in his first administration when he accused all the former selectmen of being incompetent,” says Gillis. “He was in the unfortunate position of kicking down the doors of the old school crowd. He made a lot of enemies, and to their graves, they’ll hate him.”

Still, Gillis says the beleaguered Chairman is right to try to shake things up in Holland. “I’ve had my problems with Jim Foley,” he says. “But at least he’s young and aggressive and he’s trying to get things done.”

At press time, it’s unclear whether Foley will get anything done beyond securing his own premature political retirement, for the second time.

But at least the town has come together on one point: All factions speak highly of the new police chief, Donald A. Haapokoski, of Worcester, who was sworn in December 19. As far as the police department is concerned, public order has been restored in the town of Holland. Politics, however, are another matter.

Mary Carey is a reporter for The Daily Hampshire Gazette.

State rules shortchange urban waterfronts

Last December, after much wrangling between state officials, city officials, developers–especially my client, Hyatt Development–and environmentalists, state Environmental Affairs Secretary Robert Durand approved a plan for the development of Boston’s Fan Pier. The Fan Pier design, which allows for a mix of housing, hotels, office buildings, shops, restaurants, and a new home for the Institute of Contemporary Art, was the final piece of a South Boston Waterfront District Municipal Harbor Plan–three years in the making–that will guide development in what may become the city’s most exciting new neighborhood over the next decade.

What neither the Fan Pier plan nor the rest of the waterfront scheme does is conform to the state’s Chapter 91 regulations, which govern coastal development. And that’s a good thing. Indeed, no significant building has ever been built on Boston Harbor in compliance with these rules in their 10-year history and it’s unlikely that one ever will be. And that’s a good thing, too. A planning process similar to the one for the South Boston waterfront–one that will likewise supercede the terms of Chapter 91’s regulations–is now underway in East Boston, with more to come in the city’s other harbor neighborhoods. It’s time to reflect on what has been learned about how to make Boston’s waterfront into a great public place–and how much more there is to that process than the Chapter 91 regulations take into account.

Ordinarily, a city sets the framework for how a neighborhood will grow and change through zoning. On the Massachusetts waterfront, however, state law mandates that the secretary of environmental affairs take an active role in ensuring public access at the water’s edge. Through statutes and regulations that implement the ancient “public trust” doctrine–a concept originating in Roman law that the sea and the shore are common property belonging to all people–the secretary has the right and the obligation to determine that local zoning of waterfront property complies with the public interest.

Traditionally, waterfront development in Massachusetts subject to the public trust doctrine was evaluated under a generic and flexible standard: Would the public benefits of the development outweigh its public detriments? But in 1990, the Department of Environmental Protection created detailed regulations to protect the public interest in the waterfront by establishing rigorous requirements for any proposed development, including mandated height limits, setbacks, and open space. They were as complicated as they were specific. The permitted height, for example, was 55 feet for buildings within 100 feet of the water’s edge; for other buildings, “55 feet plus one-half foot for every additional foot of separation” from the water’s edge. The stated purpose of these rules was to limit the extent of development so as to leave room for public access and traditional maritime uses.

Nothing in prior Massachusetts history, nor in the experience of other states or other countries, suggests that strict adherence to such a set of detailed “operating instructions” for waterfront development is necessary–or even very helpful–to protect the public’s use and enjoyment of the water’s edge. And certainly not these instructions. The regulations do not reflect the most basic realities of urban design and economics. Luckily, Chapter 91 does offer an out–a “municipal harbor plan” developed by a city and approved by the secretary of environmental affairs, who ensures that it protects the public’s interest in the shoreline even if it does not conform to the letter of the regulations.

After their enactment, however, Chapter 91’s detailed regulations somehow came to be treated as a sort of gold standard for environmental protection. Thus, when Mayor Thomas Menino began to sketch his vision of a new South Boston Waterfront in 1997, it was widely claimed by the press and by environmental advocates that any attempt to modify the requirements of the 1990 regulations by adoption of a harbor plan containing alternative standards would be a “violation” or “circumvention” of state law and, even worse, of the sacred public trust.

Today, most actors in the drama of Fan Pier/South Boston waterfront planning would agree that the approved plan will yield waterfront development that serves the purpose of public use and enjoyment better than strict compliance with the 1990 regulations would have. That’s because public activation of an urban waterfront depends on considerations that are very different from those at work along pristine shorelines. But still the myth of the Chapter 91 regulations as touchstone of the public interest lives on. It’s time to debunk that myth–and move toward a more appropriate standard for urban waterfront development.

Doing No Harm vs. Doing Good

Most waterfront regulatory thinking begins with a proposition that is the environmental equivalent of the Hippocratic oath: “First do no harm.” It’s a reasonable starting point. The natural condition of our shore–whether rocky outcroppings, salt marsh, or sandy beaches–will typically not be improved by development, as seen from an environmental, aesthetic, or recreational perspective. It is an appropriate goal of regulation to limit the interference caused by human activity. This is the perspective the 1990 regulations–which govern the entire Massachusetts coastline, whether downtown Boston or the dunes of the Outer Cape–operate from, making sure that development is not too tall, is not too close to the water’s edge, and does not take up too much open space.

On urban waterfronts, however, this assumption is deeply flawed. The Fan Pier site, for example, is a dirt parking lot and has been for decades. Before that it was a railroad yard. Before that it was a mud flat. “First do no harm” is not a very useful guiding principle for thinking about how the Fan Pier site, or many similar urban waterfront properties, should be developed. Nor can we assume that an urban waterfront offers the natural attraction for the public that much of the rest of our coastline does. In the city context, creating places that are truly welcoming and inviting to the public often involves substantial alteration of existing conditions.

The South Boston Waterfront plan will produce better development than the 1990 regulations precisely because it embraces these distinctive aspects of urban waterfronts. While the 1990 regulations focus on building dimensions and scale, Mayor Menino properly emphasized a vital mix of uses that keeps the district constantly active as the touchstone of successful development.

The battle over height limits drew the most public attention, but the most important aspect of the harbor plan is the balance of uses–including civic and cultural uses–in order to get people down to the waterfront as much as possible. The mayor’s plan requires at least one-third of the land to be used for housing, no more than one-third to be used for office space, and leaves the rest for hotels, restaurants, and shops. Development projects with this sort of balance will encourage and embrace significant public use, not merely tolerate it. Including a new Institute of Contemporary Art and other major civic and cultural uses into the plan is also a fundamental improvement over the 1990 regulations, which have more modest and generic requirements for public activity. On Boston Harbor today, the New England Aquarium and the Children’s Museum attract diverse groups of visitors in a way that few other parts of the waterfront do.

The rules are at odds with the basics of urban design.

In the urban context, there is no compelling reason to fear “loosening” of the strict numerical requirements of the 1990 regulations. In fact, those requirements are frequently at odds with the basics of good urban design. Compare Rowes Wharf, for example, with the new federal courthouse. Rowes Wharf was built prior to the 1990 regulations under the old “public benefits exceed public detriments” standard. It violates the 1990 regulations in a number of ways–it is too close to the water, and too tall–and could not be built today. The new federal courthouse comes closer than any other major building on Boston Harbor to compliance with those rules. The courthouse site has much more open space than Rowes Wharf, but the open space seems carefully guarded by the broad shoulders of the building itself. There is nothing to match the public invitation extended by Rowes Wharf’s wonderful arch. The courthouse is set back farther from the water’s edge than Rowes Wharf, but it’s not clear that this additional waterside space makes it more attractive to the public. This is a year-round waterfront, and for much of the year water-shuttle commuters are grateful for the shelter of Rowes Wharf just a few steps away. Buildings that hug the waterfront tightly may not be such a bad thing after all.

Coming Attractions?

The mania over strict compliance with height, setback and other requirements of the Chapter 91 regulations is also precluding visionary thinking about truly special public destinations on Boston Harbor. Many observers see the Harborlights outdoor concert facility as one of the best things to happen to the Boston Harbor waterfront in the last ten years. When it moved to its current location, however, it was viewed by the Department of Environmental Protection less as an important public attraction and more as a troublesome oddity that did not fit the rules (the Chapter 91 regulations are not supposed to allow such a use in that part of the city, which is reserved for marine industrial uses). So Harborlights got only temporary approval; it was granted a five-year license and told to move along thereafter. (The search for a new site is now underway.) This narrow thinking discourages the boldest, most creative, and most exciting waterfront projects. It would be a shame to be trapped by a point of view that generates reservations, rather than enthusiasm, about a Bilbao Guggenheim or a London Millennium Wheel.

It’s not clear that even the South Boston Waterfront plan reflects a realistic appreciation of how difficult it is to create major civic and cultural attractions–and how important it is to do so. Significant public destinations have been critical to the success of the great urban waterfronts around the country, such as Baltimore’s and San Francisco’s. Here in Boston, our last two major facilities of this type were built in 1969 (the Aquarium) and 1975 (the Children’s Museum). In some ways, the waterfront plan’s designation of Fan Pier as the site of a new Institute of Contemporary Art makes creating public destinations appear simpler than it really is. The ICA was an obvious choice only because its feasibility had already been explored by the mayor’s Boston 2000 Commission. But there is no public process in Boston for coming up with other terrific ideas for new civic and cultural facilities that will engage the public. An integral part of the waterfront planning process ought to be developing a community-based consensus–a “top ten” list–on the public uses and amenities that would be most desirable.

Moreover, the proposed Fan Pier development is one of the few projects on Boston Harbor that is big enough to incorporate a major facility like the ICA. If every development is required to include on-site public amenities in proportion to its scale, we will end up with a series of water taxi landings, community meeting rooms, and minor historical exhibits. This is exactly what has happened on Boston Harbor so far. Every development should certainly be expected to provide some baseline elements of public access, such as a harborwalk which allows public pedestrian access all across a waterfront site from one side to the other. But if more is demanded of developers, the public would be better served by having them pool their resources into larger scale efforts like cultural facilities, Boston Harbor Islands projects, community boating improvements, or major water transit initiatives. The 1990 regulations, which stress individual developer obligations on their own sites, do not permit, let alone encourage, this kind of creativity.

It is also dangerous to assume that major new public attractions can readily be built without substantial public assistance. The ICA happens to have a good head start on a capital campaign. Other good ideas are likely to start at ground zero when it comes to funding. No other city has accomplished a waterfront success without a significant contribution of public dollars. There is no real reason to think that Boston can.

The Last Frontier

Waterfront development is critical to Boston’s continuing health and vitality. Even with reasonable public contributions, private development will for the foreseeable future be a prime source of funding for new public amenities on Boston Harbor. The opportunity to live, work, and play on the harbor is one of Boston’s tremendous competitive advantages, if fully utilized. The rundown buildings, dilapidated piers, and parking lots that still dominate large stretches of the harbor waterfront remain the city’s last great frontier.

Future downtown development cannot be restricted to the few remaining locations within the Financial District. Soaring office and apartment rents discourage new businesses and residents from coming to or staying in Boston. Thousands of new housing units and millions of square feet of new office space have been built in the suburbs over the last five years, many times what was built in Boston itself. The obstacles thrown in the way of development on Boston’s waterfront are the opposite of smart growth.

The state’s 1990 waterfront regulations are seen by many people as a bulwark against private exploitation of a communal asset–our Massachusetts coastline. In Boston, that asset has become all the more valuable–and worthy of protection–by virtue of the billions of public dollars that have gone into cleaning up the harbor. It’s for good reason that any suggestion to change the rules that protect the public interest arouses suspicion. At the same time, that very interest in the coastline and vast investment in environmental improvement compel us to ask whether there are not better ways to make our urban waterfronts into true public resources than these regulations. It is time to move away from the rule-bounding thinking of Chapter 91, and toward dreaming of the kind of waterfront that Bostonians and all Massachusetts citizens can be proud of for generations to come.

Gregory Bialecki is an attorney at the Boston firm of Hill and Barlow and counsel to Hyatt Development.

Paul Grogan and Alvaro Lima give Bostons inner city the business

Paul Grogan and Alvaro Lima give Bostons inner city the business

Over its five years of publication, CommonWealth has displayed a consistent interest in city living–specifically, how cities from Boston to Pittsfield can stay or become safe, vibrant, satisfying places for people to live, work, and raise children. And it’s safe to say that many, if not most, Massachusetts cities have seen their fortunes improve over that time: Crime rates have declined, housing has been renovated, schools have gotten more funding (and more pressure to improve). But how to make sure inner city neighborhoods take part in the region’s continued economic growth remains a nagging, and vexing, question.

In CommonWealth‘s Winter 1998 issue, I wrote about Boston’s “enterprise zone”–an attempt to concentrate local and federally funded economic-development efforts on the neediest areas of the inner city. The story posed this critical question, in bold type: does anyone in government understand urban renewal? The answer, then as now, is uncertain. But I recently spoke with two Bostonians who do know something about what it takes to bring urban economies back from the dead: Paul Grogan and Alvaro Lima.

Alvaro Lima (left) and Paul Grogan

Paul S. Grogan has just been named president of the Boston Foundation, the largest grantmaking institution in New England, to which he will bring his vision for urban rebirth starting July 1. When we spoke, he was simply vice president for government, community, and public affairs at Harvard, overseeing the university’s partnerships with its host communities, Boston and Cambridge. But in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Grogan headed Boston’s community development agency under mayors Kevin White and Ray Flynn. From 1986 to 1998, he led the New York-based Local Initiatives Support Corp., a nonprofit agency that funneled $3 billion in private capital into the efforts of community-based nonprofit developers nationwide. Grogan is also co-author, with Tony Proscio, of Comeback Cities: A Blueprint for Urban Neighborhood Revival, which CommonWealth reviewed last issue.

Alvaro Lima is managing director of Boston’s chapter of the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City, the nonprofit entity that Harvard Business School guru Michael Porter (the subject of a Conversation interview in CW‘s Winter ’98 issue) established to put into action his theory of the competitive advantage of inner-city neighborhoods. A native of Brazil, Lima is an economist who served in the Ministry of Industry and Energy in Mozambique and Brazil’s Institute for Social and Economic Research. Before joining ICIC-Boston three years ago, Lima was director of economic development at Urban Edge, one of Boston’s most successful–and ambitious–community development agencies.

In February, ICIC-Boston, of which Grogan is also chairman of the board, unveiled its view of business opportunities in Boston’s inner city at a breakfast meeting of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. That plan, developed in conjunction with the Boston Consulting Group, a longtime ICIC partner, utilizes Porter’s trademark framework of industry “clusters” to identify untapped opportunities to boost jobs–and mine profits–in neighborhoods like Roxbury, Dorchester, Jamaica Plain, the South End, and South Boston. Health care is one “cluster” in which the inner city is already well represented but where there’s room for growth. In other industries, such as financial services, information technology, and hospitality/tourism, ICIC sees inner-city Boston lagging, but with the potential to play catch-up. I sat down with Grogan and Lima the day of the ICIC presentation to review the urban investment portfolio. The following is a transcript of that conversation, edited for length.

CommonWealth: Paul, when you were a city official here, Boston was struggling to survive, particularly its residential neighborhoods. But the Boston you came back to two years ago certainly qualifies as one of your “comeback” cities. All the elements you describe as the basis for urban revival are at work here: housing and community development, managed by community-based nonprofit developers; the rebirth of private markets; restoration of public order in neighborhoods that were once riddled with street crime; the reform, albeit incomplete, of perversely bureaucratic public institutions. All this and a seven-year economic boom have turned Boston into a place of near-full employment, with housing stock so much improved that many longtime residents can’t even afford to live here anymore. So, in a city that’s now doing so well, why do we need a strategy for inner-city business development?

Grogan: Well, the rising property values and the relative absence of blight don’t tell the whole story. In fact, Boston continues still to have a substantial poverty population, and a school system that is still deeply troubled. There are an awful lot of people that are trapped with inferior education, low skills, unable to compete in this marvelous New Economy. Boston really has tremendous things going for it, but that sets the stage for the next level of activity. And that is to focus on the jobs, the incomes, and the wealth accumulation that’s going to be possible for that population that is next to, and inside of, all this prosperity but not participating fully in it. But I think Boston is very well positioned to do as good a job as any city can in facing that next order of problems. By the way, I hope you weren’t suggesting that my absence from the city was the key factor in feeding the revitalization of the Boston I came back to. Others have.

CommonWealth: I suppose you can find causation in all sorts of places if you look hard enough. Alvaro, it’s been more than five years since Michael Porter first spelled out the competitive advantages of the inner city, and more than five years since ICIC got down to work identifying the specific advantages that Boston has to offer. Which of those advantages have been capitalized on so far, and which ones have yet to be exploited?

Lima: I think the clearest one is retail, which has discovered the under-served [urban] market. You go in the neighborhoods of Boston today and you’ll see CVS and Stop & Shop and Walgreens. There’s a whole new generation of retailers that is starting to look at the inner city and have an interest. And I think the supermarkets were key. I live in the inner city in Boston and when the Stop & Shop came in it was like giving everybody a pay raise. The cost of food [at small neighborhood stores] was very high and a big chunk of their income is spent on food. What we also discovered, probably a year or two years ago, looking at the [Inc. magazine/ICIC] Inner City 100, was the amazing quantity of companies operating on [the basis of] just-in-time delivery in the Boston inner city. There’s a whole sector of commercial-services companies that are linked to the hospitals, to the universities downtown, that are clearly taking advantage of their location.

CommonWealth: What are some of those commercial services that benefit from that location?

Lima: Be Our Guest, for example. . . . They rent tables and chairs [and other equipment for functions]. They can not only serve downtown Boston very quickly but they can also go to the Cape and get down I-93. . . . Another sector that we have seen [capitalizing on the inner-city location], for example, are the printers. We were fascinated to look at the data and ask, why is it there are so many printers here? We assumed that printers should be printing things outside of Boston. But they are very specialized. They are mainly doing the Fidelity [and other] annual reports and they can’t be in Hong Kong. They have to be here because [Fidelity’s] Mr. [Ned] Johnson changes the report every week. Being very close to the market gives you a transportation advantage. And there is the labor force. It’s incredible the amount of companies that are moving into Boston to take advantage of the labor force. The high attrition rate in the suburbs is killing retailers. You go to Home Depot and their suburban store has kids that want to make $100, $150 during the summer and then have fun. They come here, people are looking for a job.

I think that the next big push will be to look at the question of employment and job ladders. Large corporations in Boston do not have a strategy to deal with a tight labor market. There is no strategy for how you maintain your folks. . . . There is a huge pressure on companies to maintain their labor force.

Grogan: If I can jump in on that. Of course, Harvard University, my current employer, is a huge employer, one of the biggest private employers in Massachusetts–over 15,000 full-time employees. Almost any day of the week we have between 700 and 1,000 job openings at Harvard that we have more and more trouble filling. And it’s leading Harvard to do some very different things institutionally, to establish the links with local job-training programs in Cambridge and Boston and surrounding communities that are identifying people and upgrading their skills. We’re also making a major commitment to upgrade our own low-skill, low-wage workers. The MassINC report [New Skills for a New Economy] pointed out that a third of the Massachusetts work force is not fit for jobs in the New Economy. But as Michael Porter said today [at the Chamber of Commerce forum], those people are here and a lot of them are in the inner city. The real upside, in terms of increasing the productive labor force, is in the city if we have the right manpower strategies to tap that. . . . So that tight labor market which Porter sees more or less being with us for the foreseeable future is a tremendous opportunity for us to move people into the labor force.

I also wanted to comment on the retail area because I think that’s terribly important and people tend to dismiss that: Retail–is that really economic development? But for neighborhoods that have been deprived of retail services that most Americans take for granted, it is a huge thing to have retail reenter the community, not only because of the goods and services that are now available at a reasonable price but the message of vitality that that sends, the traffic it produces. The neighborhood commercial corridors are not only important economically; they’re important parts of the social fabric of communities. And when these places were dreary, boarded-up districts, obviously they were part of what was dragging the neighborhood down and pulling it apart. Now, on a Saturday, to go through these commercial districts and to see every storefront occupied, you see the life on the street, the people schmoozing on the corners, picking up their convenience items. It’s a really important part of the city and these issues are all connected in a way that I think we¹re just beginning to understand.

Another example is housing. Most people wouldn’t say that housing is an economic development strategy. But what people don’t remember is what collapsed the markets in the inner city in the previous cycle of decline was the destruction of the residential neighborhoods: the hemorrhage of people out, the inability to sustain the housing stock, the blight and abandonment that came from that. And that’s what drove the retailers out to the opportunities in the growing suburbs. Well, the community development corporations and others have reconstituted much of the residential stock. There are people in those houses again. And they, by themselves, create a market. . . . A lot of what Michael Porter talks about is the lag in perception and how those powerful images that developed during the period of decline stay with us even after the reality has shifted. But that visible reentrance of retail into these neighborhoods is really a way to, on a symbolic level, say, hey, a different day is here. There is a different set of opportunities. Now let’s work on some of these next-stage economic opportunities to build on the progress that’s been made.

CommonWealth: What about those next-stage opportunities? Some of the leading industries, like financial services and high-tech–first of all, why have these industries not seen the sort of opportunities that have become apparent in retail and, as you say, in commercial services? What’s it going to take to get their attention and get them to start thinking about Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan as places they should think about selling to or locating in?

Lima: We just have to do the same thing we did for retail. I think that we need to make the business case. I think that we need to push them to see that they can modify a little bit their strategy and they can tap into these markets. . . . If you go to neighborhoods where you have first-generation immigrants, where they have their families in their country of origin, and their first financial need is to cash a check and then transfer part [of the proceeds to relatives abroad]. You leave all this market to high-priced [check-cashing services and] loan sharks. The banks are still operating on the branch model, with middle-class deposit accounts. But with a little change–and there are many things going on in this area–you can satisfy this huge market. There is an incredible amount of money that gets transferred to Brazil that is generated here in Boston. We see huge costs not only to transfer, because the costs are high, but [because in mainstream banks] there are no products. It would take some imagination and some thinking about what kinds of products you can tailor to this market.

Grogan: I think there are other things that other parties have to do, too. The government is a critical player in creating an environment for business–or in doing the reverse. We have an administration that’s very pro-business [in Boston]. The mayor has justifiably gotten a lot of credit for continuing the tremendous investment in housing, for supporting the revival of the commercial districts, the reentrance of retail. But the truth is that the city government isn’t really set up to pursue an economic development strategy that’s targeted to industries. The organization of city government is more a reflection of the whole urban renewal area and the almost complete focus on real estate as opposed to other forms of economic development. So a challenge to city governments generally and to Boston is: How do you get organized to relate to the decision-makers in these business sectors who are going to look at the city and understand, to a finely honed degree, what they’re looking for, what they need, and have processes that are going to be smooth and navigable by people that don’t have a lot of tolerance for bureaucracy, confusion, etc. . . .

There also have to be new relationships formed. As [Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce president] Paul Guzzi pointed out this morning, one of the big drivers of our economy–and here again I’m doing a little institutional promotion–is higher education. We have the most extraordinary concentration of institutions of higher education and they bring great benefits to the city. But there needs to be a new strategic partnership between the city, the business community, and the universities to really identify the specific economic opportunities coming out of universities, which are magnets for research dollars, and which create a kind of new geographic rationale for business. Businesses, in lots of ways, can be anywhere today. They don’t have the traditional ties to geography. But why are so many clusters of high technology businesses gathering in the Boston area? Most people would say, well, it’s MIT and Harvard and Tufts and Boston University, because it’s the talent, it’s the research, it’s the innovation that’s occurring in this kind of hothouse of innovation.

What’s the strategy to tap that for the city, for the population we’re concerned about? Everyone is trying to wedge their last building into the Longwood Medical Area. It’s a tremendously dense concentration of medical facilities and related industries, research labs, and so forth. Sooner or later the last building that can go into Longwood is going to be built. And I think this research engine is going to continue. Where does that go? Is there a strategy to capture that for the city and to align training opportunities? So you could not only have the geographical location–a second research park, biomedical research park within the city limits–but you could align our training systems to get people jobs in those establishments.

The universities are going to be economic players. I don’t think we’ve thought of the universities as economic actors. We’ve thought of their economic significance almost in a passive way. But I’d like to see a new strategic partnership between the city, the business community, and the universities to really look at some of these opportunities and how powerful they can be.

CommonWealth: How does city government–and perhaps state government, too‹have to think differently in order to be more strategic in economic development? I think of the city bureaucracies and how they approach projects for neighborhoods. The way the responsibilities break down‹with the exception, perhaps, of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, which seems to be in charge of anything it wants to be in charge of–the idea of pursuing an economic strategy by industry doesn’t seem to fit very neatly into the way city government is structured. And isn’t that part of the problem? When you look at a city like Boston, both bureaucratically and politically, it’s not an easy place to do business.

Grogan: That’s right. As I was saying, the city’s organization reflects a previous era. We’ve tinkered with it. We’ve moved it around a little bit. But it is still really an urban renewal government as opposed to a business development government. So that’s going to take some hard thinking. I personally believe that what’s got to happen is, once the mayor sets some goals in this area and understands some things he really wants to achieve with respect to specific industries, then you can extrapolate what kind of organization you need to build to take advantage of that. Form follows function.

Another problem is the fragmentation of government programs. ICIC, in one of its earlier research papers, pointed out that Boston, and most cities, actually get a lot of money from the federal and state governments for, quote, “economic development.” But it comes through 100 different public, private, and nonprofit agencies. So the fragmentation of all of this is very considerable and it obviously limits the strategic use of public capital, which is very, very important in priming the pump. [Now] we have a Republican government that likes block grants. Maybe there’s an opportunity to go and say, here’s the new economic opportunity in cities. We’re not asking for more money but let’s reconfigure what we’ve got so it’s usable and usable in a strategic fashion.

So I think at all levels there are implications for government behavior once you start saying, hey, cities can recover on a business model, on a market model. That’s the new way of thinking about it, as opposed to how are we going to help these terrible, blighted, emptied-out places.

Lima: One interesting thing that came out of the government study is, not only do you have fragmentation of organizations and programs, but there is no strategy that brings them together. There are millions of training programs but there is no link between training programs and business development, for example. It’s as if there were two different parts of the economy. And we have seen that it makes the whole training sector a problem for business development in the city.

CommonWealth: It strikes me that the one attempt to do that, and in fact it’s about the only thing that has passed for an urban economic policy in this country for the last 10 years, has been the notion of an enterprise zone or empowerment zone. When I look at the analysis you do at ICIC, the geographic area that you describe as the inner city is roughly the same as the map of Boston’s enterprise zone. And that idea was to designate an area and say, this is where we’re going to focus our myriad programs and policies and this, that, and the other thing, plus throw in some federal dollars. This is where we’re going to put all of that to make things happen. Why didn’t anything happen?

Lima: I think that in some places something did happen. In Boston, the empowerment zone had some impact. I think that the impact was not greater because the focus was on the geography. . . . There is no strategy that says, this is what we want to accomplish, these are the goals. [Then] you change all these programs to accomplish that. [Instead,] what you have is, you say, well, I’m going to get my programs and collect them all in a place and hope that they will somehow be different than [when they were] dispersed. . . . What are the institutions in the empowerment zone that want to grow; what is their connection with the regional economy? How do you link them?

Grogan: One of the things that a lot of people don’t realize to this day about the empowerment zones is that most of the money is for social services. The empowerment zone was dressed up as focusing on a market model but it was really the old stuff kind of repackaged. In a lot of cities, money hasn’t been spent because there’s been a kind of ferocious, almost old-style patronage scramble. Money has been tied up in squabbles. That’s just the kind of thing that drives the real private sector away. I think the idea of looking at certain geographies and pursuing an integrated strategy still has merit, but the empowerment zones are going to end up being an utterly inconsequential part of whatever happens in these communities. I’d like to see them take a second run at it on a real business basis next time around.

CommonWealth: Let me ask one question about some of the assumptions behind the work that ICIC has done and you, Paul, have raised a bit in your book, as well. It’s clear enough that there’s been a crying need for retail attention in the neighborhoods where retailers essentially abandoned ship 20 or 30 years ago. It’s less obvious to me why the inner city needs to be a locus for jobs. Why do we need job-generating businesses to be located in what are essentially residential neighborhoods? Boston doesn’t have a lot of land available for commercial or industrial development. And what little land there is, any time anybody wants to use any of it, the opposition comes out in droves. That’s because, when push comes to shove, who wants to live next door to a factory or a warehouse or a call center, for that matter? Why shouldn’t Dorchester and Roxbury and Jamaica Plain be bedroom communities, just the way suburban towns are? Why not focus instead on getting the people who live in these neighborhoods access, in terms of both acceptance and transportation, to places where the jobs are?

Grogan: Let me start. I’m sure both of us want to take a whack at this. I think you have a point, in a way. That is, I don’t work in my neighborhood; I never have. I’m connected to an economic opportunity in the metropolitan area. I do think that’s the most important thing, and that does put the focus back on all the labor force questions, the education and training questions, and, to an extent, on transportation. Do you have a way to get to the opportunities that you are suited for? On the other hand, if we think back, Boston once had over 800,000 people and a lot of industry within its borders. Now–and we’re one of the fortunate ones, our population is modestly growing again–we don’t even have 600,000 people and a lot of the industry that we had has departed. There’s room in Boston for a level of business presence that we don’t have now that can be accommodated within the essentially residential character of the neighborhoods. I really believe that. And it would be healthy for the city. Proximity [to jobs] does matter to a certain part of the population. It matters in terms of the tax base. It matters in terms of the political strength of the city. So I think we have to do both. We have to have a resident population that is equipped by virtue of education, skills, and attitude to take advantage of economic opportunity wherever it is in the metropolitan area and have the means to get there. But we also need to attract, re-attract, businesses by virtue of these [competitive] advantages, for which that inner-city location is really a positive.

Lima: I agree with Paul. I think it’s a question of mobility, including the mobility of having people from outside of the inner city coming in to work in the inner city and folks that live there also working there. It’s one of the debates that I think is dangerous, the either/or, that you link folks to the regional economy or you invest in the inner city. In 1981 or ’82, I was living in Mozambique and I went to Johannesburg. By 5 o’clock in Johannesburg you used to see a sea of people, blacks, going to Soweto. The transportation was wonderful. It was a linkage between Soweto and Johannesburg. But the investment was made in Johannesburg. You can link people to the jobs but you still have a question of investment. . . . I think that some of the regional discussion carries some of this risk. You have to do both. You can’t entrap people in the neighborhood and say your mobility is that you have transportation. You can’t say there’s no investment in infrastructure here because we are building on Route 128 and now you have a nice bus that brings you from here to there.

CommonWealth: I was struck, in your book, Paul, and in the presentation this morning and the materials I’ve gotten from ICIC, about the role of immigration in the city. I think you make a strong case for, whatever the controversy about whether immigration is a good thing or a bad thing for the country as a whole, from the point of view of cities immigration is an unalloyed benefit. We know that Massachusetts as a whole, as well as the city, would have lost, in absolute terms, a good chunk of its work force over the past 10 years if it hadn’t been for immigration. Immigration accounts for all the growth there has been in the work force. But it’s not only bodies but ambitions, entrepreneurial spirit, and all those things.

Grogan: I can’t add anything to what you’re saying.

CommonWealth: But immigrants also don’t necessarily know the language. They may not be educated, all of them, very highly even in their native tongue. They’re unlikely to have the skills for an information economy. If we recognize the great benefits that immigrants bring to the inner city, still, what obligations do they impose on us in order to get the benefits of their presence? What are the implications for business development, for government services, to make these newcomers productive and contributing members of a growing economy?

Grogan: Well, there’s a lot we can do and should do. I must admit that I’m personally reassured by history in this vein, because as an undergraduate I was particularly interested in immigration. I was an American history major and wrote my senior thesis on the period from 1880 to 1920. [There were] enormous strains that people felt at the time, great worries about the survival of American civilization when half–at one point, I think it was about 1905–half of all the residents of every major Eastern and Midwestern city were foreign born. We think it’s remarkable that today one in four Bostonians [was born abroad], and Boston is in the upper tier of cities affected by immigration. But this was every major city in America and in a lot of ways the country didn’t possess the kind of engines of Americanization that it now has. And yet we not only survived, but my reading of it is that American society and culture was strengthened enormously. So there is a way that we have of absorbing people and of people responding to the opportunities that are in the society that it doesn’t take care of itself, exactly, but there are some natural processes of absorption and assimilation that, if history is any guide, really work.

Nevertheless, the more rapidly we can help immigrants equip themselves to participate, [the better.] That’s the kind of human-capital investment we want to make. I think, not to cozy up to MassINC, but I think the MassINC report is dead on, in saying that a major investment on the part of public and private sectors in English as a second language and adult basic education programs. . .would have a pretty quick payoff in terms of productivity and labor force participation. And we’re just not doing anywhere near what needs to be done to realize that. It’s looking at this not as a social service but as a human-capital investment that’s going to have a big return. Again, Harvard is recognizing that in our own programs; other major employers need to do the same. We need to be supportive of a massive increase in state funding for these kinds of programs. And if we do that, I think that there’s going to be a big payoff.

Lima: I think that immigration in this country, but mainly immigration in Boston, in the last 10 years is an untold story. If you go to Allston, Brighton, Somerville, Framingham, it’s quite amazing. It’s the pre-Main Streets program. That’s the role of the immigrants–they open their bodegas, their small stores, and create the storefronts that you can now rehab.

Grogan: Look at the Vietnamese on Dorchester Avenue. It’s unbelievable.

Lima: Most recently, the mayor created the Office of New Bostonians that I think is the first step in looking at immigration from a strategic point of view. . . .There is a stigma attached to immigrants. It looks much like the stigma attached to the inner cities, the stigma attached to people on welfare, that they are kind of a drain [on society]. If you do a search in the newspapers in Boston–and we did that a lot–there’s no positive image of Brazilians, for example, or Brazil. My dream is to see the Brazilian government attached to working with the city of Boston. . . .If you go to Somerville, Brazilian kids learn Portuguese from Portuguese books from Portugal. It’s quite amazing and it’s so easy. . . . Governments in Latin America set up their foreign service and the consulates to deal with exiles, students, and tourists. The huge number of immigrants, they don’t know what to do with them. . . . There is no structure for bringing immigrants that are here and linking [them] with Latin America. There is a whole opportunity that will open in the next five or 10 years in the hemisphere. And this is the only country in the whole hemisphere that will have this population, this mingling of different cultures.

CommonWealth: Got to be some businesses in there, don’t you think?

Lima: Absolutely.

Grogan: I think it’s telling that the mayors of what I call the “gateway cities” are so pro-immigration. Tom Menino is pro-immigration. Rudolph Giuliani is pro-immigration. Dick Reardon in Los Angeles, pro-immigration. They’ll go to Washington and they’ll talk to Congress about keeping that door open. If you want to know how this is working for the city, these guys have as good a set of nerve endings as anybody and I think that tells the story. This really is a tremendous opportunity to make the right kinds of investments and create the right kinds of ties. It’s an explosion of energy. . . . You can do things to capitalize on that.

CommonWealth: We don’t have Michael Porter here but we do have a couple of disciples, and I’d like to throw out one question. In some ways, for the construct of the competitive advantage of the inner city, Boston–like many major cities–is a little bit of an easy case. Boston is a regional center for government, finance, health care, tourism, even media. It’s harder to imagine a similar approach to Lawrence and Brockton and New Bedford and Holyoke. We have elsewhere in this issue of CommonWealth a look at some of these smaller cities [see “Small cities, Big Problems,”], which is where the poverty is really concentrated, where the flight of industry is far more complete. The industries that left these cities are less likely to be replaced by high-technology companies or mutual funds. Are small cities a different kind of challenge for economic development than the big cities, where you’ve at least got something in terms of these clusters to feed off of?

Grogan: I think they are, absolutely. In some ways, the economic function and the social function of a truly major city are more easily recoverable, and we’re seeing that. We’re seeing a tremendous rebirth of urban America. The smaller and mid-sized cities that have really lost an economic function, I think it’s more difficult to recapture. But I do think that those cities would benefit from some of the things that have worked elsewhere. For instance, building a set of strong community development corporations in these towns that can really carry forward the patient rebuilding of the residential fabric that’s been done in big cities. That absolutely can be done and it’s already starting to happen. Working to absorb the lessons, the crime fighting lessons, that have been pioneered in big cities. There’s no reason why that can’t transfer. Inventorying the assets. A lot of these cities do have historical assets, architecture, historical sites that need to be seen as economic assets.

Transit improvements can recreate economic function. If Providence can become a bedroom town for Boston, why couldn’t Brockton? You’ve got that commuter rail–25 minutes and you’re in downtown Boston. Brockton has some wonderful loft buildings and old historic structures. And you’ve got a mayor there who I think is really looking much more strategically at that city and its relationship to the region and what’s really possible. What connections exist? And these other cities, as Providence has, can benefit from what we’re all worried about in Boston, which is the tremendous escalation in housing prices and commercial rents. There are a lot of folks who are going to exit Boston because of price and those communities–it sounds disparaging to say [they could get] some of the crumbs from the table. How can I put it more elegantly? Positioning [themselves] with respect to the economic dynamo of the region. I’m quite serious about this. There will be some churning. It’s already happened.

I think the big message, if Michael were here, is that these communities have to have a strategy. They have to think this through. They have to align their government, their marketing, their assets, with regard to seeing themselves in this larger context. And it’s a very different function for municipal government. Again, just as Boston needs to realign, these smaller cities are going to have to realign their governments. It’s no longer just picking up the trash, running police and fire departments, and operating the public school system. It’s something far more entrepreneurial and strategic. I think the mid-sized cities do have enough mass, capacity, and proximity to this extraordinary collection of assets, as you point out, that are in Boston. There are real opportunities for those communities if they get their act together. And I think, again–Brockton is a city I’m beginning to learn something about–I think there’s some leadership in place there that is thinking very much like this and I think they’re going to make some progress in the next few years.

Lima: I agree with that. I think the need for strategy and realignment of the government is much greater in a small city where the market forces will not do the job, than in a larger city like Boston. We have some companies on the Inner City 100 that are in Lynn and doing Internet stuff. But there is no strategy to figure out, what is it you can bring here, what is the economy, what are the opportunities. . . ? I truly believe that some of the new wave of solutions can come from mid-sized cities, because they have an opportunity to do some different thinking that New York and Boston cannot afford to do. I think the realignment of the government is a key one.

Small cities face big economic challenges

In the shadow of Mount Greylock, high in the rolling Berkshires, Pittsfield opens the commercial gateway to western Massachusetts. . . . Today the city has a prosperous, tranquil look of general comfort and cultivation. . . . The homes of the well-to-do line its elm-shaded streets with substantial dignified residences and smooth lawns. . . . Pittsfield began to change from a quiet self-insulated community to a unit integrated with the outer world and seething with business.

WPA Guide to Massachusetts, 1937

Had you told the people of 1930s Pittsfield that most of the city’s thriving factories would be abandoned before the turn of the century, they would have found it hard to believe. After all, this was a city where, at its peak, General Electric provided jobs to 13,000 workers. Today only about 800 people work for GE there. Like many of the state’s smaller cities, Pittsfield stumbled as it tried to make the transition from traditional industry to the global economy, and fell behind.

Today the US economy is stronger than it has been in decades and, unlike previous periods of economic expansion, the boom is reaching almost every region of the country. But many communities have yet to benefit from the nation’s good fortune. Among those left behind are many of our smaller cities. This trend has troubling implications for Massachusetts and the rest of New England, where most cities have fewer than 100,000 residents and only one–Boston–has a population that exceeds 200,000.

When poverty is a small-city phenomenon it is not confined to particular neighborhoods but affects the entire city. Smaller places that are poor places have fewer assets to bring to bear on issues of economic development. Yet, despite these challenges, small cities around the country have found ways to overcome the innate disadvantages of size and economic isolation and lay the groundwork for revival. Cities like Lawrence, Holyoke, New Bedford, and Fitchburg also have unique strengths as well as liabilities, and there is a real opportunity to exploit them if federal, state, and local policymakers take on the challenge. There is no excuse not to.

The Poverty of Small Places

In Massachusetts, as in New England as a whole, economic problems are concentrated in the smaller cities outside the Boston orbit. Many of these small urban areas lag far behind the rest of the state. In 1999, when the average unemployment rate in Massachusetts was 3.2 percent and in the city of Boston 3.3 percent, the unemployment rate in non-suburban cities ranged from 3.7 percent in Worcester to 8.1 percent in Lawrence. Even last year, when unemployment dipped to 2.3 percent statewide, unemployment was 5.5 percent in New Bedford, 5.3 percent in Lawrence, and 4.1 percent in Fall River.

A similar trend has emerged in job growth. While the state had about 10 percent more jobs in 1999 than it did in 1985, most of the state’s smaller urban centers have lost jobs. New Bedford, Lawrence, Lowell, Fall River, Brockton, Fitchburg, Gloucester, and Pittsfield all had fewer jobs in 1999 than they did in 1985.

Smaller cities are becoming the tenements of the state.

Poverty statistics are even more revealing. Thirty percent of the state’s urban poor live in cities of 150,000 people or less. In 1995, the last year for which we have reliable poverty data, five Massachusetts cities had poverty rates that exceeded the national average by 50 percent or more. While nationally the percentage of those living below the official poverty level stood at about 13 percent, in Lawrence more than 30 percent of the population was poor; in Holyoke, about 29 percent; in Lowell, 23 percent; in Springfield, 22 percent; and in New Bedford, 20 percent.

In fact, smaller cities are becoming the “tenements” of the state, providing cheap housing to the new immigrants who are unemployed or subsisting on low-wage jobs. Hispanics and other minorities make up a large percentage of the poor. In Holyoke, for example, more than 59 percent of the Hispanic community live below the poverty line–compared to about 14 percent of non-Hispanic whites–and close to 80 percent of Hispanic children live in poverty.

New Economy, New Challenges

Most of these places weren’t always poor, though some have always been largely immigrant communities. Most have a rich industrial history. Many in their economic heyday were their region’s center for retail, banking, and manufacturing. At one time, their banks were locally owned and their retail centers vibrant. Industrial leaders contributed both time and money to building libraries, developing parks, and adorning public buildings with works of art. But these also tended to be the types of communities in which the economic fortune–and future–of generations was determined by the economic health and strategic decisions of a handful of employers.

For most of the state’s poorer small cities, the current problem of economic decline is rooted in a much earlier wave of deindustrialization. Today, however, these places are also struggling with the transition to the so-called New Economy. Their problems include an outmoded physical infrastructure; dependence on traditional industry; difficulty in attracting and retaining skilled workers; limited public, philanthropic, and private-sector resources; and a weakened civic capacity.

Most of Massachusetts’s struggling cities were built in the 19th century, when transportation and communication infrastructures were dramatically different from today’s. Then, competitive advantage flowed to places located on rivers and near railroad lines, resulting in dense concentrations of factories and warehouses. The presence of the Merrimack River, for example, led to the birth of Lawrence and Lowell. New Bedford, Fall River, and Gloucester developed because of their ports.

By the late 1950s, however, the interstate highway system had become sufficiently extensive that trucks began to replace ships and railroads, giving industry a broad new range of places to locate. Today, Lawrence houses little new growth but is surrounded by thriving industrial office parks in neighboring communities.

New production and storage methods also made densely built environments less and less desirable. Worse, the earlier industrial development often left a legacy of environmental contamination. Legislation designed to clean up the damage further raised the costs associated with locating in old cities. Given these problems, small cities rarely have the tracts of land appropriate for modern industrial parks–or the water and sewer systems to support them–that are frequently found in large cities.

Perhaps more important, they are also finding themselves on the wrong side of the so-called “digital divide.” Until wireless technology is considerably improved, the high-speed Internet access on which more and more business depends relies on physical wires connecting computers to the national telecommunications network. While in the past this network was largely public, today high-speed telecommunications lines are owned by an array of lightly regulated private companies. They have little economic incentive to invest in places that lack a dense customer base. For much the same reason, access to air transportation presents a problem for small cities, which are distant from international airports.

Almost universally, poorer small cities in Massachusetts have been overly reliant on manufacturing (see table). As that sector has steadily declined, so have the cities’ fortunes, as little or nothing has taken its place. Fitchburg is a case in point. In 1966, Fitchburg boasted 10,000 manufacturing jobs; by 1996, only 3,600 remained, and that was before General Electric closed its facility there in 1999. Traditional industry fled the larger cities as well, but new jobs were eventually created in the burgeoning services sector to replace them.

A new generation of workers has also fled these cities. Following high school, many young people leave for college or jobs elsewhere and never return. This youth “brain drain” is emblematic of the difficulty many of these cities face attracting new residents, particularly skilled workers. In an economy in which a skilled work force is an area’s most important competitive asset, this is a major problem. The work force that is left is disproportionately made up of new immigrants and minorities, who may be eager to get ahead but face language, skill, and other barriers in the labor market.

Most US cities experienced deterioration in their downtowns beginning in the 1950s and 1960s, and this state’s small cities have been no exception. The loss of their traditional markets and the inability to compete with large, national chains has forced many downtown retailers out of business and left main streets with vacant and neglected properties, crumbling infrastructure, and increasing crime rates. With the attendant loss of commercial tax base, communities are unable to make the investments needed to retain and attract new businesses. Meanwhile, surrounding suburban communities are flush with retail activity and tax revenues.

Limited access to key public and private resources further harms small cities and, in a vicious cycle, restricts their ability to compete for those very resources. Because smaller towns have fewer nonprofit organizations and their economic development institutions have smaller staffs, they are at a disadvantage in competition for public and philanthropic funds. Plus, few foundations or public policy initiatives focus on smaller cities.

The restructuring of the financial industry may also have a negative impact on small cities. Financing decisions by loan officers and bank managers that in the past were made locally are now often decided outside of the region. Similarly, small cities have less access to sources of risk capital, whether from venture firms or wealthy individual investors.

Small cities also face special challenges in building and maintaining their civic infrastructure, which provides the crucial collective voice and vision for a community. Elected officials, corporate leaders, chambers of commerce, human-service agencies, community-based organizations, formal and informal civic groups, and work force and economic-development institutions all play a vital role in community development. But in small cities, in particular, the ranks of these vital actors have dwindled. Twenty years ago, the civic leaders of most small cities were owners of banks and manufacturing firms and retail stores. Today, most of the major banks and employers are no longer locally owned–and the small business owners who remain lack the time and resources to devote to civic activity. In addition, public and nonprofit institutions are far less numerous, less well staffed, and less well funded than in big cities. As a result, the civic infrastructures of these places are stretched extremely thin.

Rebuilding the Mini-Metropolis

Our small struggling cities may be down, but they’re definitely not out. In fact, many of their challenges hide opportunities, particularly now, when the most serious threat to the booming New England economy is the shortage of skilled labor. So what is to be done?

  • Build serious and sustained civic partnerships: Without a doubt, the first and most essential step is the creation of a serious, long-term partnership between each city’s key stakeholders–business, labor, community-based organizations, and city hall. This includes a commitment of time, resources, and political capital. Lancaster, Pa., and Green Bay, Wis., offer instructive lessons. Both of these small cities have maintained a strong and diverse economic base. In each case, civic partnerships were important to their success. In Lancaster, for example, entrepreneurial city leaders have worked closely with the corporate sector. Together they built two effective collaborative organizations, the Lancaster Alliance and the Economic Development Action Group, which have mobilized businesses and residents to work on a range of community-building activities.
  • Forge real regional cooperation: Alliances need to extend beyond city borders, as well. The economies of small cities are usually inextricably linked to the regional economy around them. Therefore policymakers need to consider how states (and/or the federal government) can create incentives for various forms of regional planning and cooperation. And municipalities need to investigate what they can do to facilitate joint planning and problem solving with their neighbors. The Augusta/Waterville area of Maine provides a good model. Several small cities there are developing a regional “Smart Park,” an industrial park for which they share both costs and benefits through an innovative tax-sharing arrangement involving more than 25 municipalities. The state of Maine has played a crucial role by offering an incentive to municipalities that join together to promote regional economic development. The Kennebec Regional Development Authority is acting as the developer. Property taxes generated by the site are to be distributed to the member municipalities that participate in the development costs.
  • Take advantage of all available assets: Cities also need to take stock of their existing resources and use them effectively. These include public funding streams, as well as institutional assets such as colleges and universities, community organizations, and so on.
  • Build local capacity: A common trend in smaller cities is not just the loss of manufacturing jobs, but also the loss of traditional civic leadership. The owners of those manufacturing plants and boarded-up downtown stores are gone, bank headquarters have become ATMs, and tight municipal budgets make it difficult to attract talented administrators. As such, many small cities need to rebuild their base of civic leaders–to call into action a new generation of community residents and business leaders who are willing to make a long-term commitment to strong civic institutions and community realization. The new immigrant populations offer real hope in this regard. To support this effort, foundations, public interest groups, and state government should consider making greater investments in leadership development programs and civic capacity-building initiatives.
  • Invest in physical infrastructure: Policymakers at the federal, state, and local levels need to look seriously at what they can do to begin to build, rebuild, and retrofit the physical infrastructure of small cities. As part of that investment, they must ensure that cities have access to the critical new telecommunications technologies.
  • Create and enhance local amenities: Similarly, both states and the cities themselves should take a hard look at how they can make these places more livable through investments in various amenities, such as sports, recreation, nature, arts, and culture. Scranton, Pa., is an example of a small city with an aggressive program to promote arts and cultural development as part of its economic revitalization strategy. The city renovated an old Masonic temple and established the Scranton Cultural Center that houses the Northeastern Philharmonic, the Broadway Theater League, and other performances and concerts. Other cities have focused on their natural amenities. For example, in both Wasau, Wis., and Pueblo, Colo., creation of a river walk and other recreational amenities have contributed to improved downtowns.
  • Transform diversity into strength: Immigrants bring with them new energy and can be a critical asset for economic development. Public policy should provide incentives for their entrepreneurship, home ownership, and civic and cultural involvement. When Fitchburg recognized that its growing immigrant and minority population was not participating in the city’s civic and economic life, the city developed “study circles” to help them achieve a greater sense of community integration. These study circles involve a diverse set of Fitchburg residents to create an economic and social environment where minority and non-minority residents are working cooperatively to address the many serious issues facing the city.

An Historic Opportunity

Today, three trends converge to offer New England an historic opportunity. First, labor markets have never been tighter. That makes the influx of new immigrants a godsend for our labor-hungry industries. In Massachusetts, over the past decade, what little growth there has been in the labor force is due to immigration. Second, our smaller cities have provided affordable housing for this new labor force. Third, the entrepreneurship of these newcomers is offering old towns a new lease on life.

It may take a little imagination and investment, but we can ensure continued economic prosperity in the state, extend that prosperity to many small, formerly industrial cities that launched our region economically and politically, and offer the American dream to a whole new generation of immigrants who want only what previous generations of immigrants have wanted‹the rewards of hard work. In the past, all that took was sweat equity. In a complex, globalized information economy, social equity is required, as well.

Beth Siegel is president of Mt. Auburn Associates, an economic development consulting firm in Somerville. Barbara Baran and Suzanne Teegarden are senior partners of Workforce Learning Strategies, a national work force development consulting firm. Research for this article was supported by a grant from the Economic Development Administration of the US Department of Commerce.


Sen. Glodis writes that he considers learning English a right of English-language learners–a right they are entitled to have redeemed as quickly and effectively as possible. I fully endorse and adopt this principle as a starting point for a constructive discussion of transitional bilingual education. I would add to this that all children have the right to learn core curriculum material at the appropriate grade and age level.

To support his proposition that the right to learn English is best guaranteed by English-language immersion, the senator looks to California. But California’s results prove that students in well-implemented bilingual education programs can and do outperform English-language learners in English-immersion programs. In its analysis comparing schools with bilingual instruction to schools with English immersion highlighted by English-only proponents, Californians Together, an advocacy group, reported that bilingual-program students “met or exceeded the performance of all students at the schools used for comparison at most grades and in both reading and mathematics.”

Sen. Glodis also implies that bilingual education is the cause of a high dropout rate for Latinos. But most Latino students are not in transitional bilingual education. We must conclude that many who drop out are in mainstream (English only) classes.

The senator goes on to paint a distorted picture of bi-lingual-education students and MCAS. A problematic exam at best, given in English, MCAS produces misleading statistic after misleading statistic about English-language learners, making it a useless assessment of students and schools. MCAS only tests knowledge of academic English skills students at grade level, not progress in English as a second-language skill. Furthermore, because MCAS is given in grade level English, it is a poor tool to test the core curriculum knowledge of English-language learners.

The overwhelming majority of transitional bilingual education students–80 percent in fact–transition into mainstream (English only) classes within three years. Of those who stay beyond the three-year statutory timeframe, many have special education needs or had little or no formal education before coming to the United States. From the outset, bilingual education students are integrated into mainstream music, art, and physical education classes, which do not demand a high level of English proficiency. As a student’s English improves, he or she is transitioned into mainstream classes taught in English, joining English-speaking peers of the same age and grade level. By the second or third year, for example, most attend computer science, math, or chemistry classes with English-speaking classmates.

We all want English-language learners to learn English, but we also want students to learn core curriculum at an appropriate age and grade level. By scholastically challenging a child in their native language, you improve that child’s ability to master English. While transitional bilingual education students are learning the standard curriculum in their native language, they are also taking English-as-a-second-language classes and participating in other classes with English-speaking peers. English-language instruction is essential for successful bilingual education programs.

Turning the clock back to the failed English immersion of 30 years ago is not the way to reform bilingual education. English immersion segregates English-language learners according to their English proficiency level rather than age and grade level. It delays meaningful acquisition of the standard curriculum, with the result that children fall behind academically. English immersion provides no way for English-language learners to catch up–a clear violation of a child’s right to learn the curriculum that is tested by MCAS. We must never forget that, in the past, this sink-or-swim approach caused a disastrous 80 percent to 90 percent dropout rate for English-language learners–which is why it was replaced by transitional bilingual education.

How do we ensure that Massachusetts is fulfilling its responsibility to English-language learners? The answer is comprehensive and meaningful reform, not English immersion.

Transitional bilingual programs will never meet their responsibility to English-language learners unless we make the same demands of their students, parents, school districts, and the Department of Education as we do of mainstream students, parents, schools, and DOE under the Education Reform Act of 1993. This is why I am working with a broad-based coalition to develop a comprehensive reform of bilingual education to mirror this landmark law.

The Education Reform Act established goals to improve the quality of education for all children. To ensure that the Commonwealth is fulfilling its responsibility to all children, transitional bilingual education must mirror this reform. Requiring schools to educate in a child’s native language so these children can learn core curriculum and English is an important step. But it is not enough.

The changes we seek go directly to improving the quality of education for English-language learners. Among other changes, we must require school districts to implement curriculum frameworks as outlined under the 1993 reform act, setting high standards and accountability for transitional bilingual education students, including the use of alternative assessment instruments to measure student performance annually. We must require districts to have certified bilingual directors and teachers. And DOE must establish policies and standards that make sure there are a sufficient number of qualified bilingual education teachers to meet student needs. We want every bilingual education student to meet the higher standards established under the Education Reform Act .

English immersion failed 30 years ago. Transitional bilingual education is a sound and cost-effective means of educating children who come to school not knowing English to succeed academically in all-English classrooms. Reforming transitional bilingual education to mirror the higher standards and accountability now set for all other classrooms will ensure that Massachusetts succeeds in fulfilling its responsibility to all children, especially those who go to school wanting to learn English.

Antonio F.D. Cabral is a Democratic state representative from New Bedford.

It’s Time For Choice in Bilingual Education

By Jarrett T. Barrios
Spring 2001

The facts speak for themselves, all right. The proposal advanced by Sen. Glodis and bankrolled by California millionaire-cum-conservative crusader Ron Unz conspires to turn upside down the established system of bilingual education in Massachusetts. The Glodis-Unz proposal mandates the state provide the same one-year English-language immersion curriculum for all children, regardless of their age, their educational background, special needs or circumstances. It is one-size-fits-all.

Sen. Glodis wants to do away with the current, flawed system, but he makes the same fundamental mistake. By permitting only one official bilingual curriculum, he misses an extraordinary opportunity to harness public frustration with a failing system and thereby to open up the law to diverse forms of bilingual education. These varied alternatives to the status quo arise out of a simple fact ignored by Sen. Glodis: In life, one size rarely fits all.

These alternatives have made great strides across the country and thrive in Massachusetts in the shadow of the current law. One example is found in the two-way immersion programs in Framingham, Salem, Cambridge, and Boston that integrate English-speaking and Spanish-speaking students (and Portuguese, in the case of Cambridge) into classes where all children are immersed in both languages. MCAS scores for these children far surpass those of students in other forms of bilingual education.

Another example is structured immersion that allows for 80 percent English immersion but, unlike the Glodis-Unz version, retains 20 percent native language instruction for the child. One such program is the Ni hao Chinese language program at the King School in Cambridge. Significantly, this model recognizes the child’s native language not as a deficit but as a strength, retaining it as part of a world language curriculum for English-speaking children. All children can and, under the Education Reform Act of 1993, must learn proficiency in a second language by the time they graduate (though that requirement has not yet been implemented). Structured immersion is a means to seamlessly transition non-English-speaking children into a supportive world language curriculum for all.

Indeed, these are just two of several brands of bilingual education that remain unsanctioned in Massachusetts, despite their proliferation here and elsewhere. Their success points to a path out of the ideological morass that is sinking both the Commonwealth’s current system and its critics–and toward a thoughtful program that focuses on the educational needs of children and not the political needs of politicians. This path rests on the fundamental value of choices for children–children whose individual needs are not met by a one-size-fits-all solution, whether it is the current law or English-language immersion.

Since 1971, transitional bilingual education has been the only legal form of bilingual education. But since the beginning, numerous school districts resisted full implementation of this law. One example is the lamentable concession by the Department of Education–which does not even have a full-time staff person working to coordinate, oversee, or support school districts with bilingual education–to readily grant waivers for hiring bilingual education teachers who are not certified to teach, and whose English may not be that strong.

Like the current law, the Glodis-Unz one-size-fits-all approach turns its back on the past 30 years of academic research on children’s language acquisition, and on the past 30 years of practical classroom experience. Glodis-Unz would return children to the pre-1971 days when schools threw newcomer children into standard classrooms as quickly as possible, regardless of their age, grade, or previous educational attainment.

Sen. Glodis relies on the manufacture of memory (our parents learned English without bilingual programs. . .) that ignores higher dropout rates and lower educational expectations held for previous generations of immigrant children, who were destined for factories and other blue-collar jobs. He also relies on the myth that all children learn quickly when immersed in a language. While younger children do learn quickly, older children tend to stumble and fall in rapid-immersion programs. One size does not fit all children of different ages and backgrounds.

Sure, the kindergarten child who soaks up new language like a sponge will derive great benefit from immersion. But what about the 14-year-old coming to the United States from a war-torn country, with no previous schooling or even basic literacy in her own language, who is immersed into a one-year, sink-or-swim English program? Under this plan, she must become fluent in English–fluent enough to succeed in standard classrooms with no additional language or learning supports–after just one year. For her, the “pro-immigrant” plan of Sen. Glodis portends disaster.

Of course, the Glodis-Unz bill proposes an “opt-out” for those supposedly exceptional cases where a child does not thrive in her one year of shock therapy. It does not explain what, if anything, a school district is obligated to provide the child who has opted out. Rather, it provides only vague encouragement to districts to offer “bilingual education techniques,” and then only where 20 children in a school have independently opted out.

The Glodis-Unz proposal calls itself pro-immigrant and pro-minority, but proffers an immersion program that takes away the only legal leverage immigrant parents have to make sure that reluctant, under-resourced, or unfriendly school districts give their children a quality education. It nostalgically recalls a better age where it all just somehow worked.

This is the sort of nostalgia we do not need. Children need to learn beautiful English–in the way that’s effective for them. They do not need to be dropped into classes where they will fail quietly, or drop out quickly.

Ultimately, the ideological predispositions of Sen. Glodis and Unz force their hand. They ignore these possibilities of real improvement because they are too enamored of throwing grenades in some imagined “culture war.” Their cries of concern for immigrant children ring hollow and their sobs yield only crocodile tears.

Jarrett T. Barrios is a Democratic state representative from Cambridge.


I have filed legislation that will reform bilingual education in Massachusetts because statistic after statistic, fact after fact, clearly demonstrates the inability of our current system to meet the needs of today’s students. Our reliance on the current format is a mistake of epic proportions and we, as a government and as a society, have an obligation to correct a system that has done such a grave disservice to the very students it was intended to help.

By secluding students for four, five, six and even seven years away from mainstream classes, the bilingual system has denied these kids access to the English language. In fact, today’s bilingual students graduate to mainstream English classes at a dismal 10 percent annual rate, which means a failure rate of 90 percent. Contrary to bilingual advocates, who gaze upon English as a privilege, I consider learning English to be a right that minority and immigrant children deserve. We must guarantee this right as quickly and effectively as possible.

I am wholly committed to bringing this issue to the people.

The problem is quite simple: Our students are not learning English because they are not taught in English. Dating back to the program’s inception, the purpose of bilingual education has unequivocally been to teach children English using their native tongue only for instructional purposes. This idea has evolved into a system where bilingual education teachers are not required to be fluent in English and many teach only in their native languages. Their students are no longer afforded their right to learn English and ultimately to graduate to mainstream classes. Only by requiring teacher certification and fluency in the English language can we guarantee the same opportunities available to regular education students.

I consider the current system to be anti-immigrant and anti-minority. With over 100 different language backgrounds in the Commonwealth, Spanish-speaking students comprise the highest percentage of students that receive some form of transitional bilingual education. However, these same students have the lowest test scores, the highest dropout rate, and the lowest college admission rate. The continued defense of a 28-year-old program that has yielded such abysmal failure is, in my view, a disservice to these youngsters.

Why anyone would fight to keep students in a seemingly endless cycle of failure and segregation is beyond reason. When 58 percent of our eligible limited English proficiency (LEP) third-graders are excused from taking the Iowa Reading Test by their own teachers (up from 42 percent the year before) because they can’t understand English, we know that a serious problem exists. And recent MCAS testing results paint a clear picture of an LEP student population that is grossly underserved by our schools: 48 percent of LEP eighth-grade students failed English language arts, 76 percent failed mathematics, 81 percent failed science and technology, and 84 percent failed history.

With over 45,000 bilingual education students in the state–an increase of 10,000 in the last 10 years–we must reform this process now, before we are faced with a rising population of students who are unnecessarily retained. My bill will eliminate the current structure–which assumes three years in bilingual education before transfer to mainstream classrooms, but often extends far longer–and replace it with a proven method of teaching the English language: structured immersion. Almost every European country requires structured immersion for their non-native speakers. This format requires that a student be taught only in English for one full year, with their native language used rarely for instructional purposes, after which they can immediately graduate to mainstream classes or be retained, at the parent’s request, for further English-language instruction. And while I will continue to defend efforts aimed at teaching fluency in two or more languages, we cannot call these students truly bilingual until they are fluent in English.

Luckily, we–legislators, community leaders, and parents alike–are fortunate to have a working example right here in the United States of how our system could succeed if we focus on teaching English to these students. In California, limited English proficiency students who were transferred to structured immersion classes as a result of Proposition 227 scored 20 percent, 50 percent, and in some cases 100 percent higher than their peers who remained in bilingual-education classes. From 1998 to 2000, California English learners in the elementary grades most affected by the changed curriculum (second through sixth grade) raised their mean percentile scores by 35 percent in reading, 43 percent in mathematics, 32 percent in language, and 44 percent in spelling, with an average increase of 39 percent across all subjects. Those school districts that sought waivers from the new regulations saw their collective scores actually go down from previous years.

The citizens of California decided to make a widespread change because they were addressing a widespread problem. And with similar efforts being made in Arizona, Colorado, and New York, the move to reform bilingual education continues to gather strength. It is time that parents here demanded the most effective education possible for their children, and time for legislators to ensure it.

In order to most accurately reflect the wishes of school officials, parents, and students, I am prepared to bring the question of adopting the structured immersion format to the citizens of the Commonwealth in a referendum vote. There are some issues far too important to be settled with mere political discourse and endless sound bites, but must be decided by the very people they affect. To that end, I have been in close contact with Ron Unz and organizers like him who have successfully led ballot questions across the country to reform bilingual education. While it is my sincere hope that the Legislature finally accepts the monumental responsibility of creating and sustaining a system that will guarantee access to the English language, I am wholly committed to bringing this issue to the people and letting them decide for themselves how to aid our bilingual education students.

If the existing system were successful, I would support it with every ounce of energy that I have. But it isn’t. It is incumbent upon us as a state government and as citizens of the Commonwealth to directly address this problem, not prop up a failing system. It is our responsibility to teach English to those children that need it. That will give them the greatest tool they could have to succeed in a competitive world. To neglect this duty is to fail the children of the Commonwealth.

Guy W. Glodis is a Democratic state senator from Worcester.

Tracking lobbyists online

Picture this: You’re a member of a health care advocacy group and you need to know the status of a new bill on health care reform‹now. So you boot your computer and surf over to the state’s Lobbying-on-Line Web site. With a couple clicks of the mouse, you see that a pharmaceutical company has hired a heavy-hitting lobbyist to kill the measure. You grab the phone and start dialing your allies in the Legislature. . .

High-tech Massachusetts, right?

Hardly. It’s the cheesehead state, Wisconsin. There, in just a few moments on the Web, anyone with a modem and a mission can find out which interest groups are weighing in on which legislation, practically as it’s happening.

Under Wisconsin law, when any organization hires a lobbyist to influence legislation on its behalf, the state requires the organization to register itself and the lobbyist with the state Ethics Board. Each time the lobbyist speaks or writes to a lawmaker attempting to influence his position on any issue, he must report this communication to the Ethics Board within 15 days. The board then posts that information, updated daily, on Lobbying in Wisconsin (http://ethics.state.wi.us) for all Web surfers to see.

Users can search by lobbyist, employer, bill, or administrative rule and download directory files with contact information of registered lobbyists and the organizations that hire them. To get a sense for lobbying trends, surfers can also download graphs that plot, for instance, which bills received the most attention or which organizations spent the most trying to get their way. Although lobbyists have to file a lot of information on a frequent basis, they can do so online, which is not only easy but avoids the errors that take place when state employees have to enter data from paper forms.

The influence-tracking site has been a hit. Launched in January 1999, the site boasts 3,500 hits each business day and more than 2,000 unique users a month. For its efforts, Lobbying in Wisconsin was recognized as one of 25 finalists in the Ford Foundation’s Innovations in American Government awards program last year.

Here, the office of Secretary of State William Galvin collects and posts lobbyists’ reports online as well (http://www.state.ma.us/sec/pre/prelob). Organizations that hire lobbyists must file a notice of employment, register their legislative agent, then authorize him to lobby. Lobbyists file reports declaring which bills they have lobbied on and how much they were paid to do so. Organizations must also file a separate report listing whom they hired and how much they paid him.

But the information is nowhere near as complete–or as timely. All the reporting is done the old-fashioned way–on paper–and only twice a year, as state law requires. Galvin’s staff also has to compare, one by one, the lobbyists’ paper reports to the separate reports filed by their employers. “Just the process takes a considerable period of time,” says Galvin. Electronic filing, he says, “would be much easier.”

The secretary’s Web site does offer search capabilities to list lobbyists, their payments, and the organizations paying them. Surfers can also scroll through one of 26 categories, from automotive to utilities. But information is often at least six months old and does not include what bills the lobbyists have been working to pass, kill, or amend, although this information is disclosed on the written reports.

“Our state operates differently,” says Galvin, who adds that all he can do is force lobbyists to file the information as required by law. “Here lobbyists will only file when they have to.”

Which is exactly the point. Ken White, of Common Cause of Massachusetts, says there’s no reason that the state’s reporting requirements couldn’t be brought up to date with the available technology. “The new Clean Elections Law requires candidates to report [contributions] virtually instantaneously via the Web,” he says. “I think it would be possible for lobbyists to be held to the same standards provided the software were both free and compatible with standard software tools.”

As Wisconsin demonstrates, the technology is there, but in Massachusetts, the information isn’t–which makes the Bay State look more like a backwater than the dot-commonwealth. “It’s ironic,” says White, “given that we are one of the centers for high tech.”