CommonWealth’s 10 most-read commentary pieces of 2021 covered the waterfront

We are eager to have CommonWealth serve as a forum for healthy debate and the exchange of strongly argued points of view from a range of voices across the state. The most widely read op-ed pieces from 2021 certainly hit that mark in some ways, with commentary offerings from a sixth-grade student and one of the state’s US senators among the 10 opinion pieces that drew the most readers. We also found, appropriately enough, that pieces reaching back to draw on the state’s rich history can have real staying power, as one of the top 10 pieces this year was first published two years ago, in 2019.

When it comes to the topics dominating the list, it should perhaps be no surprise that health care, an area in which Massachusetts is a world leader in, emerged as the subject leader. Two of the three most widely read pieces related to concern over expansion plans by dominant health care providers in the state, while two more of the top 10 pieces related to health care or health issues. 

The most widely read piece was a strongly argued op-ed offered in November by Douglas Brown against proposed expansion plans of Mass General Brigham, the state’s largest health care provider. Brown, the chief administrative officer at UMass Memorial Health in Worcester, said Mass General Brigham’s proposed expansion plans, including new ambulatory care centers in Westborough, Weston, and Woburn, have put our health care system “at a crossroads.” 

Brown says the greater good of a financially sound “ecosystem” of health care providers is being jeopardized by Mass. General Brigham’s quest for an ever-larger piece of the health care pie – particularly the share of patients covered by commercial insurance, which pays much more for services than government coverage through Medicare and Medicaid. 

“This is a zero-sum game,” wrote Brown. “There is only so much profitable commercial business to go around. As Mass General Brigham uses its market power to acquire more of that commercial volume, it is taking this market share from other hospitals who tend to serve higher percentages of Medicaid members and other low-income populations.”

Brown said he is looking to state regulatory authorities to address the threat he sees posed to health care in the state. “We cannot blame Mass General Brigham’s leaders for this situation,” he wrote. “Most health care leaders in their shoes would do the same thing: maximize their advantages within the rules and take what they can to further the interests of their organization and its patients. It is up to our government to fix this.”

Here are the 10 most widely read CommonWealth commentary pieces of 2021. 

  1. “Stark differences make many Mass. communities neighbors in name only” May 1

Garrett Dash Nelson, the president and head curator of the Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center at the Boston Public Library, offers an eye-opening view on the role municipal boundaries have played in dividing communities in Massachusetts. Read it here

  1. “Time to plug gaps in Medicare coverage” September 4 

Sen. Edward Markey and Dr. Myechia Minter-Jordan, president and CEO of the CareQuest Institute for Oral Health, make the case for expanding Medicare to cover dental care, vision, and hearing services. Read it here.

  1. “How modern leaders got John Winthrop’s ‘City on a Hill’ wrong” January 19, 2019

Carter Wilkie’s 2019 essay on a book reconsidering John Winthrop’s famous “City on a Hill” speech continues to draw readers, as he argues that the speech has been wrongly appropriated as an anthem to American exceptionalism rather than the expression of humility it was meant to be. Read it here

  1. “Jerome Rappaport and the destruction of Boston’s West End” December 10 

When Jerome Rappaport died in December, there was considerable attention paid to his role as a leading developer, philanthropist, and civic leader in Boston. In separate essays, former Boston planning official Jim Vrabel and political scientist Peter Dreier offered accounts of another major chapter in Rappaport’s public profile – his role in the razing of Boston’s working class West End neighborhood and replacing it with luxury housing. Read it here

  1. “Maverick Square, which honors the state’s first slave owner, should be renamed” April 17

Annamarie Hoey, a Cambridge sixth-grader, tells the little known story of Samuel Maverick, the state’s first slave owner, and argues that the East Boston square that bears his name should be renamed. Read it here

  1. “FDA must ban menthol cigarettes this time” May 15
State Sen. John Keenan urges the Food and Drug Administration not to retreat from its vow to ban menthol cigarettes. Read it here.   

  1. “Lawrence no longer city of the damned” January 30

Lane Glenn, the president of Northern Essex Community College, recounts all the ways Lawrence, once famously derided in a 2011 magazine headline as the “city of the damned,” has made progress over the last decade. Read it here

  1. “Another wealthy hospital system expanding in to the suburbs” July 17 

Dr. Paul Hattis says Boston Children’s Hospital’s plans for suburban expansion, like those of Mass General Brigham, will not serve the greater health care good. Read it here

  1. “Reverse the curse: pedestrianize Storrow Drive” November 13 

Nathan Phillips, a professor in the Department of Earth and Environment at Boston University, says we should reverse a 70-year mistake and make Storrow Drive a car-free corridor. Read it here.

  1. “At Mass General Brigham, when is enough enough?” November 6

Douglas S. Brown says it’s time to put the brakes on expansion plans by the state’s largest health care provider. Read it here



Expansion would lower prices: A report released by the Department of Public Health finds few concerns with Mass General Brigham’s plan to build three ambulatory care centers in Westwood, Westborough, and Woburn. The report, written by Charles River Associates and paid for by Mass General Brigham, said the expansion would curb prices slightly and not give the hospital system more leverage with insurers.

– Mass General Brigham said the cost analysis buttressed the hospital system’s claim that opening the three facilities would allow existing patients in the three communities to obtain their care locally and save money doing so by not having to travel to more expensive academic medical centers in Boston.

– The Mass General Brigham plan is facing pushback from hospital rivals in the communities, lawmakers on Beacon Hill, and Attorney General Maura Healey, who released a report in November saying the $224 million expansion would net the hospital system $385 million in annual profits. Read more.

Mask appeal: A public defender asked a judge to release his vaccinated client from the Middleton jail because corrections officers there are either not wearing masks or not wearing them correctly. The judge appeared skeptical but agreed to wait for a report promised by the district attorney’s office on the masking situation at the jail. Read more.

Downing out: Former state senator Ben Downing was the first candidate to seek the Democratic nomination for governor and now becomes the first to drop out, citing a lack of campaign funds. His exit leaves the Democratic field to Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz and Harvard professor Danielle Allen, but Attorney General Maura Healey is expected to jump in soon. Read more.


7 wishes: With health care spending rising, Paul Hattis of the Lown Institute offers seven public policy wishes for 2022. Read more.




The Beverly Board of Public Health attempts to meet to discuss mask and vaccine mandates, but the virtual meeting was unable to get started before anti-mandate members of the public took it over and ran their own speaking program – even after city officials left. (Salem News)

A proposal in Northampton to require patrons of restaurants, gyms, and entertainment venues to show proof of vaccination draws a huge crowd and three hours of public comment. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

Municipal workers in Boston are organizing to fight Mayor Michelle Wu’s new vaccine mandate for all city employees. (Boston Herald

The Sharon school committee will pay former superintendent Victoria Greer $750,000 to settle her claims of racial discrimination. (Patriot Ledger

Westfield Mayor-elect Michael McCabe tests positive for COVID-19 and cancels his plans for an in-person inauguration in favor of a virtual one. (MassLive)


Westminster native Elizabeth Carr, the first baby born via in vitro fertilization, turns 38 today. The Gardner News catches up with Carr about her life tagged as “the world’s first test-tube baby.”

Massachusetts has now reported more than 1 million COVID cases since the pandemic began. Its latest data reports 20,247 new breakthrough cases last week. (WBUR) State officials announce plans to open four new COVID vaccination sites, including one at Fenway Park. (MassLive)


Its official duties are limited and the office recently sat vacant for nearly 20 months with no apparent impact on the Commonwealth, but that’s not stopping a bevy of Democrats from considering a run for lieutenant governor next year. (Boston Globe)  


Cambridge-based Moderna has seen its stock price fall 50 percent since its peak in August – though that still leaves the COVID-19 vaccine maker’s stock up 136 percent since the start of the year. (Bloomberg


The University of Massachusetts system becomes the latest university to announce plans to require all students and staff to get a COVID booster shot in the coming months. (WBUR)


Wynn Resorts is skirting a state law that forbids theaters from being opened in casinos by making plans to open an 1,800-seat theater across the streets from its Everett gambling facility – a move that has some theater leaders in the state crying foul. (Boston Globe

The Worcester Historical Society opens a “mystery box” that was donated to the society in 1915 on condition that it not be opened for 100 years. (Telegram & Gazette)


Berkshire County is surveying residents to gauge interest in an on-demand, publicly-run ride-sharing service. (Berkshire Eagle


The city of Salem now needs to take a number of practical and administrative steps to prepare for the building of an offshore wind industry there. (Salem News)


Dan Kennedy says a New York state judge’s ruling against the New York Times imperils First Amendment rights. (GBH)


Rudi Scherff, the longtime restaurant host who ran The Student Prince and The Fort in Springfield for decades, dies at 73. (MassLive)

Former Senate majority leader Harry Reid died at age 82. (New York Times)