The politics of snow

Many a pol has been accused of waiting to see which way the wind blows before taking a stand. But come wintertime during an election season, the direction doesn’t matter, just who’s responsible for the fallout from the storm.

That is especially true this year with all eyes focused on the state’s public transit system and wedding its performance to Gov. Charlie Baker, who asked for – and got – full oversight of the MBTA. With a monster storm predicted for Thursday, commuters will see how much the T has – or has not – improved its response to weather after Baker poured more than $100 million into the system to update its winter readiness following the debacle of 2015.

Democratic gubernatorial candidates Setti Warren and Jay Gonzalez have made sure everyone knows the MBTA is Baker’s baby and should the expected blizzard wreak havoc with canceled and delayed service, Baker will get what he asked for – to own the T lock, stock, and shovel.

One noticeable change has been early warnings from the MBTA and its commuter rail operator Keolis that the recent prolonged arctic chill would trigger delays. Riders were warned to add 20 minutes to their expected commutes because of the impact of the frozen air on rail switches, train doors, and brakes.

“If we’re running five or ten minutes late, that’s way better than 2015, when service was shut down for days and even weeks at a time,” state Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said in an interview on WBUR’s Radio Boston. “But because of the cold weather, we just want to make sure our customers plan for that kind of eventuality, because there’s just a big difference, given this temperature, between standing and waiting for your train for five minutes and standing and waiting for your train for 20 minutes.”

Nice to have the heads up, but most people would prefer the problems causing the warnings were addressed, rather than just the communication. Former transportation secretary James Aloisi, a frequent contributor to CommonWealth, has been beating the drum that the problem isn’t the T, it’s the aging equipment and lack of resources that are causing the problems.

Pollack said that new cars for the Red and Orange lines, two of the more troubled lines, are on the way but they can’t just be manufactured and delivered with a snap of the fingers, gloved or not. She pointed out the same subway cars that caused the problems in 2015 are still on the line; now, they’re just three years older.

In the meantime, heaters for the third rails have been bought and installed, new snow removal equipment has been brought in to clear the tracks, and a “Storm Desk” for quick responses has been established. All of which has meant little to those who have been waiting on freezing platforms for the past week while trains sluggishly make their way. And that’s before the real test comes Wednesday night and Thursday.

“We know that there’s a strong team at the MBTA that is committed to making the T run better in the winter, and yet we’ve still seen a system that isn’t performing up to everyone’s standards in this cold snap,” Chris Dempsey, director of advocacy group Transportation for Massachusetts, told State House News. “It’s discouraging for people that ride the T every day that have, frankly, really bad memories from the winter of 2015 and don’t want to see the system collapse again. I don’t think anyone is predicting that the system is going to collapse the way it did in 2015, but at the same time I and others are discouraged that we have seen the impact from the cold weather just in the past week.”

Baker is often criticized for having little experience with the MBTA because he’s not a frequent rider, unlike one of his predecessors. One frustrated T customer from Jamaica Plain has thrown down the gauntlet to Baker and legislators, challenging them to ride the T for five consecutive days before the end of the fiscal year. They may want to wait out this storm before accepting.

JACK SULLIVAN


BEACON HILL

Gov. Charlie Baker released $100 million in spending that he put on hold amid budget uncertainty. Legislative leaders said the governor lacked the authority to withhold the funding. (Boston Globe)

Former Senate president Stan Rosenberg’s office is in the State House basement — for now. (MassLive)

A Globe editorial calls for passage of a bill filed by Gov. Charlie Baker establishing standards for “recovery coaches” who work with those suffering from substance addiction.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s plan to rebuild the Long Island Bridge faces a number of hurdles, including opposition from Quincy and finding enough money to complete the estimated $80 million project. (CommonWealth) A Herald editorial calls it a horrible idea and questions why Walsh would sink so much money into a bridge rather than into actual treatment services for those suffering from addiction. Jim Stewart, who directs a Cambridge homeless shelter and co-founded the Boston Homeless Solidarity Committee, calls the idea of a “recovery campus” on remote Long Island troubling — along with “Walsh’s backward ideas about addiction and recovery.” (Boston Globe)

Keith Eddings of the Eagle-Tribune analyzes the political undercurrents on the new Lawrence City Council.

Joseph Petty, sworn in for his fourth term as mayor of Worcester, hailed the progress being made across the city and and set an ambitious agenda for the future. (Telegram & Gazette)

New Bedford officials announced a plan to put police cameras in “distressed” neighborhoods to monitor criminal activity. (Standard-Times)

An internal report from the Tisbury police chief said a 25-year veteran of the department was fired after repeatedly lying and disobeying orders going back at least nine years, including the final straw in November when a drunken driving case was dismissed because of the officer’s false statements. (Cape Cod Times)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

President Trump brags on Twitter he has a “much bigger” nuclear missile button than North Korea’s Kim Jon Un, a boast that brings a flood of criticism from the left and right about the president’s dangerous saber-rattling. (U.S. News & World Report) Just for clarification, Trump doesn’t actually have a button. (New York Times) Trump could be facing a tough year, write the Globe’s Astead Herndon and Victoria McGrane.

A book offering an inside look at the Trump White House is coming — and it looks to be a doozy, with gems like Steve Bannon saying of the Robert Mueller-led investigation, “They’re going to crack Don Junior like an egg,” and billionaire Thomas Barrack Jr., supposedly one of Trump’s oldest associates, allegedly telling a friend when describing the president, “He’s not only crazy, he’s stupid.” (The Guardian)

ELECTIONS

A Massachusetts nonprofit called Strong Economy for Growth agreed to pay a $31,000 fine to settle charges that it tried to influence ballot questions dealing with charter schools and pot legalization without disclosing its roster of donors, including the Romney for President political action committee. (MassLive)

Speculation about the soon-to-be vacant Utah Senate seat runs across the top of the Globe’s front page this morning, since the talk all centers on former Michigan and Massachusetts resident Mitt Romney.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

PawSox stadium legislation received a few tweaks as the Rhode Island legislature prepares to consider a package designed to keep the team in Pawtucket and prevent a move to Worcester. (Telegram & Gazette)

Columbia University’s Jeffrey Sachs says the bitcoin bubble is likely to burst. (Boston Globe)

The A team: Oddsmakers peg Atlanta and Austin as the favorites to land Amazon’s second headquarters, both at 3-1, with Boston next at 7-1. (Fortune)

An “aggressive” Black Angus bull was shot and killed in a Bridgewater industrial park after it broke through fences and escaped from a slaughterhouse. (The Enterprise)

EDUCATION

The newly elected Lowell City Council voted unanimously to withdraw the previous council’s plan for a new high school at Cawley Stadium and begin exploring options downtown. (Lowell Sun) Meanwhile, the current downtown high school is closing Wednesday to deal with heating woes. (Lowell Sun)

Longtime member Michael Loconto appears to be the favorite to be voted in as its new chairman when the Boston School Committee convenes this afternoon. (Boston Herald)

TRANSPORTATION

An Eagle-Tribune editorial says the extended cold snap is a major test not just for the T but also for its new general manager, Luis Ramirez.

Transportation officials acknowledge the T has had a problem managing outside contractors. (Boston Globe)

Confusion reigns over the future a new commuter rail stop in Lynn. (Boston Globe)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

A “bomb cycloneis about to hit the East Coast with lots of snow and ice and possibly the coldest temperatures in 100 years. (Time) The cold temperatures are driving up natural gas prices and prompting New England’s power generators to shift to oil, which is increasing greenhouse gas emissions. (CommonWealth)

China is about to stop accepting shipments of many types of recycled materials, which might be disastrous or advantageous for recycling in the United States. (Governing)

Having succeeded in getting an order for Falmouth officials to dismantle one of the town-owned turbines, opponents are taking aim at the second turbine, arguing it is in violation of town bylaws as well. (Cape Cod Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Stockbridge sweetens a 2015 settlement with a former policewoman named Heidi

Teutsch to avoid litigation. The town has been mum about what prompted the settlement initially. (Berkshire Eagle)

Darrell Jones, who was released from prison just before Christmas after spending 32 years behind bars for a murder he insists he didn’t commit, sits down to discuss his conviction and appeals with WGBH’s Jim Braude and Jenifer McKim of the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, which revealed potential evidence and bias that were never offered at his trial. (Greater Boston)

MEDIA

Worcester Telegram & Gazette photographer Christine Hochkeppel resigned from the paper with a scathing letter, posted online by media critic Dan Kennedy, that charged parent company GateHouse Media with gutting the paper and demoralizing staff. GateHouse, which owns more than 100 daily and weekly papers in Massachusetts, is making a bid to buy the Boston Herald. (Media Nation)

Don’t hang the GateHouse shingle outside Wingo Way just yet. A second potential buyer for the Herald, Revolution Capital Group, a Los Angeles investment firm, has filed a public bid, and its $5.75 million package appears to be more generous than the GateHouse offer. (Boston Herald)

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court is preparing to hear a case of great importance to newspapers — whether delivery workers are employees or independent contractors. (MassLive)