Wu finds a high price to being nice

Everyone is talking about how no one is talking to Michelle Wu. 

Never mind the controversy over her proposal to house homeless people in a vacant hotel near the troubled Mass. and Cass intersection. Or the complicated policy maneuvering that may be needed to implement her plans for a two-year pilot program of free-fare service on three MBTA routes, a big step in her promise of transformative leadership on transit issues. 

Less than a month after taking office, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu is finding out that the swirl of big issues on her plate can sometimes take a backseat as a seemingly innocuous passing comment suddenly has its media moment. 

It all started with a Q&A interview with the mayor released Monday morning by Politico’s Lisa Kashinsky. Wu has not let her election to the city’s top job change her MBTA-commuting ways, but she expressed surprise – and disappointment – that no one on her Orange Line rides talks to her. The one recent exception was T General Manager Steve Poftak, whom she ran into on her ride to City Hall last Friday. 

Apart from Poftak, “no one did it again!” she told Kashinsky of her commute on Friday, describing what’s become a leave-the-mayor-alone pattern on her ride downtown. “Sometimes people will on their way out of the train say hello. But we’ve got to change the culture of riding the T. It is a civic space for community conversations, but everyone’s always really quiet on there. Maybe I’m still a Midwesterner at heart.”

For snarly Bostonians, those apparently amounted to fighting words. 

The idea that we should welcome spontaneous conversation among T riders was suddenly chewed over by local television news and the Globe. And the verdict seemed to be what might pass for Boston’s official welcome greeting to visitors: Leave me alone! 

Pollsters gonna poll, so Steve Koczela of the MassINC Polling Group quickly sought the (highly unscientific) views of the twitterverse, asking whether the T should be a place for “Community conversations” or “Being really quiet.” 

Never mind Wu’s theory about her Midwestern roots (she grew up outside Chicago). A few decades here breathing the splenetic Shawmut Peninsula air seem to have purged GBH reporter Adam Reilly of his Minnesota nice. “Not being hassled as you just try to get from point A to point B, ffs,” he tweeted in response to the poll question.

With more than 1,900 entries in the survey, Reilly was clearly channeling the buzz-off zeitgeist, as 74 percent opted for quiet compared with only 9 percent interested in conversation. 

Moving into all-out damage control, Wu sought to soften her stance.  To be clear before I get recalled—I’ll be delighted if you come talk to me, but also get it if you’re busy or want space,” she tweeted. “Come say hi!” 

Clearly rattled by the electorate’s rejection of what seemed like a non-controversial stand in favor of being friendly, by later in the day on Monday, the champion of bold pronouncements was, only weeks into office, reduced to yet another waffling pol putting her finger to the wind as another hot-button issue emerged. 

Over the weekend, Wu said, she had her first encounter with the newest flavor in Girl Scout cookies. “In light of this AM’s “let’s talk on the T” controversy,” she said. “I’ll hold off on my cookie rankings for now…” 

MICHAEL JONAS

FROM COMMONWEALTH

Edwards rolls: Boston City Councilor Lydia Edwards, backed by Boston Mayor Michelle Wu and the state’s progressive establishment, rolled to victory in a special election for state Senate, defeating 25-year-old Anthony D’Ambrosio of Revere. Unofficial results indicated the margin was 60-40.

– D’Ambrosio won 75 percent of the vote in Revere, but Edwards won Winthrop and racked up enormous margins in the parts of the district in Boston and Cambridge.

– Since no Republican is running for the seat, Edwards is likely to become the first Black woman in the Senate. Her victory is another sign of the progressive wave that is sweeping many recent local elections. Read more.

Wu take fare free case to White House: Boston Mayor Michelle Wu raised her fare-free MBTA bus snafu with US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in Washington, tweeting out a picture of her with the secretary along with the tagline: “Guess who brought this up at the White House.” The MBTA has raised concerns that the two-year, fare free pilots (paid for with $8 million of the city’s federal funds) would become permanent under Federal Transportation Administration guidelines if they run longer than six months and could trigger a negative equity review when the federal funds run out and the fares rise. Read more.

College not always good investment: A new study indicates not all college degrees pay off. Students who study the arts and humanities are unlikely to recover their college investment quickly, while engineering and computer science students will. It also matters which school you attend. Read more.

Healey all in: The attorney general announces she plans to appeal a judge’s decision dismissing charges against two top officials accused of causing a deadly outbreak of COVID-19 at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home. Read more.

OPINION

Decoding the MBTA: Jim Aloisi, the former secretary of transportation, deciphers the T-speak on Boston Mayor Michelle Wu’s fare-free bus routes and the proposed $500 million transfer from the operating to the capital budget. Read more.

 

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

BEACON HILL

Calls are growing for Gov. Charlie Baker to reimpose a statewide mask mandate, but he is so far resisting the idea. (Boston Globe

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, along with nine other newly-elected mayors, was at the White House for meetings with key domestic policy officials in the Biden administration. The mayors also had an impromptu meeting with President Biden and Vice President Harris, complete with tour of the Oval Office. (Boston Globe)  

The first legal recreational marijuana purchase in Massachusetts – a THC-infused chocolate bar purchased by Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz – will be displayed in a museum run by Historic Northampton, never opened but encased in a plexiglass box. (MassLive)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Former Patriots player Phillip Adams, who earlier this year gunned down six people before taking his own life, was suffering from a severe case of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, the brain disorder being found in lots of former NFL players. (Boston Herald

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

The House voted to hold former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows in contempt for not cooperating with a probe of the January 6 attack on the Capitol. Just two Republicans, Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney, joined the Democratic majority in voting for the measure. (Washington Post)

ELECTIONS

As state Sen. Eric Lesser contemplates a run for lieutenant governor, MassLive looks at how the move could position Lesser to fulfill his future political ambitions.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Immigrants in New Bedford, as elsewhere, are finding themselves shut out of federal pandemic aid despite playing vital roles as essential workers in the food industry. (New Bedford Light)

Prices for certain types of meat are skyrocketing, while others are holding steady, leaving butchers with a confusing supply chain. (MassLive)

Coffee shops are becoming a new battleground in union efforts to expand. (Boston Globe

EDUCATION

The MIAA has mandated mask-wearing for winter sports, but the Telegram & Gazette finds that in many cases, athletes are wearing their masks around their chins, and the mandate is not being enforced. 

Danvers High School suspends all activities of its wrestling team after a student fight related to a video with racist language. (Salem News)

The Boston School Committee will consider a proposal tonight to shutter three middle schools. (Boston Herald

ARTS/CULTURE

The North Adams City Council delays any action on the sale of the Mohawk Theatre until January, when new mayor Jennifer Macksey takes office. The current mayor, Tom Bernard, wanted the building sold on his watch. (Berkshire Eagle)

TRANSPORTATION

The pandemic has been good for Boston’s taxi business. (GBH)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins reports the fifth prisoner death at his facility this year. (WBUR)

Keechant Sewell will become New York CIty’s first female police commissioner. (New York Times)

MEDIA

Time magazine is taking heat for naming Elon Musk its person of the year. (The Hill) Musk calls Sen. Elizabeth Warren “Senate Karen” after she slams Time for promoting a billionaire who paid no taxes in 2018. (New York Post)