Tobin stays put, wants changes

April 3, 2009
By

JOHN RUCH

City Councilor John Tobin has ended his second flirtation with running for state Senate, saying he plans to remain a councilor and then run for mayor in 2013—whether popular incumbent Thomas Menino is still in office or not.

He made the decision even before incumbent state Sen. Marian Walsh this week canceled her plans to take a highly controversial state job.

Tobin called the Senate election a “tremendous opportunity,” but one that comes at the wrong time. “I’m very lucky to have the job I do right now,” he said.

Meanwhile, Tobin will continue proposing some establishment-tweaking reforms to city government. He said he soon will file legislation that would call for a special election to deal with a Mayor’s Office vacancy instead of allowing the City Council president to move into the office—a classic mechanism for a retirement-minded mayor to handpick a successor.

Tobin was considering a run for the Suffolk-Norfolk District Senate seat currently held by Walsh, who intended to leave for a state job widely criticized as a case of political patronage. Tobin planned a similar run last year, when Walsh was under consideration for a judgeship that also did not come through.

Unlike last year, Tobin faces a re-election campaign this year. While there are no announced challengers for the District 6 City Council seat, he said it is not the time to appear job-greedy by running for two different offices.

Tobin pointed to enormous budget decisions looming for the City Council as another reason not to run for a largely suburban Senate seat. “I don’t know if that’s the proper time to be standing with a [campaign] sign at a train station in Westwood,” Tobin said.

Walsh’s Senate district does not include Jamaica Plain. Tobin, who lives in West Roxbury, said it sometimes a “challenge” to represent JP, but that its activism is something special.

“[JP] people are not afraid to tell you the way they feel,” he said. “I think it makes me a better elected official.”

“Obviously, there are some sharp differences” between JP and West Roxbury politics, he said. “On some issues, it makes you get both sides of the story.”

“In Jamaica Plain, there’s just so much energy around events,” Tobin said. Describing the huge crowd at the recent moving-day parade and party for the Bella Luna Restaurant and The Milky Way Lounge, he said, “There are not many restaurants that could pull off a parade when they’re leaving. That doesn’t happen in West Roxbury.”

He noted that two of his recent high-profile initiatives—free wireless Internet service and the creation of an official Boston poet laureate position—were suggested by JP residents.

Tobin said he isn’t taking his re-election for granted. But he also has made clear his long-range plan of running for mayor. He sat out this year’s race on the assumption that Menino will run again and be tough to beat. By 2013, Tobin said, he assumes Menino will be out of office or planning to retire—but Tobin will run in any case.

“Either way, I couldn’t imagine myself not being a candidate [for mayor] in ’13,” Tobin said.

He noted that would be his 12th year in office—the amount of time he has officially proposed as a council term limit. “It would be a little hypocritical” to stay in office longer than that, he said, calling 2013 “up or out” time for his political career.

In recent years, Tobin has proposed a series of city government reforms aimed at weakening the power of incumbency. Tobin previously told the Gazette he may seek to put a non-binding term-limit question on this year’s ballot. He has also called for an official review of the city government’s entire structure in the hopes of making the City Council stronger.

His new proposal about filling a mayoral vacancy is even less likely to endear him to some of his colleagues. Menino originally became mayor by moving up from the City Council presidency when former Mayor Raymond Flynn left office in mid-term. It has long been rumored that Menino intends to handpick a successor the same way.

Tobin said he is still working out details of his special-election proposal, but intends to file the legislation within the next few weeks.

The City Council president is currently chosen by an internal council vote. Another idea Tobin is kicking around, he said, is making the presidency part of the city election. The candidate who wins the most votes in the race for the council’s four citywide seats could automati-cally become the council president, Tobin suggested.

This year’s race for citywide seats is drawing many possible candidates, especially because incumbents Michael Flaherty and Sam Yoon are both running for mayor instead. Tobin said that he will be endorsing a slate of four candidates for citywide seats. He declined to name any of the endorsements on the record until an official announcement shortly before the Sept. 22 preliminary election.

Best of JP 2014