Flaherty, Yoon pitch their team-up

October 9, 2009
By

John Ruch

Menino blasts ‘ticket’; McCrea considers support

Mayoral candidate Michael Flaherty and his would-be “deputy mayor,” Sam Yoon, touted their unique joint campaign last week in an exclusive interview at the Gazette office. They took tough new shots at incumbent Thomas Menino and pledged a more open, collaborative City Hall.

“I’m giving folks a snapshot of what a Flaherty administration will look like,” Flaherty said of his team-up with Yoon, his former competitor for the Mayor’s Office, which had been announced the previous day.

But Menino spokesperson Nick Martin said Flaherty and Yoon are “absolutely misleading” voters because Yoon would be an employee, not a candidate on the ballot. There currently is no “deputy mayor” position.

Martin said that Flaherty “is brokering deals before even winning anything. It’s not enough to talk about change when this seems to be such a clear example of political patronage.”

Meanwhile, the other mayoral candidate who lost in the preliminary election, Kevin McCrea, indicated to the Gazette that he will consider supporting either Flaherty or Menino. But a Flaherty endorsement might be tougher since Yoon told the Gazette that Donald Duck would have gotten as many votes as McCrea, and both Flaherty and Yoon joked about McCrea’s penchant for filing public records requests.

“I’m open to anybody [who] would be interested in what value I might be able to bring in making the city a better place,” McCrea said of his endorsement thoughts, adding that he might not endorse either candidate.

Jamaica Plain, where Flaherty and Yoon combined beat Menino in the preliminary vote totals by nearly 10 percent, is a key battleground neighborhood. “It’s huge,” Flaherty said, predicting a bigger turnout of young, professional and progressive voters in the final.

The day after the preliminary election, Flaherty kicked off his final election campaign in Egleston Square on the JP/Roxbury border, protesting the locally higher crime rate there. Flaherty and Yoon’s meeting with the Gazette was their first joint interview with a Boston newspaper, and they campaigned together later that week in central JP.

Team-up

Flaherty finished second in last month’s preliminary election, putting him on the ballot versus Menino in the Nov. 3 final. Yoon finished a close third, and a week later, was Flaherty’s “running mate.”

Flaherty and Yoon appeared comfortable in their joint appearance at the Gazette office, frequently joking together and nodding at each other’s comments. Flaherty took the lead in speaking, but let Yoon have the floor for long periods, and Yoon appeared comfortable jumping in with his own comments.

Their different personalities seemed largely complementary. Flaherty spoke in a louder, more passionate and streetwise style. Yoon was more professor-like, but just as skilled at delivering sometimes blunt criticisms.

Flaherty said his decision to offer Yoon the “deputy mayor” status was inspired by former Mayor Kevin White’s use of deputy mayors more than 20 years ago—staff members who were not presented as running mates. While the team-up has obvious political value to Flaherty, he said it also highlights his innovative, collaborative and diversity-boosting skills.

“Kevin [White] said he would surround himself with smart people and also empower them,” Flaherty said, explaining he will do the same. “I have no interest, as mayor of Boston, micromanaging like Tom Menino.”

“I felt all along, Sam made me a better candidate. He has a lot of value to add to the city,” Flaherty said. “Why let a close third-place finish keep him out of service to the city?”

“It wasn’t just good enough to say, ‘I want your endorsement. Put your name on my brochure,’” Flaherty said of his approach to Yoon.

Yoon said Flaherty’s collaborative approach convinced him to join the effort. “The first thing Michael said is, ‘Together, we can change Boston,’” Yoon said. “It was interesting how he framed it. It wasn’t, ‘I need your help.’”

Yoon said that is different from normal Boston politics, which are “always about taking credit…Tom Menino is primo example Number One.”

The power of teamwork aside, it remains unclear exactly what Yoon would do as “deputy mayor.” It cannot be a vice-president type of position, because the city charter does not allow that—and Flaherty indicated that he had checked. Both men said that details have not been worked out yet.

But there are strong hints that Yoon would be made a kind of planning czar, and that replacing the controversial Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) with a city planning agency would be his main work. The conversation at times sounded like a job interview.

Flaherty said that Menino effectively has a deputy mayor in his right-hand man, Michael Kineavy, who is “chief of policy and planning.” Kineavy is embroiled in a scandal for deleting e-mails that were public records and this week took a “leave of absence.” Flaherty called Kineavy’s role more of a “political operative” with the policy-maker title as a “thin veil.”

Flaherty said that someone with planning expertise should have that job, and noted that Yoon has that expertise. And Yoon said that “chief of policy and planning” sounds good to him.

Yoon holds degrees from Princeton and Harvard. Flaherty contrasted that with Menino’s administration, where, he said, “Decisions are not made by bright, competent people who have stellar resumes,” but rather by political loyalists.

“One thing that’s on my resume is affordable housing, community planning,” Yoon said, adding, “One thing we’ve all talked about is eliminating the BRA.”

In any case, Yoon said, he is willing to do whatever work Flaherty puts before him. And, Flaherty said, “I play to people’s strengths.”

Both men denied any pre-election discussion, or even thoughts, about the idea of a joint campaign, even though local City Councilor John Tobin predicted it weeks ago in the press, inventing the term “Floon.” Tobin even predicted the role of “deputy mayor” to the Gazette weeks ago.

“Michael and I never had a discussion,” Yoon said, saying candidates are always focused on the belief they will win.

“That was purely just instinct,” Tobin told the Gazette this week of his “Floon” prediction, explaining he noted how well the two candidates got along. “I do wish I had trademarked the name,” he joked about “Floon.”

Asked if his prediction had to do with more than instinct—such as an insider conversation, or even a Yoon-style job offer from Flaherty—Tobin said, “No. There’s been no conversation.”

Tobin said the team-up “makes sense” politically and could fit the two men’s strengths.

“I like Sam…He raised the IQ on the [City Council] by about 40 points when he joined the council,” Tobin said. “But he wouldn’t be a good mayor. He’s too wonkish. But, and it would be ironic, he would be a good head of the BRA.”

Gloves come off

Dropping his more polite persona from the preliminary campaign, Flaherty slung some hardballs at Menino. “I think our ‘urban mechanic’ needs a tune-up,” he cracked at one point, referring to one of Menino’s favorite self-descriptions.

Flaherty hammered several of his key complaints about Menino’s administration: underperforming schools, outdated technology, backroom deal-making, rising youth violence and lack of resident employment on local construction projects.

He tied these issues to the management style of Menino, who Flaherty characterized as an outdated and vengeful dictator.

“It’s a campaign to bring City Hall into the 21st century,” Flaherty said. “The fact we don’t have voicemail in City Hall speaks to the fact this guy [Menino] is yesterday. Sam and I are tomorrow.”

“[Menino] doesn’t have an agenda other than making sure he stays in power forever,” Yoon said, adding that the lack of attention has harmed Boston Public Schools, among other aspects of government.

“Everything in this city has got to be about Tom Menino,” Flaherty said, complaining of what he described as an egomania that goes down to the pettiest levels.

“I don’t want my name on the signs. Sam’s name can be on the signs,” Flaherty joked about Menino’s name appearing on signs on virtually every piece of city property—even painted into murals on traffic light boxes.

Flaherty sometimes seemed personally outraged, as when he recalled various public events that were delayed until Menino could arrive. “If I’m running late, just start. Start!” Flaherty said, describing his would-be attitude as mayor.

It’s a far cry from Flaherty’s original campaign ads, which depicted Menino as “Good” and Flaherty as “Better.” Those ads helped fuel a perception that Flaherty was the most Menino-style of the candidates. The comparison now irritates him, he said, and Perez previously told the Gazette that a Boston Globe endorsement that made the equation was taken as a backhanded compliment.

“People say I’m a younger version of Menino. Nothing could be farther from the truth,” Flaherty said. Unlike Menino, he said, he does not want or need to “rule with an iron fist.”

Age is a subplot in the race. Flaherty is 40, but is sometimes mistaken as older due to his gray hair. Yoon, who is boyish-looking at 39, appears to balance the age of the “ticket,” even though there isn’t a difference. Menino, on the other hand, is 66.

With JP’s progressive voters becoming one of the top prizes for the campaigns, both candidates have begun using the term “progressive” extensively. Flaherty took an age-based whack at Menino’s usage.

“Them using the term ‘progressive’ is just to try to make him look younger,” Flaherty said. “He’s almost 70 years old.”

As for Flaherty himself, “Just look at my record,” he said. He pointed to such items as being the first citywide official to support same-sex marriage and the presidential candidacy of Barack Obama.

Flaherty noted that many of his citywide concerns have local impacts, such as the lack of enforcement of the residents jobs policy that fills construction projects with out-of-state workers. “Do you think they’re coming to Centre Street in Jamaica Plain to spend those bucks?” he said of those workers. “Do you think they’re going to J.P. Licks or the [Real] Deal Deli?” (He actually mistakenly said “New Deal Deli,” perhaps thinking of another government reformer.)

McFloon or McMenino?

McCrea, the third challenger to Menino in the preliminary, will consider endorsements over the next week or so. Tobin suggested to the Gazette this week that “McFloon” is coming soon.

A government transparency advocate who successfully sued Flaherty and the rest of the Boston City Council for Open Meeting Law violations, he presumably will seek promises about open government.

Flaherty has apologized for the Open Meeting Law violations and credited the lawsuit with inspiring his own open government positions. During the campaign, McCrea accused Flaherty and Yoon, who are both Boston city councilors, of continuing to make back-room deals, and at one point made a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for their City Hall e-mails. However, McCrea also told the Gazette late in the race that Menino “deserves most of the vitriol.”

Flaherty told the Gazette that he and Yoon will meet with McCrea. “I think we’re on the same side” on transparency issues, Flaherty said.

But Yoon leaped in with negative comments about the value of a McCrea endorsement.

“Campaign [and] political experts will tell you, you can put the name Donald Duck on the ballot and you’d get the same number of votes as McCrea…It’s sort of the ‘screw you’ vote,” Yoon said. “But there are tons of people out there who believe the same things Kevin does, but are willing to work with government to make that happen.”

Flaherty spokesperson Natasha Perez jumped in quickly to note how open Flaherty is to hearing different viewpoints, suggesting McCrea would be heard out.

Still, Flaherty and Yoon continued joking. “We’ll create a position called the Division of Kevin McCrea Information Requests,” Yoon joked. Flaherty quickly added that a better name would be “McFOIA.”

McCrea said Yoon called him to apologize shortly after the Gazette first published those comments at JamaicaPlainGazette.com. McCrea noted that a few weeks ago, in an extraordinary press conference, all three challengers stood in front of City Hall to blast Menino for the deleted e-mail scandal. “And then they can sit there and joke about somebody who makes Freedom of Information Act requests,” McCrea said of Yoon and Flaherty.

“You know how I feel about politicians, and it hasn’t changed one iota,” McCrea said. But, he added, he is willing to “compromise” and work with one of the campaigns on practical improvements.

“I realize it’s only 3,000 votes or whatever,” McCrea said of his voter base, “but I think it might be a close election, and 3,000 [votes] might be significant.”

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