Two years after challenging Mayor Thomas Menino in one of the closest races the mayor has ever faced, former At-Large City Councilor Michael Flaherty wants his old job back.
“It was never an option for me to take my ball and go home. I am not interested in sitting in the bleachers,” Flaherty said in a July 7 interview at the Gazette office. “I am passionate about all of the issues we talked about in the mayoral race.”
As has been widely reported, his argument for why he should get his old job back hinges on his outsider status, which was largely solidified by his 2009 run against Menino.
By the next mayoral election, in 2013, Menino will have been in office 20 years, and, Flaherty said, the mayor might run again. “Now more than ever, City Council needs a strong independent voice for the city of Boston to ask tough questions and propose creative new policy initiatives,” he said.
He pointed to the current at-large city councilors’ silence on following a bloody Fourth of July weekend—when 10 shootings claimed four lives—as an example of their timidity.
There was “not a peep” from the current councilors, he said, saying they should have been calling for a comprehensive strategy for reducing violence. “The role of City Council as the legislative branch of city government is to raise these issues,” he said.
At-large councilors in particular, should be stepping up, because they do not need to work as closely with the Mayor’s Office on constituent services, he said. “The Mayor’s Office can literally bring a district council office to its knees,” he said, “They will get rebuffed, slapped down, punished…What is this, Yemen?” he said.
While it is far from a done deal, at least one of the current At-Large Councilors, John Connolly, has suggested that the four current councilors—Felix Arroyo, Connolly, Steve Murphy and Ayanna Pressley—might run as a slate. Flaherty said he is not impressed with that strategy.
“The people of Boston will decide who they want to represent them at-large,” he said. “We have seen that slates don’t work in Boston…People want strong independent voices, not an insiders’ club,” he said.
Flaherty also leveled the “insiders’ club” critique at Mayor Menino, saying “I think he is a tireless worker and he obviously cares about the city, but I think he has developed this small group of people around him that just have this air about them that they can do no wrong.”
Reviving one of his arguments from the 2010, he said the Menino administration’s insularity means that major intellectual resources in the city are not being tapped to solve city problems. “We have some of the world’s brightest minds in the City of Boston…he doesn’t tap into that as much as I think he should,” Flaherty said.
Asked whether running as an outsider will make it hard to get anything done if he is elected, Flaherty said his plan is to put his best foot forward. Elections are “like boxing, at the end of a bout you shake hands,” he said. “If anyone chooses to hold a grudge and doesn’t want to work together, that is on their conscience,” he said.
Flaherty declined to say if he is considering another mayoral bid. “I am in this race because I want to return to the City Council,” he said. “In terms of politics, 2013 is a long way away.”
Policy-wise, Flaherty said he plans to advocate for the abolition of Boston Public Schools’ lottery system for school assignment in favor of a system that allows students to attend “quality schools close to [their] homes.”
He said he would like to see the city step up enforcement of its jobs policy, which requires certain percentages of locals, minorities and women be hired for publicly funded construction projects.
Stricter enforcement of that policy would almost certainly lead to a court battle, Flaherty admitted. But, “You could argue that the city has a compelling interest in providing access to employment. The city has not taken it the distance,” he said.
He also said he would like to see youth workers assigned to public schools, because that is where many feuds that end in gun violence start.
And he said the city should have a planning department separate from the Boston Redevelopment Authority, which is currently responsible for both planning and economic development in the city.
“I am excited about the future of Boston,” he said.