City Councilor Ayanna Pressley’s ticket-topping re-election has been hyped as a triumph of identity politics: She is the council’s first black woman member, and currently the only woman serving on it.
But the fact is, her win was at least as much of a victory for two white guys who co-funded her campaign: City Councilor John Connolly and especially Mayor Thomas Menino. Menino not only helped prevent nemesis Michael Flaherty from getting a council seat, but now also has a sitting councilor who owes him big-time.
It was a win for Pressley and a win for Menino. It was not much of a win for the public, who sorely needs a stronger City Council to improve input.
During the last City Council election two years ago, empowerment was all the rage. There was talk of a charter commission to review the current few-checks-and-no-balances form of city government. Virtually every candidate vowed to reform the Boston Redevelopment Authority, that epitome of governmental unaccountability.
It never happened. Instead, the councilors (and local residents) have spent a lot of time putting out fires lit by the Menino administration. Our public school and library systems have been altered by crisis as much as by plan. You can almost hear the council panting to keep up. A political victory in Boston consists of gaining a week to think about a major change.
Some councilors—particularly Connolly, Mike Ross and JP’s Felix Arroyo—are willing to fence with the administration on certain issues. Maybe Pressley still will, too, despite her political debts. But their only real power is voting yea or nay on the budget. The councilors are the elected officials who directly represent the neighborhoods. No wonder the public often has to fight to get meaningful input on big issues.
The City Council could empower the public by empowering itself. Or could it be that the several councilors with obvious mayoral ambitions are looking forward to seizing that unbalanced power for themselves?
We’ll find out in the next two years.