Benjamin Day, the chair of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council, led an ill-informed smear campaign against the developers and elected officials involved in two housing developments that his council will review. He threw a bomb that backfired and damaged the JPNC. He should resign.
This is a difficult call to make because Day has been an intelligent, energetic and often effective chair. He recently led the JPNC’s timely community meetings about the two S. Huntington Avenue projects in question.
But that makes it all the more important for him to step down promptly. The council must immediately restore its sense of integrity and avoid infighting so that it can focus not only on these pressing projects, but also on the S. Huntington corridor plan under way and a Goddard House redevelopment that could happen at any time.
Day has spun this as a case of his free speech rights trumping his duty to what he tellingly called a “lowly neighborhood council.” That self-centered stance shows a lack of maturity and responsibility. So does his naive assumption that the council would avoid fallout if he did not mention it while tossing his bomb. The JPNC chair’s first duties are providing a neutral forum and preserving the council’s hard-earned influence for future generations.
A lot would be forgiven if Day and his cohorts had been right in their wink-wink-nudge-nudge claims of bribery and corruption. But they were wrong. Through omission, distortion and misunderstanding, they put anti-gentrification ideology and innuendo over facts.
It is fair to be skeptical about campaign donations in general and the timing of these in particular. The fact is, anyone who gives money to a candidate’s campaign—including Day himself—expects some sort of personal benefit in return. But that is a far cry from tit-for-tat bribery. Even if the developers intended bribery here, that would make them fools, not master manipulators.
Every big developer and law firm in this city gives money to virtually every candidate all the time. Obviously, that does not mean that every single thing they propose gets approved. What donors usually hope to get in return is access, some personal time with a candidate at a fundraiser party or the like, to make nice and make their cases. That reality is not shiny and pure, but neither is it corrupt.
The focus on money is an oversimplification. City Councilor Mike Ross, a good man whom Day’s effort embarrassed into returning $2,000 in donations from the Serenity’s developers, lives in Mission Hill. The developers are already well-known in that neighborhood as good, responsive landlords, and their project has a lot of community support there.
Day and company suggested that the donations somehow resulted in the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s approval of 161 S. Huntington. But most of the officials who received donations had no power over that decision. In fact, most local officials have not advocated either way for either project, and all of them also get donations from JP residents, presumably including many opponents of these projects.
The campaign donations would have been a fine topic to discuss at a JPNC meeting. Instead, the chair and a few other members, without the full JPNC’s knowledge, made them the subject of shoddy amateur journalism that has broken the council’s political relationships and harmed its ability to be a respected arbiter and advocate on S. Huntington.
The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council is more important than whoever has the privilege of chairing it. Someone who understands that should be in charge.