Michael Flaherty on Downtown Crossing as a war zone, the police commissioner and speaking up
In a get-together with a group of local political bloggers (and me), mayoral candidate Michael Flaherty compared Downtown Crossing to a wartorn Iraqi city, would not rule out replacing Police Commissioner Ed Davis and said a hidebound, vindictive City Hall is stalling vital development and driving young people out of the city (David Kravitz has a live-blog summary of the discussion; I have some more here).
Flaherty pointed to Downtown Crossing as a prime example of how the Menino administration mishandled things, by failing to push for performance bonds on the Filene's hole or doing more to pressure the developer to do something about it.
"Downtown Crossing actually looks like Fallujah, like a surface-to-air missile came in from one of the Harbor Islands," he said. At the same time, there are too many kids loitering there in the morning. The result: Bostonians are now increasingly going to suburban locations, such as the CambridgeSide Galleria or the South Shore Plaza for their shopping excursions. And hotel concierges send guests to Cambridge or Newbury Street, not Downtown Crossing.
Flaherrty ould require performance bonds for developers - build by a certain date or the city gets millions of dollars in forfeit. He would work to bring "marquee" tenant in, rather than a petting zoo, as Menino once proposed. He added the same would apply to the Harvard hole in Allston, "one of the largest holes in New England," and the end result of years of Harvard misleading the community under Menino and the BRA. "It's a gaping hole and rats, probably the size of small dogs, are literally taking over Allston."
He also cited the waterfront as an area where he said favoritism and pettiness at City Hall has led to stagnation, rather than creation of the new city-within-a-city we were promised.
Like Sam Yoon and Kevin McCrea, Flaherty would replace the BRA with two new agencies - one for city planning, one for economic development. Too often now, he said, the economic-development arm takes precedence, even at the expense of neighborhoods. The city also needs a master plan, so that developers can't get away with things such as getting permits for residential construction and then flipping them to commercial.
Flaherty, a former Suffolk County assisstant district attorney, said far more needs to be done to involve communities with crime problems in fighting crime. He said the leaderrship of the police department "needs to look like the face of the city" and that while he would want to sit down with Davis to talk about the future of the department, the department has a number of "high-caliber (minority) individuals who would make great commissioners."
Throughout the discussion, Flaherty brought up examples of staleness at City Hall and Menino's genius at deflecting blame for everything (from blaming the BPS athletic director for the sorry state of high-school sports to the governor for that mid-day snowstorm that crippled the city a couple years back), and said this has led to a "brain drain" of high-caliber talent at City Hall and an increasing feeling among residents that "the cake has already been baked" when they show up at hearings on projects that might affect them.
Flaherty acknowledged that, as a city councilor, he might have done more to speak up before he ran for mayor, but said he was hamstrung in part by the structure of city government (strong mayor/weak city council), which he said meant anything he wanted done would ultimately have to to through the mayor.