Knight of night life

Taking on Boston’s biggest bully
By CHRIS FARAONE  |  October 26, 2009

GET UP, STAND UP: owner Greg Selkoe is the rare Boston business owner to stand up to Mayor Menino.
The most feared man in Boston isn’t a crazy-eyed killer or a brutal street thug — he’s an elected official. Evidence? When was the last time you heard a disgruntled Boston businessperson publicly criticize Mayor Tom Menino?

Privately, of course, countless builders and restaurateurs will share horror stories about incurring the wrath of Hizzoner; on record, they’re less candid. Even bar owners who were possibly pressured into canceling mayoral candidate Michael Flaherty’s campaign events were reluctant to speak to the Phoenix.

This past August, when the Boston Globe dispatched three top investigative reporters to expose the influence that Menino wields over development, only one subject had the gall to speak openly about alleged favoritism that determines who gets to build what, and where. That renegade is Greg Selkoe, a 33-year-old city planner turned entrepreneur who is determined to smack the status quo — even if that means rattling the man who, according to many, metes out approval with vindictive memory.

Selkoe was emboldened this past September to help form the Boston Night Life Coalition (BNLC) — a group of at least eight business interests that are outraged by, among other entertainment industry-related issues, the liquor-licensing process. A Jamaica Plain–born gadfly, Selkoe remains the lone high-profile dissenter who will vocally lambaste Menino — though the fact that powerful folks are rallying alongside him (and endorsing the mayor’s first serious opponent in 16 years in their literature, no less) is unprecedented in this municipal monarchy’s recent history.

Before founding and transforming his boutique into the Web’s leading street-wear retail hub, Selkoe was a Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) planner, who in that capacity met with Menino to discuss housing policy every Monday. The Harvard-educated then–bureaucrat neophyte was stunned by City Hall’s top-down infrastructure. “At the BRA, I did recommendations to the board of appeals,” recalls Selkoe, “and we would always get calls requesting zoning relief for the mayor’s friends and neighbors. Those weekly meetings were both surreal and ridiculous — like everybody tip-toeing around a king. There was no common respect at that table. It was all about how we were going to please this guy.”

Along with BNLC promoters — including Jon Regan of Future Classic and Ace Gershfeld of 6one7 — Selkoe is pushing for changes that he’s certain won’t happen under a Menino administration; he says Menino approaches nightlife with the mentality that few good things happen after midnight. Among the group’s wishes: later closing times, extended T service, increased arts funding, and more late-night dining options.

“There can be a better nightlife in Boston and less issues with neighbors if there was a real dialogue,” says Selkoe, who stresses that Flaherty has made no promises to BNLC operatives. “Instead of just assuming that it’s a bunch of yahoos beating each other up, it’s important to work with the nightlife community. But for now it’s an adversarial position.”

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