Kids In The Hall

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  November 10, 2010

Collegial atmosphere
Collegiality is something you hear a lot about these days, from councilors themselves, as well as staff and outsiders who deal regularly with the council. While there are always factions, and district councilors who defend their own interests against broader city concerns, the current makeup of the council seems much more inclined to work together.

Ross argues that things began to change in early 2009, when, in the aftermath of the Turner and Dianne Wilkerson indictments, the council adopted its first-ever rules for disciplining and removing its own members.

That highly charged situation might have been a fiasco in less collegial times. The council's ability to avoid internal conflict will be tested again soon, as the council will be forced to use those new rules to oust Turner.

Ross also notes that things held together well during the mayoral election, when two of its members — Michael Flaherty and Sam Yoon — took on Menino. That could have turned the council into a circus, with councilors jockeying to showcase or embarrass those two or the mayor.

Don't misunderstand — there's been no shortage of spotlight-grabbing by the current councilors. Ross, as council president, has made sure to draw attention to his initiatives, such as proposals to add food kiosks to Boston Common, and to bring food-vending trucks to the city. Connolly, a likely mayoral candidate in 2013, has made waves by challenging the administration's call for school closings. Pressley has held high-profile hearings, including one for murder victims' families to express their criticisms of the city.

But, unlike some previous dissenters on the council, newcomers like Connolly, Pressley, and Arroyo are not throwing Molotov cocktails just to see things burn. They are savvy political players, who tread carefully to avoid unnecessarily alienating Menino, and their fellow councilors.

In contrast, Yoon and Felix Arroyo Sr. were often more effective at drawing attention to problems than working the system toward solutions.

When those two joined with Turner and Charles Yancey, the two older-generation black councilors, to form a voting bloc, they unnecessarily alienated many of their peers — in fact, it became politically difficult for other councilors to be seen collaborating with them.

Arroyo and Pressley, however, have been independent and aggressive, without being polarizing. That — and their ability to draw votes in all parts of the city — has made it easier for other councilors to work with them.

It's also true that those other councilors are not locked into "old Boston" attitudes. District councilors elected in the last few years — like Linehan, Sal Lamattina of East Boston, and Mark Ciommo of Brighton — are over 40 but attuned to their increasingly young, diverse, progressive constituents. Linehan has worked closely with Pressley on combating human trafficking, for example. It's hard to imagine some previous Southie councilors, like Kelly, partnering on controversial issues with Arroyo Sr.

New faces
Ross, Connolly, Arroyo, and Pressley form a core group combining the independence and progressivism of new Boston, with the backroom skills to negotiate old Boston. Their numbers are about to grow.

Next week, voters in West Roxbury, Roslindale, and Jamaica Plain are expected to elect Matt O'Malley to replace John Tobin, district councilor who resigned to take a job with Northeastern University. O'Malley took over 50 percent of the vote in the preliminary election, and faces Jim Hennigan in the final.

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