Council contortions

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  December 6, 2006

Standing strong
There’s another bonus: the drive to stand out has made city councilors increasingly willing to criticize the mayor. For example, they battled him for more crime-fighting resources in the 2007 budget passed earlier this year.

Criticism of Menino “is going to turn up like you can’t imagine,” says one councilor. In particular, people expect Flaherty to turn up his criticism, especially if he loses the gavel.

Councilors mostly bit their tongues through Election Day about crime, transportation, parks, street repairs, housing, development, and other topics that, several of them say, have worsened in recent years.

Plus, in the past, they rarely raised a stink when city officials failed to deliver services, threw up roadblocks to progress, or even blew off council hearings (a particular frustration for many councilors). That will change.

That’s, in part, because Menino, while still able to reward and punish through providing or withholding city services, is no longer seen as having the power to sway elections — a perception reinforced by Menino’s inability to deliver Boston for Tom Reilly.

Eyes had already been opened in June, when Menino’s candidate, Salvatore LaMattina, barely squeaked out victory in a special election to replace Paul Scapicchio on the council — in a district that includes East Boston, Charlestown, and the North End, which are considered Menino strongholds. Local pols say that open support for LaMattina’s opponent, Daniel Ryan, could never have happened earlier in Menino’s reign. “Watching that go down, it was a big signal that the mayor’s power was more smoke-and-mirrors than anything real,” says one.

Challengers, particularly for the four at-large seats, are likely to be even more critical of the mayor during the campaign.

The last at-large election, while highly competitive, rarely involved harsh comments about Menino’s administration. This time, several insiders say, Menino’s perceived failings — and incumbent councilors’ unwillingness to stand up to him — are likely to be a major issue.

If the council does emerge as a stronger check on the mayor, it might sustain the body’s relevance, even if it loses its cache as a mayoral breeding ground. Would that really be so bad?

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