Deadbeat universities

By EDITORIAL  |  November 14, 2007

Instead, the city’s colleges and universities should work with those officials to forge a PILOT formula based on some combination of factors, including acreage, student population, and assessed property value.

This could also be an opportunity to offer incentives for good neighborly behavior. The city might, for instance, offer PILOT deductions for schools that achieve benchmarks in energy conservation, safety, or reduced complaints from residential neighbors.

But no college that pays its president seven figures should be allowed to cry poverty to get out of PILOT anymore.

City counsel
The anemic voter turnout for this month’s city election says more about the state of city politics than about the apathy of the electorate. Bostonians did not suddenly lose their zeal for participatory democracy after flocking to the polls in huge numbers in 2004 and 2006.

What they lost interest in is the Boston City Council, which has seen nearly all its relevance and power seep away since expanding from nine to 13 members and going to district representation in 1983.

It is time to undo that mistake, through a voter referendum that returns us to an all at-large council.

Councilors elected city-wide, particularly those at or near the top of the ticket, used to have real political power in Boston. Mayors could not easily dismiss them because they could not easily defeat them.

But district councilors, with small bases of support, pose little threat to the mayor as a potential challenger. In fact, in practice, most of them have the mayor to thanks for their jobs.

Consider the four newest city councilors. Menino’s political machinery got his former staffer Salvatore LaMattina elected in District One, and his friend Bill Linehan elected in District Two. New District Nine councilor Mark Ciommo also has Menino to thank, at least in part.

None of those three is likely to upset or embarrass Menino. In contrast, new at-large councilor John Connolly figures to be a stronger, independent voice — as was Felix Arroyo before him.

By now it’s clear that one intention of district representation — increased diversity on the Council — has been harmed rather than helped. Prior to the 1983 change, the nine-person Council had one African-American member; today, despite an increase in black residents, they hold just two of 13 seats. One is held by an Asian-American, and none by a Hispanic, now that Arroyo lost his bid for re-election.

(In fact, one inexplicable and sorry indication of voter apathy is the extremely low turnout of Latinos, a quickly growing Boston population, which cost Arroyo his seat.)

Minority candidates can win in city-wide elections in today’s majority-minority Boston — witness not only Arroyo and Sam Yoon, but Governor Deval Patrick, who garnered nearly two-thirds of the primary vote here over Tom Reilly and Chris Gabrieli.

If city councilors were fewer, and broadly elected, the body would be reinvigorated, and the city along with it.

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