Menino boasted of having "the foresight to prepare for the bad times," citing the city's debt refinancing. Point well-taken. But a year ago he laid down the gauntlet, calling for a return to neighborhood schools, which would save the city much of the $40 million it spends on transporting students each year. He has not chosen to use any political capital fighting for it. This should change.
Although Menino talked about foreclosures, he made it sound as though the city was having success on the issue. It is not, and it is a massive problem. That is not Menino's fault, but the problem is going to worsen without federal intervention.
On the development front, Menino boasted of "nearly 40 buildings" under construction, representing "some 10,000 permanent jobs." But the status of development is a huge problem, with major projects completely stalled. Columbus Center is probably the most prominent, but there are major examples in Chinatown, Downtown Crossing, the South Boston waterfront, the Fenway, and elsewhere. While all development projects have been negatively affected by the country's credit and financial crises, a number of these projects could have been expedited before the crises hit, had the mayor exercised greater political will in moving them along.
Menino rightly boasted of adding more Advanced Placement classes to the schools, but ignored the enormous and rapidly growing dropout rate. A year ago, this had been a major issue in the City Council races. No mention this time.
No mention also of the corruption scandals that were probably the city's biggest political story of the past year. Naming names would have been uncomfortable, given that indicted City Councilor Chuck Turner was in the front row and embattled Speaker of the House Sal DiMasi was in the second. But the truth is that too many people throughout Boston now think that too much of everything is for sale inside the corridors of power. There is an ongoing federal investigation that may yet involve city employees. It would be fitting for the mayor to speak out strongly about the need for honesty and transparency in government.
There was likewise no mention of the firefighter safety issues, which is understandable, given the recent death of Lieutenant Kevin Kelley and the difficult questions it raises about the inadequacy of city-maintenance procedures. But bear in mind that a year ago, Menino stood up and said in no uncertain terms that he was going to get the firefighters' union to agree to alcohol and drug testing. It is the shame of the union that this has not happened. But that does not alter reality.
Perhaps most disturbing, Menino breezily boasted that crime is down in the city, striking a far different tone than the last two State of the City speeches, which dwelt considerably on that issue. The truth is that gun violence has not decreased: it has plateaued. Roughly the same number of people was shot in 2008 as in 2007 — a statistic that has mostly persisted for four years running (and one that is perhaps twice as high as it was from 1996 to 2003). It is certainly not for lack of trying. But effort does not equal results.
The coming months are going to be difficult. As a community, Boston is going to need a sense of common purpose to tackle the adversity. Menino ably supplied that in his Faneuil Hall address. But the problems of the past years have not disappeared. Rather, they have been compounded by economic distress. It is important for all to recognize this.
To contact Senator Kennedy and ask him to help include funding for education in the economic-stimulus package, click here, write to 2400 JFK Building, Boston, MA, 02203, or call 617.563.3170.