BOSTON — Perhaps it’s only fitting that the two men vying to become the first new mayor of Boston in 20 years found themselves in the middle of a busing crisis this week. Some things never change.
While bickering in Washington extended the partial government shutdown, there were signs late week that leaders of both parties were at least discussing plans to, however temporarily, extricate themselves from a tight political box and avert the possibility that thousands of state workers paid on the federal dime could be furlough or laid off.
Meanwhile, the hottest political battle in Massachusetts between Boston City Councilor John Connolly and Dorchester Rep. Marty Walsh turned on the grievances of bus drivers and the strength of their campaign in the oft-forgotten neighborhood of Eastie.
Thankfully, unlike the race-charged busing battles of the 1970s, Tuesday’s crisis brought near unanimity from political leaders, parents and basically anyone not behind the wheel of school bus. There was little sympathy to be found for the drivers who unexpectedly staged a “wildcat strike” Tuesday morning — well, maybe there were “rumblings” — leaving tens of thousands of children without a way to get to school.
“I want all these bus drivers back to work tomorrow morning,” Menino said, thrusting his finger in the air outside City Hall and reminding that, for now, he still answers to Mr. Mayor.
With the city and management threatening legal action for breach of contract and union bosses from United Steelworkers ordering their drivers to end the unauthorized work stoppage, the buses were rolling again by Wednesday morning.
Walsh, the former union boss trailing Connolly in the two latest polls by seven to eight points, just can’t seem to shake the labor issues that have defined his candidacy, for better or worse.
East Boston residents also seem to be trending in favor of a Suffolk Downs casino, which could weigh heavily on the race with a referendum also on the ballot and Connolly polling strong on the other side of the tunnel.
Speaking of labor, Attorney General Martha Coakley hired SEIU political director Tim Foley this week to run her campaign for governor, while the line behind her to become attorney general remains a short one.
Secretary of State William Galvin took the safe route by begging off a campaign for attorney general to instead seek reelection to the seat he has held comfortably since 1994. Undersecretary of Consumer Affairs Barbara Anthony also said she could not see a political campaign in her future, leaving just Rep. Harold Naughton, through the back channels, suggesting he will switch his attention away from lieutenant governor and Bristol County District Attorney Sam Sutter keeping his name alive as a possible AG contender.
The 2014 landscape continues to grow in, but Coakley has emerged as the solid frontrunner with two polls — the latest being a Western New England University survey — showing her to be the strongest candidate among the Democrats when matched up against Republican Charlie Baker.
Baker faces an early 20-point deficit to Coakley, and a 13-point gap with Treasurer Steven Grossman, according to the poll, which didn’t even bother to test the four other Democrats because so few voters actually know who they are. Baker didn’t fare so well in that category himself, despite coming within six points of becoming governor in 2010, with 56 percent of registered voters saying they did not know or had no opinion of the Swampscott executive.
Maybe the Labor and Workforce Development Committee, co-chaired by gubernatorial hopeful Sen. Dan Wolf, was feeling bad for Baker this week when it voted to recommend adding height (and also weight) to the list of unlawful discriminatory practices prohibited by employers.
There’s still plenty of time between now and the November 2014 election to move the needle, 390 days to be exact. Unless, of course, voting starts in October.
Senate President Therese Murray would like to see early voting in Massachusetts by the time the next governor is elected, and advanced her Plan B this week, which would be to amend the constitution.
Since the gay marriage fights of 2007, legislative leaders have been blasé about the idea of pursing constitutional amendments, but in the two minutes that the Constitutional Convention convened this week Murray gaveled her early voting and no-excuse absentee voting proposal forward to the next stage of vetting.
Murray said she would prefer to pass a state law to allow clerks to begin collecting votes 10 days before the date of the election rather than pursue a Constitutional amendment, which would take until 2016 at the earliest for voters to settle. Though legal questions remain about how much can be done through the legislative process, Murray is a leader with a defined priority list, limited time to get it done, and a willingness to put her proposals up for votes.
When she wasn’t presiding over the Constitutional Convention or passing bills to improve veterans services and include pets in municipal disaster planning, Murray was seen on WCVB-TV hustling away from a Channel 5 reporter she called “ridiculous” while pursuing her to ask about a legislative info-technology spending controversy.
Speaker Robert DeLeo finally released his hold on the tribal gaming compact signed by Gov. Deval Patrick and the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe in March, and the House vote 115-38 in favor, with no discernible pattern to explain the smattering of no votes.
Some of the strongest objections to the revenue-sharing pact came from legislators in the southeast worried that the region will get left behind if the Massachusetts Gaming Commission waits for the tribe to pursue its federal land recognition, or that the feds will reject this deal like they did the first one.
The bipartisan and parochial concerns from the likes of Rep. Robert Kozcera of New Bedford, Keiko Orrall of Lakeville, and Antonio Cabral of New Bedford, stem from the fear that Boston will benefit again at the expense of the southeastern frontier.
Kozcera also said he could not vote for any casino deal that would return zero dollars to the state, which the pact negotiated by Patrick and the tribe would allow if a commercial casino and a tribal casino open in the same region. If two casinos open in the south, Massachusetts would likely see four casinos rather than the three envisioned when lawmakers and Gov. Patrick legalized casinos.
STORY OF THE WEEK: While the governor’s away (in Canada), the unions will play.