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Whither Public Scrutiny: Menino's Sweetheart Deal With The Red Sox Is Shameful

Hold power for 20 years and it is easy to forget that Boston is not your city alone but the people’s.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino, his toadies on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and his wealthy pals in the executive suite at Fenway Park do not own the city’s streets. The people do and the people should have a voice in any real estate deal that could permanently transfer public property to the Boston Red Sox for what might turn out to be short money.

There were no public hearings. There was no City Council review. There was no competitive bidding. There was only the imperious announcement that, in exchange for $7.3 million over 10 years, the BRA planned to sign away air rights above Lansdowne Street and virtual control of Yawkey Way to the owners of the Olde Town Team.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino, his toadies on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and his wealthy pals in the executive suite at Fenway Park do not own the city’s streets.

The Boston Finance Commission might well be right that the deal will prove “financially irresponsible” a decade from now. Yes, $734,000 a year is more than the approximately $183,000 a year the Red Sox pay the city now to accommodate those Green Monster seats above Lansdowne and to open Yawkey Way to pedestrians and vendors on game days and when the likes of the Rolling Stones or Bruce play the ballpark. Those numbers, however, are more a reflection of the lousy deal the city signed with the team in 2003 than they are vindication of this new agreement.

Alas, the Boston Finance Commission has no power to stop a deal that the panel’s executive director, Matthew A. Cahill, warned “will shackle generations of Bostonians.” The commission is authorized only to make recommendations about city contracts of more $25,000. This one stinks. State Rep. Martin Walsh and City Councilor John Connolly should demand that the agreement approved by the BRA Thursday night be set aside until after the November election when one of the two victors in this week’s preliminary election will emerge as Menino’s successor. He should not be bound by Menino’s BRA.

The Red Sox, who reap millions every year from the use of Lansdowne air rights and Yawkey Way concessions, would pay nothing to the city after 10 years. How is that in Boston’s financial interest? Who is to say that a revenue-sharing provision, subject to periodic review, might not yield more money for the city over time?

BRA Director Peter Meade is entitled to his view that a predictable revenue stream is preferable to a payment plan that might fluctuate from one year to the next and Red Sox President Larry Lucchino is free to argue that the deal benefits the city by keeping the Rex Sox at Fenway rather than prompting the team build a new ballpark, a development that would invariably cost the taxpayers in infrastructure improvements.

The only dissenter was the lone board member not appointed by the mayor.

But the public was not given a chance to challenge those assumptions or to ask any questions that might not have occurred to Meade or Lucchino since this public pact was negotiated entirely in private. It is no wonder that Glen Cunha, the state Inspector General, asked that Thursday's BRA vote be delayed until the public had time to review the plan. With typical arrogance, the BRA ignored Cunha and the protesters who had gathered to demonstrate against the hasty vote. The board approved the deal 4-1. The only dissenter was the lone board member not appointed by the mayor.

Every mayor wants to extend his influence beyond his term of office. But by embracing this lifetime sweetheart deal for the Boston Red Sox and shutting the public out of deliberations, Tom Menino, the man who has served longer than any mayor in Boston history, is giving new, shameful meaning to the phrase “mayor for life.”

Related: Radio Boston: A Sweetheart Deal For the Sox?

This program aired on September 27, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.

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