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In seeking a fifth term in 2009, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino is facing the most crowded field of challengers since he first won the job in 1993. Three other candidates are vying for the post: City Councilors Michael Flaherty and Sam Yoon, and South End businessman Kevin McCrea.
Early in the race, WBUR invited each of the candidates into our studios to discuss their campaigns and the issues they care about.
City Councilor Michael Flaherty has served on the council since 2000 and was its president for four years from 2002. He's a former assistant district attorney in Suffolk County, and is currently a partner in a Boston law firm.
Start by telling us why you want to lead the city of Boston.
CITY COUNCILOR MICHAEL FLAHERTY: I'm running for mayor because we can do better. I say that as a father with three small children in the Boston public schools, recognizing that not only do we need to make improvements with our schools, but we also — in listening to residents and sharing their concerns around youth violent crime, substance abuse, we talk about the city needing to do more with less, but at the same time, folks don't feel confident with respect to the way things are going in their neighborhood, specifically with their childrens' education.
You've said, if elected, you'd run the most open City Hall in Boston history. And yet, recently the Boston Globe asked for a list of your law clients, which you've refused to release. Why? And doesn't it seem odd?
FLAHERTY: When I talk about transparency, I'm really talking about accountability and taking responsibility on what we as a city promise to deliver. I want residents to know why decisions are being made, and by whom. And I also want that data to be made available to the residents and taxpayers online.
Considering that you're a Boston city councilor, are you too close to your clients?
FLAHERTY: No, because — well, one, you can never be too close to your clients, that would actually be a good thing if your client thinks that you're too close to him or her. Fact of the matter is I do not do any business before the city of Boston — any governing body of City Hall.
Would you stop practicing if you're elected?
FLAHERTY: Yes. I'll be mayor of Boston and, you know, will not be able to dedicate any time to the practice of law.
In your opinion, what's the most pressing issue facing the city of Boston right now and tell us how you'd deal with that issue.
FLAHERTY: Sure. The most pressing issue is the economy and it's impact on youth violence and public safety, education and job growth. I can say that, you know, we need to be looking forward as to how we are training our children and creating an environment for our businesses that allow us to fully utilize not only the stimulus package, but to embrace the global economy and the new emerging green economy.
Let's move to education. How would you address the city's dismal school graduation rate?
FLAHERTY: Well, first, you know, I think we need to have a performance review of all departments, so that the dollars are spent in the classroom, and we need to take some smart steps, like improving communication between our schools. You know, we also need to consider putting street workers back into the schools, so that we're providing and preserving a safe learning environment.
As well as, most importantly, we need to create year-round student employment. Programs like School to Career, connecting activities as a way to give students an opportunity to use their classroom knowledge in a work environment. And putting programs in place at not only the elementary- but also at the high-school level. Giving kids the tools and the confidence that they need to be able to compete.
And I also would consider, again as the next mayor of our city, borrowing from the best practices in the private sector and applying them to city government. And those are some things that I would do to sort of help, you know, Boston deal with, not only the low graduation rates, but with also the fact that we have more under-performing schools than performing schools.
How would you shift money? Where would you find new money within the school department budget to put directly into classrooms?
FLAHERTY: Sure, well there's a number of things that, you know, we need to do. We need to eliminate wasteful government spending. I've long touted a program called CitiStat. What that does is that drives up the level of efficiency in services, at the same time lowers the cost associated with providing these services — whether it's street cleaning, snow removal, pothole repair, just to name a few.
One other area is, I would go as mayor, go department by department and eliminate the overpaid consultants that currently permeate the halls of Court Street and Shroder Plaza and City Hall itself. Because we can no longer afford those consultants. And so by making those necessary cuts, clearly you're freeing up real dollars that you could put back to the classroom.
Also, we continue to struggle with school transportation costs. We're over $76 million, we're closing in on $80 million.
In transportation costs?
FLAHERTY: That's correct. So, there's a better way to provide quality education for our children. There's a better way to provide more choices for parents. And most importantly, there's a better way to recognize the great strengths that allowing a child to go to school closer to their home has value.
Let me ask about Boston firefighters. Do you support mandatory drug and alcohol testing of firefighters? It's certainly been an issue in contract talks between the firefighters and City Hall, and an incredibly contentious issue.
FLAHERTY: True. Yes, and I have stated publicly that I support mandatory random drug and alcohol testing for the fire department. In fact, I'm going to be instituting yearly performance reviews on all departments. And decisions I make will be guided by performance data and results.
Recently, you received some attention for calling the police department to criticize the way it handled fitness tests for recruits, after your wife failed the exams. Why did you do that and, in hindsight, was it appropriate?
FLAHERTY: I called with respect to a policy initiative. The fact of the matter is that we currently do the PAT at the end of the entire recruit investigation process.
So we're spending somewhere in the victinity of close to $40,000 per recruit. What I proposed was doing the PAT at the very beginning. So that folks that are physically fit and are able to pass the physical aptitude test, then we're making an investment.
So you're not even saying, 'My timing was bad' in this issue. You think you were on the money in your concern.
FLAHERTY: Yeah, during the — especially during the last — we were doing it during the last budget cycle. And when you're looking at, whether it's recruit investigation or the fact that we're canceling police classes, and you're saying to yourself, wow, we're sort of throwing away hundreds of thousands of dollars every year. Does this make sense? Is there a better way? Is there a sound policy? That's basically what I was recommending last year.
Mayor Menino, as you know, has requested that unionized city workers agree to take a one-year voluntary wage freeze in order to save some money. Some city workers have accepted the freeze, others are resisting it. What's your view?
FLAHERTY: Yeah sure. There's lots of moving parts to our budget, and so I don't blame anybody for not embracing the wage freeze. At the same time, I also know that this may not be a one-size fits all panacea for our budget woes.
I had proposed a program which I called "Give Six." And "Give Six" would require city employees to work one day a month, every other month, without compensation. Not only would we not have to lay off employees — specifically those that are providing critical services to our residents and taxpayers — but we would restore $20 million, possibly even more, back to the city coffers.
But that's working for free. Why not just give those people furloughs for those days instead?
FLAHERTY: It's a type of a furlough, so that makes perfect sense. I'm calling it a "Give Six," again, as a way to highlight the fact that maybe the wage freeze isn't for everybody.
And at the same time, before we start asking folks to accept the wage freeze, we need to take a look at ourselves. This administration needs to, again, demonstrate that they're going to do more with less. The fiscal mismanagement over the last 16 years has led to reduced city services and inefficient government.
So, it's time. It's time for new leadership, it's time for new blood, for new energy, for new passion. To make sure that we're making the necessary changes and that these decisions that we're making is being guided by performance measures and results.
This program aired on May 15, 2009.
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