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In Defense of Town Meeting. to voters and politicians

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In Defense of Town Meeting [Politicus #1,158]

The ancient Town Meeting we most vividly recall was on March 12 and 26, 1966, in T. Waldo Herrick Gymnasium in the new Duxbury High School. The meeting approved accepting the gift of the Wright Estate from the Ellison family for a “beautiful new school” in the words of the late Howard Clark, and to move forward in selecting sites for new fire and police stations. We spoke against building another school in the Alden Street/St. George St. area, and proposed putting new schools closer to the geographic center of town. A spirited interrupter called out, “Bunk!”

The moderator was Bartlett Bradley — son of Harry Bradley, the moderator of the 1930s and ’40s. With Charles Fargo and Allen Bornheimer, “Bart” was the second of five moderators, including Friend Weiler, over 75 years. A remarkable run of capability! If memory serves, the 1966 meeting was better attended than last Saturday’s session. But the excellence of the volunteers who serve the town today is at least good as their predecessors’. The long-term quality of the town’s servants has contributed to its long-term quality of life.

* Doubters of that might indulge another anecdote. Since joining The Clipper we have tried to concentrate on the complexity of issues affecting Duxbury and avoid other activism — except for one issue. In Boston, the failure of democracy is illustrated by two MBTA bus stops 6,600 feet apart, serving Faulkner Hospital and Lemuel Shattuck Hospital in Jamaica Plain. The Faulkner’s stop, which serves a lightly-used bus in a white neighborhood, has good lighting, sturdy shelters, a manual traffic light and a handicapped way crossing Centre Street.

The Shattuck’s stop, which serves relied-upon buses to black neighborhoods, has poor lighting, no traffic light and no curb cut in the center strip of Route 203 — a busy state highway. The main indication it is a bus stop at all is worn grass in summer and icy footprints in winter from attempts by passengers to scramble over the center strip to the outbound stop. It has functioned this way for as many 50 years.

No elected official high or low, black or white, ever seems to have noticed.  On January 15 — Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 84th birthday — we published our findings, with photographs, in   Six weeks later we attended a three-hour “state of the neighborhood” meeting with elected leaders. We intended to ask if there were any plans to redeem the Shattuck bus stop’s lethality.

But the public was not invited to speak. Only invited interest groups addressed the elected leaders. They responded with speeches flattering each other and making promises. We finally cornered the city councilor (Mr. O’Malley) who represents the Faulkner’s stop and the lethal part of the Shattuck’s. He said he would look into it.  We await his report.
At Monday evening’s resumption of Town Meeting, the intense issues were fluoridation of the drinking water and the proposed allocation of 60 percent of community-preservation funding for land acquisition. Each was fervently debated before being voted upon — fluoridation shall continue, and open space shall be the first purpose of community preservation. The meeting did not adjourn until 11 p.m., but — as was the case in 1966 — it was civil, it settled things, and it left the town free to move on to other issues.

There are of course many differences between city and suburb. Form of government is the one we want to emphasize. Communities that give up on Town Meeting invite the antics of professional politicians, and risk losing their effective democracy. Communities that keep Town Meeting tend to get better politicians — since they typically emerge from service on voluntary boards. Democracy, as Churchill noted, is the worst form of government (except the rest).
–D.A. Mittell, Jr.


Written by BostonMurrell

March 15, 2013 at 1:30 pm

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Bus Stops Tells a Story: review a pitifully inadequate bus stop serving mostly black riders of the T

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Bus Stops Tell A Story
 by David A. Mittell, Jr.

[Ca. 1,200 ww. Attached photographs by David A. Mittell, Jr. Cutlines follow text.]

Not to be overlooked in The Globe’s remarkable series on Boston’s black neighborhoods was Eric Moskowitz’  “Black commuters face longer trips” in the Nov. 25 Sunday Globe. The six key words in the story were, “The biggest gap is by bus.” 

Those words are important, first, because black citizens use the bus service in their neighborhoods in greater numbers than other citizens in other neighborhoods; and the service they get is often pitifully inadequate. They are important, secondly, because in the current economics of public transportation, rationalizing bus service is the only remedy that could possibly be implemented in this decade.

What needs to happen is that some of the largely empty off-peak buses easily seen seven days a weekthroughout the MBTA system should be eliminated. Their cost is extreme, and public funds would be more efficiently used to increase service in the neighborhoods where on every working day riders queue up for long waits for buses that are overloaded when they finally arrive.

That this has not long since been done is primarily a failure of elected leaders, black and white, high and low. The best evidence for this failure are MBTA bus stops in Jamaica Plain, serving hospitals 6,600 feet apart as the crow flies over Arnold Arboretum and Forest Hills Cemetery.

Bus riders suffer with no stop at Shattucks

the Morton Street outbound bus stop above for #21 and #31 buses has poor lighting and no curb cut at Shattuck Hospital.

Center strip on Morton Street/Route 203, looking east, showing grass worn by riders attempting to cross

Center strip on Morton Street/Route 203, looking east, showing grass worn by riders attempting to cross to outbound side

For 50 years, the stop at Faulkner Hospital, which serves the relatively lightly-used #38 bus to West Roxbury, has had good lighting, a sturdy shelter, a manual stoplight and, more recently, a second, outbound shelter and a handicapped way crossing Centre Street to the inbound shelter.
Looking west to Faulkner's outbound shelter, showing traffic light and handicapped way.

the curb is cut, the traffic light works and there is a stop sign and well marked walkway at the Faulkner hospital bus stop

By contrast, the Morton Street (also Route 203) stop at Lemuel Shattuck Hospital, which serves, the relied-upon #21 and #31 buses to Ashmont and Mattapan, has poor lighting and no curb-cut.

Until November 2012, when white lines were painted across Morton Street and reflecting signs added, the only indication it was a bus stop at all was worn grass in summer and icy footprints in winter from forced and dangerous efforts by the Shattuck’s workers and patients to navigate the granite curbs of the center strip in the middle of the highway.

Looking east across Centre Street to Faulkner's inbound stop.

Looking east across Centre Street to Faulkner’s inbound stop. People cross easily from outbound to inbound using walkway and red light.

The only shelter is an aluminum structure on the hospital’s property serving a shuttle to Forest Hills Station. It faces inward, away from the street, leaving riders with their backs to approaching buses. When an Ashmont or Mattapan bus arrives riders have to turn around and walk some 55 steps onto the highway, over the center strip and across to the outbound stop. Adding snow, ice and nighttime multiplies the lethality.

There is another stop on Jewish War Veterans Drive on the other side of the hospital that serves the #16 bus to Andrew Square and U-Mass Boston. There is good seating outside a Pine Street Inn emergency shelter, but no bus shelter, no traffic light and no white lines crossing the highway to the inbound stop on a sharp curve. Yet bicycle lanes have been painted along Jewish War Veterans Drive.

Sixth-tenths of a mile east of the Shattuck’s Morton Street stop, the American Legion Highway bridge has been extensively rebuilt. Farther along, housing has gone up on the site of the former Boston State Hospital. Elected leaders have had ribbon-cuttings there. But the condition of both of Shattuck’s bus stops seems invisible to them. It also seems invisible to Jamaica Plain citizens and activists who have attended some 15 years of public meetings about the future of the Arborway bus yard. More recently, so far as I know it has gone unmentioned in passionate fora about the fate of the Casey Overpass at Forest Hills. Both are 300 yards from the Shattuck.

The failure to notice must begin with two black politicians. For 16 years the Shattuck was in the district of State Senator Diane Wilkerson, and for 11 years it was also in the district of Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner. Both successfully advertised themselves as advocates for black Boston, and could fairly have been expected to be the first to raise hell about the discrepancy between stops at the Faulkner and the Shattuck. They never did. Both are now in prison for bribery.

But that is only the beginning. The Faulkner’s and Shattuck’s stops are now represented by City Councilor Matt O’Malley and State Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz (who succeeded Ms. Wilkerson), as well as by at-large councilors Felix Arroyo, John Connolly, Ayanna Pressley and Stephen Murphy — all said to have mayoral ambitions. Mr. Arroyo also lives some 1,000 feet from the Shattuck.

Not noticing continues up the power chain to 20-year Mayor Thomas Menino; Congressmen Michael Capuano and Stephen Lynch; Governor Patrick; and Senator Kerry. (Senator Warren gets a temporary pass.) High or low, black or white, not one of these leaders has taken responsibility for the Morton Street stop, which may have been as bad as it currently is for all of the 50 years since the highway was widened and divided. It follows that the same politicians have never noticed a discrepancy between overloaded buses in Dorchester and Roxbury, and buses running nearly empty through other urban and suburban neighborhoods.

Citizens queuing for overloaded rush-hour buses on Blue Hill Avenue, Morton Street and elsewhere in black Boston are not mainly people supported by government entitlements. Rather, they are the black working class. Some are students, but most are commuting to jobs whose remuneration and opportunities for advancement are not generally great. Elected leaders will say the right things about a black “glass ceiling” at the executive level. What they do not notice is the “concrete floor” where Boston’s black citizens live and work and try to improve their lives. The perennial state of the buses and bus stops this swath of working humanity depends on makes the case that it is their elected leaders who are at fault.

Unlike some of their predecessors 50 years ago, these officials do not solicit the bigot’s vote. On the contrary, they all see themselves as defenders of black citizens and can cite the ribbon cuttings they have worked to bring about to prove it. What  is going on? I believe their political hustle is not essentially different from that of Mr. Turner and Ms. Wilkerson. They strive to be seen to be helping a victimized black electorate. But striving to be seen is not to strive to see. Their purpose being self-serving, they are purblind to those they represent.

I believe the hustle to take credit for providing for a victimized black Boston — but not really paying attention — keeps it victimized. This has the effect of increasing insularity and fear, and helps explain why in this century’s emerging majority of combined minorities, black people in Boston lag in getting out of neighborhoods with poor bus service, bad schools and danger. Asians and Hispanics are moving out and up, as are somewhat increasing numbers of blacks. But many feel safer among their own. The neglect of their elected leaders (evidently all of them), combined with rhetoric that encourages black voters’ suspiciousness, does not serve them well. It is obviously better than cultivating the bigot’s vote. But 50 years on, in the teens of a new century, it will not do.
David A. Mittell, Jr. is editor of The Duxbury Clipper. He has lived in Jamaica Plain for 40 years. Previous versions of this story were rejected by The Boston Herald and The Patriot Ledger, and not responded to by The Boston Globe and The Jamaica Plain Gazette

Written by BostonMurrell

January 15, 2013 at 5:07 pm

Mass Gov blows it at JP drug lab, prosecutors perp-walk of Dookhan not much better.

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You can be persuaded ..

[Boston Globe, 10/2/12]

‘Perp Walk’ is a Bullying Tactic

The “perp walk” in front of cameras is one of contemporary prosecutors’ favorite forms of self-advertisement. Partly, it is a bullying tactic meant to lead to convictions and settlements. Always, its effect is to taint the jury pool and eliminate the presumption of innocence. The practice is criticized by civil-rights attorney Harvey Silverglate, but not many others.

In the case of former lab technician Annie Dookhan, charges filed by Attorney General Coakley were implicitly endorsed by Governor Patrick, whose own competence could be called into question by a full investigation of the operation of the state laboratory that employed Ms. Dookhan. The gratuitous display of state power when she was arrested at her home in Franklin is the responsibility of the attorney general. What makes it far worse is that, by obvious prearrangement, the Friday show ended up above the fold on the front page of Saturday’s Globe.

The press’s role in ginning up sentiment against criminal defendants has a sorry history one had hoped was in the past. The fault in this case is not with the photographer or reporters on the scene. It required editorial collusion.

David A. Mittell, Jr.
Jamaica Plain

On a related note,  Boston Phoenix reporter Chris Faraone ‏@Fara1 on Twitter,   September 28th wrote:  “Get caught with drugs, get held without bail.  Falsify drug evidence, bail yourself out for only 10k.” #mapoli 


Written by BostonMurrell

October 2, 2012 at 9:57 am

A Duxbury Slaver? The search for truth by David A. Mittell, Jr. Senior Editor of the Duxbury Clipper

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Politicus #1,115
A Duxbury Slaver?

by David A. Mittell, Jr.

At a biographers’ group last month a colleague mentioned that she
was having a hard time getting information about an 18’th-century
slave ship she believes was built in the North Shore village of
Bradford on the Merrimack River.  I suggested poking around the town of
Essex, where shipbuilding goes on today and where historical memory

This caused eyes to turn my way, as if to say, “Well, Mr. South
Shore wash-ashore, were there slavers built in Duxbury?”  I replied
that I had never heard of such a thing but would look into it

An answer came quickly.   On Jan. 11, 2011, The Patriot Ledger
reported that the schooner Gustavus — built in Duxbury in 1815 by
Nathaniel Winsor, Jr. – disembarked 26 African slaves, ages two months
to 36 years, in Savannah, Georgia, on October 6, 1821.  A facsimile of
the slave manifest is commemorated in a plaque on Savannah’s historic
River Walk. According to the Boston Public Library, the master of the
Gustavus was John Southworth of Duxbury.

The Ledger’s story may have relied too much on an Internet search.
It combines the Gustavus of interest with a vessel of the same name
that plied the passage to Ireland after the potato blight struck in
1845.  Duxbury’s Gustavus was a 64-foot schooner built for the coastal
trade, and by simple dint of her unseaworthiness was unlikely to be
carrying slaves from Africa – which was unlawful after 1808 under the constitution.

Patrick Browne, executive director of the Duxbury Rural &
Historical Society, notes that the Gustavus was leased from Nathaniel
Winsor, Jr. He believes the most likely point of embarkation for
Savannah was Baltimore, not Africa. He also notes that the copious
manifests of Duxbury’s greatest shipbuilder, Ezra Weston Jr., “King
Caesar” (1771-1842), show no record of transporting slaves. The
apparent use of the Gustavus was, he believes, unusual if not unique
for a Duxbury-built ship.

photo of the Nathaniel Winsor, Jr. House in Duxbury

Nathaniel Winsor, Jr. House

Nonetheless, if we exclude evidence that may be spurious, we are
left with money from a leased slaver going into the pocket of
Nathaniel Winsor, Jr. — whose elegant home on Washington St. is the
headquarters and showpiece of the Rural & Historical Society as the
town begins to celebrate the 375th anniversary of its founding.

When it comes to slavery I believe in mainly looking forward to the
country we are still creating. When we look back we should do so with
humility – for none of us can say how he would have acted (we think we
do but we don’t!) – and with steel-clear eyes for the truth.

At this juncture there are more unknowns than knowns. For example,
in the matter of John Southworth, a ship’s master was not the same
thing as a slave-master.  Writing a history of Duxbury in 1849, Justin
Winsor records seven children born to Jedediah and Betsy Southworth,
including Capt. Thomas Southworth (b. 1771, “d. at New Orleans 1819”);
John Southworth (b. 1773); and Nathan Southworth (b. 1778, “d. at
sea”). A seafaring family whose middle son was very likely the master
of the Gustavus.

But were crews typically leased with the vessels they had worked
aboard? More likely, a lessee scrummaged a crew from remnants of crews
and from men on the docks. The answer – before placing John Southworth
aboard a slaver along with other Duxbury men we would prefer to
remember as yeomen and patriots — requires a better-qualified
speculator than this writer. The search for truth must go on.

Two points can be made in certainty. First, whether or not Duxbury
men ever encountered the 26 Africans disembarked in Savannah in a way
that was inconvenient for the latter, we and their descendants are
brothers. The country we are building requires us to mutually
understand that, even if too many of our politicians currently do not.

Second, by no means should we look at ourselves as superior to
living Southern brethren who have seen clear to remembering the human
cargo of the Gustavus with a public plaque.

David A. Mittell, Jr. is Senior Editor of The Duxbury Clipper.  He’s the webmaster’s pal from Centre Street hangouts and they have been having conversations  for years. 

Thanks David!




Written by BostonMurrell

July 3, 2012 at 10:58 am

Posted in Fresh Spots

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