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Boston mayoral debate | Renée Loth

In praise of gadflies

By Renée Loth
September 3, 2009

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It’s always good to have a candidate in a political race who has no chance of winning. In last night’s Boston mayoral debate, businessman Kevin McCrea was the man with nothing to lose, and the public discussion was the better for it.

McCrea dared to ask the rude questions that Mayor Menino’s other two challengers avoided. His charges against the incumbent, some of which sounded a little wild, will either be proven or not in the coming days. But McCrea gave voice to some of the quiet qualms Boston voters have after 16 years of one-person rule: that the development game is fixed for powerful insiders; that important decisions are made not from careful analysis but from the gut; and that Boston is falling behind other cities in 21st-century management approaches.

McCrea asked why the office building at One Beacon Street is still getting a tax abatement when the area is thriving; why an aide to the late city councilor Jimmy Kelly got a sweet pension deal while the City Council winked; why a vacant lot was sold to a Menino campaign contributor for less than its assessed value. One gets the sense he wouldn’t wear well over time, but McCrea performed the important function of the gadfly last night - to the point that Menino and Councilor Michael Flaherty both showed their irritation and swatted back.

Meanwhile, in their quest to be everybody’s second choice in the Sept. 22 preliminary, Flaherty and City Councilor Sam Yoon stuck carefully to their debating points, neither one distinguishing himself as a result.

As for Menino, he may have voiced a subliminal plea when defending the Boston Redevelopment Authority. The BRA is a change agent, he said, “and people don’t like change.’’

He had better hope so.

Renée Loth’s column appears regularly in the Globe.

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