Mayoral challenger Michael F. Flaherty Jr. seized today on a series of recently disclosed e-mails from a senior City Hall official that appear to disparage Allston residents who have been challenging plans for a new housing complex in the neighborhood.
Michael F. Flaherty
"We work for you, and Mayor Menino works for you, and the BRA works for you, but you’d never know that from reading the e-mails," Flaherty said, standing at the proposed site of the new Charlesview Apartments, a vacant row of stores in the Brighton Mills Shopping Center. "It really underscores the culture at City Hall, a culture of dishonesty and corruption that must stop."
The e-mails, which were posted on an Allston blog, were sent to and from Jay Rourke, a senior project manager at the Boston Redevelopment Authority, and they concern plans to relocate Charlesview Apartments, an affordable housing complex, from North Harvard Street to a Harvard-owned former strip mall on Western Avenue.
In one e-mail, Rourke belittles neighbors who are seeking a less-dense project than the one sought by the developer, saying: “Let them play their games.” In another, he says, “When referring to the ‘community,’ I’m speaking of a few individuals who are forcing their ideas and beliefs on the masses.” In a third e-mail, he comments on neighborhood activists, saying: “Why do we continue to meet with these … people?”
Flaherty, an at-large city councilor running to unseat Mayor Thomas M. Menino, was joined at the news conference by his campaign partner, Councilor at Large Sam Yoon, and a dozen neighborhood activists holding his campaign signs. He cited the e-mails to reiterate his call to split the BRA into separate planning and development agencies, saying, "We will actually get input from the community that will be taken seriously."
Rourke has apologized for his comments, saying they were "internal e-mails" and "should not reflect on the agency."
Nick Martin, a spokesman for the Menino campaign, declined to comment and referred questions to the BRA. The director of the BRA, John F. Palmieri, blasted Flaherty's comments about a "culture of corruption," at City Hall, saying they were "terribly unfair" and "one of the most ridiculous things I've ever heard."
"It's more a reflection of a desperate campaign than the way we try to conduct business at the redevelopment authority," Palmieri said. "I found it insulting."
Palmieri added that Rourke's e-mails stemmed from a "lapse of judgment," and a letter of reprimand has been placed in his personnel file.
"Jay's lapse doesn't reflect the authority's point of view in how we deal with the neighborhood," Palmieri said. "On the contrary, we make every effort to maintain our balance and integrity with how we deal with these neighborhood issues."
When he opened up the news conference to questions, Flaherty was sharply questioned by Paul Alford, an Allston resident who asked how many of the more than 200 community meetings with the BRA Flaherty and Yoon had attended over the last four years.
"I've seen you at one meeting when the press was there -- that was it," Alford said. "So to be fair and balanced, I think you need to let the community know that the Flaherty-Yoon ticket has only been in our community maybe once or twice."
Yoon said he had been at a "half a dozen" community meetings in Allston. And Brent Whelan, a member of the Allston Brighton North Neighbors Forum who was holding a Flaherty-Yoon sign, jumped in and said he had spent two hours with Yoon walking the streets of the district.
"So it's not true that they haven't been here," Whelan said.
Flaherty delivered an impassioned rebuttal to Alford, saying it didn’t matter how many community meetings one attends.
“A lot of the community meetings you reference -- I got to be honest with you -- they're dog-and-pony-shows,” Flaherty said, jabbing his finger in the air. “The cake is baked. The decisions have been made. They’ll comment out there and 'yes' you to death. But most of your concerns are never, ever reflected in the final submission of a project. So you can go to a hundred community meetings and you'll be banging your head up against a wall because that's the way development works in the Menino administration."
Some of the activists surrounding Flaherty cheered, shouting "it's corrupt!" and "the cake is baked!"
On the beat
Columnist Shirley Leung says Boston mayor-elect Martin J. Walsh should focus on middle-class housing. Read more