Voters stay home, progressives
Published in the Brookline
May 11, 2000
The few Brookline residents who voted for Selectman last week opted for
Donna Kalikow and Robert Allen's promise of strong leadership rather than
Mark Levy and Don Weitzman's brand of grassroots input into decision making.
They also chose more overdevelopment, more subservience to big business
interests, and more nails in the coffin of Brookline's fondly remembered
progressive era. At this rate, Ronny Sydney should easily beat Frank Smizik
in the September Democratic primary for state representative. If the slide
escalates, someday soon our rep will be a Republican.
One mistake the progressive candidates made was avoiding discussion of
substantive issues. It was only after months of vague generalizations
that all four candidates finally identified publicly--just one week before
the election--a few specific points about which they disagreed. More or
less directly, they responded to the question put to them by TAB reporter
Emily Sweeney: "Has there been a decision made by the Board of Selectmen
that you disagree with? What was it, and what would you have done differently?"
They faced a similar question during the League of Women Voters forum,
which brought titters and nods from the audience and apparent discomfort
among the candidates.
The answers were instructive, though too late to have much impact. It
turns out the candidates did differ on issues ranging from overnight parking
to overdevelopment to forms of taxation. I'm not sure why they took so
long to admit this. If the progressives had emphasized from the beginning
a true progressive agenda and had focused on boosting the anemic voter
turnout, they might have formed a working coalition of neighborhood activists,
lower income residents, apartment dwellers, and others. Over 81% of registered
voters didn't show up at the polls and additional residents never registered.
Given the election's lack of substance and energy, they didn't have much
reason to bother.
Of course, the candidate least forthcoming in response to the TAB's question
was easily reelected. Although she was more direct at the League forum,
during her interview Donna Kalikow failed to identify any differentiating
issue. In fact, when Kalikow noted there were some Town Meeting decisions
she had disagreed with and Sweeney asked her to elaborate, the politician's
response was disconcerting: "Oh, that's not going to help me... I'm not
going to bite."
Allen at least means well and has plenty of enthusiasm and ideas. He
actually seems to listen when you talk to him. He could do some good if
he distances himself from the business forces that helped elect him and
becomes an independent thinker and doer, but right now it's too soon to
tell if he'll be just one more development-first echo.
The lawn signs now turn from the town election to the Sydney-Smizik slugfest,
which has demonstrated early on a difference from the Selectman campaign.
The race to represent most of Brookline in the House has already brought
an effort to differentiate the candidates, with Smizik blasting the record
Sydney's running on. Demonstrating an admirable display of specificity
in a letter to the Globe, the challenger listed several issues dear to
the hearts of local progressives on which Sydney caved in to the conservative
As I understand it, Sydney narrowly defeated John Businger two years
ago by defining the long-time incumbent's independent progressive stance
as ineffective. She said she'd build better working relationships with
other legislators in order to get things done. She failed to tell us that
the most important relationship would be with Speaker Finneran and that
getting things done didn't necessarily mean progressive things.
I'd be more impressed with Smizik's criticism of Sydney for trying to
maintain her credibility with the House leadership if Smizik's own School
Committee wasn't doing the same thing on MCAS. Smizik has taken the safe-for-Brookline
position that the high-stakes test should be reformed or replaced. But
he's refused to break School Committee ranks and come out against reprisals
for boycotters, and he still won't put any teeth in the committee's weak
verbal assurances that Brookline teachers don't dumb down the curriculum
and teach to the test. His head-in-the-sand approach to MCAS isn't a good
sign for those hoping to see a more independent voice in the House.
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