WHEN MAYOR MICHELLE WU convened a press conference on Monday to announce a new vaccine mandate for Boston restaurants and other indoor locations it looked more like a mini gathering of the Massachusetts Municipal Association than the rollout of a policy focused on the state’s capital city.
Among those there alongside Boston’s new mayor were Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone, Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, and Raul Fernandez, the vice chair of the Brookline Select Board.
Boston’s mayor has a political profile much greater than that of fellow municipal leaders. Indeed, the city’s mayor is generally regarded as one of the top political officials in the state – alongside the governor, the state’s two US senators, and top statewide officials. The mayor represents a community that is roughly the size of a congressional district, but commands far more regular attention than any of the state’s House members.
While that has long put Boston mayors on a level of their own when it comes to local officials, the COVID pandemic has underscored in a way that few things can just how meaningless municipal boundaries are when it comes to many issues affecting life in Greater Boston.
With that in mind, Wu and her team reached out to leaders in the region to let them know about the plan to announce new vaccine rules and to invite a handful of them to be part of the announcement. Others, including the mayors of Cambridge, Medford, and Melrose, and town administrators in Arlington and Brookline, provided statements applauding the new Boston policy and signaling they might follow suit.
Wu is “taking bold steps to address big problems, but she’s not going to do it alone but will bring us to try to figure out the right steps and do it with us,” said Fernandez, who spoke at the City Hall press briefing. “Especially in relation to this pandemic, if one community takes a step and others don’t, the impact is going to be really muted.”
Wu’s office echoed that sentiment. “The collaborative approach to the new policy reflects our shared interests across city limits and town lines, and the understanding that residents regularly cross into other communities for work, travel, and recreation,” a city spokesperson said.
Brookline’s select board was slated to take up the issue of enacting similar regulations last night as was Somerville’s city council.
“Parochialism and provincialism have held us back for a long time,” said Curtatone, who also spoke at the briefing. Curtatone, who is leaving office next month after 18 years as Somerville’s mayor, has for the last decade chaired the Metropolitan Mayors Coalition, a group started by Tom Menino during his long reign as Boston mayor. Curtatone said Marty Walsh continued the regional approach during his tenure, but he’s been excited to see Wu embrace the collaborative style so quickly out of the gate.
“Having Mayor Wu come in and right off the bat seek out others and regional collaboration – that’s big,” said Curtatone.
The quirks of Massachusetts history have created separate municipalities across the Boston area that, in other places, would have been incorporated into a much larger city.
“If this was the New York metropolitan area, we always joke that Somerville would be Brooklyn,” Curtatone said of his densely populated (and hipster-laden) burg.
Fernandez said Wu’s inclination to reach out regionally predates her election last month as mayor. Wu’s focus on public transportation issues as a city councilor was another example of something with a big impact on Boston that also affects other communities in the region.
“I remember from a few years back with the efforts that Michelle was really leading around transit and stopping fare hikes. She would do outreach to folks like me in Brookline to join her and be part of it,” said Fernandez. “And she would share the spotlight with other folks. The press would be there, and she would say, ‘You should talk to Raul, you should talk to Joe,’ or whoever was there. That kind of approach is so refreshing and so needed.”
It also shows a keen understanding of the most basic mathematical principle of politics: Getting things done is a game of addition.
Makeover, or takeover? A group of parents is pushing to convert struggling Charlestown High School into an innovation school that would focus on Early College programs and incorporate special needs students into mainstream classrooms. A provision of the plan would give priority to students from local elementary schools and that has teachers and others raising alarms about a takeover by new (mostly white) parents to the community.
– A designation as an innovation school would allow more flexibility to experiment with school curriculum, school-day length, and staffing, which has teachers nervous.
– Charlestown High’s graduation rate is 55 percent, while only 16 percent of students are meeting or exceeding expectations on the MCAS English test and only 28 percent are doing so in math.
– A key test for the proposal comes today, when a small committee consisting of the superintendent, the school committee chair, and the head of the Boston Teachers Union must decide whether to advance the proposal for additional consideration. Read more.
Debate over mandates: With COVID cases surging, Gov. Charlie Baker is shying away from mandates and other restrictions and telling Massachusetts residents to rely on the tools at their disposal – vaccines, testing, and mask-wearing. He said municipalities can go further if they want. Lawmakers, led by Senate President Karen Spilka, are criticizing the “patchwork strategy” and calling for an indoor mask mandate in public spaces. Spilka also favors requiring proof of vaccination to enter public venues, a tactic embraced this week by Boston Mayor Michelle Wu. Read more.
National Guard called in: To ease a hospital crunch, Gov. Charlie Baker halts all nonessential hospital procedures and calls in National Guard troops to help with non-medical tasks. He urges residents to wear masks in crowded spaces indoors. Read more.
Moderate tax growth: Forecasters are expecting moderate tax revenue growth next year but are worried about supply chain issues, inflation, and staffing shortages. Read more.
Fare-free talks continue: Buying time in her negotiations with the MBTA, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu postpones her plan to offer fare-free service on three bus routes for two years and instead uses federal funds to extend the Route 28 fare-free pilot another two months. The extension suggests the talks with the T are moving slowly. The T is wary of extending the pilots beyond six months because of concerns about the ramifications of raising fares again when the federal money runs out. Read more.
What you need to know about rapid tests: Nathaniel Hafer, an assistant professor of molecular medicine at the UMass Chan Medical School, explains the ins and outs. Read more.
FROM AROUND THE WEB
Framingham mayor-elect Charlie Sisitsky is hiring the director of inspectional services as his chief operating office and tapping Wayland’s town administrator as his chief financial officer, (MetroWest Daily News)
Swampscott, where Gov. Charlie Baker lives, approves an indoor mask mandate effective tomorrow. (Daily Item)
Amherst Town Council votes 9-4 to approve a zoning overlay that will allow a second downtown parking garage to be built. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)
Pittsfield identifies its initial priorities for spending ARPA funding. (Berkshire Eagle)
Outgoing Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz may be best known for making the state’s first legal recreational marijuana purchase, but during his 10 years in office he also oversaw the construction of a new public safety building, led efforts to pass tax overrides, and stabilized the community’s finances. (MassLive)
Cape Cod hospitals are at full capacity dealing with regular and COVID patients. (Cape Cod Times)
Massachusetts will get $804 million from a first round of funding from the federal infrastructure bill to improve roads, promote safety, and reduce pollution. (MassLive)
The New York Times’s David Leonhardt tries to get inside the head of Joe Manchin.
The Norfolk County district attorney is looking into possible fraud in signature gathering for four business-backed ballot questions, including two being pushed by rideshare behemoths Uber and Lyft to have their drivers classified as contractors, not employees. (Boston Globe)
Pet food is the latest industry being disrupted by supply chain issues. (Patriot Ledger)
Procter & Gamble recalls 32 dry shampoo and conditioner products after detecting the carcinogen benzene in them. (NPR)
Renowned Harvard scientist Charles Lieber was found guilty on federal charges of lying to the government about receiving payments from a Chinese university and cheating on his taxes. (Boston Globe)
The US attorney says the head of the Chicopee Housing Authority preferred white tenants and used racial slurs against Blacks and Hispanics. (MassLive)
Violent incidents have spiked in the area around Mass. and Cass – and business owners there say the troubling stats don’t even capture the degree of violence and threats they endure daily. (Boston Globe)
After state Rep. Alyson Sullivan says a man tried to lure her out of her car outside Target, the police say they have gotten other calls about similar incidents. (MassLive)
Chuck Hunt, the husband of former acting governor Jane Swift, died at age 67. (Boston Globe) Robert Witt, 87, and Diane Witt, 75, the parents of singer/songwriter Alicia Witt, are found dead inside their Worcester home. (Telegram & Gazette)