COMMONWEALTH RAN more than 400 commentary pieces in 2020, providing a lively forum for ideas and debate.

The pieces came from people on the left, the right, and everywhere in between. They came from regulars like former state transportation secretary Jim Aloisi, attorney Margaret Monsell, lawyer/historian Lawrence S. DiCara, and Dr. Paul A. Hattis. And they came from people with a bone to pick or an idea or a piece of legislation to push.

My personal favorites were op-eds that surprised me or taught me something new. Andy Metzger is a former colleague of mine who prior to joining CommonWealth worked at the State House News Service. He always struck me as a reporter without an agenda, yet after moving to Pennsylvania in 2019 to attend law school he went from neutral observer to full-on political partisan in the race for president. It was an astonishing transformation, and one he defended in an op-ed that ran in October.

Ari Ofsevit, a senior associate at the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy and a member of the TransitMatters board, is an activist making a huge impact with words. In November, he opened my eyes to the fact that the MBTA’s plan to purchase “enhanced electric hybrid buses” wasn’t as green as it sounded. In fact, he claimed it was a case of green-washing, a charge the T went to great lengths to defuse at a meeting of the Fiscal and Management Control Board.

My colleague Michael Jonas also had his personal favorites. He liked Keri Rodrigues’s take on what it’s like to be a mom during the pandemic. Rodrigues, the founder and CEO of Massachusetts Parents United, described herself as a superintendent overseeing a school district with three students – her three kids. Jonas also liked an op-ed by Ben Forman, the research director at MassINC, analyzing the spending habits of the state’s sheriffs.

And then there was the piece by Sarah Rocha, the mother of a student at Roxbury Preparatory Charter School. Rocha urged Boston Mayor Marty Walsh to clear the way for the city’s development agency to bring a plan to build a new high school in Roslindale for the school’s students to a vote before the agency’s board. The plans have been held up for months by strong opposition from some neighbors. Almost a year after her piece appeared, the year is ending with the project still in limbo and the school now considering other possible sites.

These are CommonWealth’s most read op-eds of 2020, in descending order.

  1. What if we eliminated the police?  by David J. Harris. June 4

“We often read on the side of squad cars that the police are at the ready ‘to serve and protect.’ We also recognize this as a big lie.”

Boston Police on Tremont Street where a patrol car went up in flames. (Photo by State House News Service)
  1. Police chief tells doctor to stay in her lane, by Mark Leahy. October 5

“I would respectfully suggest that the doctor stay in her own lane. She knows nothing of the world that we operate in. Likewise, I’ll refrain from offering medical advice.

  1. It’s time to stop blaming nursing homes, by Chris Hannon. May 25

“The COVID-19 pandemic has made the work of these employees much more demanding.  They are often forgotten in the midst of the greatest public health crisis of the past century, despite their role in caring for the most vulnerable of our family and friends.”

  1. Here’s why we’re forming a union at PSAV, John Brown. January 21

“Many of the events we work on are short-staffed. And even though we’re entrusted with producing high-profile events for celebrities and CEOs, we’re struggling to afford our rent. We’ve raised our concerns with upper management, but they’ve dismissed us. We’re frustrated that a global industry leader that prides itself on exceptional service doesn’t respect the skilled men and women who perform that service.”

  1. Public has interest in Pan Am Railways sale, by TransitMatters Rail Group. August 1

“Pan Am and its corporate predecessor Guilford are notorious for paring service and infrastructure investment to an absolute minimum while offloading as many costs as possible onto the public sector. To rectify the resulting unnecessary deficits in rail infrastructure and service incurred through decades of Pan Am/Guilford disinvestment, and to revitalize rail service for both passenger and freight throughout New England, the public sector must take a strong role in determining the ultimate fate of the Pan Am system.”

  1. Dr. Lee: ICU units won’t beat this disease, by Paul Hattis. April 2

“I want to underscore that the way to beat this is not intensive care units and hospitals, but good public health measures, such as socially distancing, good handwashing, and hygiene.”

Dr. Jarone Lee
  1. Put the menthol cigarette ban on hold, by Jonathan Shaer. May 11

“At a time when health experts and governors are strongly discouraging travel and recommending 14-day self-quarantining for those crossing state lines, Massachusetts adults who prefer menthol cigarettes and mint/wintergreen smokeless tobacco will have little choice but to travel out of state or tap the black market to obtain these products.”

  1. COVID-19 outbreak shows importance of unions, by Mark Erlich. April 16

“Unionized nurses, factory workers, grocery workers, and janitors have, in recent weeks, demanded increased compensation as well as protections in terms of sanitized workplaces, gloves, masks, and other equipment. In some cases, the voices of these organized workers have been heeded, in others they have been resisted, but the power of their collective expression means they cannot be ignored. In contrast, the sporadic walkouts and threatened strikes by the now indispensable workers at Instacart, Whole Foods, and Amazon have garnered publicity but are doomed to limited success in the absence of organizational clout and the inherent difficulties of protests limited by social distancing.”

  1. Coronavirus risks: Know them, avoid them, by Erin Bromage. May 15

“Ignoring the terrible outbreaks in nursing homes, we find that the biggest outbreaks are in prisons, religious ceremonies, and workplaces, such as meat packing facilities and call centers. Any environment that is enclosed, with poor air circulation and high density of people, spells trouble.”

  1. Voters now agree with Warren, by Evan Falchuk. July 10

“According to [Sen. Elizabeth] Warren, the criminal justice system is “racist…I mean front to back.” At the time, her comments seemed daring and controversial, and they set off a firestorm of criticism from police, Gov. Charlie Baker, and other Republicans. Less than two years later, polling suggests her assessment is now a mainstream point of view.”

Gov. Charlie Baker at a press conference at Pfizer Inc. in Andover. (Pool photo by Stuart Cahill of the Boston Herald.)
  1. Governor’s COVID-19 orders are unconstitutional, by David R. Geiger. June 21

“It is unclear what induced the governor’s radical measures.  Perhaps it was fear of the unknown, the lockdown examples set by China and Italy (one a totalitarian state and the other with a history of fascism and communism), or the news media’s unceasing coverage of the latest possible catastrophe to destroy the world.  But what is clear is that the governor’s orders are unconstitutional, unscientific, and destructive.  The people of the Commonwealth should rise up against them, insist that they cease immediately, and ensure that they never recur.”

  1. Massachusetts phase 3 reopening plan is hardly vigilant, by Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone. July 10

“As someone who is attempting to make sense of these regulations, their staging, and the larger public health factors at play with our response to coronavirus, I have to report that what we’re being handed is a hot mess. We’ve watched other states bungle their reopenings and we seem to be following in their footsteps.”