Mayoral candidate and City Councilor-At-Large Michael Flaherty met with The Daily Free Press yesterday and began the discussion by answering the question: ‘How are you different from Mayor Thomas Menino?’ His answer would continue throughout the length of the interview, during which he would uphold his, City Councilor-At-Large Sam Yoon’s and businessman Kevin McCrea’s campaign-long trend of setting up series of binary oppositions between themselves and Menino. What Flaherty did differently than his opponents was to back up his statements of comparisons with concrete examples of what the current mayoral regime is doing wrong, and how he can make it right. He stands for similar issues as his rivals, but backs those issues up with step-by-step solutions wrought with reason.
For example, regarding the issue of a more transparent government, Flaherty plans to utilize television and the web and have many city meetings broadcast on multiple channels of communication. And concerning the Biosafety Level-4 lab being planned for the South End, Flaherty explained that he wouldn’t allow it to open, if elected, until an effectual emergency evacuation system is developed. These prime issues notwithstanding, Flaherty also touched upon several less talked-about but still cogent issues within the city, like Harvard University’s Allston expansion, keeping public transportation open later for nighttime commuters, updating Boston’s roads for bikers and even more environmentally friendly City Hall. With goals like this, Flaherty truly sets himself apart from the mayor and the other candidates, and also establishes a sense of competition that serves as a motivator and puts pressure on the rest of them to tackle issues with his kind of gusto and determination.
What also sets Flaherty apart from his fellow candidates, however, is not so positive. Flaherty is the only candidate who seems to wish to close the gap between Boston’s massive student population and its residential citizens ‘- but close it with a wall, not with communication and integration. He seems to think of college students first as students and only secondly as Boston residents and potential members of his constituency, stereotyping them as constantly partying and constantly needing stomach pumps, dialing 911 too often, fighting in the streets and disturbing the ‘quality of life’ of area residents. And by strongly upholding the statutes of City Councilor Mike Ross’s discriminatory ‘No More than 4’ ordinance and suggesting that campuses should offer more on-campus housing to keep students out of area neighborhoods, Flaherty discounts what the college students who make up 1/3 of Boston’s population have to offer neighborhoods intellectually, financially and otherwise. And in his effort to set himself apart from Menino by convincing voters of his progressiveness and hipness, isolating Boston students does nothing to help.
Flaherty doesn’t claim to not be a politician. Instead, he asserts that he is the correct kind of politician, which seems believable considering his pragmatism, evenhandedness and commitment to specific resolutions to specific problems. But without the support and esteem of one of Boston’s largest, most motivated demographics ‘- students ‘- Flaherty may come up short, despite his alleged comprehensive understanding of Boston’s social dynamics. After all, Boston is ‘- whether Flaherty wishes to admit it or not ‘- a college town through and through.