As 10-year elected official and native Boston Catholic, mayoral candidate Councilor-At-Large Michael Flaherty may seem more like the face of tradition rather than the face of change for Boston politics, but he said it is exactly his history that makes him right for the mayoral seat.
His competitors in the 2009 Boston mayoral race are City Councilor-At-Large Sam Yoon, an Asian-American with only two terms under his belt, and Kevin McCrea, a South Boston businessman who has never held a political office. Both claim to be the answer to Mayor Thomas Menino’s brand of government.
Flaherty, however, said his mix of progressive awareness, constituent-friendly openness and intrinsic knowledge of Boston’s past sets him apart from both Menino and the other challengers.
‘I know Boston. I’ve seen Boston at its very best and also have seen Boston at its very worst,’ he said. ‘You’re looking at someone who also has the ability to learn from Boston’s past and has also demonstrated the ability to embrace our collective future.’
Born and raised in South Boston, Flaherty, 40, said he has marched in the St. Patrick’s Day parade since he was a baby. This year’s parade was his 39th, and though it prohibited gay groups, he marched anyway. He said the parade is important to his own Southie community and does not define him.
He said he thinks it’s hypocritical for Menino to boycott the parade but still attend the other festivities.
‘I think the mayor kind of gets a free pass on this,’ he said. ‘He walks up the sidewalk. I walk up the middle of the street and say, ‘Hi’ and shake hands.’
He said he also marches in the Pride parade and was one of the pioneers in Massachusetts’ road to marriage equality.
In debates and interviews, Flaherty has strongly criticized Menino for his lack of city improvements and overall face he has put on Boston throughout his 16-year years in office.
‘People feel shut out from their local government around development issues,’ he said. ‘They feel the cake is already baked, the deal has already been cut, so why bother?’
Under Menino, he said, Boston has been ‘slow to evolve.’
‘ ‘I honestly believe that Mayor Menino, this administration, has managed to lower people’s expectations,’ he said.
Flaherty wants to ‘open up the doors of city government’ and allow constituents to be involved, he said, by televising key hearings and publicizing projects.
He is keen, first and foremost, to distance himself from Menino’s alleged follies.
‘He’s had 16 years to solve these issues and he’s asking for four more, and I say, ‘Why?’ he said. ‘It’s time for us to embrace the next generation of political leadership.’
Although Flaherty has made himself known through his work with unions, the New England Regional Council of Carpenters chose to endorse Menino instead of Flaherty.
‘We were in strong support for Michael Flaherty when he was City Councilor-At-Large,’ NERCC Political and Legislative Direcotr Tom Flynn said. ‘Unfortunately, 30 percent of our members are unemployed in the city of Boston and Flaherty takes a stance against development.’
Flaherty said although he enjoys the support of ‘many labor unions,’ he does not enjoy the support of the building trades because ‘they are in large part wholly-owned subsidiaries of Tom Menino.’
The immediate issues facing the next mayor of Boston also affect college students, including City Council President Michael Ross’ ‘No More Than Four’ initiative.
Like his fellow city councilors, Flaherty voted for the initiative, but unlike Yoon, he stands firmly by that decision.
‘You now have college students who have a college lifestyle buttressed up against a longtime resident or an elderly resident or someone that might have small children,’ he said. ‘It has disturbed other residents to the point where . . . they’re looking for regulatory help.’
He said he will first encourage universities to build more affordable on-campus housing, but also plans to investigate how the law can be better enforced.
The law, he said, is ‘on hold’ at present. As mayor, he said he would prefer to address issues more agreeable to students such as extending MBTA service hours.
Though Flaherty plans to reform the Payment-in-Lieu-of-Taxes program reform, he said potential increases in university payments won’t be shunted onto students as a ‘user fee.’ He said he plans to adjust school payments relative to each other and according to the services a city provides a university, and vice versa.
As mayor, he said he will make PILOT into a ‘consistent dedicated revenue stream’ from schools, he said, and it will be up to the schools to determine where potential extra money comes from.
Like Yoon and McCrea, Flaherty is opposed to Boston University’s Biosafety Level-4 laboratory in the South End.
The BSL-4 laboratory was pitched to him as being ‘as safe as a submarine in a vault,’ he said, but upon further research he determined that without a ‘comprehensive evacuation plan.’ He decided he could not trust the lab’s safety.
‘I initially had supported it based on their words,’ he said. ‘Then when I learned about it, I said there’s more than meets the eye, did a little research, and said we’re not ready.’
It is this educated, objective and open-management style that Flaherty said sets him apart from Menino and makes him uniquely qualified to be mayor.
‘There’s only one person in this race that can actually beat Tom Menino, and you’re looking at him,’ he said. ‘Sam Yoon and Kevin McCrea, they can’t win this race.’
‘I know what it’s going to take to get our city back on track and get us out of neutral,’ he said. ‘Other candidates can’t tell you about Boston’s past because they didn’t live here, and they haven’t learned those valuable lessons. They haven’t seen the good, the bad and the ugly.’
Although Flynn does not support Flaherty, he said he thinks Flaherty has a chance to win this election.
‘We have consistently supported Flaherty when he was city councilor,’ Flynn said. ‘[But] we do not think he has the ability to lead the city.’
Flaherty said he has been characterized as having feet in the camps of both ‘old’ and ‘new’ Boston, but he has a different view.
‘I subscribe to our Boston. We all want the same things,’ he said. ‘I’ll continue to do what I think is in the best interests of the city and make decisions on lessons that I’ve learned.’