Michelle Wu's bid to become Boston'' next mayor has been built on bold ideas, from eliminating MBTA fares to abolishing the city' s powerful development agency. However, realizing them will depend on a place where mayors have little influence: Beacon Hill.
Bostons voters are often engulfed by campaign promises that, whether quietly acknowledged on the campaign trail or not, depend heavily on action or funding from the State House. Wu, whos risen to the top of the leaderboard in her head-to-head race with Annissa Essibi George while also demonstrating an ambitious platform, is facing this issue.
Even in a Democratic-dominated Legislature, some of her most significant campaign goals have faced and will face significant opposition. While the Boston mayors office has an unrivaled bully pulpit to push change, providing the funding for a quasi-state transit system to be free, for example, or raising certain taxes to cover some costs to pay for others are decisions that lie with state government, where the gatekeepers are statewide legislatures and govt. who are accountable to the entire state.
Wu has very ambitious objectives: Lets get rid of rent. Lets make the T free.. Shes at least put a marker out there to turn the world upside down. But this is not a system that is easy to maneuver, said state Representative Russell E. Holmes, whose party is weighing who to endorse in the race.
Im going to spend an enormous amount of time on my questions of attainable, he said. You can have a bold marker, but when do you expect to achieve that?
Beacon Hill has a foothold in regulating dozens of municipal matters, from building regulations and allotting liquor licenses to whether he can create new sources of income. Boston often needs the Legislature to approve a so-called home rule petition to implement major changes.
Essaibi George has seized on Wus ambitions to critique her fellow city councilor for pursuing unrealistic goals, particularly in pushing for fare-free public transit, which she calls legislating by hashtag.
Wus campaign, in turn, has repeatedly stated that she has the most support from Beacon Hill. She has at least 22 senators, including outside of Boston, who have endorsed her in the House, demonstrating her ability to forge relationships there.
Theres a general consensus that we need to be inventive and bold in figuring out how to quickly support our communities, Wu said. Collaboration and partnership are at their peak in this time.
Its not always easy. Former mayor Martin J. Walsh had been a state legislator and had sat well with Republican Governor Charlie Baker. Yet, he struggled to achieve certain goals, either because they were rejected or because a state did not have the resources to support them. When he first ran in 2013, a year after retiring, Reilly was only 21. , Walsh, for example, promised free prekindergarten for all, something that Wu and Essaibi George are also promoting. Walsh, on the other hand, stated that when he left office this year, the city provided seats for only over half of Bostons 4-year-olds, implying that the municipality needed a greater commitment on a statewide level.
Walsh secured a victory on housing when lawmakers agreed this year to give the city more power to obtain affordable housing commitments from developers. But an earlier effort to prevent tenants from being displaced, a key element of Walshs housing policy at the beginning of his tenure, failed in the Legislature.
Wus platform is heavily reliant on state buy-in. The Roslindale Democrat has called for a repeal of MBTA fares, supported the re-instatement of rent control decades after Massachusetts voters banned it, and offered 'a plan to radically change Boston', including by dissolving the Boston Planning & Development Agency.
All of them would require approval at the State House. Shes also proposed a Boston Green New Deal, sweeping environmental legislation that includes, among other things, accelerating deadlines to reach citywide carbon neutrality and installing more solar infrastructure on municipal buildings actions within the cityd authority. The plan, on the other hand, calls for free public buses and an increase in the gas tax to pay for it, which would require specific legislative action.
Baker, for one, has rejected the idea of restoring rent control, and such proposals in the Legislature have so far failed. Democratic leaders in the Senate and House have repeatedly wrangled with demands to increase funding for the MBTA, but they have never publicly discussed plans to replace the hundreds of millions of dollars the quasi-public agency collects each year in fares if they were eliminated.
Aaron Michlewitz, a Wu supporter and North End Democrat who serves on the powerful House budget committee and chairs the House oversight committee, said policymakers shouldnt rule out any idea for improving the T, but that the agencys primary focus should be stabilizing its finances and providing better service.
Im certain that well be able to accomplish a lot of things together. But if Wu is elected, we'll have to have some open and contentious discussions, according to Michlewitz. Thats whatre supposed to happen, she added.
Wu supporters claim there is a desire to reshape the citys planning and development process. But whether the Legislature would accept to effectively abolish the agency, as Wu has urged, is unclear. Its original release was established under state law, which required the legislature to approve such a change.
Michelle and I were with Bernie Sanders [in the presidential election], and they do this too: They throw out these very difficult ideas. But, in reality, if you arent thinking big, then youre not thinking, said state Rep. Michael J. Moran, an Wu supporter and the Houses assistant majority leader.
I dont think for a minute shes going to abolish the [BPDA], the Brighton Democrat said. But is she going to make some big changes, such as splitting permitting and planning? We need to streamline it, he added.
To be sure, the mayor has a lot of control over the city's sprawling bureaucracy and the ability to make decisions unilaterally or with the City Council' approval. Wu, for example, has said she would emphasize a public health-centered focus on policing, such as hiring more counselors, decisions that are far beyond Beacon Hills consideration.
When we talk about big issues like climate justice, of course that has global and statewide implications, Wu said. As a result, we have doubled our street-tree canopy to clean the air. Its changing to electric school buses. All of these issues at the city level stem from the day-to-day impacts on peoples lives. Theres always a way to make progress.
Essaibi Georges own platform appears to rely less on obtaining state approval for a variety of ideas than on building on existing ones. Nevertheless, certain aspects of her agenda may conflict with Beacon Hills more deliberate pace.
While both candidates have pushed for universal pre-K, Essaibi George has promised to provide it in her first 100 days, which would likely require a significant amount of funding, including state assistance. Walshs administration estimated that making a quality, full-day preschool accessible to all of the city 4 year-olds would cost $56 million during his first term.
We can assist efforts that are already taking place at the State House," Essaibi George said. It doesnt have to begin at the city level, she said.
Both candidates, at least for a year, would also have to work with Baker, whose office, for example, is currently involved in helping to find ways to ease the humanitarian crisis at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard. Baker hasn't announced whether he'll seek a third term next year.
Essaibi George said shes confident she can work with whoever it is in the governor office. Wu said she wants to make sure the citys needs are heard loud and clear.
But would that be easier with a Democrat?
Wu responded in one word. Yes.
Matt Stout can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout.