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Change is coming

4/15/2009, 5:49 a.m.
“Everybody knows you don’t mess with Ms. Elma Lewis.” ...
“Everybody knows you don’t mess with Ms. Elma Lewis.”

Change is coming

Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s efforts to thwart the Elma Lewis memorial project have angered many blacks in Boston. At Menino’s direction, the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) has decided to de-designate Elma Lewis Partners LLC as developers of the more-than-8-acre lot opposite Boston Police Headquarters on Tremont Street.

Menino’s surrogate, BRA Director John F. Palmieri, offered a fatuous explanation for the re-designation action, which infuriated the audience at a standing room only meeting last week. An article in the April 3, 2009, edition of the Boston Herald had asserted that Menino was essentially seeking vengeance for his friend, John Kavanagh, who had been downgraded as the project manager because major investors believed that he lacked the experience for a project of that size and complexity.

If that is true, then Menino’s action is even worse. He is willing to flout the decision of the Roxbury Strategic Master Plan Oversight Committee and destroy a living memorial for Elma Lewis, a community icon, to satisfy the peevishness of a personal friend. Sadly, Menino has never shown any such willingness to support peer black males.

While he was a city councilor, Menino became acting mayor in 1993 to replace Raymond L. Flynn, who had been appointed U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican. Menino won the City Council vote when fellow Councilor Tony Crayton, the former president of the Black Political Task Force, bolted from the liberal bloc and cast the winning vote for Menino. The move ultimately cost Crayton his bid for re-election. The normal political practice would have been for the mayor to appoint Crayton to a key spot in his administration. Instead, Menino turned his back on him.

In his 17 years as mayor, Menino has remained true to this policy: He has never appointed a black man to a major role in his administration. There have been some black women, but never a black man. In fact, this policy has extended to political endorsements. Menino did not support Barack Obama in the 2008 Massachusetts presidential primary. Nor did he support Deval Patrick in the 2006 gubernatorial race. Of course, as a good Democrat, Menino got in line after the election and supported the party’s candidate.

The real work of African Americans now is to develop empowerment, both economic and political. It will require considerable energy and the development of a positive attitude to overcome the debilitating history of being marginalized. By ignoring the sound judgment of the community activists and elected officials who serve on the Oversight Committee, Menino has continued the practice, employed by some politicians, of demeaning the black perspective.

Throughout his tenure, Menino has generated political support with his indefatigable attendance at community events. Citizens see him out, then identify him with times of celebration. Menino is also present as a consoling figure when tragedies occur. But when it is time to answer for his unpopular policies, Menino is absent. He sends surrogates.

City Councilors-at-Large Michael Flaherty and Sam Yoon, as well as the other announced candidate for mayor, Kevin McCrea, understood the significance of last week’s Oversight Committee meeting, and they made it a point to be present. Menino’s failure, once again, to show up to defend one of his failed policies was well-noted.

Menino has already been the longest serving mayor in the history of Boston. In his 17 years of service, he has accrued many achievements. But it is not possible to be in office for so long without piling up mistakes along with the kudos. The wise politician knows when it is time to bow out on the upbeat.

After the Elma Lewis decision, no self-respecting African American can vote for Menino if he chooses to run again. It is time for Menino to step down so that he will be remembered for his many achievements.