|I think it’s time for us to fly the coop.
Elected public officials must endure an unrelenting occupational hazard. Every statement or public policy position is likely to provoke obstreperous criticism from someone.
When Mayor Tom Menino stated that he did not support the establishment of a Chick-fil-A restaurant in Boston, opponents of this policy came out in force. They primarily object to the marriage of same sex couples, a position strongly endorsed by Chick-fil-A’s president, Dan T. Cathy.
That issue has been decided in Massachusetts. The state Supreme Judicial Court has decreed that civil same-sex marriage is constitutionally protected here. Therefore, the mayor is well-advised to speak out to protect citizens against potential discriminatory treatment in places of public accommodation.
This is by no means a far-fetched concern. There is an extensive history in the U.S. of the mistreatment of blacks, women and gays in restaurants. A major front of the civil rights movement in 1960 was the Woolworth lunch counter sit-ins in Greensboro, N.C. Since then, Denny’s and Cracker Barrel restaurants, among others, have lost major discrimination battles in lawsuits.
Mayor Menino has never been reluctant to express his opinion on projects proposed for the city. Real estate developers change their plans to gain Menino’s support. Even the retail giant Wal-Mart decided to cancel their project to develop a store in Roxbury when Menino objected because of the unfavorable impact it might have on local merchants.
A surprising reaction to Menino’s comments on Chick-fil-A came from Boston’s black community. A group of prominent black Bostonians sent an “Open Letter” to the mayor commending his statements on Chick-fil-A but criticizing primarily his alleged failure to: employ minority workers on local construction sites; use black contractors; and promote minority police officers to command positions.
A natural element of the democratic political system is for citizens to become dissatisfied with the performance of an elected official. It is impossible for public officials to satisfy everyone all the time. The acid test is how the citizens vote on Election Day. In the last election for mayor in Nov. 2009, Menino polled more than 70 percent of Boston’s black vote. That clearly represents substantial satisfaction with Menino’s performance.
A sophisticated politician would not then rest on his laurels and become indifferent to perceived shortcomings. Everyone knows that Menino works tirelessly to implement his vision of the city and to strengthen the neighborhoods. Those who want to become involved in the process must be aware that politics is a contact sport and they must understand the rules of the game.
There is always a political battle over construction contracts, but unfortunately, minority contractors are often missing in action. That is about to change. The Greater Boston Interfaith Organization is developing a strategy to make minority firms more competitive. Undoubtedly the mayor will be responsive to an effective approach. It must be pointed out, however, that public records indicate the city has complied with regulations about hiring for minorities, women and local workers on city construction projects.
The police issue has become complex because the people are more concerned about youth violence and gang bangers than any other criminal issue. The most effective community asset in coping with this problem has been the Nation of Islam, but they have not been properly mobilized.
The “Open Letter” sets forth criticisms and complaints that the mayor will undoubtedly consider, but there is no evidence to support the allegation of racial discrimination in City Hall.