If we want a new day at Boston City Hall, then the process is just beginning
Whether you backed Walsh or Connolly or wrote in a candidate from the primary, I think we all had a collective sigh of relief when the election was finally over. Many of us will be tempted to get back to our “real lives.” The holidays are around the corner and your thoughts may have shifted from E-Day to Black Friday. But I want to offer a tale of caution.
I learned my lesson in 2008. I spent much energy getting Obama elected, I made my sojourn to the inauguration and then while I was feeling proud of myself, the Tea Party was mounting and President Obama was being lobbied by people with a different vision for America than me. Things got so bad that just a month ago we saw the entire government shut down.
So the election is over — we know who the mayor is. However, if we really want to see a change in the city we have to stay in the game. There are a lot of big decisions that will be made during this transition process and the first 100 days. I think we have to be on the lookout for two key things — the right people and the right process.
We need to make sure that the right people move into City Hall. Resignations are abounding and there will be a major turnover not just on the 5th floor but throughout the departments. While the top jobs like school superintendent need to be watched, we also need to know that there will be attention paid to lesser known departments like Inspectional Services or the Licensing Department. We need to make sure that City Hall will reflect the demographics of Boston and we need to make sure that people are chosen because of what they do and not who they know.
With the right leadership in place, we also need to figure out the right process to open up City Hall so that it is more transparent and more accountable to communities. For example, Mayor-Elect Walsh has promised to transform the BRA into an economic development agency. That means a lot of shifting, and the details will really matter. There will need to be a lot of community meetings and we need to make sure that people come out not just to complain, but to offer concrete solutions that can transform the development process in this city.
After the primary some leaders of color came together to talk about the issues that each candidate needed to address. At that time people talked about the need for an ongoing forum for folks to come together, build a common agenda and hold both candidates and elected officials accountable. We agreed that we needed to learn from the history of efforts like the Black Political Task Force and to capitalize on the growing strength of groups like Right to the City Vote and Oiste. Over the next couple of weeks, that group will be convening meetings to talk about how to engage with the transition team in the short term and how to build community power in the long term. Many of us see it as a good sign that the three top candidates of color are on that team. So the people piece is there, but now we have to pay attention to the process. We have been to our fair share of bad community meetings, so we are hoping for a well designed process with clear goals and well-facilitated meetings.
Nonetheless, the fate of communities of color doesn’t just remain with the Walsh administration. Even as we engage in the important work of the next few months, we need to be building for future elections. So my advice to all of Boston, and particularly communities of color — remain engaged in the political process, there is still a lot of work to do.
Mariama White Hammond is executive director of Project Hip Hop (Highways Into the Past — History, Organizing and Power), a Dudley Square-based youth-led organization that works at the intersection of arts and organizing.