Reporter’s Notebook: The politics of closing a neighborhood library

It usually goes like this: An angry mob, largely clueless and fearful of government taking away their guns and religion, faces off against an elected or appointed official who attempts to explain how government actually works.

But there was somewhat of a role reversal this week, as an angry mob that included a number of elected officials at the state and local level, clinging to four branch libraries slated for closure, attempted to explain how government works to the Boston Public Library board of trustees.

State Rep. Byron Rushing, a member of the state’s House of Representatives since 1982, had the sharpest comments for the mayorally-appointed board, which had complained that lawmakers had gutted their budget: “I find your relationship with the state Legislature outrageous,” he said, with over 140 opponents of library closures behind him. “I can think of very few institutions that come to the Legislature for funding that have such a terrible relationship with the Legislature.”

For good measure, the Roxbury Democrat added: “You have had lobbyists who are awful. You have literally done a bad job.”

Now hold on, responded one trustee, Evelyn Arana-Ortiz. What? Go up to the State House? To pat people on the back? (Her comments brought to mind the infamous quote from Martha Coakley. Asked by a Globe reporter if she was being too passive in January’s Senate election and not lobbying voters hard enough, Coakley said, “As opposed to standing outside Fenway Park? In the cold? Shaking hands?’’ Six days later she would lose the race to replace the late Edward Kennedy.)

Arana-Ortiz, who is also vice chair of the board, sniffed, “I don’t plan to be a politician.”

Her remarks prompted an outburst from the crowd: “You’re an advocate!”

“There’s nothing wrong with lobbying for a good cause,” said David Vieira, president of City-Wide Friends of the Boston Public Library. “It’s not a matter of patting people on the back.”

Perhaps it shouldn’t be too surprising: the board appears to be a shell of its former self, in both having a deeper knowledge of Politics 101 and being independent-minded. Even the Globe editorial board, which supports the closures, has admitted that in terms of fundraising, the current make-up is lacking.

It once had the famous historian David McCullough, former state Senate president William Bulger, and state Rep. Angelo Scaccia (D-Hyde Park). The last two could have picked up the phone to call members of the Legislature and find out what was going on with the state budget, instead of having to rely on the Menino administration’s legislative liaison and her BlackBerry, as the current trustees did on Monday.

Paul La Camera, general manager at WBUR and a current trustee, acknowledged that there had been a lot of “transition” on the board, as well in the state Legislature: The Senate president and House speaker are no longer from Boston. (Speaker Robert DeLeo represents Winthrop, while President Therese Murray is the senator for Plymouth.)

La Camera questioned why lawmakers were pushing amendments that would pull more money from the library system – which elected officials say is what will happen if the library closures go through – and called them “draconian.”

He added that he and Boston Public Library President Amy Ryan had civil and “constructive” meetings with the pols on Beacon Hill.

“If we’ve stumbled along the way, we apologize,” he said.
 
Signs in the Fifth Suffolk
Garrison sign: As seen on Columbia Rd., May 25, 2010.Garrison sign: As seen on Columbia Rd., May 25, 2010.
Lawn signs for the Fifth Suffolk District race are cropping up in the district’s neighborhoods. And some of them are in violation of local law prohibiting signs on public property.

But a few questions may stand out after reading those signs, which tout an endorsement of Democratic candidate Althea Garrison from Steve Wise and the Independent Christian Coalition: Who is Wise? And what is his group about?

Wise told the Reporter this week that he’s a “lifetime” resident of the district, who in the past ran against former state Sen. Bill Owens and is now attempting to create the Independent Christian Coalition as a political designation to run under and endorse candidates. (He says he’s still gathering signatures in order to get the designation from the Secretary of State’s office, which handles elections.)
Wise said he pulled nomination papers to run for the Fifth Suffolk seat, but his signature gatherers didn’t follow through.

Garrison, who briefly held the seat for one two-year term in the 1990s and frequently runs for office, said she does not know Wise that well but welcomes his endorsement. Indeed, she touted him in an ad that ran in the Reporter last week, saying, “As Steve Wise Says – Be Wise, Vote Garrison 2010.”
“I’m very pro-family, Christian and all that,” she told the Reporter.

She said the signs are not hers and that Wise told her this week he would take them off of public property.

The Reporter is awaiting a response from Wise.
 

 Quote of Note: MassGOP chair Nassour on the Legislature
“If you take five minutes and just go stand up there and go see what goes on over there, it’s like a big frat house,” Massachusetts GOP chair Jennifer Nassour said this week, referring to the State House. “It’s almost ridiculous when you see the back-patting and you’re waiting for the butt-patting.” The comments came at a debate with her Democratic Party counterpart, John Walsh, at the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus. Walsh defended Democratically-controlled Beacon Hill, calling the characterization unnecessary and saying Democrats have “been solving problems in Massachusetts that have been sitting on the table for decades.”

 EDITOR’S NOTE: Material from State House News Service was used in this report. Check out updates to Boston’s political scene at The Lit Drop, located at dotnews.com/litdrop.