Massachusetts voters have two solid choices on Tuesday's gubernatorial ballot. Democrat Martha Coakley and Republican Charlie Baker each offer a skill set and range of experiences that would serve them — and the Commonwealth — well as our next chief executive.
But Martha Coakley is the better choice for the communities we cover. She is more likely to preserve and follow through on state projects and policies set in motion by the Patrick administration that people in Dorchester and Mattapan have long strived to secure.
The state's executive branch can be checked and even overruled by a powerful Legislature. But the next governor and his or her cabinet picks will have broad authority on matters like transportation, public works, and infrastructure decisions that could interrupt progress that is well underway in our neighborhoods. These are local priorities that were largely tabled under the long succession of Republican administrations that preceded Patrick’s eight-year run. Coakley is more likely to maintain the trajectory of Patrick’s priorities on several key fronts that have immediate and long-term implications for our community.
Here are two examples:
• The Fairmount Line —Patrick’s team has pumped in tens of millions to transform this key, long-neglected rail link to South Station that runs through Dorchester, Mattapan, and Hyde Park. New station hubs are opening and upgraded weekend service is about to be launched. Another new station near Blue Hill Ave. is planned for 2017. The public investment is already starting to show signs of pay-off, with private dollars and redevelopment projects in the wings — or underway — all along the corridor.
In time — and with continued investment in the form of new rolling stock — this rail corridor could restore full rapid service to a transit-poor part of the city that has long been underserved and isolated. It took a Democratic governor committed to unlocking the potential of this line to make it happen. Unlike Coakley, Baker’s “urban agenda” as outlined in his campaign website offers no mention of transportation equity or transit-oriented development. It’s a telling omission, particularly from a candidate who has served in high-level cabinet posts in past administrations. Coakley is far more likely to direct the necessary resources and talent that will be needed to complete the job of making this vital rail corridor an economic engine for a large section of Boston. This alone makes her a preferred alternative to Baker.
• Neponset Greenway — After repeatedly failing to win federal grant dollars to pay for a long-delayed expansion of the 3.1-mile trail along the Neponset River, Gov. Patrick has committed to fund the expansion of the greenway trail in sections of Dorchester, Mattapan, and Milton with state highway money. This is more than just a recreational amenity. The greenway, once its missing links are filled, could be a safe, healthy route into the city and to the Blue Hills for cyclists, runners, and families. But finishing the job will require a financial commitment from the executive branch that Patrick — a user of the trail — has shown. Leaving the completion of this project to the whims of a Republican administration that will have many other priorities elsewhere in the state is a risky proposition.
Longtime political observers may argue that Dorchester and Mattapan were not entirely neglected under the administrations of Bill Weld, Paul Cellucci, Jane Swift, and even Mitt Romney. Indeed, there were local victories chalked up on their watches. Under Cellucci, for example, state funding was secured to fix Red Line stations that had grown decrepit and dangerous. Likewise, initial funding for the Neponset Greenway — and $7 million delivered in 1999 to transform the old Neponset dump and drive-in to a beautiful 72 acre park — came after years of lobbying.
But, these wins came largely through the influence of veteran local lawmakers who had positions of great power at that time. Speaker of the House Tom Finneran, who wielded the gavel through much of the Weld-Cellucci years, was the chief architect of these victories. There is no contemporary equivalent of Finneran to offset the indifference of a moderate Republican administration that, recent history shows, tends to react more nimbly to pressures of suburban sprawl ahead of neighborhood interests.
It is in this neighborhood’s best interest to put the weight of its electoral muscle behind a Democratic successor to Patrick who is in tune with ongoing plans for revitalization, growth and state-funded improvement projects that were elusive under Republican governors of the past— some of whom were directly advised by Baker.
Like her opponent, Martha Coakley is an imperfect candidate. But she has a history in Dorchester that trumps Baker’s more recent discoveries during his campaign-season visits. Coakley lived in Dorchester during the 1990s and ran unsuccessfully for state representative in 1997, famously finishing fourth in a special election that elevated a young Marty Walsh into public life.
Never a strong campaigner, Coakley has nevertheless been a superlative public servant and a particularly strong attorney general for the people most vulnerable in our communities. Her office played a pivotal role in halting the excesses of the lending industries that preyed on low-income borrowers and plunged the national housing market into near ruin. Coakley has a more concrete understanding of how to help continue the recovery in our local housing market and she seizes the importance of assisting families still on the foreclosure bubble. Coakley has a clear record as a champion for civil rights, including striking a clear blow against discrimination of LGBT Americans as attorney general.
In truth, Coakley and Baker are not far apart on many social issues. Unlike the more conservative Romney, Baker is a moderate Republican who would make a very fine Democrat in many states of this union.
Discerning Dorchester and Mattapan voters who may be on the fence in this election should weigh out the stakes of the local projects outlined above in making their final decision. Which of these two leaders is more likely to follow through to completion some of the critically important— and long deferred – work that has put in motion over the past eight years?
In our view it is clearly Martha Coakley who will be the more reliable partner in government. The Reporter is pleased to endorse her candidacy.
– Bill Forry