Menino defends BRA: ‘They’re always under attack’

Mayor Thomas Menino is defending the Boston Redevelopment Authority, an agency that has drawn heavy fire from the three other candidates running for mayor.

At a forum in Jamaica Plain last week, Menino called the agency, which oversees development and planning across the city, a “whipping post” and a “stalking horse for bad press.”

“We’ve been able to manage our development better than most cities,” he told a group of two dozen people, most of them members of the Jamaica Plain Progressives group, at the Nate Smith House.

South End businessman Kevin McCrea and City Councillor At-Large Sam Yoon have proposed abolishing the BRA and replacing it with two departments that focus on city planning and economic development. They charge that the current agency is too secretive, benefiting developers more than city residents because of backroom deals and patronage jobs. City Councillor At-Large Michael Flaherty has also criticized the agency, calling for its abolishment.

Menino said a splitting of the agency would lead to “two bureaucracies going at each other.”

“They’re always under attack, you know, because they’re looking for change. They’re trying to create change,” Menino said of the BRA after the forum. “People don’t like change. They want to talk about it; they really don’t like it. Can we improve the BRA? We can improve Public Works, we can improve the schools, we can improve any agency. Can we do different things? Maybe, yeah.”

Menino said after the authority received complaints about meeting during the daytime, it moved meetings to the evening. “Nobody shows up at nighttime either,” he said. “It’s one of those things. How do you satisfy?”

Menino also referred to One Franklin St., the former site of the Filene’s store, as the “bane of my existence.” (Indeed, a sign-up sheet for volunteers spotted in Menino’s campaign offices at one time said that no BRA employees were allowed to volunteer at Downtown Crossing.)

Now a pit that’s been compared to an Iraqi war zone, the site has been held up by mayoral challengers as an example of Menino administration mismanagement.

“It’s not our fault,” Menino said, pointing to the shaky economy. “Banks aren’t lending money.”

EDIT: Post edited to clarify Flaherty's position on the BRA. He does not favor abolishing the entity.

EDIT OF EDIT: Okay, Flaherty does favor abolishing the entity, according to his campaign.