Wednesday at the Brookline Democratic Town Committee meeting

Brookline | Politics | Access/Network
I went to the Brookline Democratic Town Committee’s legislative roundtable last Wednesday, which was my first official event. Though first I thought it helpful to give an introduction about the town.

Brookline is an exceptional town, and, an exceptionally Democratic town in an exceptionally Democratic state. Favorite sons include John F. Kennedy and former Governor Michael Dukakis, who still lives here today. Of the twenty or so municipalities in Massachusetts with per capita incomes of $40K, Brookline leads the pack a ratio of 5:1 registered Democrats over Republicans. Second in that list neighboring Newton, at 4:1. The 40,000 Democrats in Brookline and Newton form a solid block of support for Barney Frank, who has represented 4th Congressional District for the last twenty-four years.

So, I came to the Devotion School expecting an energized, seasoned group, and that’s what I found. There were about a couple of dozen people mingling about. Somebody pointed out the party’s chairwoman, Cindy Rowe, so I walked over to introduce myself. Cindy was happy to see that I came, and spoke with me a bit before turning to introduce me to Jesse Mermell, who is a director of the Massachusetts Democratic Future (the Young Democrats of Massachusetts). Jesse and I talked, and then she introduced me to Kevin Conroy, Deputy Director for Political Affairs of the Democratic National Convention Committee. Cindy brought the meeting to order, and we all took seats. Kevin would be the first speaker for the meeting, and gave us some information about the convention, particularly, for those who were still looking to volunteer. He recognized that Jesse Mermell would be going a delegate from Brookline, having been elected the previous weekend as an at-large delegate. Then he found me seated in the back back and asked, why don’t I stand up and tell people how I got to go?

So finally, I got some publicly recognition for my KerryCore fundraising! To my surprise, the just about all of the assembled had heard of it. I reminded all that the contest seemed to exclude the “big” names (like Alan Solomont, Cameron Kerry, etc), but I was nonetheless honored to be going. I mentioned also that the “Jon G. of Boston, MA” listed on the Kerry website, was in fact, me, a Brookline resident. I then sat down next to my new friend Bruce Wolff, who had endorsed my call for a la carte cable pricing at the town hearing the previous week.

And then on to the part which people were there to hear, the legislators roundtable. They were given about 5 minutes to discuss what they had been working on. Cynthia Creem, our State Senator (who also represents Newton and Wellesley), had handed out a sheet listing her legislative accomplishments, and reviewed them in her presentations. Creem led off with her proposal on fixing the alternative minimum tax (This, I learned was from a year ago, and I couldn’t find any action on it since. see Globe article by Rick Klein). Also she discussed her proposed legislation for reform on drug sentences (see TAB article.) Also, Senator Creem reminded us of her successful efforts to boose METCO funding in the Senate (see TAB brief). METCO is a program which brings Boston students out to suburban public schools. I actually mentored a METCO student at Lexington High for part of this school year.

Frank Smizik, who district covers most of Brookline, spoke next. He discussed on the continuing battles for same-sex marriage, which is scheduled to go into effect next week. Smizik felt that Governor Romney’s efforts to enforce the residency requirement for same-sex marriage were discriminatory, and explained that the state law was originally meant as a backdoor way to prevent mixed-race marriages ninety years ago. He also discussed his amendment to the budget to authorize a biotechnology task force to focus on food and agro-pharmaceutical biotechnology. (#262 of 1220. On the whole, though, he seemed a bit tired.

By contrast, Mike Rush was a shot in the arm– even though as a freshman representative he had little accomplishments to talk of. Rush represents Boston’s West Roxbury and South Brookline. He still seemed full of awe of having been elected. Like Smizik, he felt that the convention on gay marriage showed legislative debate at its finest. (Unlike Smizik, he voted for the compromise amendment, to fulfill a campaign promise to oppose gay marriage.) Rush trotted out a nice yarn about being making a pilgrimmage to his grandmother’s birthplace to Ireland, and now finding himself a state representative. He got some applause at the end.

Batting cleanup for the evening was Jeffrey Sánchez Another rookie, Sánchez represents a stretched which pulls in a highly diverse (some have said gerrymandered) district, from Boston’s Roxbury, Mission Hill, Jamaica Plain, to Brookline’s lower Cypress St. and Fisher Hill neighborhoods. Sánchez smoothely rolled off a number of projects and positions he was working on: affordable housing, reform of MCAS graduation requirements, and continuing the work on dredging the Muddy River– the scenic brook which forms Brookline’s eastern border with Boston. He also related his good habit of showing up at every community event in his long district. To raise awarness for his advocacy for an asthma registry, Sánchez has formed for the May 23rd American Lung Association asthma walk (I just signed up and became the second person on his team).

The other rep in Brookline, Brian Golden, who represents Cottage Farms district along with Allston-Brighton in Boston, did not show. Golden’s poularaity among town Democrats has suffered since he not only supported George W. Bush in 2000, but he went down to Florida to help the recount.

Afterwards questions were invited from the audience. Some usual issues came up. On the scientifically-sure death penalty, which was proposed by the governor’s task force– all were against it, and felt that that it was a red herring. The most probing question asked about what the legislators thought of Suffolk Superior Court Judge Margot Botsford’s 357-page report which recommended large reforms towards equalizing the funding of school districts. The legislators all dodged the issue, but certainly made it clear that they didn’t think that the wealthier districts– Brookline, Newton, Wellesley, should suffer as a result. For his part, Governor Romney criticized the court for overstepping its bounds.

The meeting closed with a deft deliberative technique. Cindy invited people to just ask questions. There was not time to answer them, but it would be nice for the legislators, and the assembled, to know simply what else was on people’s minds.

I stuck around afterwards, and met a few more pols. Jonathan Karon, newly elected to the school committee, was interested to hear about KerryCore. Overall, going to the meeting helped me get a better sense of who the faces are behind the “Beacon Hill” notes of the local paper. Also it encouraged me to the research for this article, to the work going on behind the speeches of the faces behind the headlines.