Archive for the ‘Elections’ Category

Passing of a Daily Acquaintance

June 13th, 2011

Charming, scrawny, engaged John Abany is dead. It’s not a death in the family, but not that far off. He was our letter carrier for our two year here on Fairmount Hill. His obituary says he was a letter carrier for 38 years. Today’s notice from the HP post office said he’d been on our route for 28 years.

I knew John from regular conversations on the doorstep and in the polling place. He had that rare in-the-moment presence that delights us all. He paid attention to others.

John never missed an election — preliminary, primary, special or general. As a clerk or warden down at the Roosevelt School, I recognize and appreciate the regulars, those who say voting is a privilege. Moreover, he always sought me out and we’d chat there too.

He’d tell the poll workers that ours was the last house on his route. He’d often get there late and see through an open window by the mail box that we’d be setting the table or preparing a meal together or even having an early dinner. He said not too many families he knew ate together and he liked that we did.

When I didn’t see him for a couple of weeks, I figured he was on an early vacation. Eventually, I walked up to a substitute carrier’s truck to ask about him. She said he got a sudden diagnosis of a serious disease and retired immediately.

He never too me up on my invitation to eat with us.

Rewardin’ the Warden

November 4th, 2010

hp18Sometimes the fatigue and torpor of a 15-hour day seem a bit much to poll workers — the inspectors, clerks and wardens. We carped during the September primary at the low turnout and too little to do and we were flat out this week for the general with triple the voters.

Yet, Tuesday brought its sweet, high-democracy moments. As warden at a Boston precinct, I had the worst duties and got the best rewards. I was the troubleshooter, the fixer.

The irate senior who answered every question at the check-in table with a shout and insult was mine to mollify. The mid-aged lawyer who swore that she had voting at that school for years was mine to locate her real polling place and provide directions. The several who were simply not in the voter book each needed investigation, sometimes among their wallet ID and others in a long call to the elections department for database or paper registration files.

A couple of young men who could have been really nasty about their problems turned out to be the nicest and most reasonable. As a father of three boys, two of voting age, and someone who has more than once railed against poor manners and irrationality here in the Hub of the Universe, I was very pleasantly surprised. These guys worked with me, filled out the necessary paperwork, stated how much they wanted to vote, and then shook my hand and thanked me for helping them.

All right!

One want-to-vote guy had moved from Bedford back to Hyde Park. He had changed his drivers-license and updated the city voter census annual form. He figured he was covered. Of course, while those are reasonable assumptions, we don’t link the license and voter databases as many states do. We expect voters to get a reg card online or at various government offices or less commonly at temporary sign-up tables in public places. Filling out a card for even the slightest change is always safest, but even that doesn’t always mean you’ll be the check-in book when you arrive.

For the fellow from Bedford, I called elections to find that the Boston lists did not include him. He was still game when I explained that we could do a provisional ballot, which required him (and me) to fill out several forms. Then it would go to elections at city hall, where they would research it. If they agreed that he was qualified, they’d count his vote.

Doing that required him to fill out the application provisional ballot, show me ID with his current address and mark a ballot on which I had written PROVISIONAL. I filled in the lower half of his form, created a provisional ballot ID and prepared his pink sheet, with information identifying his code number and giving him a phone number at elections to call no sooner than 7 or more than 20 days later to see if his vote counted.

He returned the marked ballot, which I inserted into its own envelope marked with his unique number. He then filled in a voter registration card on the spot. I put his sealed ballot envelope into Envelope B for such research downtown. He got the pink sheet. His reg card and provisional ballot application went into Envelope A, along with the log of all provisional ballots issued that day from that precinct. His choices remained private, with the ballot available for recording if the researchers found that he was qualified. They saw the name and address, but not the ballot itself.

While elaborate, that does uphold the letter and spirit of voting laws, including ballot privacy.

One might think that an 18 or 19 year old could find all this was not worth the trouble. Some older adults have walked away rather than work 15 or more minutes on forms. Of course, several older adults also walked away after learning they needed to drive two or three miles to their proper polling place.

The young men who were voting for the first time were not deterred though. They plugged away, while I stayed close and help explain some of the blanks they had to fill in on this form or that.

Then came the reward. After all they had been through, each stuck out his hand, pumped mine, and thanked me sincerely and vigorously. The only reward we can offer is a small oval I VOTED sticker. They took that with smiles as well.

I’ve been voting for decades and have rarely missed any election, primary, preliminary, special or general, once when I was suddenly sick and once when I got sent out of town on business with no time to get an absentee ballot. I confess that I can still get blasé or at least take it for granted that I’ll be able to vote.

Now having worked elections for years at three different precincts in Boston, I pretty much know the rules and how to avoid problems. I’m quick to fill in the annual voter census, I complete a reg card when I move, and so forth.

I do admire the determination of those caught in the intricacies of registration. Those who arrive ready to be a citizen only to hear they aren’t in the book, were deleted by mistake (one of those in my precinct this year), were never moved from the old ward and precinct to the new one, or the many who are marked *I* (inactive) and having to show one of the few forms of accepted ID, fill out a form, and literally take an oath that they are who they say.

I salute those young men who went through all the clerical work in their disappointment. They wanted to vote, we made it happen, even knowing they were not positive that ballot would count, and to top it off, they thanked me. Good stuff — almost worth a 15-hour day right there.

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Boston Ballots’ Beauty

January 20th, 2010

While recapping my battlefield promotion from clerk to warden at a Boston polling place yesterday, I thought repeatedly of the arcane and essential ballot control in the process. At least to a tech geek such as me, it has a true beauty.

A lot of planning and training and procedure development goes into ensuring one-voter/one-ballot here. Clerical controls are in the middle of it. The city accounts for every damned ballot many times with abounding crosschecks. While not impossible to scam the system to get two or more ballots, it would be damned hard and almost certainly not worth the trouble or risk.

Follow an unused ballot from the time it arrives at a polling location.

  1. Polls perk an hour before the 7 a.m. opening time. Elections workers have already brought the signs and other supplies and a police officer has brought a scanner and the blank ballots in a locked case.
  2. Workers (inspectors, interpreters, clerk and warden) arrive to tape up the many necessary signs, prepare check-in and check-out table, turn on and validate the scanner andassistive ballot preparing machine, and count the ballots.
  3. Depending on the expected turnout, blanks come bundled in nominal rubber-banded packs of 50 or 200. Poll workers first count bundles assuming the right number in each. These can vary by 6% (3 more or less in a 50 pack) because Elections prepares them by weight for efficiency.
  4. The clerk records the supposed number of blanks in the book.
  5. Before opening, inspectors hand count a group of bundles and put a Post-It on each with the actual number. The clerk keeps a running tally of each as it is brought into play to fine-tune the count of blanks.
  6. The scanner tracks each ballot it accepts, incrementing its count, which starts at zero. Throughout the day, Elections calls every few hours for the number and in busy elections, particularly primaries, observers from candidates and parties may look at the total, which does not differentiate by candidate.
  7. Spoiled ballots go back to Elections in their own envelope. If a voter mismarks a ballot, changes the decision before putting it in the scanner or marks too many candidates, the clerk or warden writes SPOILED on it, places it in the envelope and gives the voter up to a total of three ballots to get it right. The clerk tends to keep a tally of spoiled ballots and records them in the book at closing time.
  8. Absentee ballots arrive with the officer at opening and sometimes throughout the day as Elections sorts them. The clerk or warden opens the larger envelope and each absentee’s cover envelope to find the sealed envelope with the ballot. Then each ballot is treated like a voter, checked in at one table off the voter list and out at the other table. Then the ballot is removed from the sealed envelope and fed into the scanner. The clerk records the number of absentee ballots in the book.
  9. Provisional ballots for voters Elections cannot clear to for scanned ballots go into unique envelopes, one per ballot. That’s an elaborate process touched on in the battlefield promotion post. The warden provides each provisional voter with a ballot, which goes to Elections separately and is not scanned. The clerk records the number of provisional ballots as well as the voter’s name and address.
  10. At poll closing the ballot procedures align. First, the officer at the check-out table and the clerk or inspector with the check-in book compare notes. They verify that they have the same number of voters checked off per page of their respective voter list. Any discrepancies give them the chance to identify anyone missed ormismarked. They end up with a total count of voters.
  11. Meanwhile, the warden has generated totals from the scanner. If there is a difference between the voting books and scanner’s total, the three identify and correct it.
  12. The clerk then totals ballots  the book. The total ballots received needs to equal ballots cast, accounting for the spoiled ones,provisionals, absentee ones delivered,  and unused ballots remaining. Again, all stops until the numbers are accurate.
  13. The warden removed ballots from the scanner. Any that fail to scan are in one compartment; the get a re-feed and if necessary a hand count and recording in a log and the book. Write-ins are in another; they are hand recorded and placed in one envelope. The other ballots get a look for write-ins not ID’ed as such but clearly intended even without the write-in oval smeared. All scanned ballots go into envelopes that the officer delivers under lock to Elections.

If you were able to divert one or more ballots, then what? Without collusion of a worker and the officer, it would not qualify for the scanner. Even if you were able to sneak one in the scanner, it would mess up the total. Those and similar ploys would be possible, but elaborate, involving several people and surely not worth the exposure and punishments.

From my years of documenting computer software, I am impressed by the flow here. Elections has had a lot of time…with many eyes watching…to get this working well. It shows.

Cross-post: This also appears at Marry in Massachusetts.

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Fallen Poll Soldier

January 20th, 2010

I got a battlefield promotion yesterday, as the Boston elections trainers had said often happens. Our warden left right after the polls opened, not breathing well and shirt cascading with sweat. So the number two, the lieutenant, the clerk took over.

Many who know me say I can be intimidating. I snicker at that. True, I am big and I do look folk right in the eye, but I am fairly shy and was raised with Southern politeness. I am prone to let others bluster rather than mark my territory or shout anyone down.

Asked a few time before whether I was interested in a wardenship, I said I was comfortable as an inspector (the bulk of poll workers are inspectors or inspector/interpreters)  or clerk. I would just as soon have avoided the extra warden responsibilities and interactions.

It turns out what I was avoiding wasn’t so bad and might be a bit easier than the clerk duties. The primary things I had evaded played off my shyness:

  • Troubleshooting potential voters who don’t appear in the voter list (that book inspectors use to check addresses and names), are on the list as inactive or requiring ID, or otherwise exceptions.
  • Locating voters in the city database and directing them to the proper polling location or getting them plugged back in if they have been deleted.
  • Toning down the irate who swear (often incorrectly) they had voted at that place recently, had returned the annual voter census, or otherwise entitled, damn it, to vote then and there.

The Savage Breast

Not surprisingly, my upbringing has me well suited for the latter duty. My mother ran Red Cross chapters, which are similar to polling places in a key aspect. Many volunteers are like potential voters in feeling a strong entitlement to be there and do their thing. Anything that disrupts  the seamless operation is an insult. I watched her deal with the difficult and pleasant alike and learned how to do it on my own in volunteer organizations as well as  my work.

It comes in handy as a warden. A calm and gracious explanation of the problems and resolutions turns the voter/warden contact from adversarial to cooperative. No one left unhappy yesterday, even those whom I worked with to fill out the two-page provisional ballots and affirmation of residence forms.

There were others whom I told could not vote that day. Elections had deleted one for not voting for five years and not returning the confirmation letter saying he wanted to remain on the voter list. Others had moved three or more times in the previous two years, some form as far as Mansfield, and had not registered in Boston or not registered in time. Each sat and filled in a new voter-reg card and left content. Our work is done here, Tonto.

With the tales of City Hall shortcomings common chatter at places like the men’s locker room at the WR YMCA, I was repeatedly pleased at the competence and thoroughness of the Elections staff and their database. Using ID such as a driver’s license on my end, the saints downtown located every voter with cues such as date of birth. That was true even for the nomadic sorts with multiple tent locations over short periods.

Sometimes the phone call lead to a redirection to a previous polling spot. Others meant that reg card for future elections.

Sort of Voting

The most strained and strangest process makes sense and may be necessary but is convoluted. Provisional ballots let questionable voters prepare a ballot and sort of cast it. If Elections and the warden cannot be positive that someone really qualify by residence and registration, they fill out several forms — swearing they are who they say and live where they say. Then, they mark their ballot, put it in a sealed envelope. The warden has assigned it a unique number, marked on the form that goes to Elections, on the envelope, and on the take-away form the voter gets, as well as recording the voter’s information on a list. That night or soon after, Elections staff evaluates each ballot in light of the available data to decide whether to count the vote. The voter gets a number to call on the take-away form that coupled with the ward and precinct and unique number can let Elections say whether the vote counted.

Whew. I admire those who cared enough about the process and their role in it to go through their work in preparing their provisional vote.

At the end of the polling day, the clerk and warden diverge again. Closing duties  for the clerk include filling out the detailed clerk’s book that she or he has updated all day. That has detailed tabulations of ballots as well as checklists and records of virtually every anomaly.

Closing Time

The warden ends up as the key master.  In Boston, the main voting machine in a precinct is the AccuVote terminal. The same company makes this and the AccuMARK assistive ballot preparing equipment that we use. Locked throughout the day, it tracks and stores every ballot inserted and is the linchpin of the clerical part of our ballot integrity.

Warden duties at the end of voting include:

  • Retrieving the AccuVote key from the police officer on duty
  • Opening the side compartment where any unscanned ballots feed (reinsert those and hand count them if they fail again)
  • Unlocking the front panel, insert the bar-coded sheet that stops the machine while simultaneously pushing two YES/NO buttons, and generate three copies of ballot summaries.
  • Having  poll workers and the officer sign the summaries, and posting one on the wall for public viewing next to the one with zero totals for ballots and each candidate from the morning, one in the clerk’s book, and one taped to the machine.
  • Removing the actual machine (about the size of an attache case) and placing it with its cord in a case for the officer to take to Elections.
  • Opening the stand for the machine to remove any write-in ballots from one compartment for hand recording and the mass of ballots from the other compartment. Those can be quickly examined for any write-ins that the scanner did not catch or the voter did not smear the write-in oval, and shuffled into marked envelopes for the officer to take to Elections.

Off the oddments  — spoiled ballots, provisional ballots and forms, voter reg cards, absentee ballot envelope and such also go into a large pouch that the officer delivers to Elections along with the machine, the clerk’s book and the keys to both voting and ballot marking machines.

For folk who see each other twice a year or less, there is an impressive efficiency at closing. There are many obvious exceptions like problems on the voter list throughout the day that the electorate notices. The setup and closing happen where the officer and custodian are the only witnesses.

I confess that I too have been known to carp about Registry and City Hall inefficiencies. Perhaps it is my closeness to the elections process and roll as a minor official in Boston’s voting army, but I have no complaints about how they handle and prepare for massive one-day pushes.

The undone business from yesterday has little to do with the election. All of us on our team want to know how our stricken warden fared. His cell went to voice immediately in numerous tries and he didn’t call those whose numbers he took. That’s an issue not in the training manual.

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Playing the Voting Game

December 9th, 2009

elections badgeDid anyone else take civics classes? …read elections mailings? …even listen to TV voting tips?

Yesterday’s puzzlement at Boston polls was the huge percentage of voters who had no concept of how a primary works. Each unenrolled (independent or undeclared in other states’ lingo) voter got to choose one of the three ballots for the special election primary yesterday. With half the state unenrolled in any political party, that was a lot of choices.

Amusingly, the Libertarian party got a ballot without a listed candidate. Their committee picked a candidate without bothering with conventions, membership input and those messy details. Yet, they had enough presence in previous elections for a ballot. In this case, it was blank, requiring smudging the write-in oval and then doing that deed. The recommended candidate from the LAMA site was Joe Kennedy, no relation to the late Sen. Ted Kennedy’s family.

How Many: In Boston, out of 67,025 votes tallied, 53 were Libertarian write-ins.

At my poll in Hyde Park, voter after voter with U beside their name instead of R or D insisted their were independents and should not have to choose Democratic, Republican or Libertarian ballots. Many asked with passion, “Why should I have to tell you who I’m voting for?!”

Of course, we sticklers had the answer. In a general election, you can vote for any party’s candidate. In a primary, you are narrowing the field for a given party. Unenrolled voters can do that at primary voting for any one party with a ballot. Like other enrolled voters, they cannot do that for all parties simultaneously.

Most of the objecting Us were 40 or older. They certainly had participated in primaries numerous times before. All of us working the poll were surprised and amused at how widespread the confusion was. In fact, in my clerk’s book that goes back to the city Election Department, I asked whether this suggested a need for more voter education on this matter before the next primary.

A typical dialog would be:

Inspector: You are unenrolled. Which ballot would you like, Democratic, Republican or Libertarian?

Voter: I’m an independent.

Inspector: Yes and you have the choice of any of the three ballots.  Would you like, Democratic, Republican or Libertarian?

Voter: (angrily) I don’t have to tell you who I’m voting for!

Inspector: That’s true, but you do have to decide for today’s primary which party ballot you want.

Voter: (raising voice) No, I’m an independent!

With some voters. this continued for several iterations. Some were placated when they examined all three ballots and almost invariably were happy with the Democratic one. Many asked how they could revert to independent as they called it after voting a ballot. They were unaware that the ballots were not associated with their names and usually they needed to hear twice that they remained unenrolled on the list unless they filled in and returned a voter registration card affiliating with a party.

The pride so many U voters showed in claiming to be independents was stereotypical New England. Hedging your bets is also more generally American.  Yet, the primary process should not seem so esoteric to so many.

Yesterday, everyone eventually got it. Some had tostand to the side of the check-in table to keep from blocking the queue while they examined all three ballots. In the end though, everyone chose one of the three ballots.

No doubt they’ll feel better voting in the January 19th special election final. Everyone will get the single ballot with the Democratic and Republican candidates listed and an oval/space for write-in option.

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Too old or old enough?

October 28th, 2009

Tom MeninoSo Tom Menino is 66. That’s a famous highway. It’s also a typical obituary number.

With credit to his challengers and critics, few have made much of his age in this Boston mayoral re-election bid. To be sure his four terms and 16 plus years in office, the longest serving ever, have made the debates and campaign literature of those who would take his relative throne in the concrete castle. There’s an implication there that he’s old, but the thrust is too long in office.

Cross-post note: This is one of those rare cases that seems to fit here and at Marry in Massachusetts.

I would not be the first or even the 900th to note that in some European nations and typical Asian ones 66 is considered a reasonable age for a chief executive to take office for the first time. That’s supposed to bring with it maturity, wisdom, experience, knowledge, expertise, savvy and even statesmanship.

In last night’s final debate before next week’s voting, his age was the only humor safety valve in a tense session. He got chuckles answering about city workers in general, “I don’t believe in mandatory retirement.’” Pause. Laughter.

Yet, Menino is just a little older than the youngest baby boomer. Judging from print, broadcast and blog chatter, many younger Americans would just as soon that such oldsters toddle off to Cape Cod or wherever they can get to…right now.

It’s easy to see them corking up jobs while ignoring the boomer role in keeping Medicare and Social Security funded for WWII and Korean era folk, putting the Gen-X and Gen-Y kids through college, caring for elderly parents and even age protection in employment law. The media melodrama of the 50-something multimillionaire subset is much more, well, dramatic.

So, again, Tom is 66. Is that too old to be mayor? The would-be replacement, Michael Flaherty is no child himself. but at 40, he’d be a decade younger than Tom when he became mayor.

We don’t see Mike smearing Tom for his age nor Tom asking if Mike is too young to be mayor.

For sure, Mike and the challengers who fell in September’s preliminary had strong arguments for replacing Tom. He has been there so long he’s out of ideas. He’s so entrenched that development, schools and other key functions seem stagnant.

Perhaps it’s to our credit that being a year past the traditional retirement age for the previous two generations has not been a campaign issue. Yet, I think the laughter at Tom’s retirement remark is just one indication that we do have it in the back of our minds. We’re all adults here, but we know that 66 is not 40.

Tom isn’t giving any indication of age-related shortcomings. He is known sarcastically for his long memory (in holding slights) and seems to have great short-term recall.

Now, I’d like him to be healthier and have offered several times to go on long bike rides with him or cycle into City Hall together. Councilor Steve Murphy (himself 50-ish) joined me in that offer. As fond of his mountain bike as he is, Tom prefers to tool solo around his part of our shared neighborhood instead. Yet, even in physicality, he’s far from limited by being mid-60s.

Of course, some pols stay in office after age has bested them. I think of U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, whose brain had, if you pardon, gone South long before he died a few months after leaving office at 100, a very old 100. His voters returned him repeatedly past his freshness date in a combination of sentimentality and the self-interest of having such a senior legislator with power.

I doubt Tom has another 34 good years in office in him or that Bostonians would be so emotional and accommodating to a failing politician.

Meanwhile, our mayor has astonishing energy and focus. A key staffer told me she had trouble keeping pace with him as he did his job and campaigned non-stop. She’s in her 20s.

I think Menino’s opponents were wise in not raising the age issue. It’s better that they stick to more saleable contrasts in how they would do this or that better. Too long in office? Maybe. Too long on the planet? Not yet.

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Antsy Boston Poll Workers

September 23rd, 2009

Yesterday in Boston’s municipal preliminary, I was clerk at a polling location in Hyde Park. All but one of us (four inspectors, an interpreter and the warden included) had worked the past gubernatorial and presidential elections. We were disappointed.

The local rags and other media buy the line that because the 23% of registered voters appearing exceeded the city’s predictions, turnout was great (see the Herald‘s piece for one example). We in the folding chairs kept asking where the voters were.

We had a few flurries between 8 and 9 a.m. and 5:30 and 6 p.m. Only once in the 13 open hours did we have all eight of our ballot stations in two stands occupied at one time. Lackaday.

Perhaps odder to this politically minded sort, a startling number of voters commented that they knew nothing of the 15 city-council candidates. Roughly one fifth of our voters left that part of the ballot blank, voting only for mayor.

How in James Michael Curley‘s name can you have avoided:

  • Learning about the council candidates, where were ubiquitous and cacophonous?
  • Seeing and hearing the mayoral candidates debating, advertising and being covered by all media?
  • Getting excited about the sweeping changes mayoral challengers demanded?
  • Having a once-in-a-decade chance to elect multiple new councilors?

Voters managed.

Poll workers aren’t supposed to talk politics at all during the election days. That was tough. Several candidates, including Steve Murphy and Tomas Gonzalez were out front for hours. Steve said his 80-ish parents were working the polls at the precinct up the hill. Plus some of the campaign workers (including a candidate’s wife) were trash talking various contenders. It was real tempting to join in. Yet, I had my tacky marker-written ID badge with stars and stripes. I was an identifiable official with a modulated mouth.

I was a bit disappointed that Council John Connolly didn’t show, but sent a surrogate. I was not aware that his wife apparently intentionally coordinated her latest birth with an election. John and I spent 90 minutes or so talking education a week and change ago and are planning to do a podcast on it. He mentioned that she was eight and one-half months pregnant and how much he was looking forward to the new one. Conga-rats to John and Meg for Edward Ronan.

An oddment yesterday was over a dozen spoiled ballots. Those tend to be rare from my previous experience. It was young, middle-aged and elderly, men and women, and even the afternoon cop on duty at the check-out table was goofed up the ballots. A few were in attentive, like using an X instead of filling in the oval as shows repeatedly on the ballot and posted instructions. Most though were in council races, typically overvoting beyond the four maximum.

The huge list of 15 candidates seemed a bit much for many voters. Quite a few asked for clarification on how and how many to vote for or complained that it was hard to find their candidates in the pile.

In the end, we had 428 ballots in our precinct — okay, but not great.

We had none of those pesky provisional ballots that require a call to elections for a database check, filling in multiple forms, and sending off your vote with the hope that downtown will clear you and count your choices. Yet, we had a lot of people who had not returned the annual city voter census form, requiring ID checks and maybe a phone call, plus a single form.

In the many dead moments, we got to socialize among the crew. For me, an extra benefit was culinary conversation with the afternoon cop. This part of Hyde Park is rife with resident police, including both guys yesterday. The afternoon one had already tried most of the local restaurants, including the several new ones. He gave good tips and mini-reviews. Plus, he spends most of most days in a patrol car, so he thinks fat control that tilts his comments toward adult concerns.

Unfortunately, I worked one precinct away from my voting location up the hill. They needed a clerk down the hill. So, I didn’t get to meet any close neighbors. In my previous work in a JP location, I knew and chatted with a lot of folk on my block and nearby. Likewise, the cop on duty worked the whole day, lived on my street and generally could check out the voters on the way to the machine by sight. It was a jolly room.

We’re likely to have the same crew come November 3rd. We can build on some of our personal tale. Then again, we may be too busy. We’re hoping for twice, but not three times, the number of voters for the general. There’s a pride of participation on our side of the check-in table too.

Cross-Post Note: This appears at Marry in Massachusetts.

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Duty to Disgrace

June 11th, 2009

Boston City HallAren’t reporter types supposed to humiliate and befuddle political interviewees? I have lost or mitigated that instinct. Maybe I’ve been a UU too long or have fallen back on my Southern heritage too cozily.

In recent podcast interviews with three candidates for Boston mayor, I have relied on our standard method instead. We have one person at a time, with no surprise guests and no trick, gotcha questions.

I try to keep real political posts off Harrumph! So if you are looking for those interviews, click to Left Ahead for Sam Yoon, Michael Flaherty and Kevin McCrea.

The issue of the obligations of the interviewer have fluttered in my mind since watching Frost/Nixon recently.  Like the related turning points of All the President’s Men, I thrill when the good guys have a breakthrough.

Yet, from my newspaper days of high school, college and professional, I know too well that the vast majority of news and analysis simply doesn’t offer the possibilities of great moments, sudden revelations and confessions. As much as blathering cable-new talking heads pretend the trivial is the pivotal, the typical story, as young folk like to say, is what it is.

Sometimes though, even in my blogging and podcasting persona, I smell the arena and hope for verbal combat. I anticipated that when I booked soon-to-be-disgraced Sen. Dianne Wilkerson on our show. She backed out and would not be interviewed by us or anyone.

Instead of the theatrical and even vicious, over at Left Ahead, we try to go for the much more low-key insightful. We are, after all, three progressive sorts who share similar political goals, even though we differ on some.

I suppose that’s maturity, even if less exciting than the figurative spurting jugular from the perfect ambush question. Thus, I really appreciate Chris Lovett’s shows over at Neighborhood Network News for many of the same reasons. He’s no drama queen trying to lure a news figure into some snare. He asks well focused and researched questions that leave the viewer with a much keener sense of the guest and topic. I love it.

Given the chance with a crooked pol, I’d surely rise (or sink) to the occasion. I’d go against my upbringing as I did as a reporter and go for the real story. Week to week though, we don’t see that.

It looks like we’ll get incumbent Mayor Tom Menino on soon. He certainly doesn’t fall in the crook class, but there are obvious sensitive areas for a man who is infamous for hating to be criticized. (He supposedly doesn’t like that criticism either.)

I’d be happy to have him explain what he wants to do in a 17th through 20th years that he was unable to in the last 16 as mayor. That’s probably far more meaningful to voters than trying to corner him on one of the stereotypical points. Rather, we put on our voter clothes and wonder what we get if we keep this guy in office.

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Face Time with My Councilor

April 13th, 2009

John Tobin CD symbolI suspect my District Councilor is better than yours. Mine, John Tobin in District 6, not only is very responsive, but he has roving office hours.

Today’s was at J.P. Licks. It was a bit early for a sundae, but they have good coffee there (and free wireless). He announces his City Hall, District Office and coffee-shop hours on his website.

He shows with an aide to help with any followup. This time was more check-in and social, but December’s visit with him got my neighborhood a much-needed stop sign.

John seems totally lacking in guile. Combined with my candor, we get along fine, with no one playing any social games.

Today for example, one of my questions was how tense City Hall and Council were with two Councilors and an activist running against the almost certain to re-run Mayor Tom Menino. Tobin laughed and said there were no open conflicts, much less fights. However, the added that the atmosphere was pretty strange.

For example, at a recent city budget hearing in a small room, both mayoral hopeful At-large City Councilors, Sam Yoon and Michael Flaherty, joined the mayor, as did Kevin McCrea.  It was an open meeting; any of us could have attended. Four who will surely be in a heated battle did. It must be more fun to be a detached Councilor like Tobin who is only running for re-election for his own seat, while being able to watch the theater before him. This can only get better.

Back to the ice-cream shop hours, I am not aware of other Councilors who do this.  District 7’s version has told everyone repeatedly how wonderful he is that he maintains a District Office. Well, John Tobin does that and ratchets it up a notch with a temporary office in another part of his district. You should ask yours to do so.

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Fred Taps into Obama’s Speech

January 21st, 2009

We’re half way down the cliff into the economic canyon of no return, folk out there want to blow us up, and more. So, new President Barack Obama’s carryall speech that did not shy from reality was grim listening.

Fred and Ginger in Swing Time

However, I did get one giggle…via the ghost of Fred Astaire.

Most of us, including Obama and I, weren’t around for the 1936 Swing Time with Fred and Ginger. Yet, he clearly has seen it.

Fortunately, he doesn’t have the disease so many younger folk do in covering ignorance with, “I wasn’t even born yet.” He’s learned and paid attention.

Instead, his speech alluded to a key Jerome Kern/Dorothy Fields tune in the movie. Its recurring refrain is “pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again.” His slight variation was “Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.”

My high-school chum Paula Delancey had an infectious love of musicals, particularly those with Fred. She taught many of us that cute can be enough and sincere counts for quite a bit.

In Swing Time,  Fred wanted the gal and was willing to humiliate his clumsy self taking dancing lessons from her. In our reality, Barack has the gal and merely wants to lead his nation and the larger world to stability.

The image may not have been as powerful as that at the end of Obama’s speech citing George Washington at Valley Forge, but I’ll take them both. We’ve fallen, but…

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