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Tom Finneran: Peace and Mutual Understanding? How Refreshing

Friday, May 02, 2014


Richard Paris, president of Boston Firefighters Local 718

There was a quote last week in the Boston Globe that knocked me over. I’m going to frame it. And I’m going to kiss the guy who uttered the words for they perfectly captured the essence of leadership.

The fact that I know the guy is irrelevant, although he may decide to forego the kiss.

His name is Richie Paris and he is the head of the Boston Firefighters Union. He’s a tough guy, a strong guy, a smart guy, and a nice guy who reveres his profession and his fellow firefighters. Among his most recent duties of course were the funerals of two of those fellow firefighters. Heartbreak comes with the job.

Another recent duty was the negotiation of a new contract, putting him on the opposite side of the table from Boston’s new Mayor, Marty Walsh. Walsh is off to a very strong start but there are many eyes following his every move and he, like all public leaders, has some serious budget problems. Thus, he has to balance a thousand competing claims and protect the public purse like a mother tiger protects her cubs. Given the fact that the firefighters have been working without a contract for more than three years, this negotiation had all the classic ingredients for a protracted war.

Guess what happened? Peace broke out. Mutual respect did too. Mayor Walsh listened well, as he always has. And he spoke up for the taxpayers. Richie Paris listened well, as good union leaders always do. And he spoke up for his members.

Having listened, really truly listened to each other, they moved to handshake territory with impressive speed. I know that such professional skill and public leadership is rarely expected these days but it happens more often than you think. Try scanning the “comments” section after most political stories and you will find overwhelming commentary suggesting that everything is either all black or all white, pure good or pure evil, that Republicans are the devil’s spawn or that Democrats are crazy Commies hell-bent on destroying America. Reasonable people, those people who politically reside around the thirty-five or forty-yard lines of American politics, just shake their heads at the full-throated screaming that comes from the fringes of the field. And the fact that it’s all anonymous in this age of the Internet only encourages more and more fringe and lunatic noise. Here’s what’s not anonymous—my respect and admiration for public leadership. It exists. And I applaud it when I see it.

Contrary to the insanity of the blogosphere, I don’t happen to think that John Boehner is a bad Speaker or an evil guy. Nor do I think that Elizabeth Warren is a clueless Senator. In fact I’d bet that they have much in common, including their family circumstances……………………….and good leaders will find ways to learn about those common links, to share some ideas, and to shoulder responsibility for fixing some of America’s problems.

Back to Mayor Walsh and Richie Paris, locked in negotiations but thinking, rightly so, of the big picture. The Mayor wanted some work reforms. He got them. The firefighters wanted a respectful wage offer. They got it. Both men deserve a lot of credit for it’s obvious to me that their big picture view encompassed Boston’s taxpayers first and foremost. Their view also encompassed a host of the most basic and critical services essential to every thriving community—good schools, good teachers, well-resourced libraries, parks, public works, and public safety. No one special group or special cause can be allowed to dominate the equation. And all groups, by acting reasonably and with a sense of self-awareness and self-restraint, can be treated reasonably.

The quote itself won’t make you forget Shakespeare or Churchill. But for refreshing sensibility, it can’t be beat: “The firefighters’ union, along with the city, wants to keep libraries open, wants to keep our streets clean. We don’t want to see layoffs. We want to keep jobs in the city. We don’t want to break the city.” Awesome, and as I said, totally refreshing.


Related Slideshow: 7 Questions Worcester Mayor Petty Will Need To Answer

The following are seven big questions facing Worcester Mayor Petty in his secon term in office.  

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1) City Manager's Position May Be Vacant

Michael O'Brien may leave to take a position in the private sector. O'Brien has been the proverbial glue that has held City Hall together.  O'Brien is a competent fiscal manager and keeps the peace among the City Council.
Top-level government pros are NOT likely to line up for the Worcester job. Petty will be on the hot seat to find  talent in the post-O'Brien era.
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2) Economic Development Mixed Reviews

The recent series in the Boston Globe and the overview in GoLocal outlined the lack of success Worcester has had in creating a comprehensive economic development plan.  The results of the new construction has created some hope, but there lacks a comprehensive vision and the building seems to be developed in a vacuum.  Mayor Petty seems to be extraneous except for the ribbon cutting ceremonies. 
The biggest embarrassment was his lack of input into the casino process. Petty had no public opinion on the projects proposed in Worcester or the projects in adjacent towns.
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3) New Council

The new City Council will have its own personality, while the old council failed to debate or discuss - and too often voted in block.

A number of the council members just elected have promised to be more proactive. This could be a challenge for Petty -- or an opportunity to drive proactive change leveraging new ideas and new energy.

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4) Telegram Closing?

Since John Henry purchased both the Boston Globe and the Worcester Telegram, there have been a series of indications that Henry has a strong desire to invest in the Globe and has not said a public word or even visited the Telegram. Media experts have prophesied that the Telegram could be rolled into the Globe - a Globe West edition.
This would leave New England's second largest city  without a daily newspaper. What has been deafening is Petty's lack of leadership on this issue.  Can you imagine Tom Menino or Buddy Cianci waiting for a decision to be made on Morrissey Boulevard?
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5) Lack of Diversity in Worcester's Government 

As GoLocal previously reported, more than 40 percent of Worcester's population is a minority, but you would not know it by who gets the city jobs. Worcester has more than 1,600 full- and part-time city employees and well over 80 percent of them are white.
In almost every department, the number of white workers far outnumbers minorities; some departments are as much as 98 percent white. It is a startling disparity in a city known for its diversity. There has been no concerted public effort to change this by Petty.
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6) Republican Governor Factor

Worcester may not be as wired to the Patrick Administration since Lt. Governor Murray resigned and returned to Worcester, but the Democratic Mayor can get his phone calls answered in the State House. 
The next Governor of the Commonwealth could be Charlie Baker. The Democrats are looking at a bruising primary between AG Martha Coakley and Treasurer Steve Grossman, while Charlie Baker is looking like he may get a free ride through the GOP primary. Baker may not be so quick to be concerned about Joe Petty's phone calls.
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7) Legacy

Every Mayor wants to leave his or her city better than they found it -- and wanst to put a mark on the history of the City. Some Mayors focus on schools and others on major developments.
Mayor Petty has yet to define his priorities and the second term is the time to unveil a game plan on why he was the man for the job.

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