Tom Finneran: Peace and Mutual Understanding? How Refreshing
Friday, May 02, 2014
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.
1) City Manager's Position May Be Vacant
2) Economic Development Mixed Reviews
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.
4) Telegram Closing?
5) Lack of Diversity in Worcester's Government
6) Republican Governor Factor
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