Sunday, April 14, 2013

Open Letter to NYRA's Dr. David Skorton

Dear Dr. Skorton,
You and I don’t know each other, but we have at least one thing in common. We are both willing to state in public that we “do not know much about horseracing.” Since I go to the races all the time, and you are nominally in charge of reforming horse racing in New York, I don’t know which of us should be more embarrassed, but I will leave that to others to figure out.

Last Saturday I attended the races at Aqueduct Racetrack on the occasion of the Wood Memorial. I have been coming down from Boston for the Wood for the past several years. I enjoyed the sunshine and I actually made money at the mutuel windows, so this is not a letter from a sore headed loser.

You had a big crowd (I actually enjoyed mingling with one of the broadest cross-sections of humanity available to the unincarcerated), and the races were almost all well run. The owners of Freedom’s Child in the Wood have no doubt already been in touch. 

But given that The New York Daily News reported that “Resorts World Casino brought in a record $71.2 million in revenue during March,” I have to ask:

Would it kill you to:
Get the City of New York to put in a left turn arrow for patrons coming off the Van Wyck and down Rockaway Boulevard?

Clean the restrooms? The ones in the casino are immaculate. Yours are embarrassing.

Provide more than one place for a patron to get a hot dog and a beer? The food court in the casino is a long way from the mutuel clerks.

Wipe the guano off the few remaining grandstand seats?

Let people leaving the track know that they don’t have to pay the $5.00 in the machine at the garage when they leave? There are enough ways to feel like a chump at the races. Paying unenforced parking fees should not be a patron’s last memory of the day.

See you at Belmont!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Boston Mayor Tom Menino

 All of the press coverage of Boston Mayor Tom Menino’s recent announcement that he would be leaving office when his term expires at the end of the year brought back a couple of memories. One is of the opportunities that the departure of a long-serving mayor might provide. The other is a memory of the departing mayor.

When I finished graduate school in 1983 I was desperate for a job and lucky enough to land one with the White administration as an aide to the Mayor’s Housing Advisor. Classes were over, but Commencement Day had yet to arrive. I was slated to start work at City Hall on June 1st. As it happened, Mayor White surreptitiously went to New York to tape a television address announcing he would not be seeking another term. The announcement ran on the local news the night before my first day on the job. It was extremely unnerving to watch, but I summoned up my courage and reported to work as planned.

People in the administration thought I had lost my mind. No-one could believe that I was really showing up for my first day of work. They asked me if I had watched any television or caught the morning papers. I assured them I had done so, and my paperwork was reluctantly processed. I felt like a salmon swimming upstream as I walked through City Hall. The whole administration was leaving.

As the weeks went on, departure styles ranged from orderly to panicked. Typewriter access was at a premium as everyone polished their resumes. Over time, the building became more and more silent as long-time staffers went on job interviews or took sick days.

I hung in. I figured I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. I certainly wasn’t going to be let go in the upcoming six months (no-one would have put in the effort), and at least I had a job, unlike some of my fellow classmates. Sticking around turned out to be a great decision. Since most people were missing, or too busy, or still shell-shocked, I got to work on some important and high-profile projects.

I helped research and write the first “Linkage” report attempting to justify extracting concessions from commercial developers to be used for housing subsidies. I worked on homelessness prevention initiatives, on vacant lot re-use and manufactured housing studies. I served as liaison to the somewhat wild-eyed arson prevention researchers, and even represented the City with the Metropolitan Area Planning Council and the State Banking Commission’s anti-red-lining working group. As George Washington Plunkitt said (in a somewhat different context), “I seen my opportunities, and I took ‘em.”

If this reaches any young, newly-minted staffers in the Menino Administration, they might want to think about sticking around and making the most of a chance to do some good in the next nine months. You can always polish your resume after work, and these days you will even have spell check to help.

Now I don’t know Mayor Menino very well, and he doesn’t know me at all, but one encounter years ago has left an indelible memory.

I managed to survive in city government by backing the right horse in the election to succeed Kevin White and wound up running a program to subsidize new construction of moderate income housing on city-owned vacant lots.  One of the non-profit sponsors in the program, Urban Edge, selected a long, narrow site on Hyde Park Ave. As these things go, it was not a bad site, and my department was backing the proposal, including hosting a community meeting to make the neighborhood aware in advance of the formal approvals process.

We met in a church hall in Roslindale on what I remember as a sweltering summer night. Before the meeting quite got started, then-City Councilor Albert “Dapper” O’Neil asked for the floor. O’Neil was the worst kind of ignorant bully, and that night he was at his apex. He took the floor to announce that although he knew nothing about the proposal, and did not care to learn anything about the proposal, he was against it. This got a pretty good round of applause from the neighbors, and I prepared for a rough night. Then O’Neil, reeking of insincerity, said he would allow the meeting to continue anyway.

After a presentation by the brave sponsors, laying out the site plan and building designs and the community benefits of the program, we asked for questions and comments from the audience. After a number of those present took their turns, District Councilor Tom Menino stood up and issued the single most amazing statement I ever heard a politician utter before or since. It was, approximately -

“I have listened to the proposal and I think it will be good for the neighborhood. That is why I will support it. If folks here disagree with me, and want to use that as an excuse to vote against me in the next election, that’s just fine.”

When media pundits wonder how Menino kept getting elected all those years, they might want to talk to people who were in meetings like that one, listening to a guy who stood up for what he believed in, and was willing to face the consequences.

The infill development did get built. It only took about 15 years. 

Mayor Menino cut the ribbon.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Credit Where Credit is Due

As readers of this space may remember, I have taken several media outlets to task in the past. I hold the media to very high standards and expect writers and editors to have very thick skins. I also expect them to always get the facts straight. It was in this context that I wrote to the Boston Globe’s Managing Editor for News Christine Chinlund last week.

Ms. Chinlund,
As I read the very disturbing Page 1 story by Matt Viser today,

I was taken up short by the statement that "The First Congressional District (of Kansas) covers more area than any other House district in the country. It is nearly 60,000 square miles, about the size of the entire state of Illinois."

I think this assertion would come as a big surprise to the citizens of Alaska, Montana, and Wyoming. Each of those states has but a single member of Congress, and each state is larger than the state of Illinois.

As a side note, I hope that members of the Secret Service also read Viser's piece. The quotes at the end, which threaten the life of the President, may be protected by the First Amendment, but should also cause all levels of law enforcement to be vigilant.

Ned  Daly

Well, a few days passed and I hadn’t heard from The Globe, so I wrote again.

Ms. Chinlund,
I wrote last week to bring to your attention what I believe to be an error in Mat Viser's story on politics in Kansas. I have not heard or seen any correction.

Does The Globe expect its readers to believe that there are more Members of Congress than there are Congressional Districts?

In short order I received the following email from Ms. Chinlund.

Dear Ned --
The lapse is entirely my fault, and I am on the case now. Sorry about that.


I was quite pleased by this and even more pleased to see the correction in the April 9 edition of The Globe.

For the record
“* Correction: Because of an editing error, a Page One story in Thursday’s paper about a conservative Kansas congressional district incorrectly stated its relative geographic size. The First Congressional District in Kansas is among the largest by territory in the country.”

Now that is a little more like it. Not the abject boot licking I was dreaming about, or a mention of which gimlet-eyed reader raised the issue, but a straightforward acknowledgement that they got the facts wrong. Over the past few years the Globe has issued printed corrections a number of times when I have pointed out errors. This is only one of the things I love about that paper. So I wrote-

Thanks for the correction. One of the reasons I read the story so closely is that I have been to that part of Kansas and hold great affection for the people there who saved my life after a heart attack suffered on a business trip 15 years ago.

Best always,

This letter got the following response almost immediately

Never be afraid to nudge me. In this case, I simply lost track of the correction in the flurry of other stuff. Not a good excuse, but the truth.

The Boston Globe should win awards for customer service. No one at an equivalent level of any other company I know would take the time to correspond with someone who buys less than $1,000 worth of product a year.

Nice to be on a first name basis with these folks too.