A new and improved city government, and the call to vote next Tuesday
For the first time in more than 30 years, individual Boston neighborhoods will be represented on the City Council and on the School Committee. For the first time in 16 years, Boston will have a new mayor.
For the first time in a long while, a fundamentally new City Council will be in a position to take on new initiative, work with the brand-new mayor, and become the useful legislative, balancing body the city needs. For the second time ever, there may be more than one woman on the City Council.
All of may sound a bit like a Madison Avenue advertising blitz, but the stakes here are high. Quality of government in Boston - and consequently the quality of the city as a whole - is at stake. Nothing less.
Next Tuesday, Boston's preliminary elections open the opportunity for changing the way Boston government works. Former City Councilor John Sears puts the turning point this way: ''Slowly but surely (Boston is) growing into a government of words, where action is all but painful.''
He points to the City Council. He says that the council ought to be a problem-solving body for the city. He expects it to initiate legislation. He says it should keep a wary eye on the mayor's proposed budgets. The City Council should be the community's brake on overly ambitious mayors.
Over the years, however, the City Council has shown a ''lack of imagination and a shortage of innovation,'' as Sears sees it. Come January, there will be a brand-new slate. Instead of nine members, all elected as at-large representatives, the council will expand to 13 members. Only four councilors will have been elected at large. One each will have been elected from nine new neighborhood districts.
That's important, because those nine district councilors will be providing several Boston neighborhoods' front-line represention on the council for the very first time. At the very most, only six incumbents will return to the council. So there are going to be plenty of fresh faces - most of them, in fact.
What will this new council be like? Nobody speculates very boldly on such on matters. They may agree on civic necessity, but they hedge somewhat because of political reality. But experience prepares some for comment with perspective.
Former City Councilor Rosemarie E. Sansone says she thinks that the new council will be just one of many necessary steps in reforming Boston's political system.
In the past, those nine city councilors campaigned against one another for seats at City Hall. John Sears says this contributed to a sense of jealousy, parochialism, and a fair amount of horse-trading. Now, because only four councilors will be elected at large, the problem will be reduced, Sears hopes. And that's also important. It could mean that the council will key more on action than public displays of confrontation.
Ms. Sansone goes further than that. She says flatly: ''This is the year for reform.''
The switch to district representation is a key opportunity in any bold renovation of the city's political system. She served on the City Council from 1978 to 1982 and says the need for such reform is great. There's the prospect of restructuring how the council conducts its business. It means committee meetings can be scheduled regularly and conducted more openly.
She says she thinks business will be brought to the council floor in a less haphazard manner. She says that, on some occasions in the past, legislation languished for years before being brought to a vote. In other cases, proposals were rushed through so quickly that she was asked to vote without even having seen a written copy of the proposal.
In 1981, Ms. Sansone dropped out of the council picture. After four years' service, she chose not to run because she ''felt the system was not working.'' She says that her departure, along with that of John Sears and another ''progressive'' councilor, Larry DiCara (now a mayoral candidate), ''was dramatic, symbolic, and showed people that there was a need for a change.''
Sansone puts the coming election into a perspective that includes a reminder that the trend toward better government in Boston more accurately and exactly began with passage of the district representation proposal in the first place, in 1981. This year's vote to elect district councilors (and School Committee members) is just one more step, the 1984 phase, in an ongoing movement - one which will give the City Council the ''opportunity to begin to really serve the public,'' she says.
Naturally, this will depend on who is elected. But, she says, there are many ''reform-minded candidates'' running for City Council. She thinks a fair number of the candidates will focus on improving the way things are done. She says, there will be many people working - inside and outside City Hall - for reform. The impact of her comments is that she will likely be among them.
According to John Sears, what the Boston City Council needs is not just some new city councilors, but councilors with the initiative to bring its legislative function to life.
As of this week, there are some 50 candidates running full tilt around the city, and every one of them will tell you he or she is the model of initiative. For more than a year, City Council candidates have been canvassing the city or their districts.
Each has been participating in issues forums, attending house parties given in his or her honor, and standing out on street corners. And every one among the opponents has been going through similar campaign gymnastics. So have the mayoral candidates. And so have candidates for the School Committee, which will be expanding from five members to 13.
A final consideration - or perhaps the most fundamental consideration - in this push for government reform is the voters. Here, too, signs are encouraging. John Donovan, chief registrar of voters for the Boston Election Department, expects a large turnout in Tuesday's preliminary election. Because of interest in the district races coupled with the mayoral race, Donovan expects almost 60 percent of the electorate to make it to the polls - a higher figure than in any recent year.
In the preliminary election this Tuesday, voters will cast a vote for mayor. This will narrow the field of nine candidates to two.
Voters will cast ballots for four at-large city councilors. The eight candidates with the most votes will be on the ballot in the final election Nov. 15. And, in their districts, voters will choose one candidate for City Council and one for School Committee. Two names for each office will appear on the final ballot. Only eight candidates are running at large for the School Committee, so their names will not appear on the preliminary ballot.
Some have long felt that Boston government should operate differently. Thoughtful voting Tuesday and on Nov. 15 will confirm or cloud the prospects. As Rosemarie Sansone says, the voting has to do with what for Boston would be something new: government that can ''begin to really serve the public.''