Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Just an Open Letter

As a City Councilor in Chelsea I would receive letters from people every so often and still do on occasion even after leaving the council this past winter. They have been tapering off and I have not received any for a month but I just got one last one from a gentleman from Canada. It was several pages long, he claims to have sent letters to many elected officials over the years and was decidedly anti-gay marriage (I am curious if anyone else out there got this letter.) I decided to write him back and post my response on my blog. He signed his letter "Just a man named John".

Dear "Just a man named John",

I received your letter in regards to gay marriage in Massachusetts, the United States and beyond. While you are entitled to your views I believe you are wrong and your rationale is irrational. I disagree with your assessment that gay marriage in Massachusetts is a blight on the Common Wealth, in fact I believe it to be a beacon of hope.

Gay marriage has been legal in Massachusetts for a while now and we have yet to be destroyed by any divine being. In fact the countries and states you mentioned in your letter as being pro gay marriage tend to have higher GDPs and better quality of life then those countries that are most anti-gay marriage. I have many gay and straight male friends and not one has married a friend just to get the benefits of marriage, has it not occurred to you that a straight guy and a straight girl could marry each other just to receive the benefits of marriage? Even with the acceptance of gay marriage most straight men would still be unwilling to pretend to marry a male friend just to save money on his taxes.

Your segway about halfway through the letter to focus on immigration and dissolution of American culture was interesting and I do give you credit for being able to weave that argument into your anti-gay marriage argument. You seem very concerned that God will not be on our side in future conflicts due to our views on gay marriage but I am not sure if God chooses sides to begin with. Throughout human history both sides of every conflict have believed God was on their side, which obviously is not possible. I myself believe that any reasonable God would love all people regardless of sexual orientation, I know you disagree with this assessment but I also know you are incapable of coming up with a reasonable reason as to why God would be against homosexual behavior.

I also would be remiss if I failed to address the following quote:

"The responsibilities associated with your position mean that you are not 20, but at an age where a level of life experience, and therefore wisdom, is with you."
For the sake of brevity I would like to point out that you continued on this tract and implied that young people (under 40) are not capable of seeing the big picture and that older citizens need to reign them in. I hate to be the one to break it to you but I am in fact 28 years old. I first got involved in politics at 17 and have since served on numerous boards and commissions culminating in being elected to my position and subsequently "retired" at the age of 28. I am amused by your statement because I know many elected officials under the age of 40 both at the local and state level. People around here seem to trust us, it is sad to hear that you do not.

The human spirit yearns to be free, you can not hold it back. As you may be aware yourself gay marriage legalization has faced set backs in many other states but this is a road block rather then a full stop. Freedom , once unleashed will spread, especially in a Democratic society. You wrote that younger people are missing the experience to know right from wrong but maybe it is you that is incapable of empathizing with other people. You told me to sit in a quiet place and read the letter with an open mind, I ask you to do the same thing.

To freedom from tyranny,

Matt Frank

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Thoughts on Lawrence Mayor Lantigua

Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua , AKA Massachusetts State Representative William Lantigua, , AKA Willy Lantigua seems to have made an unwise move in whatever power game he is playing up in Lawrence. During the run up to the 2009 Municipal elections then Representative Lantigua, he was elected to that seat in 2003, said he would give up his State Rep seat if he won the office of Mayor. Win he did and one of the first things he did while in office was to go back on that promise, declining to vacate his Rep seat, he claimed that the flailing city of Lawrence could only benefit by having a Mayor who was also a State Representative. With the city, by some estimates, 25 million dollars in the hole his gamble blew up in his face as a crucial vote for an emergency loan from the State was put on hold, partially due to his absence.

Lantigua failed to show up to the hearing at all because he said it would be a conflict of interest. The Eagle Tribune, in an editorial, claims that no contact was made with the State Ethics Department but I can put that aside and say I understand his thinking. As Mayor of Lawrence he would benefit from any vote or influence that could be derived from the presence of himself as a State Representative. In this line of thinking both Willy the Mayor and Willy the State Representative could be ethically blocked from the hearing. Due to the absence of Lantigua the issue was pushed aside, neither the Mayor or State Rep, in his mind, could exert any pressure on the members of the committee and the Speaker of the House Deleo.

Let's forget for a moment that he failed to even attempt to get clearance to attend and focus on his own convoluted (yes even for us political people this is a whopper) rationale. He kept both seats because he felt he could exert more influence and do a better job in both positions by holding both positions (Kind of like how each subsequent Railroad in Monopoly gives you more money every time someone lands on your property.) The problem is he has just proven his own theory false by failing to exert influence in any manner on what could be a life saving bill for the City of Lawrence. Rather then making the positions stronger by combining them he has managed to make them both weaker and make Lawrence weaker by extension.

The argument can be made that the Mayor did not want to leave the State Representative seat vacant during a time of turmoil for Lawrence, which could be seen as commendable if it were not for the fact that if he had only resigned the seat upon winning the Mayors race that Lawrence would only be days away from electing a replacement (As an example my State Senator, Anthony Galluccio, left office a little over a month ago and we will replace him in April, not even four months later { My vote: Michael Albano} . November was about four months ago) who would have been able to speak at this hearing and that Rep would be standing tall next to the Mayor of Lawrence who would also be in attendance.

Maybe the Mayor is not taking the threat of State takeover seriously, alternatively maybe he wants a take over. A take over could be just what Lawrence needs but I would hope that it not be taken lightly.

I remember, even as a child, the break down of Chelsea before, after and during receivership. The City felt so dark, no holiday lights, the streets were not swept, any mention of your city in the news was always bad news. I grew to hate Howie Carr with his constant attacks on the city. I remember the national press. When I was in kindergarten I had a speech problem and remember sharing a special needs class, in the basement of an old school house, with kids who all had behavioral problems. Having spent most of my time in Catholic schools I do not know much of the old state of our school system was but I did spend 6th grade in public school... we shared a room with a 5th grade class separated by a long curtain... It has been almost two decades since the take over and I feel like we are finally recovering. As a City Councilor I saw people getting involved again, community bonds forming, the artist community taking hold. Our Latino population is finding it's voice, we have even had vibrant civil discourses on garbage that filled a huge room (normally a discussion that would go down hill fast.)

This is coming only after the breakdown and the removal of power structure that was in place prior to the 1990's. My warning to Mayor Lantigua is that if Lawrence does collapse and the State does step in it is possible that Lawrence will still be able to see better days in the future, the bad news for him is that the State will make sure the future of Lawrence is Lantigua free.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Rebuttal

I am writing down some thoughts I have about an editorial, "Fighting For The People", I read this morning in my hometown newspaper the Chelsea Record. I am listed with a group of Councilors who the paper claimed "spearheaded" a campaign to to favor commercial interests over residential interests in regards to property taxes. The editorial goes on to say that taxes are too high on home owners and the editor asks "why would other councilors be willing to shift burdens at a time when every dollar counts for residential taxpayers?" Excuse me for not posting a link, the Chelsea Record has not updated it's website since right before Thanksgiving. I also tried to PDF and convert the story to an image but that did not work either.

First off I would like to address the measure itself. The debate was over the real estate shift, wheter or not to shift the tax to burden businesses more then residential units tax wise. The vote that is mentioned in the paper WAS NOT made on this. RATHER the vote was in regards to an amendment offered by Councilor Roy Avellaneda that would have scaled back the shift slightly (the measure he was trying to attach it to went for a full shift) but still would have allowed a rather large shift towards the business side. The amendment is what I voted for, I did NOT vote against the tax shift. Maybe I should say this again I voted FOR the tax shift. Without the amendment the average tax on residences would go down and businesses would go up substantially. With the amendment business taxes would still go up from the current year but residential taxes would have, on average, stayed the same.

I would also like to address my "spearheading" the amendment. As I stated another Councilor offered the amendment, I am not listed on it anywhere. I was not even informed of the amendment and only heard of it during debate when it was tossed into mix. I personally have never brought forward a measure without either knowing I had the votes to pass it or have tried to convince everyone but I am not here to critique the techniques of other Councilors. I did not see a Chelsea Record reporter that night, so I can see why there was an issue.

It should also be noted that we had just passed a Residential Tax exemption that gave people who live in their homes a decent sized tax discount (we also voted on a resolution to name this after a fellow Councilor.) Later in the night we also passed the local meals tax which placed a .075 percent tax on the purchase of any prepared food in the city. We were already pushing back taxes on home owners, we were shifting tax burden onto business AND we were putting an extra tax on the prepared food industry I think it is only fair that we compromise on something to help out the struggling businesses in the city. I would question the Councilors who voted against the local meals tax, for the residential tax exemptions, who say we can not cut education/safety or essential services. I do not understand how they intend to pay for all of that while cutting taxes for residential units.

We ask our public officials to make tough decisions all the time. I think it is only fair that when they make what is a difficult vote that we include a little context as well. I feel like I was portrayed as a crony for business in the city which I guess I am except for when I am not (when the Chelsea Record says that people like me who have opposed industrial and business proposals that would hurt local residents are anti business.)

I plan on writing an editorial for next weeks paper but I wanted to lay this out while it is still fresh on my mind. If you think I am wrong feel free to tell me.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Endorsement of Mike Capuano for Senate

This may not come as a shock to many of you as I have been pushing many of you to vote for Mike Capuano for the open Senate seat since September.

We Democrats have been blessed with an incredible field of well versed candidates, I can see any of them being worthy of the Senate seat. With that being said one candidate stands above the crowd due to his intelligence, dedication, experience and dare I say sheer tenacity. Notice how I neglected to mention issues? This is because they are all very similar on the issues, as has been said MULTIPLE times, while differences are present they are not as visible as ability. I believe Mike Capuano is the best person for this Senate seat.

His dedication to his current position as my Congressman (8th Congressional District) has been strong and steady over the past ten years and he has managed to continue to represent us even as he runs for Senate. As my Congressman Mike Capuano has gotten involved in issues as local as helping to obtain funding for local parks and as international as his determined drive to shed light on the genocide of innocent people in Sudan. Mike not only voted against the war in Iraq he also voted against a bill called the Patriot Act (I am sure he was not a supporter of the House of Representatives food courts renaming French Fries to Freedom Fries in the early 2000's either.) Looking back at those votes it is easy to say they were the right choice but at the time his NO vote was in the minority and was considered unpatriotic by many, this helps illustrate his willingness to be a leader both in voice and in action.

His staff is attentive to local issues and tend to be just as knowledgeable as the Congressman is on a wide range of issues as well. His ability to select and manage a superior staff would be most beneficial in filling the roll of Ted Kennedy , an office that was exceptional at working on constituent services and local issues.

The word "anger" comes up every so often when people are asked to describe Mike Capuano. My first reaction is to chuckle and attribute it to "passion". Upon retrospection I have determined that I was wrong, Mike Capuano can in fact get angry. By his own admission he can be angry, quite angry. I have one simple question though; "Why is this anger a bad thing?" If Mike Capuano is angry, so am I. I was angry that those Hyatt workers got fired after unwittingly training their own replacements, I later found out that Mike Capuano was angry about that too. I am angry that poor people do not have access to health insurance, so is Mike Capuano. I am downright furious that there is a continued genocide in the Sudan, that we have lost our focus on the war on terror, that large financial institutions have handed us our wrecked economy now that they are done with it and that political campaigns cost so much money. What I have seen from Mike Capuano is that this so called "anger" has shown itself when other people are being mistreated or his family is at risk. Maybe it is the working class blue collar upbringing in me but well managed directed anger can do great wonders, I believe Mike Capuano proves this through his actions on all the issues I just mentioned.

The argument has been made that Mike is a great Congressman, that we should leave him where he is now for seniority purposes. While I am sure this is meant to flatter it misses a crucial point. Our Nation is built on the concept of promoting the best, allowing the cream to rise to the top. It is nonsensical to tell someone, wheter they be an Administrative Assistant or a US Congressman that they are too good at their current position to move up. Imagine someone telling you that you can not be promoted because you are too good at your current position and instead your company promotes someone with less credentials because they are new to the system, you would be angry I am sure (see above.)

Looking over Mike Capuano's resume I ask that you focus on a few key pieces:

Mayor of a Somerville Massachusetts, led the city during a time of economic revival

Congressman of a diverse (ethnic, cultural, socio-economical, geographic) district

Global travel to visit war torn regions, meet with world leaders and discuss issues all on a relatively meager budget.

Prior to election as Mayor involvement in the PTA and as a City Alderman

As a Chelsea City Councilor myself I know that Mike Capuano knows how his actions will affect local cities and towns. I know that Mike understands what unfunded mandates mean to a community low on funds. Congressman Capuano understands issues affecting local students. It is not theoretical, he knows because he has been there. I can also trust that he knows how his actions will affect those across the world, how others view the United States and how best to present ourselves to the world at large. His experience in the House of Representatives is also invaluable in the form of a comprehensive understanding of how the system works.

As I mentioned earlier most of the candidates feel the same way on a host of issues. The real difference lies in ability and determination. It does not matter how much you care about something if you do not know what actions to take to make it happen. Everyone knows the text book version of how the Senate works, it seems so simple and civilized. The reality is that the Senate is one of the toughest places in the world to operate, I spent time down in Senator Kerry's office and even in my limited capacity I could see how hard it was to convince other Senators your position is the best. It takes a combination of finesse, toughness and knowledge of the minutia of the rules to pass legislation and to protect the interests of Massachusetts. It is rare to find all those traits in one person... luckily we have Mike Capuano.

December 8th, Democratic Primary (Independants can vote too)

For more information:

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I figured I would blog really fast about the Capuano Open Mike Bash last night, I made a comment on another blog and will expand on it a little here.

It was a very good event and the room was packed. The campaign was estimating about 1,200 people and I believe them, the room was packed and people were still in the lobby hanging out because they ran out of standing room in the ballroom. As some people left (mostly people from Western or Southern MA with long trips home) more people came to take their seats.

The room was buzzing and the Congressman was in his element. He seemed to really enjoy having the stage in the middle of the room rather then at a far end. This allowed more people to be up close.

I was also very happy to run into people from all over. In a past life I worked in a men's clothing store and I ran into a union guy who stopped by to buy sports coats once every 6 months. I ran into people I went to school with, worked with, a former boss,a current boss, bloggers etc.

I would say the best part of the evening was, even with the adoring crowd and attentive staff, when he had the podium taken off the stage and he took the suit jacket off. He became a normal guy, my congressman, Mike.

My friend Josh Dawson was one of three live bloggers at the event, check it out!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Because sometimes the NYT is wrong

I read an article in the New York Times (Via The Big Money) by Bruce Buschel who is apparently opening up a new restaurant in New York and is writing about it in a blog for the paper. The article is entitled "100 Things a Restaurant Staffer Should Never Do, Part I". Overall I think it had some good points, number 3 is great "Never refuse to seat three guests before the fourth arrives", after all who has had to stand around waiting for a fourth person when you could start appetizers and drinks without them? The problem is there are some other rules that are not so great.

"7. Do not announce your name. No jokes, no flirting, no cuteness."

I do not mind knowing the name of the PERSON serving me, after all they are a PERSON. People have names, they have personalities, hire people with good personalities and let them loose. Sure if they go over board that is not good but I hate a non personal waiter. It makes me uncomfortable.

"10. Do not inject your personal favorites when explaining the specials."
"40. Never say, “Good choice,” implying that other choices are bad."
"43. Never mention what your favorite dessert is. It’s irrelevant."

I consider these three to be a group, the opinion group I guess you could say. Anyone who has dined with me will have seen me, on at least one occasion, ask what the waitress/waiter thinks. They work in the restaurant, they know what other people order and what people were expecting and did not get etc. I depend on their opinion, after all even if they are just working their between gigs it is their job and they deal with the food all the time. The better the restaurant the more I trust that you picked someone to staff the tables who has an iota of a clue as to what people could possibly want to eat. I made a visit to Jimmy's Steer House in Saugus over the summer and it instantly became one of my favorite places to eat after I found a dish I really enjoy there, Calamari on Caesar Salad. When the waitress came over I was perplexed over what to get and when she saw I was torn over the Calamari salad she interjected that it is really good and suggested Caesar Salad as a trade for the normal salad. She was right , it was GREAT. Here is an example where her opinion did matter and her interjecting did make a difference. I could have easily dismissed the idea and went with the normal salad but that was why I was torn and her assurance that the Caesar option was good sold me on it.

If I go into your restaurant feel free to compliment me on my choice and please do tell me what the best dessert on the menu is! I want to know. I promise I won't tell your boss.

"18. Know before approaching a table who has ordered what. Do not ask, “Who’s having the shrimp?”"
"48. Do not ask what someone is eating or drinking when they ask for more; remember or consult the order."

These are both good rules to try to follow but I sure do hope that the owner is not going to be following them around to ensure compliance. After all I would rather have the right meal in front of me even if it meant asking to make sure it was mine. I do not want nervous waiters who are so afraid of a mistake that they may end up giving me the wrong dish. I also do not want nervous wait staff period, it makes me uncomfortable. After all as a patron my comfort should be taken into account, give your wait staff a break if they make a mistake on these rules other wise they will be nervous and will make me nervous.

"42. Do not compliment a guest’s attire or hairdo or makeup. You are insulting someone else."

From the department of petty complaints comes this gem. I do not even know what to say here, I guess in this place there is no such thing as a compliment. I do not see what is wrong with paying a compliment when you notice something that looks very nice, they obviously worked hard on it let them get complimented on it.

"32. Never touch a customer. No excuses. Do not do it. Do not brush them, move them, wipe them or dust them."

OK I understand this one I really do, after all it is a classic way for waitresses to elicit more tips from their male patrons. When a waitress does any of those motions they do increase their chance of better tips, unless there happens to be a woman at the table attached to the man and even more so if she controls the finances. It is a dangerous game to be playing but I am not sure if I want to see it outlawed outright.

For me most of the ones I picked out come down to the human factor. I want a person waiting on me, not a robot. My guess is that this place will be too expensive for me to dine in anyway, so I will not have to worry about it much. He has 50 more coming out soon, I am sure they will be just as pretentious and over the top as these.

Let me pull out the few I really like:

"4. If a table is not ready within a reasonable length of time, offer a free drink and/or amuse-
bouche. The guests may be tired and hungry and thirsty, and they did everything right." (Not that hard)

"16. If someone requests more sauce or gravy or cheese, bring a side dish of same. No pouring. Let them help themselves." (I am a dipper myself so I love this)

"20. Never refuse to substitute one vegetable for another." (Personal favorite)

"31. Never remove a plate full of food without asking what went wrong. Obviously, something went wrong." (YES, full plate means something is wrong... One section untouched, something went wrong.Thought I can not help but feel that this may have been avoided if the waiter was allowed to express an opinion of some sort involving the dish I was ordering :/ )

Saturday, October 17, 2009

I had some free moments so I decided to write my thoughts on my leaving the Chelsea City Council in December. Be warned it is self serving, I am leaving the City Council but am still a politician ;)

I've spent my whole life in Chelsea living among long term neighbors, family members and newer residents. The first 26 years of my life in Chelsea seemed to culminate in my election to the Chelsea City Council (District 3). I remember going to school in the basement of the old Mary C Burke school (which is now a condo development, I was on the planning board when it was finalized and have responded to issues the current residents have to the best of my ability.) I remember playing in the old Merritt Park (now the New Mary C Burke school which is across from the site where a developer wanted to build a diesel power plant but we {local environmentalists and community activists/members} managed to stop it) and watching the councilor at the time lead an election rally when I was young, I would later go to school with his son and become his city councilor. As kids we checked out the old Forbes lithograph site (condos under construction,Aerosmith filmed a video there and a hosts a windmill whose base was moved across the site without resident input, because input was not required at the time, which prompted my sponsoring of a new comprehensive windmill ordinance.) Bradlees made way for Home Depot and features sidewalks that 18 year old Matt insisted be added to the site at a community meeting, 23 year old Matt approved while on the planning board and 26 year old insisted be kept free of snow so the local elderly residents can get to the local market and young children can get to school. My tenure occurred during the end of the boom years. I found it incredible to have been involved in the community visioning , in some cases approving plans as a member of the planning board and then dealing with the constituent problems that arise from massive redevelopment in a small area. It is rather ironic that now as the dust has settled, Webster has been repaved, Jefferson has received funding to be fixed, I step down. I enjoyed the busy years and fixing the problems that would arise, I do wonder what it would be like without all of those pending issues.

The highlights of the past few years have been:
* My election by my peers as the Vice President of the Council
* My appointment to the City Manager Evaluation Committee
* Being the main sponsor on a resolution calling for the retention of the resident discount program on the Tobin Bridge
* Signing onto resolutions trying to combat foreclosure in the city
* Working with the police department to curb drag racing with a massive reduction occurring during my tenure
* Working with city officials to reduce the number of trucks on residential roads and monitoring trucks through regular outreach to local citizens
* The repaving of Webster Ave
* The imminent reconstruction of Jefferson Ave
* The redesign of a pocket park taking the concerns of residents into account and brokering a compromise concerning the location of the basketball court
*My attendance at a vast array of cultural and community events, including my outreach to the public in publicizing them before and after the fact
* My advocacy of making more use of our preexisting sub committees in order to help increase transparency in local government
* Participating in Student Government Day in City Hall, getting a ticket while doing so and promptly paying for it at the City Clerks office!

In an unofficial capacity:

*My appearence on WFNX competing against Sam Yoon in "My Song is Better The Your Song"
* My oped piece on citizen involvement in the local community in the Chelsea Record
* Sitting on a panel for the Young Democrats of Massachusetts on running for office
* My subsequent appointment to the Executive Board of said group a few months later
* My defense of Chelsea against slander from a politician from another town
* Meeting the Latimer Society Girls Science Club in Cambridge on one of their trips
* Organizing a trip of the Boy Scout Troop to City Hall to meet with the City Manager and tour our emergency management center

It has been quite a ride in more ways then one. Most of my vacation time went towards attending events or meeting with constituents. I had a policy where I would make house calls and read every single piece of paper that went past my desk. I showed up to all meetings and attended the meetings of subcommittees I did not belong to to stay abreast of what was going on. I would routinely send out emails at midnight on a Saturday and be surprised to find our City Manager responding at 1am giving me enough time to respond by 1:15 am. It has also come with some fatigue, I began feeling like I could not give it my all for another term. I work an hour away and am looking to take on other projects in the next two years. Doing a sub par job was not ever an option and I felt that leaving midterm would be insulting to my colleagues and constituents.

I have liberal tendencies but have always been an advocate of governing in a smart, responsible, logical, ethical manner. Before making any major decisions I spoke with local residents and specifically looked for viewpoints contrary to what I believed. Ultimately I always voted the way I felt was best for city and my constituents. Generally I voted in line with people I traditionally considered my allies in the city but on a few occasions I went a different way but would always be up front and honest as to why I was voting the way I was. It is my hope that whoever fills my spot maintains the same level of good governance.

One of my philosophies that I carry with me is "Just because something is legal that does not make it right." I always have had zero tolerance for people that create injustice and hide behind legal manipulations.

People keep asking me what is next and I am not sure yet. As a rule former City Councilors and employees must wait a year before being appointed to any standing boards or commissions. I also may not have a Boy Scout troop to volunteer with as our numbers have dipped very low due to the closure of the elementary school that acted as a feeder for the troop. Most of my plans revolve around later 2010 so I may have a rare lull in life during the early half of 2010. Having been elected, appointed or running for something since I was 11 it will be odd to be so still. In Scouts it was Assistant Patrol Leader, Patrol Leader, Assistant Senior Patrol Leader, Senior Patrol Leader, Junior Assistant Scout Master, Assistant Scout Master, Merit Badge counselor. In school I was on Student Council and pulled an upset over the class Valedictorian to become the school treasurer my senior year. In college it was Treasurer of the Political Science Academy followed by President and later founding member and Deputy Executive of the Salem State Democrats (I was nominated to be President but was in my last half year of my Senior year and wanted someone who would be around the next year.) Leaving school I joined the Chelsea Planning Board and then was elected to City Council. I have to go through the process of dislodging myself from my position without the benefit of having lost a race or "retiring", all of these signs and stickers and business cards will be recycled. My Facebook Group which inexplicably doubled in size since I announced I was not running again needs retooling. Contacting residents I have built relationships with to tell them who their new councilor is. Telling one of my constituents, she was my crossing guard when I was 4, for the 10th time I will not be her councilor come January etc.

I still have a few more meetings with a few resolutions I plan on passing before I leave.

Stay tuned...