Thursday, June 5, 2014

(Some of the ...) Candidates for MA governor meet to talk transportation.

To walk into the full auditorium at the Boston Public Library last night for a gubernatorial candidates' forum on transportation and see a table filled with only white men was a disappointment.  That's not a comment about the candidates — they were earnest and eager and trying their hardest, as candidates tend to do.  It's not a comment about the sponsor, Livable Streets.  They undoubtedly worked hard to pull this together.  It is more a comment that none of the women candidates showed up and that we have no candidates of color in this race.  As this historic era concludes, where both our governor and our president are African-American, a bevy of five white men in suits on a stage feels so 1980s.

From L to R: Avellone, Berwick, Falchuk, Grossman, McCormick.  Doug Foy, moderator (standing)

Of course, that’s simplistic.  It’s possibly prejudiced.  It may even be racist.  I mean, white men are just as qualified as anyone else to be governor, of course we believe that.  It’s just in this multicolored world called America, in which we have accomplished so much during this last decade on one of the thorniest issues of our history, to return simply to plain vanilla is, uh, not very exciting. 

Why make such a fuss about it?  In part because none of the candidates was particularly inspiring, or particularly knowledgeable, or particularly different.  Joe Avellone (D), to his very great credit, called for a revenue neutral carbon tax.  Steve Grossman (D) spoke out very clearly on the equity issue.  Evan Falchuk (I) talked about 40R, a topic he clearly has studied thoroughly.  Jeff McCormick (I) has started companies and knows what young people want, and Don Berwick (D) likes smart growth.  In fact, they all like smart growth.  Who wouldn’t? 

Yet, transportation in all its guises is so much more than that, it would be nice to have heard someone with more direct experience in the area.  When a woman got up to ask how the candidates will deal with the awful conundrum that transportation investment in poorer communities often leads to gentrification of those communities, the men were trying, but not particularly convincing.  This is only one of the thorny challenges ahead.  Funding and cost, auto-transit mix, jobs-housing access, the elderly, the poor, bicycles and pedestrians - all are such important parts of this next governor’s agenda, we'd like to know if the candidates know what they're talking about.

The challenge of the next decade does not lie in the immediate Boston metro area, the Red Line corridor, Green Line expansion, Silver Line, regardless of how critically important transit in the core is.  The next challenge is how to distribute the benefits of transit to the second tier cities in the state that don’t benefit from the gravitational force of Boston and neighboring Cambridge.  These cities are less white, less affluent, more poorly endowed with the resources to compete in the 21st century economy.  Transit will play a huge role in a longer-term strategy for their rebirth.

Still, our current system has not been able to extend the Green Line in two decades, and cannot adequately meet the upcoming service needs of the new Allston areas that will be transformed by Harvard's private investment over the next decade.  It is very hard under these circumstances to imagine how Fall River or New Bedford or any of a host of other communities in this state will see the levels of investment that will bring them back to life in 2020.  Without a successful strategy to do this, the economic cleavage that segregates our civic sphere will only get much, much deeper.

And Charlie Baker (R), Martha Coakley (D), Juliette Kayyem (D) ... they didn’t show.