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Why not Hartford?

Your Humble Blogger has said nice things about David S. Bernstein before—he has known me since the day I was born, and he is also a terrific journalist of Massachusetts politics, and so on and so forth. He has been a contributor to WGBH for a few months now, mostly talking about the mayoral election coming up in Boston. That election is a Big Deal—it matters who is Mayor of Boston, matters a lot, not only to the people who live and work in Boston Proper, but to people who live and work in the suburbs, or drive through Boston now and then, or fly in or out of Logan or ride in or out of North or South stations. Mr. Bernstein is moderating a mayoral debate tonight, by the way. He has been covering that race quite extensively.

Two weeks from now there will be an election for the Boston City Council, too. That Council is institutionally weak, but is important to the city nonetheless and perennially underreported (as most city councils are, I think). And there’s a sort of irony that this particular cycle was likely to be both unusually open and interesting and draw even less attention than usual—the mayoral election drew four of the thirteen City Council incumbents as well as the local press. There are five people running for the open seat in District Eight and eight for the vacated District Five seat (that can’t be right, can it?) along with nineteen people running for the four at-large seats, two of which will be open. In addition, most of the returning District Councilors have a challenger or two or three.

In all, there are forty-eight people running for the Boston City Council. And David S. Bernstein and the Boston Magazine website decided to interview all of them. He has done forty-six, so far. I don’t know if there will be two more added or if the last two have declined, which would be a shame, I think. Still, forty-six interviews with candidates for the city council. Do you live in Boston? Before you vote on September 24th, (unless you’re in Roxbury) you can read an interview with each candidate on your ballot. That’s a tremendous service.

It’s also interesting to read the whole thing. I haven’t lived in Boston for ten years, and I’m familiar with only a few of the candidates and really only a few of the current issues. Reading all the interviews has reminded me of a bunch of things about the city, and informed me of a bunch of changes, and let me in on a bunch of things I never knew. Yes, there are some platitudes and speechspeak, if you will, but there are also a lot of details about neighborhoods, communities, frustrations and desires. It’s a fascinating collection.

There’s a mix of policy questions, character questions and fluff (my favorite, to incumbent Matt O’Malley You have, in the past, expressed support for the idea of bringing the Olympic Games to Boston. I’m curious: are you insane?) David Bernstein’s knowledge of the Boston political scene let him ask Martin Keogh I know you worked for former city councilor Peggy Davis-Mullen. Was she a major influence on your approach to politics and policy? He could ask Josh Zakim I’m curious whether there are any innovative approaches you’ve seen in the programs you’ve funded [through the Zakim fund], that might be applicable to the city’s approach to problems? He could talk to Patrice Gattozzi about Hyde Park Main Streets and to Francisco White about MassVOTE and to Seamus Whelan about the Massachusetts Nurses Association and to Michelle Wu about food trucks. That’s a policy question, by the way, as Ms. Wu worked in City Hall on permits for them. In total, it’s a fascinating document of a moment of a big city, and it’s the sort of thing that can be done with the web’s evasion of the old limits on production and delivery put together with old-school opinion journalism.

Or, at any rate, it’s the sort of thing that can be done in Boston. My response, as it often is when I read really good local political reporting from elsewhere, is to wish that we had something like that for Hartford. It’s the capital city! Surely we could have a David Bernstein of our own! I blame the Courant!

Only… the thing is, Boston is a Big City. It really is. It’s a huge, wealthy, interesting city. If Boston Magazine can convince advertisers that they have created a site that everyone interested in Boston politics will check every day, they have a very desirable chunk of demographic. In Hartford, I’m thinking not so much. Oh, they would sell ads, but to local restaurants and dating sites. In Boston, they can sell ads to Mazda. I’m just saying. It’s a different thing entirely.

I don’t really know how resource-intensive it would be to have a Hartford version of David Bernstein on your payroll. Maybe it’s something that Hartford actually can’t afford. Or Indianapolis. Or Lincoln. Or Raleigh or Richmond or Baton Rouge. And that would suck, wouldn’t it?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,