Dateline: Downtown

Dateline: Downtown

Dateline: Downtown

Dan Roche

Deterioration of this kind is common for construction during this era.” Those are among the last words of a memorandum posted on the UMass Boston website about the parking “situation”, or fiasco, whichever you like. Like much official communication, there is a lot between the lines there. One imagines it typed with a shrug of the shoulders: “Hey? What can you do?” The rest of the memo is divided into damage control and attempts to preempt the hordes of frustrated parkers in the wake of the garage closing last summer. There is an FAQ section: “Is the Campus safe?” “Is my current parking pass still valid?” “Is our children learning?”

Despite this game attempt to present any answers at all to our little “situation”, the number one problem people have with our school, past getting here and finding a place to park our Gremlins and Volkswagen Golfs, is how to leave it: Why it is so dismal here? After bustling around in Boston, just entering our school is like trudging through the moat to a castle in disrepair.

These two problems, the parking fiasco and our unglamorous buildings, share a common source.

Corruption. Not simply architectural, aesthetic corruption, which our school structures share with City Hall. Both were built during the grim era referred to above, that of the school of thought best known as Brutalism that found sway as a form of temporary city planning psychosis in the ’60s and ’70s. City Hall, however, while it houses numerous rats and other nasties and also is radically inefficient in its use of space, is also built to withstand Ragnarok. Our buildings are crumbling. This is because of a now defunct firm named McKee-Berger-Mansueto.

Who, you ask? In the April 10th, 2006 Mass Media, Taylor Fife reports that “The acquisition of the contract to build UMass Boston by McKee-Berger-Mansueto is the central part to one of the largest and most publicized scandals in recent Massachusetts history. The so-called MBM scandal resulted in jail time for two state Senators and a string of sweeping reforms in how state public works projects are done.”

Did it ever. Not long after this scandal was resolved, the Ward Commission, chaired by John William Ward, an influential professor of English and History at Princeton, was assembled to look into the culture of corruption in Massachusetts’s public life. But we’ll revisit this.

Two State Senators, Joe DiCarlo and Ronald MacKenzie, a Democrat and a Republican, were convicted on eight corruption counts for taking funny money to allow MBM the contract to build our school, showing that the power of the payoff can bridge the partisan divide. Howie Carr, in his recent book on “The Brothers Bulger”, relates that: “according to court testimony, the MBM executive met MacKenzie in the Point After lounge in the Back Bay and handed him $5,000 in cash in $50 and $100 bills. MacKenzie returned to the State House and gave half the money to DiCarlo.”

But wait, there’s more. “A month later, in the men’s room of the Parker House bar, MacKenzie took another $7,000 in cash. The next meeting was again at the Point After, with a different MBM executive handling the delivery. MacKenzie stuffed the money into his coat and said he’d have to be very careful driving home.”

Thus was our slag heap on the Harbor laid, during a time of erroneous ideas in building that coincided with a time of widespread roguery here in our State. It got so bad that a new office, the Inspector General’s, was created. Massachusetts was the first in the nation to establish one, and how it got there is the story of the Ward Commission, which we will discuss next week.


Shalom aleichem and salaam alaikum to everyone observing Rosh Hashanah and Ramadan…Kevin Cullen of the Globe gave UMB positive press (in the Metro section, 9/13/07) for Professor Padraig O’Malley’s efforts to facilitate inter-factional discussion between groups in Iraq…Convocation was lovely, bring on the policy speeches…Can someone get me a copy of The Last Hurrah by Edwin O’Connor? The listing says, “O’Connor’s 1956 account of big-city politics, inspired by the career of longtime Boston Mayor James M. Curley, portrays its Irish-American political boss as a demagogue and a rogue who nonetheless deeply understands his constituents.” There was also a 1958 movie starring Spencer Tracy…Sketchy rumors (the best kind) flying about Wit’s End reopening some time in near future. If so: improve the coffee and maybe people will visit…Have you heard the Pope has contracted bird flu? Sad news. He got it from one of his Cardinals… Log onto the University website and follow the yellow flag in the dead center of the homepage that says “Strategic Plan”. It contains all sorts of goodies, like this from the April 7th minutes of the Enrollment and Financial Aid committee: “We also talked about growth at the PhD level and whether we should be considering more traditional programs in areas such as Sociology or Political Science, where we could begin to build a strong TA structure that would help us with the part-time faculty situation,” and this from the Master Plan committee of the Strategic Planning Task Force (who group in underground bunkers and favor black clothing and secrecy): “The expression of the urban mission has changed over time. The current meaning of urban mission should be clarified.” Well put…One of the offices I visit on my job rents space to William M. Bulger. The security guard is a dear old man whom I frequently chat with. Who will buy me lunch (and protect me) if I use my connection to interview Billy and spring “So, where’s your brother?!?” on him?…This interview is over!!!