By Josh Resnek
After Mayor Carlo DeMaria left the speaker’s desk last week following his ineffectual effort to explain how his longevity payment of $2,500 a year had grown to $40,000 a year, he was surrounded by residents at the back of the city council chamber and a Boston Globe reporter.
The public peppered the mayor with questions.
A Boston Globe reporter did the same.
One spectator, Donna Steriti, spoke up to the council as the mayor walked away after making brief remarks which he read from a prepared text.
Councilor Mike Marchese, who had ordered DeMaria to address the council about the longevity during the meeting said in frustration: “That’s it.”
“You should all be ashamed of yourselves,” she called out to the council.
The mayor sat down next to Reverend Mimi in the council chamber.
Steriti turned to the mayor.
“And that includes you Mr. Mayor,” she said.
The mayor didn’t respond at first. He grimaced. He waved off Steriti.
Steriti found that disrespectful.
“Don’t be disrespectful. You work for me,” said Steriti.
That’s when the mayor got up and headed for the back of the chamber.
The mayor talked with Steriti. The talk grew louder.
The exchange was described by some as a discussion and as a confrontation by others.
It grew a bit loud for Council President John Hanlon.
He banged his gavel and asked for quiet several times.
Council Clerk for the night Mike Mangan issued an unvarnished ultimatum. Mangan often makes directed efforts to limit public discussion.
“If you don’t quiet down, we will have you removed.”
Hanlon went a step further.
“If you want to beat him up, take him out into the hallway,” he demanded of the crowd that had surrounded the mayor.
The implication of his statement – that he thought the crowd wanted to fight the mayor – was found humorous by some, egregious by others.
This confrontation took place near the end of the council meeting.
It was item number 25. Only the die hards who can fight off falling asleep during a council meeting remained interested enough to care at this point.
It was very different when the council meeting began with the public speaking period two hours earlier.
Unrestrained, and for the most, outraged public speakers demanding action from the city council during the public speaking portion of the meetings have become the most controversial and talked about elements in a new and growing city hall drama.
Recent public speaking sessions have managed to excite a great deal of interest in council proceedings that had grown largely predictable and perfunctory.
Their appearance has the persona of a spectacle. The new happening is akin to a bi-weekly explosion or eruption.
Residents watching from their homes on ECTV have found the speaking sessions lively and interesting, a reason to watch hearings that are otherwise dull and perfunctory.
Those intimately knowledgeable about the city’s political life and its major players, and of the inner workings at city hall, are enjoying the public speaking sessions.
“Sometimes I wish I were a public speaker instead of a councilor. I think I could probably have a greater impact,” said Councilor Mike Marchese.
Elected public officials have shown an incapacity or a decided lack of interest in confronting issues that requires them to take a stand.
Councilor’s tend to have more to say about hydrants and street lighting than they do about their colleagues well documented incidents and propensity for racism and alleged theft.
Uncensored public speakers, one after the other, sometimes with as many as 15 waiting to have their say, have confronted the silent and ineffectual council for the past four meetings.
The council’s major response has been for some members to attempt to restrain those from speaking, or to thwart pub- lic speakers by warning them of time restraints and rules and regulations they fail to follow themselves.
At a recent meeting, Councilor Richard Dell Isola tried unsuccessfully to stop a high school student, representing a group of Haitian young people protesting Councilor Anthony DiPierro’s racism, from speaking.
The speaker, who was Black, was using a cell phone.
“She can’t use a cellphone here. The rules don’t allow it,” Dell Isola complained to Council President Hanlon. He looked bothered and perplexed. This, despite the fact he was using his own cell phone during the meeting as were more than several of his colleagues, which included Councilor Stephanie Martins, DiPierro’s girlfriend.
Hanlon at first agreed.
“This isn’t Russia,” shouted an observer at the back of the hearing room. “This isn’t Russia,” he shouted again.
The councilors back tracked.
As one speaker after another pleaded for DiPierro’s resignation, and some by name, DiPierro complained to Hanlon that “they shouldn’t be saying my name.”
Hanlon once again warned the speakers not to mention any councilor’s name. How ever this did not stop many of the speakers from mentioning DiPierro’s name.
Hanlon also seemed more concerned about confining all those wishing to speak to ten minutes.
“I will be keeping time with my watch,” he said at the beginning of one session which had 15 speakers.
Hanlon has been forced to allot as much time as is necessary to allow all the speakers to have their say. Large crowds of observers have made stifling the speakers an impossibility.
At the last council meeting, Hanlon warned the crowd about time and then allowed an additional 15 minutes and went on to allow Bishop Brown to speak for 30 minutes.
Brown delivered an unabashed apologetica for DiPierro.
Those willing to put their names out there have become the stars of the bi-weekly council meetings.
Those who speak at the public portion preceding the meetings are not afraid of the mayor or his cohorts. They fear retaliation but they are beyond caring.
Their honest, passionate and sometimes incensed opinions have had the effect of turning politics in the city upside down.
Many believe they have been responsible for fomenting the “revolution” now appearing to take rise against the administration of Mayor DeMaria.
The main response of the city council is to fear lengthy public speaking agendas that causes them to spend much more time going through their bi-weekly logs of motions – most of which require 11 speeches by 11 councilors on each item.
That’s 250 speeches.
If the item is about racism, the resignation of DiPierro or of the mayor stealing $180,000 in longevity money – well – there is no response.
No speeches whatsoever.