Two years ago, when I wrote a column griping about the Boston media's apathy-inducing disinterest in city politics, Boston Globe metro editor Brian McGrory told me his paper had given the lackluster 2007 elections as much coverage as they deserved, but hinted that things would be different in 2009. "What you saw this year," said McGrory at the time, "isn't really Boston politics."
Credit McGrory — and the Globe — for making good on that promise. This past Sunday, a front-page, above-the-fold story detailed Boston Mayor Tom Menino's use of city employees to create a potent political machine, and the methods used to dissuade and intimidate supporters of Menino's opponents. A companion piece noted that Michael J. Kineavy — the mayor's chief of policy and planning, and a key political advisor — had deleted countless city e-mails that, under state law, shouldn't have been trashed.
Between the bracing criticisms Menino has been getting from challengers Michael Flaherty, Kevin McCrea, and Sam Yoon, and the fact that transparency is already a key topic in the race, it's no wonder the Kineavy story in particular has exploded. Rather than ignoring its rival's scoop, the Herald ran a front-page follow the next day, headlined COVER-UP! Inside City Hall, meanwhile, the Globe report clearly touched a nerve: Menino's representatives and rivals rushed to hold dueling press conferences on Monday morning, with two challengers (Yoon and Flaherty) calling for a criminal investigation.
For the record, it's not as if the Globe just started paying attention. Earlier this year, the paper devoted considerable energy to the woes of Downtown Crossing and the decisions that led to the gaping hole that now occupies the site of the former Filene's building. And on August 23, the paper ran a searching, triple-bylined assessment of Menino's development policies. (Other pieces have looked at the city's near-giveaways of valuable land parcels and its failure to enforce construction-job quotas for Boston residents.)
According to McGrory, the reporters on that development story and Sunday's Menino-machine article —Stephanie Ebbert, Michael Levenson, and Donovan Slack — "worked months to do what reporters in this city have been trying to do for many, many years: to quantify elusive accusations about the mayor and his administration and to get it on the record in an unimpeachable way."
Of course, the Globe's beefed-up coverage doesn't guarantee a close election. But with the state's Tuesday order to seize Kineavy's computer, the paper can credibly claim that it's reshaped the race.
Better late than never
Given the workplace hostility triggered by the New York Times Co.'s recent threat to close the Globe, you might think that the prospect of continued Times Co. ownership would be poorly received at Morrissey Boulevard. But at least in the Globe newsroom, that doesn't seem to be the case.
This scenario materialized last week, when Times Co. executives Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and Janet Robinson — who never showed up to explain the closure threat — finally dropped by the paper's headquarters to meet with employees. The Globe, they reported, is now headed toward profitability, thanks to union concessions, the closure of the paper's Billerica printing plant, and the surprising success of a recent price hike. Consequently, Sulzberger and Robinson said, the Times Co. doesn't have to sell the paper if the offers it's received — one from agroup led by Stephen Taylor, whose family owned the paper until the Times Co. purchased it in 1991; another from Platinum Equity, a California-based investment firm — aren't sufficiently appealing.