The big question on Healey | Corporate news chain stifles local views | Development showdown in Ipswich | Dirty politics in sheriff’s race? | The Globe goes exploring | You read it here first | Quick Hits | About Contrarian Boston |
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Consumers down in the dumps: Poll finds trouble ahead for Mass. economy
As the holiday shopping season looms, consumers across the state are tightening their belts, according to a new survey by veteran pollster Lou DiNatale and his Princeton Research Associates.
Nearly 80 percent of respondents said they plan to spend less money this holiday season, according to the statewide poll, slated to be released publicly on Monday.
That sobering stat comes on the heels of the latest MassBenchmarks report out of the UMass Donahue Institute, which also paints a not so rosy picture of the state’s economy.
Wage growth in Massachusetts is nowhere close to keeping up with inflation, lagging the national rate by a wide margin, at 3.3 percent compared to 7.7 percent, the report finds.
And with the tech and biotech sectors hammered by the turmoil in the financial markets, economic growth all but ground to a halt in Massachusetts during the third quarter, weighing in at .5 percent.
The Princeton poll also found strong support for suspending the state’s gas tax, providing a boost for a group that is gathering signatures in hopes of placing the question on the fall 2024 ballot.
Media malpractice: Healey glides to the finish line with few hard questions asked
The election is just a little over a week away. And guess what? We still have no clue just what kind of governor Maura Healey will be.
Part of the problem is her Republican opponent, Geoff Diehl. For reasons probably only known to himself, the former state lawmaker and Trump fanboy is running a quixotic campaign better suited to the backwoods of Alabama than the suburbs of Boston.
But that’s no excuse for the performance of what’s left of the local media - Globe, Herald, public radio stations and fast-shrinking number of suburban weeklies and dailies.
With a few exceptions, there has been little if any press scrutiny over the big challenges Healey will face if she attempts to govern as she campaigned, essentially as Charlie Baker lite; a progressive to be sure, but a more moderate, pragmatic one.
Baker’s act could be a tough one for Healey to follow after the election is over, with some of the state Democratic party’s more uber progressive elements having big asks.
The Massachusetts Teachers Association has all but declared war on the state’s system of standardized testing, vehemently opposing a recent move by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to raise MCAS standards, as Contrarian Boston reported here.
Guess what the first thing the teachers’ union will be gunning for after the election?
Boston Mayor Michelle Wu is pushing plans to bring back some form of rent control, with Cambridge and Somerville waiting in the wings.
Healey has managed to straddle the issue during the campaign, effectively saying she is against rent control statewide but willing to let individual communities chart their own course, but it won’t be so easy after she is elected.
As proposals in Boston and potentially elsewhere likely advance next year, the debate over rent control - and whether it could wind up shutting down new apartment and condo development - will only intensify.
And on the contentious issue of banning new gas hookups and pipelines, Healey, who has served as state attorney general for nearly eight years, has been careful to cite legal issues (in the case of nixing a gas hookup ban in Brookline), or the interests of ratepayer for her rejection of a pipeline project.
But will that satisfy self-proclaimed climate warriors, who want to shut down all new gas hookups immediately, whether or not it hurts the development of desperately needed housing or makes sense in the immensely complicated transition toward a clean energy economy?
Most definitely not.
For Healey, beating the stuffing out of the hapless Diehl at the ballot box will be the easy part.
What comes next - navigating the treacherous crosscurrents in her own party after a likely lopsided win - will be far more challenging.
Heated development battle in Ipswich over corporate headquarters proposal lands in court
Ora Inc. stepped forward in early 2021 to buy an old Italianate mansion and its sprawling site with plans to turn it into a combination corporate headquarters and employee retreat.
The ophthalmic drug and device development firm put forth plans to renovate the mansion, which had been on the market for $5.7 million, and undertake a modest expansion, while preserving most of the site as open space.
There were few if any other takers for the grand old mansion, which overlooks a scenic and relatively rural road in the North Shore town across from historic Appleton Farms.
Historic Appleton Farms, which dates to the 1600s, is across the street from Ora’s proposed corporate retreat/headquarters (photo by John Phelan)
But what should have been a win-win has turned into a lose-lose, with the project’s neighbors taking the town’s planning board to state land court over its decision to approve the project, citing its impact on, you guessed it, “neighborhood character.”
Ora’s plans for the site will “significantly increase traffic” and “significantly increase the overcrowding of the land and greatly increase the concentration of population,” reads the lawsuit, which was filed on Oct. 22.
Will Trumpie Southeastern Mass. sheriff finally get his walking papers? The dark money is betting on it
We’ll see, but for the first time in a long time, Bristol County Sheriff Tom Hodgson has a real opponent, Attleboro Mayor Paul Heroux.
And it looks like Heroux is raking in the so-called “dark money” in his quest to unseat Hodgson, who has made headlines for all the wrong reasons, from decrepit jails to offering up inmates to build Trump’s farcical wall.
Two New York political action committees with “untraceable funds” have pumped $466,000 into Heroux’s campaign account, reports former Globe State House chief Frank Phillips in his invaluable Twitter feed.
Penny wise and pound foolish: Gannett guts opinion sections at its local papers
By Mark Pickering
Editorials have gone missing at local Gannett papers. And you can forget about op-eds, too. They have no home on the websites for four of the nine daily papers in Massachusetts owned by Gannett.
The websites for The Standard Times of New Bedford, The Enterprise of Brockton, the Taunton Daily Gazette and The Herald News of Fall River do not even have a category for “Opinion” – much less for editorials.
Dead web links for these papers abound. For example: If you Google “taunton daily gazette editorials,” up pops an apparent link. If you click on it, however, you get “errors/404/” ‑ which in WordPress lingo means dead link.
Back in June, Gannett pushed its dailies in the direction of cutting down on op-eds and getting out of the business of penning editorials. At least one of Gannett’s leading dailies quickly did just that.
The last editorial that the MetroWest Daily News of Framingham ran was June 29 (“Derek Chauvin’s 22.5-year sentence is welcome step in march toward racial justice.”)
Judging from back copies and the website, MetroWest also cut its opinion section down from running daily to Sunday only.
The chain’s chief communications officer, Lark-Marie Anton, said that Gannett allows “local leadership to make decisions based on what is best for their market and communities.” She declined to comment on particular newspapers.
As for other Gannett properties, Worcester’s Telegram & Gazette does not show any recent editorials, though the paper has been running opinion pieces. Same goes for The Patriot Ledger and the Milford Daily News.
For its part, Gannett’s Cape Cod Times had already cut way back on having editorials. In a May 2020 “Note to readers,” the editor said “The Cape Cod Times will no longer publish daily editorials — except on rare occasions — or endorse political candidates.”
Gannett’s Anton said that, as part of the chain’s new policies, the newspaper company had canceled “national enterprise agreements that provided syndicated columnists across the network because many publications had already stopped running syndicated columnists in favor of local content.”
So, it’s out with opinion pieces – ranging from conservatives George F. Will and Jonah Goldberg to liberals Fareed Zakaria and Paul Krugman. So, what’s in?
Well, it varies. It could be a “column” in the MetroWest Daily News on how to “Protect your pets during dog days of summer.” Or a more serious opinion piece on how the President Biden’s “Inflation Reduction Act” will help people on Medicare – for example by capping beneficiaries’ insulin co-pays at no more than $35 per month.
In June, Amalie Nash, Gannett senior vice president for local news, told the Poynter Institute the chain had concluded that readers do not want to be lectured at or told what to think. In an interview with Rick Edmonds she added that editorials, point-of-view syndicated columns and many commissioned guest essays consistently turn up as the most poorly read articles online.
Not long ago, however, the standard policy for newspapers was to serve readers with a wide variety of interests. In particular, that meant serving the readers of printed newspapers.
But if budget cutting is of paramount importance, then the ax has to fall on something. So op-eds are on the chopping block at Gannett.
Mark Pickering is a veteran of the local news business, having worked on the business desk and the opinion pages of the Boston Herald.
The Boston Globe discovers America
Yes, the Globe has found that intelligent life exists outside the I-495 beltway, having sent 12 reporters on an epic road trip to Oklahoma, Missouri and other parts unknown.
“We sent a dozen journalists on the road across this complex country. They found it’s better than you think,” reads the teaser at the top of series.
Good to know. Maybe for a follow-up act, the Globe could send those same reporters to 12 different cities and towns across New England, or even just Massachusetts.
At the very least it might end the habit of reporting on places like Princeton or Hardwick as if they were foreign countries.
More seriously, we live in two very different states. While Greater Boston is booming, it’s a different picture outside the bubble.
Boston launching multimillion-dollar effort to revive downtown businesses
A long-awaited report on reviving downtown Boston is out now.
And the study, by a consulting firm hired by City Hall, recommends a shift towards more apartment and condo development to inject life into the city’s commercial heart, reeling from a more than 40 percent drop in foot traffic in the wake of the pandemic and the rise of remote work.
One of the many vacant stores in downtown Boston.
As Contrarian Boston reported here in September, the centerpiece will be a $9 million rent subsidy program to help fill the many empty storefronts that can be found across the city’s downtown.
Dire warning - better hope it doesn’t get too cold come January: “Eversource CEO urges Biden to expand natural gas supply and avert risk of winter blackouts” Jon Chesto/Boston Globe
Yes, please do! “MBTA to install $80M underground cable network to prevent train collisions” Boston Herald
It’s not just home sales that are getting hammered: “Rate Squeeze Punishes Once-Triumphant Tech Stocks” Wall Street Journal
Disturbing allegations: “For two years, Natick has kept a secret. A police officer allegedly sexually assaulted a dispatcher.” Boston Globe/WBUR
Before he was just a fool with the flat-earth nonsense. Now he’s getting evil: “Kyrie Irving Defends Antisemitic Documentary and Conspiracy Theory” New York Times
About Contrarian Boston
I have fielded emails over the past couple of months asking what Contrarian Boston is about.
Here’s a link to our mission statement – you can find it in the “about” section.
For a more prosaic, nuts-and-bolts description, read on.
An online newsletter, Contrarian Boston publishes every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. In Contrarian Boston you’ll find analysis of the day’s news, and original reporting as well.
Our focus is:
· Politics and all levels of governance, good and bad, with an emphasis on state and local, with some national mixed in;
· Economic growth and business, especially real estate, housing and new development projects;
· The media and why it does what it does;
· Education, from school board spats to the doings of multibillion-dollar university endowments;
· And whatever else catches our fancy.