The Charter & Things

Top of the Day to All,

Apropos of nothing, have I lived through the Golden Age of America?  I hope not, but it may be so.  Born in the Depression, I was 10 when the war ended.  In those days we recycled everything; string, paper, bottles, cans and ashes.  All went into separate containers for pick up.  We walked to the store and our groceries went into my red wagon and we pulled it home.  Now we are struggling to save the planet and we are asking people to do the same.  Is life a circle?

Is 2017 a flashback to 1974?

My first political action was to wear a Roosevelt “red donkey” pin in 1944.  In 1948 I prayed Truman would beat Dewey.  I then forgot politics.  I finished High School and went to college.  In Law School I met a Boston bred, red headed, nurse and married her a year later.  I got the nod because her other suitor wanted to go into politics.  Then came John F. Kennedy asking for our help.  We spent the next 56 years doing our best to help the dream; “… the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die.”  We were a team, she did the work and I got most of the credit, except among my political colleagues and those who knew us.

In my musings I would mute the TV and say, “Washington is in a mess.  There is a new disaster every 10 days.”  Joan would say, “Newton is in a mess.  We can’t do anything about Washington, what can we do about Newton?”

I thought about this.  I have no political organization and I said, maybe the people who read Chris Pitts’ Newton Forum blog can help.  “So”, I said to myself, “before I ask for help we should try to define the problem”.

We have two problems: housing and the proposed changes in the Newton City Charter.

I think we can all agree that we support the concept that we need to provide housing for the disadvantaged and those in need.  Our difference is identifying the needy, where the housing should go and who should have priority.

To paraphrase what has been said at recent public hearings, “It is better to put it (mixed project housing) in another village so it won’t be put in ours” and, by another, “I don’t think I’ve ever been to that village but it is a dump and it would be better to have nice stores there.”  We need to rise above this thinking and we need a real, achievable plan.  The concept of increasing density in multi family zones and preventing density increase in single family zones is the type of thinking that let to the enactment to 40B.

We need to require our elected officials to communicate with our village voters and help our village voters’ work out a solution for housing in their village.

Let us put the housing issue aside and look at the Newton City Charter Commission proposal to dispose of our legislative branch of government and replace it with an effete, elite, ruling-class legislative branch of local government.

First and foremost, the argument about district representation was settled in Philadelphia in 1776 by the founders of our Republic.  It was decided that District (in our case Ward Councilors) Representatives were an integral part of our government.  If there were no District Representatives there would be no Union, no United States of America.

Newton founded its government when people understood the importance of self rule. We must not give it up.

District representation is a foundation block of our Republic.  It is the best insurance we have that minority interests will be protected from abuse by the majority.  District representation is not a some kind of quaint notion; it’s indispensable to our idea of democracy. It is a foundation block of our Republic.  Toqueville made this clear in his classic Democracy in America, which devoted a whole chapter to the subject. Those who disagree need a remedial course in American History.

“Tocqueville is adamant: local government is absolutely key to democracy in America. It’s what makes it work.  For a whole chapter, he marvels at the extent of self-governance in the townships of New England, looking at them as the model of local self-government.  … For Tocqueville, this isn’t idle social analysis: he makes very clear that looking at how local government works in America explains how all democracy works in America. As we’ll see,”  Pascal Emmanuel Gobry.

All arguments to the contrary, local people have an inherent right to be represented by their own Representative.   This claim of right dates back to the Magna Carta of 1215.

All arguments about government efficiency are a “red herring” [a misleading or false trail] intended to direct our thoughts to  “peaceful,” elite, largely undebated  solutions.  Such a concept is anti-democratic, deriving from a culture based on the worship of authority and the elevation of privilege.  We are a people who want to know the pros and the cons.  If there was no agreement upon district representation there would be no United States of America.  It is from the acorn that the oak tree does grow.

We are a successful government because we agree that the minority should be represented.  They may not be successful, but they should be heard.  The attempt to remove the Ward Councilors is an attempt to remove the voice of the minority.  How important to us is it that we keep alive the right of the minority to be heard?

For those of you who did not live through the Golden Age of America, let me say:

the minority voice of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her colleagues has advanced beyond her wildest dreams; TR’s expectations of protecting the environment have exceeded his wildest dreams; FDR’s expectations of protecting the American worker have exceeded his wildest dreams; JFK’s expectations & LBJ’s ambitions to protect the working poor have exceeded their wildest dreams.

America is the place where the wild dreams of expectation have a hope; that hope starts with their Ward Councilor.  It is up to her to see that the hope advances.

We need to protect our Ward Councilors.  We need to defeat the proposed Newton Charter reform that eliminates Ward representation in our local Legislature.

If you are willing to join in this growing concern please contact  I intend to.

Peter F. Harington

Fmr V. Pres. Bd of Aldermen

Fmr State Rep (D-Newton)

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Mark Marderosian
Mark Marderosian

Thank you for writing this, Peter. In all my decades in Newton, the vote in November is shaping up for me to be one of the most crucial, if not THE crucial Newton-centric votes ever. As I’ve said on another blog, the voices of the folks in Newton who are voiceless will lose access to those closest to help them if this new charter passes.