In a rare full-page editorial, the Boston Globe today endorses two of the 12 candidates for Boston's preliminary mayoral election next Tues: John Barros and John Connolly. For those not in Boston, this is a run-off to narrow the field to the two candidates who will go head-to-head in November.
If I lived in Boston, my vote would go to John Barros.
I know John very well. I've sat in dozens of meeting with him, have spent many hours talking to him about strategy, have seen him present to large groups and small. John has vision, compassion, and intelligence, and, over the course of the campaign, I've watched his ideas about how to run one of the world's premier cities evolve.
It's very easy to idealize politicians and celebrities, even in this cynical world, and I can easily see John being lionized given his smarts, charm, talent, and good looks. But like all of us, John doesn't walk on water and, when you work as closely as we did (see below), you see "improvement opportunities," things that made me hestiate at first when I heard he was running. As I've watched the campaign (I went to see him talk at a friend's house very early on and fired off a note the next morning with suggestions for how to improve his pitch), I've seen him grow and become more clear about his plans, expand the purview of his concerns beyond education and the Boston Redevelopment Authority, and clarify what he means by "changing the conversation." I think he would make a very good mayor.
Now, for those of you who don't know him...
Only 40 years old, John has seen a lot. The son of Cape Verdean immigrants, he grew up in the 'hood, went to the private Jesuit school, Boston College High, and Dartmouth, opted out of a career in New York finance in favor of coming home to work in his community. Anyone who's interacted with Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) knows the measure of its work: providing 225 units of permanently affordable housing on its 32 land-trust protected acres in Roxbury; working to create a charter school just a few doors from its office; helping engineer the turnaround of one of the city's most troubled schools; aiding scores of community residents with problems; and winning one of the US Department of Education's treasured Promise Neighborhood grants.
I first met John in 2010 when the Barr Foundation provided a grant to Interaction Institute for Social Change to hire network experts as advisors to three of its projects. Both Jeff Stamps and I were assigned to work with John at DSNI. I'd known about DSNI because I knew its first executive director, Peter Medoff. But I didn't know John until we started working with him. Soon I realized that this was a remarkable person, confident without being arrogant, warm without being fawning, and sought after without becoming a diva (what's a male, a divo?). He also has a great devoted family, including his wife Tchintcia, her siblings, and parents, and their growing family--two little sons and counting. (He once told me that they wanted to see a child in every seat around their large dining room table.)
It was one thing to be an external consultant to John, seeing him every couple of weeks, but after my husband died in June 2011, I was sitting in a meeting with John a few months later and impulsively agreed to be his "executive advisor," a fancy title for helping him with his correspondence and schedule.
Everyone who knows the work I do -- and have done over the years -- thought I was crazy to take this on, i.e. I essentially became his administrative assistant. The job itself was not the point for me. Although I had my usual roster of client engagements -- speeches, trainings, consulting -- I had a lot of time on my hands after Jeff died. Because we'd worked together for our entire lives with our home as our office and our schedules intertwined, I suddenly found myself in our life-long house alone day after day. I needed structure; I needed to see people; I needed a reason to get dressed. Anyone who's been through the death of a spouse understands.
So I took on this part-time job, which provided everything I was looking for, including learning first-hand about the nonprofit world in Boston, making some very good friends, and allowing me to have my Barbara Ehrenreich-like moment (see her book, Nickle and Dimed on her taking on menial jobs to write her book): I got to experience first-hand the difference between being regarded as a "world expert" and being someone's admin. (There are one or two people who've endorsed John whose behavior, I am certain, would have been quite different if they'd "known who I was." :) Another distinguished friend who works at Boston University told me that "most people wouldn't admit" to doing what I did.
Thus, this is how I got to know John -- very up-close. We didn't always agree. I've been working closely with senior executives in large organizations all my life so I had lots of opinions...but in the end (I left after nine months once I got my bearings), I came away knowing that he's a leader and he's a learner. Just right for Boston.
The photo here, courtesy of Travis Watson, shows Jeff and me at a meeting with John in January 2011. John and Jeff had special affection for each other and it's wonderful to be reminded of that in this picture. Thanks, Travis.