Education in spotlight again at Menino's State of City speech

The Mayor Menino show rolled into Uphams Corner's Strand Theatre for the second year in a row on Tuesday, bringing squadrons of traffic cops, shuttle buses and a quintet of royal-sounding horns. On the program was a new plan to scale back the city's school bus routes, a plan to re-create the "Boston Miracle" of the 1990s and an emphasis on "green" initiatives.

Hours before the crowds arrived, took their seats and listened to Mayor Thomas Menino give his annual State of the City address, an angry fireman held a press conference of his own on the Columbia Road sidewalk outside.

"The city is trying to hold a gun to their head. They don't want to negotiate and that's wrong," said Robert McCarthy, head of the Professional Fire Fighters Union of Massachusetts.

McCarthy and other officials from the union and its Boston branch, Local 718, alleged that Menino was attempting to manipulate a report on the deaths of two firemen who died in a West Roxbury restaurant blaze last year. The report, leaked to the Boston Herald, said one firefighter was found to be inebriated at the time of his death, and the other had traces of cocaine in his system.

Union officials also hinted that the Menino administration and the Boston Globe were partners in an alleged smear campaign, characterizing the tactic as an unfair labor practice. The comments came after a string of Globe articles, including one detailing some firefighters' alleged attempts at pension fraud.

Menino had some choice words of his own during his address.

"I am astounded by the union leaders' unwillingness to eliminate substance abuse and unethical personnel practices," Menino said. "It's not right to ask for pay raises as a reward for putting a stop to these abuses of the public trust."

Fields Corner activist Ed Crowley, seen exiting the Strand afterwards, said only that he wished the drug and alcohol report had never been public.

"It's hurt their families most of all, nobody else," Crowley said.

Boston Firefighters Local 718 had pulled a permit to picket the speech, but when the time came this year, the picket didn't materialize.

In his speech, Menino touted the city's 2007 accomplishments, including new police Safe Street Teams, door-knocking city employees offering youth services to Boston Housing Authority residents and at-risk youth, and Camp Harbor View--a new summer-retreat built with help from Jack Connors and John Fish of Suffolk Construction.

Menino announced a number of measures, some new, some already in progress:

•Single-stream recycling, based on a pilot program in parts of Jamaica Plain and Roslindale that encouraged more recycling by using bigger bins and eliminating the need to sort paper, glass and plastic.

• Bicycling infrastructure, starting with bike lanes on Commonwealth Avenue from the BU Bridge to Kenmore Square.

•The next 'Boston Miracle,' a $1 million initiative to align schools, libraries and community centers for 'Community Learning.'

•Less spending on school busing, a "rethink" of Boston's public school assignment zones designed to reign in skyrocketing transportation costs and take advantage of a greater number of high-performing schools.

•Double the number of BPS' Advanced Placement Classes in five years.

•Establish two new International Baccalaureate programs at two non-exam schools in five years.

Menino also presaged an announcement to be given later this month by Superintendent Dr. Carol Johnson on how she plans to "re-engage these kids."

Report card: How Menino fared on Dot pledges from last year's State of the City

Issue: The Strand Theatre

Grade: Incomplete (A for effort)

Last year's State of the City emphasized the renovation of the Strand, a $6 million investment meant to attract a new theatrical company and bring new vitality to the old theatre. The work is largely completed, but no permanent tenant has yet been found and there has been no public discussion yet on how that could happen. There's been no attempt to reconcile the Strand's main infrastructure flaw - the lack of nearby parking - with Menino's vision for the venue. That flaw was once again underlined on Tuesday, as buses ferried speech-goers to the Strand from lots at Bayside Expo Center.

Only one other event has happened at the theatre since its reopening in November. This year, the Strand was a footnote in the speech, although some in the audience hoped to hear more.

"I was kind of hoping there's some announcement about it tonight," said Zachary Cohen of Uphams Corner Main Streets, making the rounds in the audience before the speech. "The Strand's people are starting to reach out more to Main Streets though. We're hoping that whoever they end up choosing is connected to us."

Issue: Police power

Grade: B+

Menino also promised some 190 new police officers in 2007, and 138 new cadets did enter the force, allowing others to be promoted to detective and bringing the total to 2,219. Local captains have largely stopped beating the 'we need more officers' drum and numbers in most crime categories have come down in the city. In District B-3 however, homicides and violent crime numbers were up in 2007, and the first four murders of the year have occurred right here in Dorchester.

Issue: Ceylon Park

Grade: A+

Ceylon Park's renovation, another Dot-centric 2006 promise, is on-track. New artificial turf, floodlights and fences will be installed, hopefully in time for the fall soccer and lacrosse seasons. New walls, stairs and plants area also part of the $2.2 million project, $1.2 million more than Menino originally said would be spent.




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