Things don’t often work out well for people who fail to show proper deference to Boston Mayor Tom Menino. But tell that to Greg Selkoe.
Selkoe, owner of streetwear retailer Karmaloop, was raised in Jamaica Plain. He worked in City Hall for a few years. The mayor went to his 2002 wedding. Selkoe knows how Boston works. Only he won’t play the game.
The entrepreneur, along with longtime voter activist Malia Lazu, founded the Future Boston Alliance , a group hoping to make hidebound Boston a little friendlier to its younger residents. Their goals range from extending the city’s nightlife past 2 a.m., to making Boston more welcoming for creative types, to mobilizing twenty- and thirty-something voters.
Innocuous enough, one might think. Still, Selkoe says that when the group was forming, people kept telling him he had to run his notion by the mayor, that without his support, the group wouldn’t get anywhere. But Selkoe and the others couldn’t do that: They believe the mayor is part of the problem.
“You can’t talk about any issue in Boston, things that work or don’t work, without talking about the mayor, because he has been in office for 20 years,” Selkoe said. An animated video Future Boston released in May made this point pretty forcefully, depicting Boston as a city where only the connected get ahead and where younger residents feel unwelcome. It even compared Menino to Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin.
Ouch. Needless to say, this did not please City Hall. While Menino has poked fun at his own outsized influence, sometimes hilariously, it’s different when somebody else does it. City spokeswoman Dot Joyce called Future Boston’s debut “very antagonistic.” Menino shot back that a lot of young people in the city think he’s plenty cool enough. When Selkoe appeared on “Greater Boston,” WGBH host Emily Rooney said someone at City Hall told her Selkoe was fired from his job at the Boston Redevelopment Authority. He wasn’t. Selkoe wanted an apology; the mayor refused.
“That emboldened us,” Selkoe said. “We said, ‘What type of city are we in where everybody fears retribution from this guy?’ ”
But Menino isn’t the only guy who can make things difficult. Take the rival website Selkoe and his colleagues recently discovered, set up, it appears, by Menino fans. The Web address for the Future Boston Alliance is futureboston.com. But if you Google the group, another site appears high in search results: futurebostonalliance.com. In addition to using the group’s name, the second website contains content lifted directly from Selkoe’s site. It also includes stories that portray Menino in a flattering light — stories on his opposition to a Chick-fil-A restaurant because of its president’s opposition to gay marriage, and on the city’s popular bike-share program.
The bogus site was set up by Salem-based Media Crush, which bills itself as a reputation management company, though it appears they’re also in the shady business of “domain squatting” — constructing sites that show up when folks are searching for something else. It’s also clear that Media Crush owner Joe Angrisano thinks highly of the mayor. “We’d like to show both sides of the story,” he said of his site. “Clearly there are things the mayor is doing that are very, very positive.”
Selkoe sees other motives. “Clearly someone is trying to use that website to confuse and distort our message,” he said.
The real Future Boston site, which is relaunching Thursday, is worth visiting. Some of the claims the group makes are debatable, some right on target. The debate — like a good mayoral race (ahem, 2013) — is vital to a healthy city.
“If the terms are, you can’t say anything critical, you have to tiptoe around everything, then we are not going to play that game,” Selkoe said.
How reckless. How refreshing.