Except when City Hall is hiring, mayors don’t create jobs. But they can create the conditions that allow local economies to flourish — or they can burden business to such an extent that seasoned executives and young entrepreneurs alike shy away.
Most of the 12 candidates running to be Boston’s next mayor seem to understand the power they hope to have. By my count, eight of them focus directly on economic growth. District Attorney Dan Conley, with a plan he calls “Better Jobs Now,” has the most detailed proposal out there. At the other extreme are those such as City Councilor Felix Arroyo whose platitude that “all jobs in Boston are good jobs” doesn’t show much thinking as to what that means or how to get there.
There was a time, not long ago, when politicians would treat commerce as the enemy, setting up an us-versus-them dynamic that regarded doing business in the city as a privilege for which companies must dearly pay. The mayoral candidates have mostly gotten away from that kind of thinking; they seem to understand basic economics. Rather than trying to tell voters what they hope to extract, they’re trying to help companies grow with the belief that a thriving economy naturally creates local jobs. Doing so means making Boston an attractive place to do business, with better infrastructure, better services, and smarter employees.
City Councilor Rob Consalvo, for example, focuses on an old but worthy idea — the Urban Ring — that would connect Boston to neighboring towns. Conley talks about coordinating transportation planning directly with mayors from other cities around Boston. He’s not alone in this regional approach — City Councilor Mike Ross is also a fan — and it’s a welcome shift in tone from the current administration, which is Boston-centric to a fault. If the new mayor can work with other mayors as if they were his or her peers, the results could be remarkable indeed.
Meanwhile, City Councilor John Connolly wants to upgrade City Hall. A few months ago he posted an amusing but telling video titled “The Amazing Permit Race,” which compared applying for a dog license and a moving truck permit in both Boston and Philadelphia. Boston proved a nightmare. And the complexity of the city’s regulations doesn’t just make life tough for applicants. It also creates the perception of favoritism; insiders can get stuff done while those who are not politically connected lose out.
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