For those who have been following Boston politics recently, it is no secret that the Boston Redevelopment Authority became a central issue of this fall’s mayoral election.
Citing both an absence of transparency and a lack concern for community input, Mayor-elect Walsh, along with his opponent City Councilor John Connolly, criticized the City’s central planning agency and called for the BRA to be reformed or possibly even replaced entirely. Both candidates claimed that the BRA too often catered to developers and the interests of the mayor’s office at the expense of local citizens.
In response to this campaign discourse, Mayor Menino entered the political fray and offered a strong defense of the agency, calling it “an economic engine for the city.” Now that the dust has settled and Mayor-elect Walsh is set to take stewardship of the city on January 6, the focus has now changed to if and how the new mayor will follow through on this campaign promise.
Instead of enacting a major overhaul, Mayor-elect Walsh may try to implement his vision for the BRA by working within the current system. Whereas changes to the BRA’s charter or the establishment of a new development agency would likely be a tumultuous legislative process, a newly inaugurated Mayor Walsh might find his best attempt at reforming the BRA could be to appoint his own people to its board of directors.
Ultimately, the power of the BRA is concentrated in the five-member board of directors, which controls decision-making on all large scale development projects in the city of Boston. While there is currently heavy speculation that Marty Walsh will inherit a BRA board controlled by Menino appointees who are hostile to his plans, he may be able to appoint enough board members in short order who share his vision for how the city’s central planning authority should work.
With the retirement of Clarence “Jeep” Jones in September, the board already has one vacancy sitting for Mayor-elect Walsh to fill. When a member’s five year term expires, they can either be re-nominated for another term or serve on an at-will-basis until the mayor or governor chooses to remove them by appointing a new replacement. Two of the board’s current members, Paul D. Foster and Consuelo Gonzales-Thornel, are serving on at-will-bases. Foster is a 2006 Menino appointee and Thornel was appointed by Mayor Raymond Flynn. Walsh will have the opportunity to nominate replacements for them both, which would bring his total number of appointees to three.
These three new appointees, nominated in conjunction with Mayor Walsh’s development vision, would be the majority of the five member board and hold significant sway over the future of commercial real estate growth in the City of Boston.