Friday, June 28, 2013

As our identity slips away, we long for leadership to turn things around

This week, most everyone in and around Boston sat glued to their televisions, watching as ex-Patriot Aaron Hernandez was led away in handcuffs and arraigned on murder charges.

This surreal event marked the latest in a series of insults to the psyche of Bostonians -- a final punch in the gut after a series of disappointing and tragic events over the past year that cut at the very heart of our identity as a community.

How will we get Boston back? What will it take, and who will get us there?

Boston has always been revered as the 'Hub of the Universe', a city with a robust heart and soul. We pride ourselves on our revolutionary underpinnings, which make the Freedom Trail more than just bricks on a sidewalk. And we have adopted this patriotic spirit to carve out for ourselves a unique identity, a set of common bonds and experiences that define us and make us all quintessentially Bostonian, whether we live inside city limits or not.

Consider what it means to be from Boston.

We start every year with a boisterous First Night celebration, which thaws Old Man Winter's frosty bite with the warmth of community and the arts. For the next few months, we watch the snow fall outside as we follow the fortunes of the Bruins and Celtics, hoping this will be the year to hoist a new banner. We mark the time left until Spring by counting down the days until Spring Training and Opening Day. Then, it's Marathon Monday, a day when we're reminded of our patriotic roots at Lexington and Concord, and a day when virtually every one of us knows someone who's running or volunteering, whether it's for athleticism or charity. A few more weeks of swatting mosquitoes and dusting off the barbecue, and it's time to take in a few fireworks and the Pops on the Esplanade. We hit the beach for a few weeks, then it's time for every Bostonian to know one critical number -- how many games separate the Sox and Yankees in the race for the pennant. Soon, the kids are back to school, and it's time to rake leaves, pick apples, and grab a warm cider or two as we watch the Pats and prepare for Columbus Day in the North End, Plymouth-inspired Thanksgiving, and the Enchanted Village at the holidays. And then, as we prepare for another First Night, the cycle continues.

We love Boston, and these events make us who we are. They define us as a community, uniquely. Nowhere else in the world will you find a similar cycle. It's what makes our city special.

And, lately, it feels like it's all slipping away.

The Boston we encounter on January 1, 2014 will be fundamentally different from the city we have grown to know and love.

The Marathon is forever changed due to tragedy. Our Fourth of July won't be telecast nationwide, and First Night is on financial thin ice. Sports are tainted by too much chicken and beer in the bullpen and athletes behaving badly (and, in the case of Hernandez, perhaps even very badly), not to mention the fact that Rivers, Pierce and Garnett are gone and the Bruins lost the Cup.

Then, there are the changes coming to our other favorite sport - politics. For the first time in decades, there won't be a Menino in City Hall. Together with the absence of Ted Kennedy and John Kerry in the Senate, this makes our legendary political state culture look a lot less dynastic. Tim Murray's already gone, and Deval Patrick will soon start his last year in office.

Our roads and bridges continue to crumble away. Meanwhile, Beacon Hill keeps spinning its wheels over the state budget, taxes hikes and reforms to programs like welfare and probation.

Maybe our newest Patriot, Tim Tebow, isn't the only one who should spend time on bended knee this year. It seems like all of us Bostonians have a lot to worry about.

The truth is that Boston is, and forever will be, the Hub of the Universe. We will get through these tough times and shine again. We have no doubt; we refuse to lose faith in this city and its people. But, we also believe in the need for strong political leadership to keep us going and help us get there.

Who will be our next bold leader in a state where bold political leadership is historically almost as commonplace as 'lobstah and buttah in the summahtime'?

Who will fix it all? Who will step into the breach and lead us? Who will be our next Mayor? Governor? Will people challenge our incumbent congressmen, who with their colleagues share an approval rate of about ten percent, or will voters accept the status quo as good enough? (That's what they did this week by electing Ed Markey.) Will new leaders flock to Beacon Hill, or will they sit on the sidelines and watch?

Next year will mark a new beginning for Boston. As old traditions change or fade away, it will be a fresh identity as the City tries to pick itself up, dust itself off, and try to redefine itself. For Boston and the rest of Massachusetts to stop crumbling and succeed, we need dynamic, capable leaders to help us move forward.

And, so, we begin our search for new leadership in 2014.