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Downtown View: No Rest for Boston Voters

The Cape will suffer an economic downturn this summer. Fewer people can take a vacation. The reason: it seems that half the citizens of Boston are running for office. They must stay in the city and campaign.

This is occurring just when we thought we could come up for air after the 2012 campaign in which we had to listen to women-haters, poor people-haters, immigrant-haters, and government haters.

Mercifully, the many Bostonians running for mayor and for the city council seats freed up by those running for mayor aren’t haters. What a nice change from the politics of yore. Remember Louise? Dapper? The current crop is less tribal, more sophisticated and some actually seem as if they could govern well.

We’ll finish with the U.S. Senate race, the Eighth Suffolk district state representative race and the First Suffolk District state senate race on June 25. That leaves the rest of the summer for the myriads running for mayor and the city council to shake our hands.

Other columnists have assessed the chances of those who have announced their candidacy and measured their campaign coffers, maturity and general experience. All the candidates go on and on about how they love Boston, a sentiment Mayor Menino’s example has made the first step in getting into the race.

We’ll hear the candidates offer suggestions for economic growth, crime control in certain neighborhoods, how they would provide opportunities for development while also appropriately constraining it, and how they would improve trash and recycling collection and cleanliness.

They’ll mention the bombings and how upsetting they were.

But the city elections, especially in downtown Boston, will turn on two matters—housing and schools. We don’t have enough of either and what we’ve got isn’t good or plentiful enough.

The candidates whose ideas are most credible at addressing those two problems will be the most successful, according to the people I’ve talked with.

In the mayoral race, John Connolly has been a leader in trying to make the school assignment process more reasonable and the schools better. Mike Ross also has a track record with school improvement, especially in the efforts to increase the seats for kids in downtown Boston, which so far has been only partially successful.

But there is a long way to go in both schools and housing. Micro-apartments may be trendy, but those young people who are said to be their occupants will leave Boston when they realize they can’t raise a family in the city.

One developer who may win a designation for an empty parcel of land between the Greenway and the Faneuil Hall Market area actually said at a public meeting that he’s proposing only studios and one-bedroom apartments because that’s what Boston officials want.

The new mayor must change this mindset. Developers who get the nod for permits must be required to include two-, three- and even four-bedroom apartments as part of the deal, just as they are required to include “affordable” units. Incentives must be created to help owners take over absentee landlord buildings, which are I’d say are 90 percent terrible all over the downtown, and occupy them in spaces big enough to hold families. These spaces don’t need to be palatial—those who want to raise children in the city are clever and can cope with small spaces, but they can’t handle “micro,” and they need bedrooms.

The school problem is obvious, and, although Mayor Menino’s team has had some success in improving schools, it hasn’t been enough. Certain high-performing schools with low-income students have shown that low performance is mostly a problem with teaching skill and methods. All kids can learn successfully, but not unless the school day is longer, the principals are strong and dynamic, and the teachers rely on proven methods such as testing for skills and teaching to those that are lacking. The mayoral candidate and the city council candidates who govern with him must be strong enough to implement changes despite the teachers’ union.

And the school buildings and their playgrounds must be improved. There are schools you wouldn’t want to enter yourself, never mind sending a child there.

The back-to-the-city movement has been a welcome development for Boston, which already was more livable than most American metropolises. But a city without families is an isolated, dried-up place, filled with young professionals and empty nesters who have little at stake, since neither group is spending a lifetime here.

So I know whom I’m voting for, and I know whom many parents will be voting for. They are the candidates who make the best case that they can improve and expand housing and schools.

Downtown View is a regular column by Karen Cord Taylor who founded The Beacon Hill Times weekly newspaper in 1995 and served as its editor and publisher until late 2007. She also founded and served as editor and publisher of the Charlestown Patriot-Bridge and The Back Bay Sun weeklies. Her column appears in those newspapers as well as the Regional Review, which serves Boston’s North End. These weeklies are now owned by the Independent Newspaper Group. She is the author of “Blue Laws, Brahmins and Breakdown Lanes: An Alphabetic Guide to Boston and Bostonians” and the co-author of “The Lady Architects,” a book about three women who practiced architecture in New England and elsewhere in the early 20th century. She lives in downtown Boston and blogs at