The City is Open for Business

Fact Fallacy and Fiction
A blog by Joe Cohen

Everybody knows corruption in government is wrong, but people can differ on how they define corruption and what impact it has. Is taking a bag of cash bad? Sure. How about peddling influence, doing favors or as in the best tradition of New Bedford, buying blocks of $50 tickets to political fundraisers? In case you didn’t know, “$50” is the magic number in Massachusetts — any contribution above that requires a name and affiliation be reported. But heck, a block of 20, 50 or 100 tickets at $50 each that will be “resold” individually is $1,000, $2,500 or $5,000.  In New Bedford politics, that is the kind of money that gets things done. The politician who sells even the $1,000 block should report the name and affiliation of the buyer.  Do they?  You figure it out.
What brought this to mind was an economic development summit the quasi-public agency MassDevelopment staged Thursday in the city along with the New Bedford Economic Development Council. The summit drew developers and investors from throughout Massachusetts and some from neighboring states in an effort by the administrations of Mayor Scott W. Lang and Gov. Deval Patrick to showcase the city and bring in new money. The developers got tours of the harbor, the historic district, downtown and the industrial park in the North End along with a pitch that the city is on the comeback with a lot of positive attributes including a great workforce.
Developers are used to being shaken down sixty different ways — from a request for a job for a politician’s relative to being asked for use of their vacation home to a more insidious technique — being told they need to hire a certain lobbyist, government relations firm, local consultant or a certain engineering, architectural or construction firm. If you follow Massachusetts politics or those of most places, you have read about it over and over.  Oftentimes there’s a $50,000 fee or a $20,000-a-month retainer or another way that developers get shaken down and money gets passed to influence peddlers. Those influence peddlars then buy those blocks of tickets and those blocks of influence.
That’s why I was caught off guard during the New Bedford economic development summit this week when Mayor Scott W. Lang and State Sen. Mark Montigny both alluded to common practices of doing business and told the gathered developers and investors that in their city — your city — no such special “grease” was needed. Both Mayor Lang and Sen. Montigny  were fairly subtle, but the message came through loud and clear to developers and investors who have the antenna to know what a shakedown is.  The message: There will be no shakedowns in the Whaling City.
Both Mayor Lang and Sen. Montigny caught my attention when they said that if a developer or investor wants to engage in New Bedford, the city is open for business and it will be on the up-and-up.  Let’s hope that those city leaders’ forthrightness and pledge of integrity rightly encourage developers to get involved in efforts to revive New Bedford. That can mean economic development and jobs for the many, not just those with influence or tickets to sell.
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