Will Dorcena has come out swinging in his campaign for the Mayor’s Office, calling incumbent Thomas Menino a “teddy-bear tyrant” who runs a “dictatorship,” with the S. Huntington Avenue development controversies as prime examples.
In an interview last month at the Gazette office, Dorcena, an energetic, 40-year-old Hyde Park resident, matched the tough talk with detailed proposals for such issues as the Boston Public Schools. He pledged to have a transparent administration and to take a leadership role in any big debate.
“I’m not going to hide behind a spokesperson,” Dorcena said. “We have enough politicians and politics. We need leadership.”
Menino has been in office more than 19 years, and, with the 2013 election a year away, has not announced whether he will run again. He also remained hospitalized with a lingering ailment at the time of the interview, and is now undergoing physical rehabilitation before returning to work. Spokesperson Dot Joyce declined to comment directly on the mayor’s plans and Dorcena’s campaign.
“I wish him the best [and a] speedy recovery so we engage in a spirited battle,” Dorcena said.
It is easy to doubt how much of a battle there will be if Menino runs again. Menino remains a popular incumbent, while Dorcena has never held public office and last year had a failed run for a Boston City Council seat. Dorcena said he can win the office because he has more than a year to campaign, fully tap his extensive network and energize the many voters who typically sit out city elections.
A native of Dorchester’s Uphams Corner, Dorcena has business, nonprofit and political connections. He co-founded the Boston Haitian Reporter, a respected Haitian-American community newspaper, and worked in marketing for John Hancock. He holds an MBA from Babson College and currently is a mortgage loan officer with Norwell-based Radius Financial Group.
In 2004, he served as deputy executive director of the committee organizing the Democratic National Convention in Boston. He also was a campaign manager for former state Rep. Marie St. Fleur. In a connection he didn’t mention, his sister is state Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry. He formerly led the board of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative and served as a trustee for Roxbury Community College and his alma mater, Boston College.
Calling for such reforms as mayoral term limits, regular town hall forums and putting the City “checkbook” online, Dorcena said Menino has created a culture of secrecy and unaccountability, with the mayor often “absent from the discussion” on big issues.
“Too many things happen behind closed doors,” he said. “Engage the public. You give them the opportunity to put skin in the game.”
“What we have now is a dictatorship. People feel powerless,” he added. When the Gazette noted that Menino remains popular, Dorcena said, “He’s the teddy-bear tyrant.”
As one example, he cited the proposed casino at Suffolk Downs in East Boston. He noted that Menino pushed for a required municipal vote on the project to be held locally rather than citywide, and said there has been a lack of transparent discussions about the costs of increased crime and competition with existing attractions.
He drew other examples from major community controversies, including the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s (BRA) recent approval of an apartment project at 161 S. Huntington Ave. over large local opposition.
“The community is up in arms and the BRA says, ‘Whatever. I’ll wait you out.’ If the mayor stood up for the community, that wouldn’t be the case,” Dorcena said. “I believe in supporting what’s in the interest of the community, not just what the BRA wants to do.”
He called for creating separate planning and economic development agencies, which are now combined under the BRA, and said he would not allow the BRA to have “carte blanche” to ignore community input.
Dorcena had similar criticisms of BPS’s ongoing school zone redrawing effort and offered some specific policy proposals in response. To ensure more resident engagement, he would move from an all-appointed School Committee to a hybrid model with a majority of members elected by the public. Instead of the current exercise focused on redoing transportation zone, he would convene a series of public meetings with leaders of successful private and charter schools about how to bring their models into BPS, and directly involve the teachers union as well.
“There’s not an effort to create good, quality schools in every neighborhood. And some neighborhoods don’t even have schools, which makes no sense,” he said.
The street crime that plagues many areas of Boston is a personal issue to Dorcena, who said he lost many peers to violence as a young black man growing up in Uphams Corner. He called the cycle of poverty and violence in neighborhoods like that a “pipeline to prison” for young people that has to be stopped with jobs and a good education.
At John Hancock, he worked on an internship program for at-risk youths in partnership with the Boston Police Department and Northeastern University, which included conflict resolution and job skills. He said he was able to expand the program from summers to year-round and to include other companies as well. It had direct impact, he said, recalling one “bully” who got out of the street life and went on to get an MBA.
As mayor, he said, he would better coordinate that sort of programming with Boston’s corporations and universities, and also reach out to parents with support services.