Saturday, August 24, 2013

Charlie (or Mike) on the MTA

When Walter A. O'Brien, Jr. (December 19, 1914 - July 1998) ran for mayor of Boston in 1949, he could not have foreseen that his campaign song would, a decade later, reach #15 on the Billboard chart, in a recording by the Kingston Trio.

I've long thought it would be swell if the tradition of campaign songs were to be resurrected. Many politicians today have a "theme" song associated with the campaign -- think of how the 1992 Bill Clinton campaign employed, to good effect, the Fleetwood Mac song "Don't Stop." In the 2012 presidential race Messrs. Obama and Romney each had a "play-list" of popular songs to set the mood at campaign rallies and sell the candidate. What Clinton's, Obama's, and Romney's uses of music as a motivational tool have in common is that they all turned to hit songs, not a campaign song, written by a local person and with local references relevant to the race. The lyrics, "Charlie on the MTA," were written by O'Brien supporters Jackie Steiner and Bess Hawes, and have become so emblematic of the MTA (now MBTA) that our fare cards are, even officially, called "CharlieCards." The music dates back the 1865 song "The Ship that Never Returned," by Henry Clay Work.

As an MBTA rider (I haven't owned a car since I moved to Boston nearly a quarter century ago, a move prompted, in part, by Boston's good subway, trolley, and bus system) I am pleased to see that mayoral candidate Mike Ross has pledged to be "A Strong Voice for Improving the MBTA"

I'm still undecided in the mayoral race, and I don't want this to became an endorsement of Mr. Ross, so I'll just quote three bullet points from his website:

  • Fight for full funding of the MBTA through regional partnerships

  • Bring back late-night MBTA service

  • Modernize zoning of transit-oriented development to promote T ridership

The MBTA is vital to Boston's successful future. In a recent conversation with another candidate, John Connolly, I learned that the majority of Bostonians are not originally from Boston. That is a good sign for our city and region. We are attracting and retaining bright, innovating people from all over the world to live and work in the Hub. One selling point Boston has over Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, or just about any American city is that here it is no necessary to spend an inordinate amount of time in your car driving to and from work. And if you balk at spending more money on the MBTA, just think what we are paying to maintain all those roads, plus the cost of maintaining a private automobiles.

Late night service? No brainer! The bars close at 2:00 a.m. and the MBTA shuts down an hour-and-a-half before that. That is ridiculous.

Modernization? Yes! In my time in Boston I've seen the MTBA decay. We deserve better.

Will Mike Ross resurrect Walter A. O'Brien's 1949 campaign song? Perhaps not. Perhaps he might think it "jinxed." O'Brien came in dead last in a five-man race, with 1.2 percent of the vote.

Now, citizens of Boston, don't you think it is a scandal
That the people have to pay and pay?
Join Walter A. O'Brien and fight the fare increase
Get poor Charlie off that MTA!

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