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March 24, 2008


dapper dan


I believe that your last paragraph says it all. The other stuff is just that...stuff...or in old Somerville parlance...with a tip of the cap to a Somerville institution...fluff. The PDSers are looked upon as know-it-all late comers. From the old Somerville perspective, we built a city that all of these newbies wanted to move into...and now that some of them are here, they want to tell us how simple-minded we are. We are nothing but troglodytes who should shut up and continue to shoulder the ever-increasing tax burden used to fund their broad-minded, enlightened socialist dreams. Well, maybe they have some useful ideas, but can they see that the very notion of arriving late to the party and then criticizing the food choices or the decorations is inherently insulting? My family has been in Somerville for nearly 100 years and we are the living history. We were here when no one wanted to admit they were from Slumerville. Maybe we're the ones with the real perspective. A perspective from the street, the square, the park and everywhere else that makes this city a great place to grow up. Maybe they should consider a perspective other than the one from the ivory tower. So, just maybe, they could learn something for us as well...

Poor Billy

Hey Billy Cone Head... Here you go again, trying to trivialize differences. Yes, it's all in our heads and it's all due to our phobias. Sir, many of the people who came to Somerville in the last decade did not so because they loved Somerville, but because it was more affordable than Cambridge, where they actually were employed. And they had to work hard to improve Somerville from the dump it was (yes, the dump "you" had helped build). How about some recognition of that, Billy? The last time I checked, one has to be invited to go into somebody's house. So, sure, when one is invited, one shows respect. But an invitation is not required to buy a house in Somerville. So, why should one be "respectful"? Respectful of what? By being a home/land owner the newcomers own as much of Somerville as you do, self-appointed leader of the Somerville masses.
BTW, Who's rep. "Sciorintino"? William Shellinton?
Recent elections have only showed that the old farts need to go. And they will.

Truth Head

Bill, I usually like what you write, but I have to take issue with some of this piece.

First, any attempt to draw a line between "Old Somerville" and the "Progressives" is useless because the terms are too blurry. As you know, there are several members of PDS that have lived im Somerville their entire lives, and many more that have lived here for several years and send their kids to Somerville Public Schools. Plus, there are some who are labelled "Old Somerville" who have only a passing familiarity with the city. Consider, for instance, Bob Daut who ran in the at-large special election to help Jack Connolly. Even though he had just moved to the city and never voted in any election in Somerville, Daut was seen as an agent of "Old Somerville", and was routinely praised by this paper. Other purported members of "Old Somerville", like Stan Koty and pals, have left the city altogether. These categories just don't make sense.

Furthermore, your wrong to say that PDS is not trying to "engage in serious, respectful dialogue with people whom they see as are different from them". Nothing could be further from the truth. PDS has invited members of various community groups and consituencies around the city with whom we have differences. Perhaps you missed the meeting with the Representative of SPOA, who we opposed on the condo conversion ordinance. Or the meeting, and eventual endorsement of, Tim Toomey, who we opposed for re-election in 2004. PDS members have joined various community and civic groups around the city, and our meetings are always open to the public. You're right that civic life today is nothing what it was years past (see the book "Bowling Alone"). As a result, the kind of organizing you propose is more difficult than ever, especially when attempted on an all-volunteer basis. But if PDS is not succeeding at that kind of organizing, it's certainly not due to a lack of trying.

As far as far as the Publisher's chosen epithet for Rebekah Gewirtz, a statement doesn't have to be anti-semitic in intent for it to have that effect. It doesn't require any special ideology to know that. Critizing him for the effect of such a statement, regardless of the intent, is justified.

Bill Shelton

Truth Head,

Thank you for your feedback. I attempted to speak to your first point when I wrote, “my calling the respective groups ‘old Somerville’ and ‘progressives’ encompasses far too many people.” On the other hand, your assertion that attempting to draw a distinction between these groups “is useless” ignores that such a distinction already exists in the minds of most who will read this column. If you reread the first two paragraphs, you will appreciate that this is what I am speaking to.

Your citations of long-time progressive residents and of Mr. Daut and Mr. Koty as exceptions that disprove the rule suggest that these examples are not comparisons to what I wrote. They are comparisons to your own definition of “progressives” and “old Somerville,” which you have not made explicit, and which are not commonly shared.

Our deepest taken-for-granted assumptions form how we see the world, and are therefore often hard for us to recognize. It is like trying to use our eyes to see into our own eyes. But others, who don’t share these assumptions, do see them. Some of yours are evident in your post. I hope that you will take my observations of these assumptions as useful feedback rather than as attack.

I’ve already mentioned the first example. Your assumption that your definition of “progressives” and “old Somerville” is more real than the lived experience of long-time residents—both self-identified “progressives” and “old Somerville”—will come off as arrogant. It implies you think that your experience is more authentic than others.’

An analogy is that, based on a lot more rigorous evidence than your mental construct of “progressives” and “old Somerville,” physical anthropologists tell us that there is no such thing as “race.” Yet the consequences of our lived experience of “race” are substantial. If you dismiss this lived experience, you estrange yourself from most people and lose credibility.

Another example is your assumption of what I meant when I wrote, “Too many seem reluctant to engage in serious, respectful dialog with people whom they see as are different from them.” I went on to say that, “if you can’t form a relationship with someone different from you, you’re not going to make much of a difference….before I make the effort to understand and trust what you are advocating, I need to understand and trust you.”

The evidence that you cite to contradict this statement doesn’t have much to do with forming relationships. It begins with stating that PDS has invited a series of people who are “different” onto PDS’s own turf, to explain themselves and answer PDS’s questions. Next, you offer that PDS meetings are open to anyone who wants to come onto that turf. You get a little warmer when you talk about joining civic groups.

What I am getting at is becoming a part of the community, Forming relationships with neighbors. Coaching little league. Participating in the PTA, and so on. When people who perceived themselves as “different” work together on something that they both care about, the focus is not on “how are we going to get along?” but on “how are we going to get this done?” In the process, they get to know each other as people, appreciate each other’s strengths and blind spots, and discover that there is something to like. Then you go from being Truth Hog the progressive, to my neighbor Truth Hog who happens to be a progressive, and sometimes has some good ideas.

I have already expressed my distaste for name-calling. But your assertion that our publisher is being anti-Semitic by using the epithet “Princess Rebeckah,” even if he has no knowledge of the term “Jewish American Princess,” seems harsh to me.

But let’s apply that principle to what we’ve been discussing. If, with no intention to do so, the behavior of self-defined progressives is hurtful to others who perceive it as supercilious and condescending, are the progressives being patronizing? Or just unaware?

Finally, if I haven’t done so, I want to make clear that my criticisms are not of all progressives, or even all members of PDS. And I embrace the stated principles of PDS.

A lot of people who grew up here are experiencing a hard time. Some are being forced to leave. Some equate PDSers with all affluent professionals who are moving here, bidding up the price of housing, and not getting involved in the community. This perception is unfortunate.

But let me offer you this challenge. What has PDS done to materially change the circumstances of those who are suffering, and in so doing, change their perceptions of PDS? What could it do?

Fool on the Hill

That last post is great stuff, Bill, but I'm afraid that it may be lost on your intended audience.

HL Menken

Poor Billy represents much of what has destroyed community life in the US. It's the attitude that market relationships are more important than any other kind of relationship--they are all that matters.

The passing away of community has brought many ills with it--decreased civility, increased crime, decreased quality of education, increased taxes as government must deliver services once performed by community, an so on. I believe that this point has been made in these pages before, but it bears repeating.

Poor Billy says proudly that he was not invited to come to Somerville, and then he gives that as a reason why he owes his neighbors no respect.

It sounds like he's one of the people "bidding up the price of housing, and not getting involved in the community" who gets confused for a Progressive.


I love these morons who think that just because they lived somehwere for years the world owes them a living. Listen up, we don't owe you ANYTHING! You are a bunch of freeloaders who are probably on some scam disability anyway.


A yuppie who can afford a nice expensive condo in Somerville and doesn't feel the least bit bad about it.

Ron Newman

And you're exactly the reason why 'yuppies' are resented by so many old-timers in this city. Good work, Ed.

James Norton

Ron -

That is by far the funniest, most accurate and honest thing you have ever posted on here. Thank you.



Ron, perhaps "old timers" should take some responsibility for their predicament rather than blame others. I guess the latter is easier.


HL u say, "The passing away of community has brought many ills with it--decreased civility, increased crime, decreased quality of education, increased taxes as government must deliver services once performed by community, an so on. I believe that this point has been made in these pages before, but it bears repeating."

Over the past 30 years Somerville has actually see DECREASE in crime, and INCREASED quality in education. How do you sqaure that with your assertion? Somerville has improved in leaps and bounds...mostly on the backs of ever increasing property tax burden.

Bill Shelton

In this column, I criticized a subset of local progressives for substituting ideology for hard evidence. Although I doubt that you’re a progressive, this is exactly what you’ve done.

For 75 years, the FBI has compiled “Uniform Crime Reports” from every jurisdiction in the U.S. I won’t violate JN’s injunctions against posting links, but these statistics are accessible on the web, or at the Somerville Library main branch.

The most recent statistics are from 2005. They show that the long term Somerville crime trend has been steadily increasing since the early 1980s. It really took off after 1996 when the end of rent control brought to Somerville a wave of relatively affluent people who had been enjoying low rents in Cambridge, Boston, and Brookline and could pay more than people raised in Somerville.

The fact that “old Somerville” is deeply alarmed by the increase in crime, while violent crime in Cambridge is 47% higher than Somerville, and in Boston it’s 75% higher, should tell you something. (These differences were much greater in the mid 1990s. Property crimes show a similar relationship.)

Outsiders with superficial knowledge about the Winter Hill Gang imagine that crime was much higher during their heyday. It was lower. Gang violence was narrowly targeted; anonymous people were less likely to be victims. And the gang enforced discipline on petty criminals.

More important was the existence of a strong community. Community is the greatest security that a neighborhood can enjoy. When neighbors know and trust each other, residential streets are not so much anonymous public spaces belonging to no one, but familiar territory that belongs to the neighborhood. Neighbors inquire when someone whom they don't recognize is attempting to enter a neighbor's home. They intervene when someone is being harassed on their street, friend or stranger, because it is their street.

No matter how much money newcomers bring, or how much they improve their property, as community disintegrates, crime increases. Trying to recreate this community is what Kate, and freshman, and It “is” Funny are talking about over on the thread following the article “Drive-by Shooting on Sewall Street.”

Your presumption implies that you think you know more than long time residents and that you are a better influence on the community. This attitude is what breeds hostility to newcomers, many of whom are innocent.

Bill Shelton

I was directing my comments to JPM, but, as Imux sagely observed, I live in a free fire zone, and I encourage all to take a shot.

Bill Shelton


In the light of a new morning, I want to apologize for the tone that I took in response to your last post. I was coming off of a heated conversation, and I displaced onto you.

I sincerely believe the substance of what I wrote, but I regret the tone. I'm sorry. And I appreciate the often insightful comments that you post here.


Bill Shelton, you are the kind of guys who pats people on the shoulder while peeing on their leg (this was used to refer to another Bill). You apologize, but keep stabbing Somerville residents in the back. Crime is increasing EVERYWHERE, dumbo.
Your model of a community is the small town type, where people know all about everybody else. Where bullshitters such as yourself can play their little role of leaders of the masses and control people by using gossip networks. Sorry, pal, you should be living somewhere else. How about a small town in Alabama? Listen, pinhead, don't you get it that not everybody likes living in a small town and having their neighbors know about their affairs?
In short, BS, why don't you cut down on the BS and just accept that your time as small town demagogue are over? Thank you.



the 11.49am commnent was an imposter! I will reply shortly.

the real JPM

Bill Shelton

Sincere thanks to the real JPM. The impostor wrote, "Your model of a community is the small town type, where people know all about everybody else." In fact, the time when Somerville best exemplified the conditions of community that I describe was when its population exceeded 100,000 on 4.2 square miles, making it the most densely populated city in the U.S.

Impostor does hint at an essential truth. At that time, Somerville existed as a collection of neighborhoods, each with its own square, commercial and social center, church, public and parochial school, and neighborhood institutions. These interweaving institutions knit together the neighborhood. In turn, city-wide institutions like extended families, unions, political organizations, fraternal societies, religious organizations, and service clubs connected the different neighborhoods. Together, they wove a tight fabric of community.

To say that "Crime is increasing EVERYWHERE, Dumbo,"is to beg the question of why. The single most important of the many reasons is that when community disintegrates, crime increases. Community has been replaced by an anonymous culture in which consumption is the highest value.

Fred Berman

Dividing Somerville residents into "old-timers" and "progressives" -- and the name calling that too-often has characterized that kind of wedge-building -- obscures the fact that we share many of the same goals: good schools, safe streets, decent public services, affordable housing, better public transit, a strong commercial tax base that makes us less dependent on residential property taxes, etc.

As I went door to door last Summer and Fall, I heard both long-time Somervillians and newer residents express concern about the displacement caused by condo conversion, about unsafe sidewalks and pedestrian crossings around senior housing and in our busy Squares, and about lack of follow-up on calls to the police about crime. I heard skepticism about whether our tax dollars are spent to their best purpose, complaints about nepotism in City hiring and contracting and permitting, and complaints about lack of adequate and timely information about public meetings or disruptions caused by construction projects. I also heard compliments about cleaner streets, improvements in the schools, neighborhood revitalization, and the increasing number of festivals and street fairs that bring people together.

These are Somerville issues, not issues specific to newcomers vs. old-timers. We all have an interest in making government more accountable, eliminating wasteful and corrupt practices, and in making Somerville the kind of place where people want to live, and can afford to raise a family in.

Somerville has a long history of supporting so-called "progressive" organizations, and PDS is only the latest manifestation of resident interest in advocating for open and responsive government. (In his column, Bill mentioned Somerville United Neighborhoods, various civic associations, the Taxpayers' Union, Somerville for Better Government, and CPPAX. I'd add the Davis Square Task Force to that list of organizations that played a key role in involving residents in Somerville public policy. I'm sure that residents who go back further than I do could name a few more.)

Like the "progressive" organizations that came before it, PDS works to make public process more inclusive, and more open to hearing and responding to the concerns of residents -- both new and old. At least in that respect, our goals are not much different than the stated goals of the Mayor's ResiStat or 3-1-1 initiatives, or the Human Rights Commission's periodic Conversations, or Alderman Dennis Sullivan's across-the-City mobile "office" hours. Each of these approaches to broadening public participation brings different people to the table, and creates a different kind of opportunity for residents to be heard. And that's all to the good.

As I spoke to voters in the run-up to the last election, I heard from too many people who had given up on public process, too many people who were convinced that speaking up doesn't make a difference, and too many long-term residents who anticipated being economically forced out of Somerville, or thinking they might as well move out instead of staying and fighting for the kind of community they deserve.

If we hope to build a stronger and healthier Somerville community, it is essential that we re-engage these disillusioned residents, broaden the channels of public involvement, and find new ways to increase resident investment in the wellbeing of the community. That kind of work is at the core of progressive politics, is central to the PDS mission, and is nicely captured by the PDS tagline: "Democracy Demands Participation". At the same time, I don't think anyone in our organization would disagree with Bill's suggestion that PDS needs to improve its outreach to the larger community.

However, the handful of people seeking to stifle or marginalize the voices of this generation of Somerville progressives -- or the voices of any segment of the community with constructive energy to contribute -- are as short-sighted as the notion that PDS is the first manifestation of progressive politics in Somerville.

Although broadening participation in public policy debates may lengthen the process, and may challenge business-as-usual, there is no question that Somerville ends up with better legislation, better zoning, and better, more creative solutions to challenging urban problems when we welcome and involve the full range of resident perspectives.

condo question


I'm not sure why "condo displacement" is an issue. Somerville is predominantly a renter community. Ownership, I would think, is a good thing. Owners have a vested interest in schools, public safety, property values, etc. I'm nost sure if that is something to discourage. I am a lifelong resident in a neighborhood of mostly two-family homes. Although, I have known many fine families who have come and gone in the local rental units, I feel more stable and secure when people actually own their property and are looking to lay down tracks here in Somerville. I also realize that some people can't afford to live here but that is a seperate issue. Homeownership is important to maintain a both stable and vibrant community.



Bill - I stand corrected on the crime...although I would be interested to see the crime level in West Somerville as compared to east. Perhaps you can enlighten.

Those who talk of the demise of a community feel must face facts that this is simply a logical result of the type of world we live in today.

The days of Leave it to Beaver are gone. Yes, in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, dad went to work from monday to friday, 9-5pm. Mom stayed at home. The man seemed to make enough to support his wife, kids and pay a mortgage. There was mrore people on the block and people were home earlier.

Two income families are now the necessity. People are working more hours just to get by. I will give u another anedote from a big city, that is probably true in most major US cities. In 1970 the average house price was 4x the avergage salary, now it is 10x the average salary!

As for hours worked, I can only give you anecdotal evidence from my profession. In the 1960s, a top lawyer at a mega firm like Cravath would only be expected to bill 1400 hours a year for a large salary. Now even the most junior associates at firms are expected to bill 2100 to 2200 hours a year! People in my profession are working 8am to 9pm every night and working weekends. I am sure people in other professions have to do the same.

As Bill has pointed out, these people are 110% in their job and do not have the time or energy to get involved in the community. This is not necessarily their fault. After all, if a 2 bedroom condo is going for $400,000 to $500,000 in Somerville, you necesarrily have to have a large salary to do that. You don't make that salary by working m-f, 9-5.

I am not sure what the answer is.

As for condo conversion. Guess what, it supplies a lot of blue collar jobs. My roomie is a carpenter and that is how he makes his living. Those who make the improvement and re-development of condos more difficult, out of some class warfare outlook, should be careful that they are not taking money out of the people they purport to support. i.e. working families.

Bill Shelton


Thank you for your thoughtful post. You are quite right that crime is significantly higher in East Somerville than in West Somerville.

Also spot on about how changing economic conditions have obligated both adults in a two-adult family to not only work, but work substantially longer hours than our parents did. In old Somerville, stay-at-home moms provided a lot of the glue that held the neighborhood together. Now they and their families can't afford for them to stay at home.

I know that I have been bemoaning the loss of community without offering a whole lot of solutions. Despite, or because of, the fact that we are all working longer hours, there are things that need doing in our neighborhoods. I believe that, to the extent that neighbors come together to make those things better, we could create stronger relationships. One other thing. I acknowledge that Somerville is prettier than it was even twenty years ago.


Bill, you've done it again. I've warned you before that you should really quit when you're behind. I hate to have to pop in here and constantly save you. Whew... it's tiring.

Anyway, the problem with the PDS and the other "progressives" running amuck in our fine city is that - as someone mentioned earlier - these moonbats are new (relatively) to the city, but these Godless PDS heathens want to dictate to the rest of us how to live/behave/raise our kids. I guess they don't realize that their ideals are - for the most part - not OUR ideals. Oh yeah... and they can pretend to "open" their meetings all they want, but we all know their platform will exclude old-time democrats and in the end all that will spew forth from the PDS koolaid drinkers is more hardcore leftwing, moonbat, traitorous, libaloon crap.

Fred, let me give you a hint here for your next campaign ... the majority of us want the illegals tossed out - not coddled, we don't want to be told how to raise our kids (and not be able to wack them when they need it), we want MORE commercial development, better schools, more drug patrols and we don't want our property taxes funding wasteful programs like the "Arts" councils or the Human Rights council. I mean what is this crap and whose bright idea was it to create those councils with our money in the first place? Get on the winning team, Fred, and drop hanging with the PDS and defending those fools. Trust me, most of them are going to flee right back to their comfy suburban hometowns once their little bohemian social experiments here leads to the completion destruction of family values here in Somerville. They will all be beating feet whilst the rest of us are battling door-to-door with all the illegals and other criminals they're letting loose.

And why the hell did “Princess Rebeckah” waste our time and money on an issue that HAS NOTHING to do with Somerville?? Now the dumb, little trollup is going to get us all sued. This is just another example of the PDS strumming away to their own tune - ignoring the real issues that matter to us (lower crime, no more illegals, lower property taxes, better schools, etc).

ok... now allow me to continue dragging Bill's useless carcass away from the free fire zone.


Thank you for the insightful comments. I would like to propose a feasible solution for a change: Secession.
Somerville has vast oil and mineral resources, without counting the intellectual capital in this town, just by judging from the comments posted on this blog. Secession from MA and from the US would be a good move because we could set our own laws, so that people don't have to work so hard and moms can stay home and be good housewives.
Wonderful people of Somerville, if you are with me, raise your hand!

Bill Shelton

Imux, I appreciate your attempt to provide an input. However, your points are quite superficial. That said, I do like the way your butt sticks out. I really do.

Bill Shelton

Thanks for the humor provided by Imux and the impostor posting over my name. I always appreciate a few chuckles and a belly laugh on a Monday morning to start the week. BTW, I haven't formed an impression of Imux's butt, only because I've never seen it.

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