Outdoor dining is set to start up again today in most of Boston, but in the city’s North End, it won’t start for another month if it happens at all. Restaurant owners in the neighborhood and Mayor Wu’s office have been going back and forth in a heated debate over rules and regulations for patio eating in the area and a proposed fee for restaurants that do outdoor dining. Peter Kadzis, GBH News politics editor, and Lisa Kashinsky, writer of the Massachusetts Playbook newsletter for Politico, joined GBH’s Morning Edition hosts Paris Alston and Jeremy Siegel to talk more about the controversy and the latest local politics news. This transcript has been edited for clarity and length.
Paris Alston: So, Lisa, what is the latest with this controversy with outdoor dining in the North End?
Lisa Kashinsky: The latest is that it’s unresolved. The basics are that Mayor Michelle Wu has imposed a $7,500 fee for North End restaurants to run outdoor dining this year as part of this outdoor dining pilot program. The reason the North End has a bit of a separate thing than the rest of the city and is on a delay is because the neighborhood has a lot of distinct issues — densely populated, tricky to navigate streets as it is. Then you take up parking spots with outdoor parklets and everything like that. So there are a lot of issues at play and there are a group of restaurant owners who are just unwilling to pay this fee. And hence we have our latest clash of the Wu administration.
Alston: And Peter, opponents of the fees in the North End were among those protesting outside Wu’s home this week. Now, of course, this is several weeks into protests outside of her house in Roslindale — before, it was vaccine mandates. Now it’s these outdoor dining fees. So how do you put this into context in the Wu administration and some of the turbulence that she’s faced while in office?
Kadzis: Well, the overarching concept is in style, Boston politics have been nationalized. In other words, the anti-vaxxers, anti-maskers, the out-of-town restaurant owners who are looking for a free ride in the North End, they have all adopted the very vocal, very confrontational tactics that we’ve come to associate with the Trump administration. I think that’s what the big the big takeaway is here.
Jeremy Siegel: Lisa, this comes as the city is set to limit protests outside of certain homes, including the mayor’s. The city council this week, giving the go ahead to a proposal from Mayor Wu to do just that. What effect do you think a measure like that will have and what does it mean for the future of protest, of public debate, of governing in Boston?
Kashinsky: Well, I’ll start with the second part of that first. That is what some councilors were worried about. I mean, you saw in this nine-four vote some of the council’s more conservative but also most progressive councilors, all voting against this on the progressives — Kendra Lara, Julia Mejia, they were worried about what effect this would have about limiting future protests. So exactly what you were just talking about.
What effect this will have in the short term honestly remains to be seen because yes, we are seeing, as Peter said, this confluence now of all of these different critics of Wu coming together outside her home. They can still do this, they just face a fine. So, will they still show up at 7:00 in the morning and eat the money? Will they move their protest later in the day? We’re about to find out.
Kadzis: You know, Ricardo Arroyo, who voted in favor of this ordinance, pointed out on the City Council floor that this just means a slightly later start time and an earlier finish time. He said that the people that gathered mistakenly in front of his mother’s house, for example, can still come back. So it’s doesn’t at all ban the protests, it just regulates them in a more commonsensical way. Heaven forbid, someone who’s a young mom has their house targeted and has kids that are trying to take them out.
“Boston politics have been nationalized. In other words, the anti-vaxxers, anti-maskers, the out-of-town restaurant owners… they have all adopted the very vocal, very confrontational tactics that we’ve come to associate with the Trump administration.”
-Peter Kadzis, GBH politics editor
Alston: So let’s shift gears a little bit to the governor’s race. There’s been a back and forth this week between Attorney General Maura Healey and State Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz over when and how often they’ll debate one another. Lisa, tell us a little bit about what’s going on there.
Kashinsky: It basically comes down to what your definition of a debate is at this point. So basically, Sonia Chang-Díaz, a state senator, called for Maura Healey, the attorney general, to debate three times before the party’s June convention. Maura Healey responded to that by saying that she would participate in two forums, not debates, to stress that before the party’s June convention, and that she would debate twice after the convention but before the primary. So this is something that they’re really not seeing eye-to-eye on right now.
Kadzis: The two forums, by the way, they’re hosted by community groups, but one will be moderated by our own Callie Crossley, and radio station WBUR will moderate the second one.
Siegel: Peter, what is the state of the race at this point between these two Democratic contenders?
Kadzis: Well, if the political polls are any indication, Healey’s way out ahead, she’s way ahead in terms of money and her unwillingness to debate may not be sporting or very democratic. But in hardball terms, it makes sense because she doesn’t want to do anything to compromise her position going into the convention.