Boston Red Sox
Public-way closure squeezes competitor
The new owners of the Boston Red Sox had a spiffy idea last summer to give their fans a better pre-game experience and to make more money for themselves at the same time. Why not close off Yawkey Way to everyone except ticket holders before and during games and transform the stretch into an open-air mall, complete with beer, food, and souvenirs?
And so it came to be, as is usually the case with anything the Red Sox want — first on a trial basis last September, and then permanently beginning this year, through the use of a particularly dubious maneuver: the Boston Redevelopment Authority seizes the land by eminent domain on game days and then leases it to the Red Sox.
But unless you are a beer-guzzling, peanut-gobbling fan, there are a few problems with this. The first is that you can’t use the public way without taking the embarrassing step of asking for an escort. The second is that street vendors — long an endangered species near Fenway — now can’t even sell their wares near the gates unless they have the official Red Sox imprimatur.
Third — and what brings us to the reason for this Muzzle — is that the Red Sox succeeded in granting themselves a virtual monopoly in selling its own magazine and scorecard. A 14-year-old competitor, the independent Boston Baseball, can no longer be sold on Yawkey Way. The outdoor turnstiles have forced the magazine’s street hawkers farther from the stadium — and, thus, farther from customers. It is literally unbelievable. A legitimate publisher can no longer offer his magazine on a public street, whereas his competitor is able to keep ringing up sales. It’s as though the Boston Globe had persuaded City Hall to ban distribution of the Boston Herald.
Boston Baseball publisher Michael Rutstein filed suit in federal court last year, but he withdrew his suit this spring, no doubt at least in part because of the expense. (Rutstein did not return several telephone and e-mail requests for comment before the Phoenix’s deadline.) He told the Herald in March that his case was "fraught with difficulties." Earlier, though, Rutstein had told the paper that his sales were down 56 percent last September, when the plan first took effect.
In the current issue, Rutstein writes that his magazine is a buck cheaper than the Sox’ and "comes with a free pencil." He adds, "The Red Sox and the City can banish us from Yawkey Way, but as long as we have a superior product, baseball fans will continue to seek us out."
As an aside, both the Globe and the Herald editorialized in favor of the Yawkey Way plan, citing the improved experience for fans and the increased revenue for owners looking for a way to preserve historic Fenway Park. (The Phoenix has editorialized against it.)
But what the Globe failed to do was disclose its ownership stake in the Red Sox. The Globe is a subsidiary of the New York Times Company, which is also a part-owner of the Red Sox. Thus the increased revenue gain — including that raked in by squeezing Michael Rutstein — shows up in some tangential way in the Globe’s bottom line.
The ownership tie needn’t be disclosed every time the Globe reports that the bullpen has blown another one. But the paper’s editors would do well to mention it when weighing in on such a significant business proposition.
Dogs restaurateur over Hebrew National umbrellas
One day a little less than a year ago, Paul Demers, the code-enforcement officer in the tourist town of Kennebunk, Maine, dropped in on Brian Bartley, who, along with his wife, Gail, owns a local eatery known as Bartley’s Dockside, an occasional summertime hangout for both George Bushes.
That simple fact, at least, is something both men agree on. As Portland Press Herald columnist Bill Nemitz would write some seven months later, after the aforementioned meeting had become the subject of a federal lawsuit and had been written up in the New York Times, "One of the people you are about to meet is not telling the truth."
Here is what Bartley claims took place. Demers told Bartley that 12 umbrellas providing shade for outdoor tables violated the town’s limit of three commercial signs per business. The reason: they were all labeled HEBREW NATIONAL BEEF FRANKS.
Now, that sort of complaint might seem silly as far as it goes. But it actually goes quite a lot farther than that. Bartley claims he’d had logo-festooned umbrellas at his restaurant for years and had never received a complaint. Even on the day that Demers visited, Bartley says, he cited only the Hebrew National umbrellas, saying not a word about 13 other umbrellas promoting Budweiser, Poland Spring, Coca-Cola, and Samuel Adams.
What’s more, according to the Times account, Bartley charged that Demers told him the words "Hebrew National" were "personally offensive" to him and added: "Why can’t you serve the same food as everyone else?" Bartley’s first lawyer, Ronald Coles, was quoted as saying of Demers, "If the umbrellas had said Christian National Beef Franks, I don’t think he would have been offended. The fact is, they have a code-enforcement officer who is a bigot." And just to square the circle, Kenneth Pines, a regional sales manager for Hebrew National and a son of the founder, told the paper, "This is clear-cut anti-Semitism."
Bartley spray-painted over the offending words so that they wouldn’t be readable, but was told that wasn’t good enough, and that he was still liable for thousands of dollars worth of fines. So this year — according to a decidedly low-key statement e-mailed to the Phoenix by Maya Alexandri, Bartley’s new lawyer, from the high-profile, Washington, DC–based civil-rights law firm of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering — Bartley’s is operating sans umbrellas until the dispute has been resolved.
Demers, for his part, has denied it all — the selective enforcement, and certainly the anti-Semitic remarks. And some tidbits have emerged that would appear to support his side. Last February the York County Coast Star reported that some of Bartley’s competitors had considered him to be a regular abuser of the town’s sign ordinance — and that, in the past, a few of their own businesses had been ordered by Demers to take down umbrellas bearing Budweiser and Coca-Cola logos.
What all this adds up to is a mess. But at the very least, Demers has earned a Muzzle for the sort of high-handed, petty bureaucracy that is the bane of small towns everywhere, hassling local business people in an overzealous attempt to stamp out commercial messages.
We’ll leave it to the courts to decide whether Demers went as far as Bartley claims he did.
Says student’s pierced lip was ‘a distraction’
In this year of war abroad and repression at home, it seems almost comforting to be able to offer a good old-fashioned purple-hair-and-pierced-lip dress-code case — not that Rhode Islander Julie Cahill has any reason to feel comforted.
Last November, Cahill, then a 17-year-old Portsmouth High School junior with a pierced lip and a variety of unnatural hair colors, was informed that she would not be allowed to volunteer as a mentor for the TLC ("Teens Leading Children") anti-drug program at Melville Elementary School. Never mind that she had participated the year before, complete with purple hair and an eyebrow ring. Never mind that she was a member of the band and the drama club, a former class president, a former religion teacher at her church, editor of the high school’s literary magazine, and a member of the National Honor Society.
"Ms. Creese walked by and said, ‘Julie, I’m really sorry. You can’t do TLC,’" Cahill told her hometown weekly, the Sakonnet Times. "I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, what did I do wrong? I’m a good kid.’ I burst into tears."
But Cahill did more than just cry. She called the ACLU of Rhode Island. In an ACLU press release, Cahill said, "I always thought that my actions spoke louder than my appearance. It shocked me that school officials would discriminate against me because of the way I look."
It appears that the initial decision to bar Cahill was made by Melville principal Joanne Olson, who told the Sakonnet Times that — even though the unwritten dress code Cahill had run afoul of was new — she would’ve been banned from TLC last year, too, had Olson known about the eyebrow piercing. Olson added that Cahill is "a wonderful young lady." Gee, thanks!
And now, the envelope, please. At a meeting in December to address the ACLU’s complaint, superintendent of schools Timothy Ryan showed no compunction about playing the heavy in denying Cahill her right of self-expression.
According to an account in the Providence Journal, Ryan said, "At no point was Julie portrayed as a bad influence," but added: "Based on discussions with teachers, the piercings were a distraction because teachers reported that the children did not get beyond viewing the piercing to hear the message that Julie was delivering." Seriously.
Steve Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island ACLU, says that both the ban and the dress code stood. Since TLC was only a four-week program, Cahill couldn’t have been reinstated in time. However, he adds that Ryan offered to make an exception for Cahill with a different mentoring program, and that Cahill said no. "Julie rejected the offer, saying it was necessary for the issue to be addressed systemically so nobody else would face the discrimination she did," Brown told the Phoenix by e-mail.
She failed in her immediate goal, but she stuck by her principles. That would have been a good lesson for students at the Melville School to learn.
Dan Kennedy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his daily Media Log at BostonPhoenix.com