Mayor places old friend at crucial helm of BRA
by Jack Meyers

Published by the Boston Herald on Wednesday, January 26, 2000

(c) The Boston Herald

Mayor Thomas M. Menino yesterday tapped Mark Maloney, a longtime friend who is a relative unknown in downtown development circles, to head the Boston Redevelopment Authority during the city's most dramatic building boom in generations.

Maloney's experience is in the property management field and he owns a company that manages taxpayer-assisted housing.

Menino said that with billions of dollars in development projects on the drawing boards, Maloney's management skills and familiarity with some of the city's neighborhoods outside of downtown make him the right person for the job.

``Mark's first task (is) to re-invent the BRA for the 21st century,'' said the mayor. ``With Mark's ability to lead, he'll be able to get everyone involved.''

Maloney, 48, who resides at an $877,500 Rowes Wharf condo, spent almost two decades managing taxpayer-assisted housing developments, most of them in Boston. But he is not well known among the city's major developers.

Menino said he has known Maloney since his first term on the City Council. Since Menino became mayor, Maloney's firm has led the privatization of Boston Housing Authority projects, notably Madison Park and Orchard Park. Maloney is BHA Administrator Sandra Henriquez's former boss.

Maloney said yesterday he planned to transfer his stock in Maloney Properties, which currently counts more than 3,600 housing units in 32 Boston developments in its portfolio, to a charitable trust that he and his wife would administer.

Many real estate professionals said yesterday they know less about him than they did about Menino's first BRA chief, Marisa Lago, who was virtually unknown when he appointed her.

Some said it was an asset that the new BRA chief did not have ties to the clubby Boston real estate world.

``It's good that the mayor reaches out to a very broad group of professionals. It indicates he is receptive to new ideas, new people,'' said Vivien Li, executive director of the Boston Harbor Association, which has been very involved in waterfront development issues.

Maloney ``doesn't have an agenda, doesn't have preconceived notions,'' Li said.

An illustration of that occurred yesterday at the press conference announcing the appointment, with Maloney appearing highly deferential to Menino. When a reporter asked him to outline his vision for waterfront development, Maloney smiled, stepped away from the microphone and gestured for the mayor to answer the question.

Samuel Tyler, head of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, said Maloney's appointment signals a shift in emphasis toward housing, particularly affordable housing.

``The fact it is such a different background than other BRA directors have had will bring a different focus'' to the agency under Maloney, Tyler said.

When he starts work on Feb. 22, Maloney will face a daunting array of issues, including the Red Sox' plans for a new heavily subsidized ballpark in the Fenway, massive development schemes for the South Boston waterfront, and scuffles with the state over air rights developments.

Maloney will also be leading the effort to hire a new city planner, as the mayor outlined two weeks ago in his State of the City speech.

Observers will closely watch how Maloney navigates the tricky political waters where City Hall and real estate come together. Menino's personal relationships with a small circle of consultants and lawyers are widely seen as having undermined Maloney's predecessors, with developers bypassing the BRA and appealing to the mayor to intercede.

City Hall observers, who spoke on condition of anonymity yesterday, said Maloney, as a Menino friend of 15 years' standing, might have more success than ex-directors Lago and Thomas N. O'Brien did in the political battles over development projects.

Maloney's long background managing affordable housing projects also has insiders wondering how he and Menino's housing czar, Charlotte Golar Richie, will divide responsibilities.

Nicolas Retsinas, director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, whom Menino picked to study an overhaul of the BRA, said the city's development arm does not need a ``super dealmaker.'' Instead, he said, it needs a manager who fosters cooperation.

Retsinas said it is the wrong time to launch a structural overhaul of the agency, but it needs a ``renewed focus on planning.''

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