Arts & Culture, Op Ed, Our City, Politics

Herb Chambers nocturne in the key of $500 Gs

Sketches of political maneuvering and corruption, as seen across the street from Allston Jaguar dealership


On a clear night in Allston, you can see right into the Jaguar/Range Rover dealership. (Photo by the author.)

It’s the first pandemic lockdown. The sound of the generators from across the street will not let me sleep. For 11 months, I heard the unnatural nightmare of the construction crew building a luxury car dealership for Herb Chambers. Allston shops begin to board up because the owners can’t afford to pay rent–the economic toil of the coronavirus exacting its plight upon the city. From my window, I watched the building next to the construction site slowly vacate, lives compartmentalized in moving vans, then carried away.

I wondered, how was it that Herb Chambers could continue his construction during a pandemic that has killed over 1,000,000 Americans?

During one of those sleepless nights, when I was filled with IPAs and depression, I decided to watch the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit? At one point the antagonist, Judge Doom, reveals himself as the sole owner of Cloverleaf Industries and explains his plot to destroy Toontown; he wants to build a freeway full of attractions and force people to drive it once he had the transit system decommissioned.

The Boston Planning and Development Agency has a timeline of the construction of the Jaguar,/Range Rover dealership. A notable feature is that the approval of this development was bent on the addition of parking spaces for employees and would “ contribute meaningfully to the Commonwealth Avenue streetscape”. The BPDA–and its historical counterpart, the BRA– is arguably Boston’s most powerful and corrupt agency. Its most recent scandal, in 2018, saw then-Assistant Director of Real Estate John Lynch convicted of  taking $50,000 dollars in bribes. The BPDA has persisted, through Walsh and so far Wu, despite both mayors making their campaign pledge to abolish the agency.

Herb Chambers is no stranger to recent scandal, either: In 2019, the company settled a $21 million lawsuit for labor practices based on how he handled overtime and commission for sales employees. The lawsuit was made possible in part by a bill that was made exclusively by Charlie Baker. In 2021, he attended a fundraiser for Karyn Polito and Charlie Baker, the only republican statewide elected officials in Massachusetts.

Mr.Chambers has been known to commute by helicopter from his residence in Connecticut to his Somerville headquarters. During the weekdays, he lives at the Four Seasons Hotel near the Boston Public Gardens. In 2016, Chambers led reform to bring back the BPD mounted police unit after it was disbanded in 2009. He is one of Forbes’ richest men, valued at 1.6 billion, but was approved for a PPP loan of $718,865 in July 2020 for his Toyota dealership in Allston. The status of the loan is paid in full, or forgiven.

On September 16, 2020, he made a $25,000 donation to Mass Majority Independent Expenditure, a super PAC heavily involved with  Charlie Baker. Since 2000, Herb Chambers has been a regular donor to another super PAC, the Automotive Free International Trade PAC, which has raised 2.5 million dollars and donates 90 percent to Republican candidates.

On May 26th, 2022, MassDOT revealed designs for the Allston/I-90 Multimodal Project , a $1.2 billion dollar reconfiguration of Interstate 90, Soldiers Field Road, and the Framingham/Worcester Commuter Rail line on 90 acres of land along the Charles River waterfront in Allston. The most notable feature of the design is its proposed five or more lanes of motor vehicle traffic, with a pedestrian footbridge pushed into the Charles River. In order to receive the budgetary request, the proposal must go to the Highway Commission.

I wondered, how was it that Herb Chambers could continue his construction during a pandemic that has killed over 1,000,000 Americans?

MassDot was formed in 2009 by then-Gov. Deval Patrick with his transportation reform bill. The reason for this bill is that a Transportation Finance Commission identified a $20 billion funding shortfall in the state’s 20-year infrastructure budget, thus consolidating all other state transportation functions, excluding the Mass Port Authority and MBTA. The formation of MassDOT was meant to streamline the delivery of transportation services and eliminate waste and spending on infrastructure projects.

From 2015-2021, Stephanie Pollack served as the secretary and CEO of MassDOT, appointed by Charlie Baker. In 2019, she received criticism for lapses at MassDOT RMV that led to a  crash that killed seven people. A year after the scandal, Pollack admitted fault. In 2018, it was discovered that Pollack had expedited a $100,000 private bathroom at MassDOT HQ, known as the Golden Bathroom–or ToiletGate. She released a statement that “We should be more careful.” In Jan. 2021, Pollack was appointed by the Biden administration to serve as deputy of the Highway Commission, providing grants and funds to development projects like the Allston Multimodal Project. MassDOT itself was embroiled in scandal in 2019 when the agency failed to audit its overtime payments to the Mass State Police.

I turned off the TV. I could hear the generator, see it from my window, a significant metal box, the exposed heart protected by a flimsy fence held together by chains, and an artist’s interpretation of a Herb Chambers dealership. One by one, I watched the light in the windows of the apartment building go out, snuffed by the construction like a vine choking a tree.

There wasn’t much in my refrigerator, just tomatoes, and eggs. I wore sweatpants, boots, my down jacket, and a ski mask. I scurried across the green line to the opposite street and walked calmly into the floodlight as I cradled the eggs in my pocket. One, two, and the tomato. I scurried back across the street. In the morning, the glass would be cleaned, and the construction would continue, but for a few hours at least, I could sleep.

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