New is good. New is exciting. New is full of promise. That seemed the mood at Boston College today when Martin Joseph Walsh was sworn in as the 54th mayor of Boston, the first new Boston mayor inaugurated in the 21st century. Public ceremonies like inaugurations are supposed to bind together in shared values all the disparate members of communities large and small, and set a positive tone, however aspirational it might be. That’s precisely what it felt like today. It was all good: the themes, the tone, speech, the execution of the ceremony. Even the delivery, which was good not great. While far smoother than Menino’s, Walsh’s oratorical skills, are much less compelling than his off-the-cuff charm.
The youthful, diverse event today bespoke renewal. It reflected the history and the fabric of the city, and it looked ahead. Walsh addressed old and young, people of all faiths, rich and poor. “We’re in this together,” he said, adding “We will protect and grow our sense of community.” His priorities are simple, but challenging: jobs; public safety and curbing gun violence; improving the schools for everyone; increasing trust in city government through transparency (with particular attention to the BRA).
The themes were of a piece with those of other speakers. While Senator Elizabeth Warren spoke of Boston’s greatness – the birthplace of the revolution, the forefront of the abolitionist movement, a leader in the industrial revolution, all the way to today’s preeminence in health care, medicine, technology – she resonated with Walsh’s insistence that hardworking people across economic class must have the opportunity to succeed. Governor Deval Patrick urged that Walsh remember who he is, why he ran and whom he seeks to serve.
There’s probably a good chance of that. Walsh appears humble and unassuming, but ready to take charge. He has triumphed over personal challenges: cancer and addiction. His goals are big, but he provided comfort in sharing Abraham Lincoln’s observation that “The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.” There’s a sense of measure about Walsh, the focus of someone in recovery who indeed had to learn to live one day at a time. “Listen, learn, lead” is his operative tagline.)
The speech, you might say, presented a balanced vision, offering everything except how to pay for it. Given his close ties to organized labor, a major challenge will be for Walsh to resist the firefighters union’s call for a 25 percent increase. He’ll have to signal his commitment to break the endless cycle of unions having to keep pace with one another. If Marty Walsh can’t pass that first test, he won’t have the money he’ll need to improve the schools, support the arts, and the rest of his agenda. So much is on the line. It won’t be easy. But, on a day like today, all seems possible.
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