If Boston Mayor Marty Walsh can avoid giving away the store in the next rounds of union negotiations, he’ll save some money to help fund some of his promised initiatives. He avoided discussion of the challenge of union money demands this morning when he laid out his vision to the greater Boston business community, with the New England Council packing the Boston Harbor Hotel’s Wharf Room. He brought along his freshly appointed top-level administrators, and introduced them all. These, he said, are the “go to” people at City Hall.
In the wake of nine homicides this month, Walsh spoke first to public safety, and talked empathetically about people living with trauma from the violence spawned by a culture of guns and drugs. Turning to his oft-used language, he noted “we are not going to arrest our way out of the problem,” a solution that works only “for a short period of time.” Instead, as candidate Walsh had, he spoke of reducing the achievement gap, creating more early childhood education, and creating more opportunities for all residents. He also addressed the need for more affordable housing and solutions to homelessness (there were 7255 homeless in the city in December.)
Walsh pledged more support for arts and culture (he has created a new cabinet-level head to deal with the creative economy), more sophisticated technology in City Hall, a balanced city budget that reflects his priorities without using reserve funds or one-time revenues, and more certainty and transparency at the BRA (now overseeing $4.8 billion in projects).
He just reorganized his cabinet and delivered some promised consolidation. He also wants to reorganize intergovernmental relationships with expanded regionalism. He seems open to new ideas, even if they weren’t created here. In short, he has a broad view of the potential to take Boston “to the next level,” building on the work of predecessor Tom Menino.
NEC President Jim Brett reflected that “the new Boston” in the 1950’s was about bricks and mortar. Today “the New Boston” refers to its people. Boston is a majority minority city, and Walsh was elected with across-the-board support. His administration is notably diverse and, with a few exceptions, very very young. There’s an energy level that is breathtaking. When you call City Hall these days, the people answering the phone may not yet be able to connect you to the person you’re trying to reach, but they sound friendly and earnest and, to a person, wrap up the conversation with “have a nice day.” Wow! They really project the spirit that you might not have to fight City Hall.
How this evolves in policy terms, especially with leapfrogging and escalating public union contracts, remains to be seen. Out of the box, Walsh is aiming high with stretch goals never before achieved in Boston. But right now, just 26 days into the mayor’s term, there’s reason for cautious optimism.
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