Where ‘ya from? Travel anywhere outside New England, and the answer is likely to be “Boston.” Whether we live in Newton, Lowell or Quincy, Boston’s decision to reelect Marty Walsh or choose Tito Jackson to be mayor has consequences for us. Transportation, housing, safety, education – all issues being debated in this year’s Newton mayoral race – are front and center in the debate between one-term incumbent Walsh and City Councillor Tito Jackson. How Boston addresses its issues matters: its effects spill over into other communities, and it affects our reputation.
Walsh and Jackson engaged last Tuesday in a feisty debate, and, while Jackson landed some punches, Walsh responded calmly without being drawn into a scrum. Jackson is an engaging individual, committed to the community. If elected, he would be the first person of color to serve as mayor in this majority-minority city. But nothing that happened in the 60 minutes on WGBH – or for the entire campaign – changed the landscape, which is altogether favorable for the incumbent.
Over the last generation, Boston has gone from being a municipality on the skids to a vibrant, thriving, livable city – for most (but not all) of its residents. Its economy is booming, its workforce highly educated, its cultural offerings world class and varied, its politics pretty enlightened. Its mayors, from John Collins to Kevin White to Ray Flynn to Tom Menino, to Marty Walsh, have all built on the distinctive legacies of their predecessors. Walsh has been notable for standing up to the Trump administration on immigration and other issues.
But we’re (and I do say “we” because we all benefit from a thriving metropolitan neighbor) far from perfect. Boston is a magnet for millennials, but affordable housing remains hard to find. Without it, we’ll lose them to other dynamic regions. Housing is the voters’ top concern. Walsh is more than 40 percent toward achieving his goal of having 53,000 new housing units by 2030. But, despite some reports that his spur to housing production has led to some easing of rents, more housing for low and middle income is essential. (Of the 22,000 new units, 9000 are accessible to low- and middle-income people.) We don’t want people who have lived their lives in the city to be priced out. A walk down Boylston Street reveals a greater number of homeless people sleeping in doorways than seen in many years. Anecdotal, perhaps. The problem needs attention.
Progress in the schools, especially the high schools, including addressing the achievement gap, has been woefully slow, as did Tom Menino, the self-described and committed “education mayor.” Walsh says he increased school funding this year by $50 million, but his future success will be measured by what he achieves in the teachers union contract.
Traffic is horrific in the city, as it is in Newton and other outlying communities, and it’s unclear whether adequate plans exist to deal with the worsening gridlock that comes with continued economic growth.
Mayors need to think big, but not be naive. Walsh can be faulted for a rookie mistake in being snookered by special interests pushing him to wave the pom-poms for a ridiculous 2024 Olympics bid. He bailed in time for the city to save face, and it’s doubtful that his misstep has any traction in the upcoming election. Nor should it.
Try though he may, Councillor Jackson has simply not made the case that Walsh’s shortcomings warrant his defeat in the election. Polling supports that conclusion, with Walsh substantially ahead of Jackson citywide, and by a few points even in Jackson’s own district.
Wherever we live, issues like housing, education, transportation, won’t be solved overnight. What we do need to see is that the trend line is in the right direction and that the results are measurable. More than his predecessors, Walsh is comfortable using hard data to measure his performance and make the results public. He knows there’s much more to do. He is a hardworking, thoughtful, official and a compassionate human being. Were I to vote in Boston, a city I love, and where I grew up, Marty Walsh would get my vote.
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