^ Speaking plainly and taking the heat : Marty Walsh at Talbot Avenue “Monday”

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Marty Walsh, one of the two finalists to become Boston’s next mayor, is making a major push to win the city’s communities of color. He is meeting voters in Dudley Square, along Blue Hill avenue, and in Mattapan, at bus stops, along shopping districts, in restaurants. If he wants to win in November, it’s something he must do and thus is spending a lot of these last six weeks of the campaign doing it. Last night he upped his push by holding a “Monday With Marty” at the old and storied Carver hall — now Russell Auditorium — on Talbot Avenue.

About 80 people, most of them from the neighborhood, showed up to “have a conversation” with Walsh. Many were female — a good sign for a candidate whose campaign has had a “burly white union guy” image. But a “union guy” he is; his campaign theme has been jobs and more jobs; and at Russell Auditorium he talked about jobs first : “Kids will stay in school if we give them a reason to stay in school,” Walsh said, about the high drop-out rate in the Talbot Avenue area and how it often leads to jail. “It’s an important message we send to the neighborhood. You go to jail, all the hopes of being a police officer, fire-fighter, teacher go out the window.”

Walsh was the Building Trades Council business manager, and his campaign has always stressed construction (and its jobs). Often this for Walsh translates to talk about constructing new schools, to replace schools built, as he always mentions, between 1870 and 1926. Thus at the Russell, after delivering the message, he promised, “I will establish an office of new school construction,” he said. “A billion-dollar plan. We will build those schools as community centers, used 18 hours a day.”

And of course he then talked about his 150 million dollar proposal to sell City hall and develop all of City hall plaza for commercial use — “adding all that money to the City tax rolls,” he pointed out. No one in the room missed the point : developing City Hall Plaza means construction jobs. Lots of them.

Walsh also stepped directly onto his opponent John Connolly’s school reform turf. Citing his work as a board member of a successful charter school, Walsh insisted : “I can prove that I am the candidate who will change the schools, not just talk about it.


^ frustrated, but listening : the crowd at Walsh’s Talbot Avenue “conversation.”

It was a strong and articulate stump speech as Walsh has shown he knows how. He stressed is Dorchester roots and the skin color diversity of the district he represents, which, as he noted, “begins just down the street from here.” Still, the audience, albeit polite, proved, once the discussion portion of the event began, that it was not at all pleased with having to choose between Walsh and Connolly. To be quite specific, the Russell audience was sick and tired of having “Irish” mayors, and it said so, in words almost that blunt. In question after question, people let Walsh have it ; the lack of diversity on the police force, police disrespecting them when they call 911; guns everywhere in the community, but not in the white neighborhoods; the utter failure of Madison Park High School. One man — wearing a “Boston raider” t shirt, a man who easily, were he white, could have been a burly Marty Walsh Union guy — angrily pointed out that he never sees people of color in downtown construction jobs nor minority contractors. He challenged Walsh on what he was going to do about it, and about the lack of high-ranking policemen of color.

The scene reminded me a lot of what Robert Kennedy faced, almost 50 years ago, when, as United States Attorney General, he took himself to Black Community meetings to listen to — be insulted by — the frustrations and anger of people of color about what was going on in the South — and in the North too.┬áIt made me pretty upset to find that the Russell crowd was making the same points, almost in the same heated expressions, as I had hoped we had put paid to back in RFK’s day. Obviously we have not put paid to the existence of skin color discrimination and divisions.


^ palpable : the confrontation of community and candidate

Walsh listened to it all, respectfully, no sign of anger on his face; almost certainly he agreed with everything the people were saying. He answered every question as best he could. He said much that needed to be said. And if his eloquence did not rise to that of RFK, that’s no criticism, for how many politicians these days do speak at RFK’s level of moral fervor ? Still, Walsh’s even tone and plain language, if it did not inspire the audience, engendered respect.

Will respect be enough to bring to Walsh a majority of votes from Boston’s most economically isolated communities of color ? John Connolly has long been active in Boston’s neighborhoods of-color and has expanded his presence therein all through the campaign. His patrician presence has long — since the days of Boston Brahmin reformers — found more favor among Boston ‘s people of color than Walsh’s rough accents, which, to many Boston people of color mean the old school segregation racism. That memory is unfair to Walsh; and his dogged outreach to Boston people of color is changing minds. But he isn’t, as was RFK, the brother of a President. As for John Connolly, he’s the son of a former Secretary of state and a District Court System ‘s chief judge. If to Boston’s people of color, Walsh exemplifies building trades jobs and a hug and handshake of heart to heart solidarity — a feeling that Walsh proves every day — Connolly exemplifies entry, for people of color, to the board rooms and “tables of power” where the highest aspirations are decided.

Walsh’s outreach is a superb portent for Boston’s political future. And that is how Walsh put it at the Russell : “it’s not about me being Mayor. it’s about the future of Boston.” There he spoke truth, as he almost always does.

My feeling is that Walsh will have to win the votes of Boston’s people of color almost one family at a time and that he must do it if he’s to get into the win game. We’re talking 25 % of the total final vote. He has less than five weeks to make it work.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

UPDATE October 2, 2013 at 1.00 AM : earlier this afternoon Marty visited the Bartlett Garage art works and met many of the makers. This is one of Roxbury’;s best-liked secret places, and it says a lot about the canny advice he is now getting — from someone who knows — about where to go and who to see in “the ‘Bury” and along Blue Hill avenue. Tonight he’ll be at the MAMLEO Forum at 61 Columbia Road. The outreach continues at full force.