NOTE : Here and Sphere, for which I write, has endorsed Marty Walsh’s opponent. The following article is my own opinion, however.

Bartlett yard Marty Walsh

^ Courage and a voice for working people : Marty Walsh at Bartlett Street Bus Yard

Courage is the word that comes to my mind when I think of Marty Walsh and his campaign. For a guy who seems almost introverted, who really doesn’t sense the social wave, who comes from a part of Boston that is visibly shrinking in reach and number, to run for mayor of a City I don’t think he really understands seems an act of huge courage. This is a good thing. By no means do I disparage Walsh’s public persona. It has won friends of all sorts in the Legislature. It has elevated him to the top among those who know him best. I have, in previous columns, called Walsh “a hero of civil rights.” This he definitely is.

His courage — to break loose of the hermetic cultural world in which he grew up; to see himself as one and the same with people living very differently from how life along “Dot Ave — has brought Walsh almost to election as Mayor of Boston. He bested ten rivals in the Primary with a total vote that topped his Final opponent, John Connolly. As he himself claimed it, at a large outdoor rally on election eve : “Tomorrow we will top the ticket !”

But…. Walsh is a “union guy” — was business manager of the Boston Building trades Council — and has built his campaign on continuing the current downtown building boom and the jobs it provides. There is nothing at all wrong with this. The building boom is real. It is good for all Bostonians. It creates jobs, good paying jobs for workers who then spend that money into the city’s economy. All good. But the more that Walsh is a union guy, the less he is the man of courage; the less he is one brave man breaking free of — fighting against — the Old Boston and its old ways.

His challenge, as a Mayor finalist is, how does he bring Boston labor unions into the new Boston, the coming Boston of business innovation, business lifestyle, business politics ? Indeed — as many voters are asking — is becoming Mayor the best way even to do this ? At times in the past month or so, Walsh has talked — sermonized, almost — about recruiting businesses to Boston; taking them from Texas, South Carolina, from all over; of opening up a Boston office of business recruitment. This sounds odd speech coming from a union guy. Few of the businesses he would be preaching Boston to are union shops. There are, by percentage, fewer Union households in Boston than there used to be. In Walsh’s business recruitment world, they will be a smaller percentage still.

At which point Walsh’s courage begets contradiction.

And conundrum : for if union households would decline in numerical importance in a Walsh-for-business Boston, there would be no decline at all in the importance of the Police and Firefighter Unions, or of the Boston Teachers Union. Or of the School Bus Drivers Union. Need I say more : and into the two recent labor union events that have angered almost all Boston — Walsh too — came the news, via John Connolly, that Walsh has five times filed a bill (H. 2467 this year) to make labor arbitration awards final, taking review power away from municipal councils. A request was made that he withdraw the bill. He declined to do so.

Walsh’s strategy now, as a finalist, is to bring to his side working-class voters of diverse origins and skin color. He has John Barros’s endorsement, and he has Felix G. Arroyo’s endorsement — and his strategist, Doug Rubin — and now often voices the message that was Arroyo’s : pathways out of poverty by way of better schools and safer neighborhoods. It’s a good message. It builds upon Walsh’s own story and upon his support base. The Boston building boom should provide building trades jobs for Latino Bostonians, Cape Verdean Bostonians, Viet Namese Bostonians, all Bostonians. And yet…

…the argument did not work for Arroyo in the primary and seems unfitted to what Boston is like today. It is a message not too different from Mel King’s and Ray Flynn’s in 1983. But Boston has become much more entrepreneurial in the past 30 years. (And Mel King himself is close today to Charles Clemons, who was a Mayoral candidate and is a radio entrepreneur with an economic point of view almost Republican.) Boston today is more prosperous than in 1983, more upper middle class. No social group desires radical school improvement more passionately than the upper middle class — and those who would join it. Upper middle class parents push their children to excel. Sometimes they overdo it, but that is what the new Boston often is. Achievement, and bicycles. Downtown boutiques — and advanced courses in every high school grade. Diversity and social metro-lifestyle — because all entrepreneur brains have worthy ideas to pick up on. Upper middle class parents like new ideas. And they’re in a hurry to get them.

Marty Walsh understands this dynamic well, I think. But he cannot be its voice. Because it already has a voice, a man who is of it and personifies it : John Connolly. Thus Walsh has chosen the only course left for him : to voice for the people who would like to be in a hurry but can’t be because they have too much other stuff — dysfunctional homes, kids going astray, language barriers at home, working three jobs to make ends meet; that sort of thing — on their plate.

It is good that Marty Walsh is committing to be the voice of those trying to catch up to the people in a hurry. No one speaks it with more personal conviction. But in doing so, he has, ironically, narrowed his reach. Because John Connolly’s campaign extends far beyond upper middle class parents. He has brought to his side Boston Wards very different from upper middle class — Charlestown, East Boston, North End, much of Roxbury and Mattapan — for whom access to the Mayor’s office and the Mayor’s ear is vital. Connolly looks like the winner to these constituencies, including some which did not vote for either him or Walsh in the primary. They can see how things shape, and they are surely correct in thinking that their support assures a Connolly victory and thus access to his office and ear. And yesterday both Communities United’s PAC and the black Ministerial Alliance endorsed him.

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Against this dynamic and this perception, Marty Walsh now fights courageously, doing proud those who believe in him.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere