^ Seminar Day : much attention and then discussion at the Morning’s Education “Break-Out session”
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It has been a strange week in Boston City Politics. The Mayor-elect, Marty Walsh, has hosted an entire series of gatherings to discuss the eleven issue categories that his Transition Team has endorsed. Singly, night by night, these issues gatherings have taken place and will continue to do so well into January. On Saturday, all eleven issues gatherings held meetings again, all day long, in what Walsh’s Transition Website dubs “Mayor-elect Martin J. Walsh Town Hall Meeting.” The title misleads. The actual gatherings felt, to this participant, more like college seminars. Perhaps that’s because they were for the most part led by college educators.
That’s the strange part. The eleven issue categories — Arts and Culture, Basic City Services, Economic Development, Education, Energy-Environment & open Space, Housing, Human Services, Public Health, Public Safety, Transportation and Infrastructure, and Youth — all develop in a political context (some of the issues more than others. Arts & Culture seems appropriately collegiate, Basic City Services hardly at all); and political space is certainly where Walsh will have to decide how to structure them and choose priorities. So why the college-y format ? Yes, Boston’s a city plenteous with colleges. It’s nonetheless peculiar to think of Marty as Headmaster Walsh.
I attended the Morning Education seminar, then the afternoon Transportation/Infrastructure conference. At each, participants offered suggestions on what to keep — stuff that the City is already doing right; on what to implement — stuff that the Mayor can initiate without state legislation or huge budget outlays; and on what to dream about — a wish list for the future. Lists of each were made on large sheets of yellow art paper, and these were read from at the “general session” after all the seminars had ended. From the two sessions that I attended, I photographed both “keep” and “implement” lists. To see just how comprehensive these became, I invite you to peruse the “List” photographs below :^ the Education Session developed these ^ Lists of “Keep’ and “Implement”
Below — the Transportation/Infrastructure attendees came up with this “Implement” List :
After the seminars had concluded, each seminar moderator delivered a report — and the lists. It was a lot to digest. Walsh sat on stage, in their midst and made an heroic effort to pay attention.
Walsh delivered opening remarks and spoke after the session as well; he then did question-and-answer with the hundreds of citizens who more or less populated the Reggie Lewis Auditorium at Roxbury Community College, ground zero for the day’s discussing.
^ school headmaster ? Marty Walsh addressed the gathered seminar goers after the day’s teaching
His opening remarks told of a trip to the Nation’s capitol, from which, he said, he had returned only the night before: “The problems we face, the challenges,” said Walsh, “We’ll take them to Washington. Unemployment insurance must be restored…State and federal aid has been cut. we need to change the discussion.” The gathered citizens applauded. After the session ended, Walsh said in summation, “I was told by somebody that they had never seen a mayor and citizens have the kind of conversation we’re having today,” he said. “We need to continue this conversation after today too.”
Clearly Walsh has made a decision that stirring the pot of citizen petitioning the City is good politics. It continues the brilliant move that he made in his campaign, to engage hundreds of educators and public interest advocates in drafting 40 policy papers for future Boston governance. Those papers — 37 were actually completed — made Walsh look Mayoral, not just the Union guy he had been (quite correctly) seen as. No wonder that he is bringing such a thumbs-up campaign device into his transition work. Seminar and conference have much value convincing citizens that City hall is listening diligently. It can. Walsh has brought to his side an impressive group of Bostonians, many of them long known by me, with experience of the City as extensive as my own. And yet…
And yet I’m not sure that Walsh realizes that by keeping the issues pot boiling he is ( 1 ) raising participants’ expectations of his administration very high ( 2 ) will almost certainly disappoint some — maybe many ( 3 ) and thereby is setting the stage for a strong opposition candidate — surely a person of color — in 2017, a campaign that is likely to begin almost immediately after the 2015 Council elections.
Already the early moves are being made, as we see in the serious implications underlying the silly — and distractive — flap about “progressive” Councillor Michelle Wu supporting “conservative’; Bill Linehan for Council President. Already we see the formation of “monitoring’ groups which intend to hold Walsh to a variety of campaign promises — in particular, bringing people of color significantly into his administration at all levels — many of which he will be hard-pressed to keep, especially given the City’s $ 50 million budget deficit (which number is mounting even as I write). Eleven issues seminar groups can only whet the appetite of those with agendas to press.
Politically, it night have been wiser for Walsh to put a lid on politics during his transition — and beyond. This is what John Connolly has done, and most of his supporters. Few Connolly people have participated in the Walsh seminars; fewer still have been much heard from since election day, and John Connolly himself not at all, except to invite supporters to a December 27th “thank you” party. But perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps it’s a pleasant vacation from politics to hear a speech such as Professor (and Boston Globe columnist) Ed Glaeser, emcee of the Seminar, delivered, almost without notes, at session’s end; an eloquent, even stirring, history of The City, in America and elsewhere: what cities are about; why we need them; how they advance the human condition and shape our thoughts; in particular, the history of Boston, with its immigrants, universities, its “human capital,” which, as Glaeser noted, is more valuable than the coal, oil, and minerals that Boston does not have.
^ History 307 — The City — Professor Glaeser tells it sweepingly
Glaeser’s narrative reminded me of the awe-inspiring History lecturers at whose podiums I studied at college. It was a thrilling experience to feel my mind carried back so many decades to when we students felt ourselves graced and awed by such narratives as Glaeser’s. hearing his speech, I almost forgot that this was a seminar about things to be done.
Talking is not doing. Silence often is.
—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere
UPDATE : Marty Walsh badly needs to expand his reach beyond the team that has gotten him to victory. At the “Town hall” he was surrounded by all the familiar faces — hard working all, idealistic many — and accompanied by legislative and Council endorsers who strengthened his campaign. Of the rest of the City’s power players, however, I saw very very few. Some conspicuously had other plans. Clearly there is skepticism about Walsh’s readiness to the entire City. There’s also still a strong tide of continuance, of no giving up, by the “new Boston’ constituency that almost won on election day. It’s a constituency that doesn’t need City Hall to give it vision or goals to achieve and wants the Mayor to rethink the City, not merely improve it ; and will do so without him, if that’s how it is to be. — MF
^ drawing upon practical experience of the wise heads too :Marty Walsh conferred in a time-out moment with my old friend Pat Moscaritolo, of East Boston, who has managed much economic development work in Boston since the 1970s.