^ A 1000 lemons are zooming toward the man who will have to tend the Boston lemon grove….
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Those of us who preferred John Connolly as Mayor may wonder whether our preference was a blessing or a curse. Because the mayor we did get, Marty Walsh, faces an avalanche of problems verging on intractable. Well might John Connolly be grateful to have dodged the 1000 lemons descending upon Walsh’s first year in office, any one of which could derail his agenda and all of which might leave him muttering “why me ?”
Consider : ( 1 ) Boston Public Schools face change in every aspect, from teacher evaluation to curriculum development; from facilities upgrades to a new union contract; from competition for school funds to a revised school assignment plan that, hopefully, prioritizes close-to-home; and the bugaboo of charter schools, loved by supporters (and Walsh has been one), demonized by the Ravitch-ians ( 2 ) a Police Department that miserably failed to administer the City’s taxis, which entirely lacks diversity at the captain level, that has in many cases lost the trust of neighbors in the most violent zip codes, that just won a budget-busting pay raise heavy with money from public works details ( 3 ) a Fire department ready to rumble its own forthcoming contract negotiation; which now lacks both top administrators; is utterly resistant to firehouse and work rule reform even from a Mayor independent — which Walsh is totally not ( 4 ) city finances standing $ 50 million in the red even before the Police pay raise award and which can only redden more deeply as the funding needs of school reform, future union contracts, and public works present their bills — not to mention tax breaks that project developers will demand, and likely be granted, as the price of moving Boston’s Building boom forward (and thus providing continued work to Walsh’s core support, the building trades workers).
Consider also these : ( 1 ) major school reform that will be demanded — not requested — by employers who will either get job applicants who can meet entry-level requirements, at least, or will move to cities whose graduates do meet those requirements ( 2 ) expanding the City’s hubway bike system without aggravating car traffic flow ( 3 ) figuring a plan for Sullivan Square / Charlestown Neck that makes useful space of it, rather than a traffic-clogged jumble of trash, old brick, and rusty rails; and that takes into account the likelihood of a Steve Wynn casino in Everett, directly across the Mystic River ( 4 ) making the city’s parks safer to use, grounds-keeping them, and opening them — Franklin Park in particular — to tournament sport ( 5 ) devising a platform that makes middle-class housing profitable to build and affordable to buy — and deciding where to base it, in the face of neighborhood NIMBY-ism ( 6 ) configuring the BRA to increase neighborhood input (as most voters want) without enabling NIMBY-ism ( 7 ) choosing new hires without succumbing entirely to favoritism (although at a lower level, favors have value to the collaborator that Walsh has built his following by being; and, lastly ( 8 ) hiring a substantial presence of people from Boston’s Communities of Color (“COC”), and seeing many into the building trades : because without strong COC support Walsh wouldn’t have come close to winning and without which he won’t be re-elected.
Then comes the City Council Presidency flap now roiling some commentators and overly mind-busy “progressives.” The last thing that Marty Walsh needs, given the lemon grove of problems zooming at his head, is a Council President who can credibly run against him in 2017. Walsh will almost certainly face a strong opponent anyway. How can it help city governance to box Walsh further than he is already boxed ?
I wrote two days ago that Walsh may have made a big mistake by holding so many public hearings on the eleven issues that his transition team prioritized; that he might have been better served to put a lid on it all until a few months into his actual term of office. But perhaps his public hearings have more value than not. They give issues constituencies opportunity to speak, insist, petition; to feel that this new Mayor sincerely wants to listen. I think he does.
Listening — which he does well — is true to who Walsh has been, as union leader and legislator : a collaborator who works by bringing various interests together for a common purpose. The weakness in his method is that it depends on the willingness of those interests to collaborate with the collaborator. We will find out soon enough if that happens, and with how many lemons.
One asset that Walsh does possess is a wide circle of “wise old heads’ who trust and respect him and whose reputations in the City;s various communities Walsh now commands. He will not lack for good advice or for spokesmen and spokeswomen to argue bis case to the various interests arguing their cases to him. Other than these folks, however, his team looks young and quite all of a kind. He need to diversify his core staff, and soon.
Most of all, he badly need to hire top people now working for the various entrenched interests that now confront him AWAY from those jobs and INTO his administration.
The success of his lemon grove lemonade depends on it.
—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere