^ three smart reformers, surprisingly aligned, are moving Massachusetts — and Boston itself — into an entirely new political and public policy era : Mayor Marty Walsh; Suffolk Construction CEO John Fish; and Governor Charlie Baker
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Scarcely one year into his term, Mayor Marty Walsh has found his mission. He will, in partnership with consttuction magnate John Fish, plan, create, and build an almost entirely new Boston. To make it happen, he is bringing to his side both labor and entrepreneurs, those who build and those who profit, making the point explicitly, that he will be a business mayor because — as he said often in his 2013 campiagn — labor, who are Walsh’s core support, can’t have good jobs if business doesn’t want to spend and build.
Even more quickly — beginning in the campaign itself — Governor Charlie Baker has outlined, explained, and followed a course notably unlike that of any recent Governor. He will be boldly urban, performance-oriented, strictly candid about the state of the state, willing and even eager to raise everyone’s expec ations against the state’s most intractbale problems.
Both men are building a political structure that goes against decades-long perceptions. Baker’s non-ideological governance restores to the Republican tradition a “process liberalism” the party once thrived by and embraces a governmental pragmatism contradicting recent anti-government GOP rhetoric. Walsh’s partnership with John Fish takes the Democratic party back to its Dukakis-era business-labor teamwork called into question by the emergence of plutocratic money PACs and pay-equity populism.
The Marty Walsh who has gone all-in on Boston’s 2024 Olympics bid, and just as all-in on the vast changes that John Fish’s team envision for the City’;s transportation, housing, entertainment, and technology economy seems more like a Republican mayor than a current Democrat. Equally, Governor Baker’s social progressives and environmental reformism speak a political language that people associate with Democrats, not Republicans.
Both men are governing outside their respective boxes, making decsions free of the public’s preconception, moving both conversation and decision rapidly onto new ground — beckoning the public to catch up. This is what leadership does, that talking points cannot, that sound bites don’t even attempt. Baker and Walsh are governing by surprise — explorers on voyages of discovery.
Their bold and credible determination is welcome. Right now both state and city face societal dysfunctions that damage us and civic obstacles that prevent progress. It is easy to list many : transport infrastructure too often failing, more often ill fitted to our needs ; schools either poorly performing, wrongly administered, ineffectively systemic, or all three ; a huge shortage of affordable housing ; lingering racial and tribal disconnects ; obsolete government.
The two political parties seem to respond chiefly to their own internal arrangements — which is not how parties should be used. The tasks of political parties are to nominate candidates and to forge an agenda, for the voters to vote on. But the need to raise vast sums of money has forced parties to become the plaything of donor interest groups, and the end of patronage politics has dried up parties’ sources of volunteers, leaving only single-issue activists available; and these spend more time fighting for control of their party than planning policies that a majority of voters can accept. All of this hotch-potch of politcal irrelevance, Walsh and Baker have cast aside. Walsh is not governing as a Democrat, Baker not as a Republican.
Together, Walsh and Baker are creating a constituency we haven’t seen politically for many decades ; a public interest in which actual plans are being drawn up, actual projects going forward, structures and systems that will underpin the lives that everyone will live, come 2020 and 2030, a statewide interest that discusses actual state budgets, not just pie in the sky, and which finds effective delivery of state services more interesting than imagining services that for the time being, feel beside the point. As for idealism, there’s all you could ask for in Baker’s transformational reforms of our school set-up, and at least that much idealoism in Walsh’s dedication to ending Boston’s lack of city worker diversity. But walsh is as focused on first things first as is Baker. The building boom, Metro Boston plans that he and John Fish have crafted assures good times for the Mayor’s building trades labor supporters. And why not ? Walsh wants a prosperous and dynamic city. That begins with a prosperous and dynamic work force — and prosperous and dynamic entrepreneurship.
Walsh’s business big-think has forced the non-labor Left somewhat to the siddelines into a politics of “no” — never a winning message. It is curious to note just how many of the people in the “no Boston Olympics’ camp were John Connolly supporters in the 2013 Mayor campaign. (The same was true of the “no casino” people, most of whom are now “no Boston Olympics” people.) It was not evident to me, back then, that the Connolly reform message might have a non-union Left component. The Connolly message sounded even more business-entrepreneurial than Walsh’s, more transforming; his school program was almost exactly that of Charlie Baker today : charter schools and school innovation. But the Connolly voters have since splintered. His charter school followers have their advocate in Baker, even as Walsh has, for the time being, set his own education agenda on hold, even as Connolly’s green-agenda followers and neighborhood NIMBY-ists find themselves wrong-footed by the powerful partnership that Mayor Walsh and executive John Fish have forged, a conjoint to which many prominent out-of-city Democrats — Juliette Kayyem, Steve Kerrigan, Doug Rubin, for example — are attaching.
It is not easy right now to see a route back to power for the non-union Left.
As for the Massachusetts GOP, Baker’s win has routed its social conservatives, rendered its disike of government purposeless, quieted its contempt for Hispanic immigrants, and forced GOP legislators to enter into coalitions as they think about priorities rather than vote a knee-jerked, isolated “no” on every proposed legislation.
Elections do indeed have consequences. especially when we elect consequential people.
—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere