^ Mayor Walsh speaking to voters who trust him — and who he trusts too
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Last night I saw Mayor Walsh at his best. It was “Monday with the Mayor,” and he spoke and, for almost 90 minutes, answered citizens’ questions at Excel High School in South Boston. Walsh was at ease; he knew many of the questioners personally, and they knew him. Some addressed him as Marty, not “Mayor.” He called them by their first name too. Most of the questions involved basics ; traffic, parking, housing, schools, trash removal. Walsh gave surprisingly well informed answers to most. I’m not sure that “Southie”s own representatives know the neighborhood as well as he does. It was appreciated.
It was clear that the questioners trust Walsh; and that he trusts them. Only once did I hear a speaker tell the Mayor “you don’t listen to us.” Only twice did Walsh cut off a questioner who spoke too long. Everybody else made clear that they felt well listened to, and that the Mayor really will clear up, or at least address, the neighborhood snags that were broiught to his attention. And why not ? He had with him a representative of almost every City department, and for detailed answers to some questions, he called on those representatives to provide an answer. It was very effective politics.
How different this meeting with the Mayor was, from the conentious, angry, brickbat words I’ve seen exchanged at Olympics meetings ! Different last night’s meeting was even from other Walsh Mondays that i’ve attended, in Charlestown, Mattapan, East Boston. At angry Olympics meetings, the Mayor isn’t shy about fighting back. He has a temper, and you really do not want to feel its teeth or fire. I like that in Mayor Walsh; it’s why he has supporters who will go to the mat for him. Still, a Mayor must do more than give battle to those who bring him heat. The Mayor must lead, must change minds. That, he seemed to do at last night’s Monday.
There was skepticism aplenty, among the South Boston voters conversing with the Mayor, about rising real estate taxes, housing and parking shortages, and — above all — the Olympics. “No neighborhood in the City will be as impacted as we will,” said one civic association leader. Yet she, and the several hundred who applauded her, seemed persuaded that Walsh understands the point and will not allow an Olympics plan that South Boston doesn’t accept. And why not be persuaded ? As Walsh said, “i live right across the bridge from here, i have family here.”
He might also have said, “and you guys voted or me.” In his 2013 campaign, Walsh carried South Boston by 20 points. He is Irish, and so are most of South Boston’s activists. He is a recovering alcoholic (and mentioned it, a lot) : it’s a recovery that many South Boston people can identify with.
If anybody can lead South Boston activists, including several in the room who in 2013 opposed him, into the very, VERY different Boston that he envisions for 2030 — all night long he talked about “imagine Boston” and invited people to share their ideas for it — Walsh can. Last night he worked to do that; to get the most populous of Boston deeply rooted neighborhoods attuned to a very changed City, and, perhaps, to like it and even profit by it. Most civic leaders present applauded a lot of what Walsh was saying.
By any political measure, this was a success for Walsh. It was the Mayor at his best. He will need to match it many, many times over the coming two years as he faces a re-election campaign that right now looks stormy.
—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere