^ Mayor Walsh will run for re-election. Game on.
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Two days ago Mayor Walsh told a news reporter that he will run for re-election. Are you surprised ? Are you glad, or pissed ? Doubtless you have a thought or two about Walsh’s plans. So do we.
Walsh has moved much more forcefully to change Boston than I thought he would. Moved with passion; aroused deep enmity in some quarters; much respect in others. That Walsh would juice the City’s building boom, we knew : his core support comes from the Building Trades unions and the developers who hire them. The BRA has opened the floodgates to projects of all sorts, in almost every neighborhood. Walsh seems ready even to grant major real estate tax breaks to developers who insist they need this.
Many of us think that developer tax breaks are an outrage. In fact they’re commonplace in most cities. Less commonplace is the extent to which Walsh seems willing to rewrite the City’s footprint. One of the reasons he backed the Boston 2024 Games Bid at the outset was its transformation of many areas of the City where, so the argument had it, land use was not optimal. These transformations — of the entire Widett Circle area, of the South Station – Dorchester Avenue district, and the greening of Columbia Road — continue on. As does some of the new school construction that Walsh promised in his 2013 campaign.
Less visible is an even more sweeping transformation : the imagine Boston 2030 project, by which, with direct citizen input via online, the City is planning (and in some cases, building) as many as 53,000 units of moderate income housing as well as amenities appurtenant thereto. Imagine Boston also has a transportation component : and here is the nexus of a connection that few might have predicted of Walsh ; a partnership with Governor Baker that has developed into a friendship.
Transportation makes their friendship vital to both, because the vast reformations of the area’s public transit system (and attendant alleviation of motor vehicle traffic on roads) underpin the success or failure of both men’s administrations. It is to the State (and Federal dollar assistance) that Walsh must look for transportation legislation and administration,. and it is to Walsh that Baker must turn to get the users and neighbors of most public transit projects to approve. Housing, too, brings Baker and Walsh together, because the State owns much unused Boston land upon which Walsh’s Imagine 2030 housing might be built.
The same seems truer of education. Walsh clearly supports the charter school movement and likely will support, or stay neutral about, next year’s ballot initiative to raise the cap limits on charter school permissions — an initiative Baker fully committed himself to. Like Baker, Walsh also encourages school and business partnerships (a Baker favorite), as well he might : they’re well analogous to the apprenticeships that train the next generation of Building Trades workers.
All of which is easy to say : but the same could narrate many, many other infrastructure necessities involving State, City, and Federal government which aren’t proceeding , because there is no partnership at all between the necessary parties. We should cherish the friendship that Walsh and Baker have put in place. Not every state or city is so lucky.
These are the plus side of Walsh’s re-election campaign. There’s a down side as well.
Walsh has thrust his Labor supporters into several political fights that have not worked out. He is culturally far removed from the mindset of Boston 2024’s opposition — and showed it. His building boom explosion has exacerbated neighborhood change — opponents call it “displacement” — even as neighborhoods as yet untouched get attention from City Hall only when their Councillor demands it. Walsh has yet to find any workable answer for the City’s street violence. Trash ticketing and parking space conflicts aggravate many streets. The City’s gas pipeline leaks continue : what is the Mayor’s answer ? What is to happen to Long Island, now marooned without a land bridge ? I am not aware of effective solutions being advanced for these annoyances and failures.
Lastly, the big question of the 2013 Mayor election continues : can Boston’s communities of color elect a Mayor, finally ? Identity politics shouldn’t take precedence, but other issues boost them. Communities of color continue to fall short of the City’s income median, its street safety, its restaurants and shopping, its school quality. With some justification, activists of color assert that having a Boston Mayor who is of color will change much of this fall-short. If Walsh’s main opponent in 2017 is a credible, well financed person of color, all of these open issues will be on the table for an electorate whose Caucasian voters by no means all support Walsh.
Thus the Mayor faces a challenging election. But he knows it. He also knows that a Mayor of Boston has vast powers to marshal against even a well financed opponent. Right now I say he has much the advantage.
—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere