There’s a beloved Irish saying, “may the road rise up to greet you, may the wind be always at your back.” Mayor Walsh, the son of Irish immigrants, would love the winds of change to be at his back. Who would n’t ? Unfortunately, they’re blowing directly into his face. Boston’s economy is booming so high and so fast that it’s all that City administration can do to keep up, much less guide the boom to a safe arrival. Maybe even keeping up is out of reach.
Is Mayor Walsh deterred by the facts ? Not at all. In his 2019 “state of the City” speech — attended by Governor Baker, as Walsh attended baker’s own Inauguration speech — Mayor Walsh pushed back against the boom wind so hard that, for one night anyway, it’s possible to imagine the City’s road rising up higher than the wind is strong against us.
How confident — how boastful, even — is the Mayor ? Read his speech here –https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2019/01/15/transcript-walsh-state-city-speech-with-annotations/LhIoGP7tFdjuEr0BtAs1VN/story.html — as I just did, and you’ll be tackled by his confidence, stiff-armed by his boats, driven out of bounds by his plans, many of which he has already put onto the playing field. (Football analogies, because why not, given our Patriots’s record of conquest, not forgetting last Sunday’s 41-point message to the Chargers)
Walsh is right. The City’s economy is soaring. Almost everybody has a job who wants one. We’re well along erasing a history of racism. We defend our immigrants — all immigrants. We value our seniors. We will not tolerate hate against LGBT people. Where the Federal government has no policy — housing and infrastructure — we have both. We’re fighting the curse of opioid addiction as hard as the State is doing. We’re rebuilding our public school buildings. We’ve revived our branch Libraries. We’ve put parks and open space into everyone’s nearby. We’ve redirected our police department, and crime numbers have plummeted.
All of the above is true. Yet despite all, in a kind of sailboat race between money and the City, money, which generates the wind, is gaining ground away from us. We’re losing the race to keep housing prices affordable for most, and neither Mayor Walsh nor the Council — each striving every which way to find answers — has any likely remedy for the bull market in real estate that has no end in sight and which will take the city to where it likes, away from those of us who don’t earn four times the City’s median income. Yes, Mayor Walsh says that he wants Bostonians to obtain even better jobs. So do we. But how ?
Walsh sure did say all the right things when he contrasted what Boston is doing to what Washington is not. We DO have an infrastructure plan and a housing plan. We DO defend the civil rights of all, including immigrants. We defend everyone who lives here, and we welcome more people, of all races and identities. We do not practice the politics of division. These are worthy commitments, and we can be proud of what we stand for and practice, more or less, in our daily lives. And maybe this is the best we can do. There’s no doubt that Walsh’s six years in office have imparted a very different tone and purpose to City administration than was the custom with Tom Menino. Walsh sees the broad picture — the large, assembled crowd — where Menino saw the nits and bolts of getting things done and, in his personal relation to the City was a one on one kind of guy. Walsh, in my experience, seems sort of shy, one on one, as if he sin’t quite sure what to say to a person he doesn’t know that well, yet when addressing a room, or an arena, he speaks the ideals in everyone’s soul. That was something Menino almost never did, although he was gruffly on point whenever prejudice appeared in his City.
Menino, however, could, in his one on one way, bring almost everybody in the City aboard his plans and his methods. Walsh, who speaks to the grand collective, has yet to persuade a great many, diverse, smaller constituencies that he has their interests in his agenda. In my won neighborhood of East Boston, Walsh’s ambitious housing plans come off as unrestrained development. His job hopes somehow miss the strivings of those here who have to work multiple jobs just to keep from being evicted. Politically, too, he seems not to recognize who holds the majority ground, basing his operation on a very few, mostly long-time loyalists. I doubt that how he is perceived in my ward differs much from how other parts of Boston perceive it.
That said, Walsh is evolving his political operation and his alertness to tone. He is bringing people of color into his administration at the middle and street levels, rather than only at the top; and middle level and street are where actual political connection is made. He is bringing neighborhood activists into at least advisory positions with respect to zoning and planning. He holds coffee hour meetings in every neighborhood and brings department heads, and their informational material, with him. His partnership with Governor Baker — which was so evident at the street and door-knock level during the recent election — assures that the full resources of Massport and the State will be there when he needs it, including at the many public hearings and community meetings Walsh is mart to hold all over Boston.
I am thus reasonably optimistic that Walsh will do the best that he can; that he will mobilize a more or less united City to pursue his City goals with reasonable confidence. That’s probably all that we can ask. Mayor Walsh does not make the economy, and he cannot do much to curb the huge building boom — not that he wants to. Middle class housing will be a priority, and then some, and his housing goals will be achieved. Problem is that those goals may not be enough or anywhere near it, as long as the City becomes ever more a destination for really, really big money and those extremely well-paid managers who administer the big money and cholose where to plant it.
—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere