Walsh says governing has become about ‘life and death’
‘I do not think the worst is behind us,’ mayor says
MARTY WALSH IS THE FIRST to admit that dealing with a global pandemic was never among the challenges he imagined facing as Boston mayor. “The last thought in my mind — it wasn’t even a thought in my mind — was that we were going to be dealing with a worldwide pandemic,” he says on this week’s Codcast.
But he’s been doing just that for more than 10 weeks, freezing construction work in Boston, standing up a rental relief program, and overseeing a set of city initiatives aimed at ensuring care for the homeless and other vulnerable groups amidst the coronavirus crisis.
“It’s life and death, and the decisions we make have to be quick,” says Walsh. “They have to be precise and you can’t second guess it and worry about what people are going to say.”
The state is beginning a phased reopening, but Walsh is not particularly sanguine that we’re past the worst of the outbreak. “I do not think the worst is behind us. I still think it’s in front of us,” he says. “Listening to the experts, they’re all telling us that there’s going to be a resurgence in the fall.”
A potential surge in the fall has enormous implications for the area’s colleges and universities. Walsh said he’s had discussions with the city’s higher ed leaders, all of whom have signaled their intention to have some mix of on-campus and online classes this fall. Walsh struck a guarded note on what will actually transpire.
“They have a lot of big decisions in front of them,” he said. “There’s still a long way to go. You can announce you’re going to open in August, but from announcing to actually happening, we’ll see what happens.”
His day starts with an 8 a.m. crisis management conference call that includes 90 city employees. He said it’s happened seven days a week — except for Mother’s Day — since the pandemic broke out. At 9:30 it’s a call about hospital capacity. And at 10 each day he has a call with members of the City Council — a noteworthy sign of collaborative outreach in a city whose strong-mayor form of government has often seen its chief executive brush aside the council.
Walsh said he was recently tested for coronavirus and coronavirus antibodies — his office said it was because of his regular contact with essential City Hall employees. The virus test was negative, while the antibody test result was still pending on Friday.
Though there seems to be a bit of daylight between their views on reopening, Walsh said he talks to Baker five or six times a week, and said they’ve had a couple of more personal conversations “just checking in on each other.”
There also turns out to be some daylight between their viewing tastes when looking to unwind. Walsh says he’s been binge watching “Ozark.” “It’s pretty great, it’s insane,” the mayor said of the Netflix series. Baker, however, said he would jump off a roof if he had to watch much of that; instead, he gave two thumbs up to a documentary called The Biggest Little Farm.For all his concerns about the immediate trajectory we’re on, Walsh — and you’d expect nothing less from the mayor of New England’s largest city — rejects the idea that urban living’s best days are behind it. “I don’t think that this is going to cause a 1980 migration to the [Route] 128 belt,” he says of a time that saw people leaving for the suburbs. “I think people still want to be in the city.”
“Every single day is the same, but it’s very different,” he says.