Walsh at 101 days
As he ticked off new initiatives, the new mayor of Boston sounded a lot like the old mayor.
Marty Walsh rang in his 101st day as mayor of Boston on Wednesday. As he stood at the front of an East Boston gymnasium, ticking off a laundry list of new initiatives his administration is pushing, Boston’s new mayor sounded a lot like its old mayor, Tom Menino. Walsh has set off a flurry of activity since taking over City Hall in January, but that activity has mostly been focused on the nuts and bolts of basic municipal governance.
New York’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio, came into office swinging for the fences. Walsh, like Menino before him, has been content to play small ball, and try to string a series of singles together.
Walsh has gone to lengths to change the tone around City Hall. He’s beating the drum about making city government more accessible and more transparent. He frequently repeats a line he first rolled out during his inauguration, about listening and learning as mayor, as well as leading. Staffers in City Hall – new arrivals and Menino holdovers alike – appear to have more freedom to experiment and take risks. “We’ve built an administration that’s open to all voices,” Walsh said Wednesday. “We’re going to build consensus and build trust.”
Many of the accomplishments Walsh ticked off seemed to fit squarely within the urban mechanic’s toolbox Menino wielded for two decades. Walsh talked about moving Boston Redevelopment Authority documents online, hosting meetings of consular officials, increasing funding for Main Streets programs, opening up municipal data and hosting hackathons, providing free wireless internet service to Grove Hall, expanding library branch hours, funding recovery services, installing LED streetlights, and filling 10,000 potholes. He talked about posting greeters inside City Hall’s front door and moving licensing applications online. Online dog licensing, he noted, had generated more phone calls than anything else he’d done since January.Collectively, these things represent substantive shifts from the way Menino’s City Hall operated. But they’re also not the stuff that Governing magazine covers are made of. And their basic-services-first focus represents a surprising philosophical continuation of the Menino era.
Politically, Walsh is far closer to New York’s de Blasio than he is to Menino. Both men ascended to office in November by meeting unease over economic inequality with unabashedly liberal political philosophies. De Blasio roared into office, going to war with Gov. Andrew Cuomo over early education funding. He has set hugely ambitious goals, such as eliminating pedestrian deaths and creating a record number of affordable housing units. There’s been little of that kind of talk from Walsh. Instead, he’s been focusing on remaking the tone surrounding government. And, more than he’d imagined, he’s been trying to get used to the never-ending sprint that the office demands. “I didn’t think it would be this fast-paced,” Walsh said in the press scrum after his speech. “I knew it would be busy, but it’s been incredibly busy.”