Marty Walsh talks taxes, Baker, and more

Not resting on Boston’s laurels

Marty Walsh rolled to a huge reelection win last year and just hosted a national gathering of the US Conference of Mayors, where he could bask in the glow of a city booming on the strength of its enviable position as a leader in areas driving the global economy.

But the city’s mayor knows better than to rest on Boston’s laurels, and Walsh, in a Codcast conversation with Bruce Mohl and me, was frank about the challenges facing Boston — from development and transportation gridlock to the state of its schools.

We sat down to talk on Thursday, a day before news broke that school Superintendent Tommy Chang will be shown the door after only three years on the job. The mayor — by all accounts the alpha figure in deciding he’d had enough of what has been a strained relationship with the superintendent his team hired — was obviously aware during our conversation that this news was coming. That offers an interesting context for considering Walsh’s remarks when we asked about a recent report showing that the district has made little progress over the last decade in getting off-track students who have struggled in the school system through to graduation.

“They’re not performing anywhere near where they need to be,” Walsh said of the district’s open-enrollment high schools. “There’s no excuse. I can’t talk to you guys and make it sound like the picture’s rosy here.”

On transportation, Walsh said the challenges facing the city ought to point to one guiding principle: “How do we think differently outside the box?” He said the recent establishment of dedicated bus lanes during rush hours along Washington Street between Roslindale Square and Forest Hills — with the necessary elimination of on-street parking during that time — is an example of that thinking paying off. “It’s not a pilot anymore,” said Walsh. “I’m not afraid to try something.”

He sounded skeptical of whether a gondola running above the Seaport would emerge as a good outside-the-box idea, even though it will be included in a city study of transportation options for the area. “I have a lot of questions on the gondola idea,” said Walsh, who said a monorail system in Seattle has not been nearly as successful as backers originally thought it would be.

He was frank in saying he doesn’t think recent state legislation regulating ride-sharing apps goes far enough in taxing companies like Uber and Lyft. That was part of a broader discussion of transportation needs. “The T absolutely needs money,” said Walsh said.

That’s a position that puts him at odds with Gov. Charlie Baker. Walsh also pointed to what he said was one of his last votes as a state representative in 2013 — to begin indexing the gas tax to inflation to fund transportation spending. Baker supported the 2014 ballot question that repealed the indexing.

Despite philosophical differences on things as basic as tax and spending policy, Walsh and Baker have forged what some viewed as an unlikely close relationship. Walsh says the ties are genuine and he foresees maintaining a friendship with Baker beyond their respective years in public office.

That said, he repeats his vow to support the Democratic nominee for governor against Baker this fall. But it’s easy to wonder how hard Walsh will be campaigning or to what degree his political organization will be deployed against a guy with whom he said he works “so closely together and so well together on advancing Boston and Massachusetts.”

“I won’t be bashing the governor,” he said. And he said whoever his party nominates “has a big challenge ahead of them.” He did agree, however, with former party chairman John Walsh (no relation), who argued in a recent piece for CommonWealth that Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s race could change the equation by boosting Democratic turnout.

As for his own political future, Walsh laughed when asked about a recent column that dubbed him the “mayor of Massachusetts” and said it’s a matter of “when, not if” he makes a move to run for governor or US Senate.

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

“I honestly have no idea what’s next for me,” he said. “I’m doing everything I can to be the best mayor I can be.” Walsh’s devotion to his current job seemed seemed evident. But so was the fact that he never dismissed the idea that a run for higher office could loom somewhere down the road.

Mayors of Boston occupy a prominent perch, but good ones know that success ultimately comes from paying attention to ways to make a difference at the ground level in the lives of their constituents. That Walsh gets this seemed particularly clear in his response to what we thought was a light-hearted final question asking whether he had any summer plans.

Rather than a comeback about hoping to steal a few days on the Cape for some downtime, Walsh turned it into an appeal to listeners to contact his office with any opportunities for summer jobs for Boston youth.