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 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 Baker supported the 2014 ballot question that repealed the indexing.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.“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.
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.