Wu addresses need for ‘bold’ change – and why she tangles directly with critics

IF MICHELLE WU has moved quickly on lots of fronts as Boston’s new mayor, it’s because she has  spent years thinking about the issues she now has the power to actually do something about.  

It’s “incredibly exciting to be now rolling up my sleeves and just getting to work on so many of the ideas and issues and challenges that as a [city] councilor I talked about or held oversight hearings on for many years, or even as an intern back in the day for Mayor Menino had thought about and seen some of the early beginnings of issues that we’re still now coming full circle on about a dozen years later,” Wu said on this week’s Codcast. 

That pent-up energy to push change has led to her overseeing the clearing of tent encampments (though certainly not all the deep-seated problems) at Mass. and Cass. She’s worked with the MBTA to expand a free-fare pilot program for bus service, and she decided that change was needed in the leadership of the Boston public schools. Making change can also generate fierce resistance, and she’s faced a healthy dose of that, too.

When it comes to those who have protested for weeks outside her Roslindale home against a vaccine mandate for city workers – or those North End restaurant owners who she said joined up with them to rail against her outdoor dining policies – Wu struck a tone of resolve and defiance. She has regularly tangled on Twitter with detractors, and last week was no exception. 

“We will not normalize harassment as acceptable behavior. When members of this group have taken part in the yelling outside my house, bullied City staff & fellow restaurant owners—there is no right to get inside & shout down a press conference too,” Wu tweeted in response to a video showing some restaurant owners complaining they were kept out of a press briefing she held on the outdoor dining policy. 

Asked about her decision to challenge critics in that way, Wu said, it’s been a very conscious choice. 

“It has been 13 weeks that people have been outside our home starting at 7 a.m., even this morning,” she said. “It almost feels as if people, and I don’t just mean the people outside my house in this case, I mean, broadly, it feels like our politics has become so divided and so toxic that there’s almost a normalization of feel free to say whatever you want to say and disagree, and don’t quote-unquote comply. And if you just are loud enough and angry enough and hateful enough, then maybe you’ll get a little bit of your way.”     

“We should disagree. We should have open conversation. We should protest and demonstrate. Boston is a home of that activism. But there need to be limits, and that doesn’t mean that whenever, wherever people have the right to be in everyone’s faces all the time,” she said. “I know there are many people who would say, you know, this is unbecoming, and the mayor should be above any sort of rancor and just not elevate the back and forth or don’t get into it. I am very aware, though, that there are many people watching what’s happening, young people who are thinking about whether or not public service is for them, women and women of color in leadership positions, who face similar hate and toxicity. And I am choosing to set boundaries for my staff for myself, and to make, hopefully, a shift in the dynamic where we cannot tolerate people feeling like it’s okay to harass someone until they give in. That’s just simply destructive for our communities in so many ways.”

Wu said her involvement with MBTA policy – unusual for a Boston mayor – is very much driven by her own background as a regular T rider. “I rode the Orange Line in today,” she said. “What I like to say is that city government is special because we do the big and the small, but we do big things by getting the small things right. And there are small things that matter so much to people’s day-to-day lives, that you really can’t fully understand how much it matters and what they are unless you’re experiencing it directly or in constant community and having folks who are experiencing it directly shaping decision making.”

She said she’ll work with other communities to expand free-fare bus service beyond the three Boston routes that are now part of a two-year pilot. She said a range of fare reforms could work,  and she suggested there is no need to choose between free-fare service and reduced fare for lower-income riders, an alternative approach that some have advocated. 

Wu decided to part ways with school superintendent Brenda Cassellius, but she said no one should look to her replacement for all the answers to what ails the system. “I keep emphasizing that this is not about finding one magical person who’s going to suddenly be able to fix everything. We need a whole team in place,” she said. 

With a recent state review describing a system in chaos at many levels, with low student achievement and a graduation rate barely over 50 percent after excluding students at the three selective-admission “exam” schools, does Wu regard the system as being in crisis?

“Yes, absolutely,” she said. “It is the job of the mayor to help assess and make the case for the political will to be there so that our school system, our superintendent, and the school committee can make the big changes they need to make.”

MICHAEL JONAS

 

FROM COMMONWEALTH

Petersham’s white elephant: Petersham’s Nichewaug Inn is a “white elephant” slated for demolition, a historic building that could never muster the support from locals or would-be developers to regain its former glory or even find a new use. We examine the challenges of trying to save historic buildings in small, out-of-they-way communities. Read more.

MGB withdraws suburban expansion plan: Mass General Brigham withdraws its bid for suburban expansion with ambulatory care centers after learning the Department of Public Health planned to reject it, but expansion of Mass General Hospital and Faulkner gain key approvals.

– The DPH recommendation on the Mass General Hospital expansion came with a major caveat – no additional beds now (the expansion provides single rather than double rooms) and only later if they can be justified based on need.

– The DPH recommendations, which are likely to be ratified by the agency’s Public Health Council, came after a pitched policy battle, with expansion opponents arguing that Mass General Brigham should not be allowed to expand unless it can contain its costs. The hospital system is currently under orders from the Health Policy Commission to do just that. Read more.

Tower dump decision: A Supreme Judicial Court decision allows the police to analyze large dumps of cell phone data looking for clues to solve crimes, but puts in place privacy protections, including a warrant requirement. Read more.

OPINION

Prioritize families: Richard Wexler of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform says Harmony Montgomery faced the rush to tear families apart in two states. Read more.

Drinking water gap: Amie Shei of the Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts says the state needs to address the drinking water gap between communities in eastern Massachusetts, served primarily by public water systems, and communities scattered across the rest of the state, served by wells. Read more.

Expand transit tax benefits: Sen. John Keenan and Rep. Steven Owens push legislation to expand transit tax benefits for riders. Read more.

Opioid crisis hasn’t gone away: Julie Burnes of RIZE Massachusetts sees some progress in addressing the opioid crisis, but says the rate of overdose deaths remains stubbornly high. Read more.

 

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

At least five protesters were cited by police on Friday morning outside Boston Mayor Michelle Wu’s house the day after she signed a new ordinance banning demonstrations outside residences between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m. (Boston Herald)   

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Boston area wastewater samples show a new COVID wave in the region has begun. (Boston Herald)

Eight researcher reports or abstracts by a former Harvard Medical School professor and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center ophthalmologist have been retracted because of questions with the oversight or approval of the research they were based on. (Boston Globe

A new test may be able to diagnose Lyme disease much faster than had previously been the case. (Boston Globe

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Evidence is mounting that Russian troops purposely and indiscriminately shot to death Ukrainian civilians as they retreated from a suburb of Kyiv. (New York Times

Under a bill sponsored by US House Ways and Means chair Richard Neal and passed by the House, workers would automatically be enrolled in their employer’s retirement savings plan as soon as they become eligible – making 401(k) and similar plans opt-out rather than opt-in. (MassLive)

The US House voted Friday to decriminalize marijuana, but the bill faces an uphill battle in the Senate. (MassLive)

ELECTIONS

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Maura Healey now has $4.7 million in the bank. Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor Eric Lesser has more than $1 million. (MassLive)

Republican gubernatorial hopeful Chris Doughty dodges and weaves his way around a question of whether he would vote for Donald Trump if he’s the GOP’s 2024 presidential nominee, saying only that he usually supports the party nominee. (Boston Herald)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The seafood industry braces for disruptions due to new sanctions that affect the import of Russian fish. (Gloucester Daily Times)

EDUCATION

After a losing battle to build a new school on the West Roxbury/Roslindale border, Roxbury Prep Charter School will build a high school in Roxbury near the troubled Newmarket area. (Boston Globe) CommonWealth had an in-depth look at the fight to build the school at the West Roxbury/Roslindale site, in which school leaders and their supporters said racism figured heavily in the opposition of neighbors. 

MassLive explores whether Massachusetts teachers were properly trained to teach remotely – and the educational fallout from the lack of preparation.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Volunteers in Easthampton conduct an inventory of shade trees in the community. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

For the seventh time, former Fall River mayor Jasiel Correia is seeking stay from a federal judge that would put on hold reporting to prison for the six year sentence he received following conviction on corruption charges. (Herald News

Worries are mounting over a possible escalation in violence between two rival Mission Hill-area gangs in Boston after the headstone of a teenager who was killed in a 2017 shooting was yanked from a Roslindale cemetery and found in a Mission Hill housing development. (Boston Herald)  

A state Appeals Court panel wonders whether a still-pending challenge of a 2016 election for Salem City Council is still relevant. (Salem News)

MEDIA

Dan Kennedy calls for changing the law to allow legal ads to appear in digital-only publications. (Media Nation)

PASSINGS

Henry Skala, the principal of Plains Elementary School in South Hadley, is remembered as a beloved educator who led the school since 2016. (MassLive)