Wu finds a high price to being nice
Mayor finds unexpected controversy by encouraging T riders to say hello
EVERYONE IS TALKING about how no one is talking to Michelle Wu.
Never mind the controversy over her proposal to house homeless people in a vacant hotel near the troubled Mass. and Cass intersection. Or the complicated policy maneuvering that may be needed to implement her plans for a two-year pilot program of free-fare service on three MBTA routes, a big step in her promise of transformative leadership on transit issues.
Less than a month after taking office, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu is finding out that the swirl of big issues on her plate can sometimes take a backseat as a seemingly innocuous passing comment suddenly has its media moment.
It all started with a Q&A interview with the mayor released Monday morning by Politico’s Lisa Kashinsky. Wu has not let her election to the city’s top job change her MBTA-commuting ways, but she expressed surprise – and disappointment – that no one on her Orange Line rides talks to her. The one recent exception was T General Manager Steve Poftak, whom she ran into on her ride to City Hall last Friday.
For snarly Bostonians, those apparently amounted to fighting words.
The idea that we should welcome spontaneous conversation among T riders was suddenly chewed over by local television news and the Globe. And the verdict seemed to be what might pass for Boston’s official welcome greeting to visitors: Leave me alone!
Pollsters gonna poll, so Steve Koczela of the MassINC Polling Group quickly sought the (highly unscientific) views of the twitterverse, asking whether the T should be a place for “Community conversations” or “Being really quiet.”
Never mind Wu’s theory about her Midwestern roots (she grew up outside Chicago). A few decades here breathing the splenetic Shawmut Peninsula air seem to have purged GBH reporter Adam Reilly of his Minnesota nice. “Not being hassled as you just try to get from point A to point B, ffs,” he tweeted in response to the poll question.
With more than 1,900 entries in the survey, Reilly was clearly channeling the buzz-off zeitgeist, as 74 percent opted for quiet compared with only 9 percent interested in conversation.Moving into all-out damage control, Wu sought to soften her stance. “To be clear before I get recalled—I’ll be delighted if you come talk to me, but also get it if you’re busy or want space,” she tweeted. “Come say hi!”
Clearly rattled by the electorate’s rejection of what seemed like a non-controversial stand in favor of being friendly, by later in the day on Monday, the champion of bold pronouncements was, only weeks into office, reduced to yet another waffling pol putting her finger to the wind as another hot-button issue emerged.