Mayor Martin Walsh delivered what was probably his final State of the City address virtually on January 12 from the new Roxbury branch of the Boston Public Library.
Last week, President-elect Joe Biden nominated Walsh for Labor Secretary, and on Tuesday night, Walsh told Bostonians that he has accepted the position. The position still needs confirmation from the United States Senate, but if that happens, Walsh will step down and City Council President Kim Janey will become acting mayor.
“2020 was a tough year. 2021 is a year for healing,” Walsh said in his speech, which, at times, became emotional as he teared up speaking of his life in Boston and his seven years as the city’s mayor.
In his 2020 address, the mayor made promises to the city regarding affordable housing, education, transportation and more, but the COVID-19 pandemic came out of left field last March and shifted the way the Walsh administration had to think about the city.
“COVID has affected all of us, but there’s no doubt, it hit some harder than others. In Black, Latino, and immigrant communities, inequities in health, housing, and work opportunities caused more illness and job loss,” Walsh said. “Older Bostonians and those with disabilities face the highest risk and the most isolation. Most students have been out of classrooms since March, and families have struggled with childcare.”
Walsh honored the 1,060 Boston residents who have lost their lives to the virus, and praised those who stepped up to help during the crisis, including EMTs, doctors, nurses, firefighters, police officers, and more.
“As mayor, I made decisions I never thought I’d have to make: to close schools; pause construction; turn our convention center into a field hospital; and cancel the Boston Marathon for the first time in its history,” Walsh said.
He also spoke of other achievements in 2020, including the creation of a Health Inequities Task Force and the Boston Resiliency Fund, the distribution of more than six million meals to Boston residents, providing 40,000 laptops to Boston Public Schools (BPS) students, and the distribution of permanent rental vouchers to more than 1,000 families at risk for homelessness.
“We may be hurting, but the state of our city is resilient; the state of our city is united; the state of our city is hopeful; and the state of our city is deep-down Boston strong,” Walsh said.
Looking forward, Walsh said that “there will be more hard decisions to make,” but everyone must keep playing their part by wearing masks and following all other guidelines to help stop the spread of the virus. The city will continue to provide free COVID testing, Walsh said, as well as access to the vaccine once it becomes available for more and more people.
Earlier this week, BPS announced a new plan for reopening school safely for hybrid learning, and Walsh said the distribution of food, laptops, clothing, and housing supports will be expanded.
“We’ve been hit hard by the COVID recession,” Walsh said. “For seven years, we built one of the most dynamic and resilient economies in the world.”
He said that jobs can be brought back to every neighborhood as part of economic recovery in the city.
Walsh also provided a special message to the city’s small business owners. “You are the soul of our economy, and you sacrificed so much for the safety of our city,” he said. “I will never forget it.”
He added that $26 million has been provided to almost 4,000 small businesses so far, and small business will be “at the center of our recovery,” he said.
Walsh also said that construction on new affordable homes will continue, as Boston has “stayed the national leader in subsidized, affordable housing.”
Boston is also now the first city in the nation with a requirement for Fair Housing in the zoning code. “It’s a powerful tool to protect residents from displacement,” Walsh said.
Walsh also addressed recovery services, which he said have remained in place since March, as well as climate work. He said that he “made sure that Boston never strayer from the Paris agreement—even when the White House did.”
Boston has already issued its first Green Bonds, which will fund projects related to energy efficiency, and Community Choice electricity will become a reality next month.
Walsh also spoke about racial equality in the city. “The urgency of our work has never been more clear,” he said. “Last summer, George Floyd’s murder sparked a long-overdue reckoning with racism. I thank Black Bostonians for the way you made your voices heard. And I thank everyone who joined the movement — Black, white, Latino, Asian, and indigenous peoples standing together.”
He said that he has “listened to those who have been there to tell their stories and speak their truth,” from Black youth on his team to leaders, clergy, and activists. “They described lifelong anxiety around being pre-judged and denied opportunities,” Walsh said. “I heard grief, not just over lives lost — but over children’s futures limited.”
Last year, Walsh declared racism a public health crisis, allocated millions of dollars into youth and other programs, and “we enacted historic police reforms, with Black ad Brown Bostonians leading the work,” he said. The city is now in search of a Chief of Equity to lead the work.
He said that though he is “proud of the work we’ve done in Boston,” he added that “doing better than before isn’t enough,” and systemic racism needs to be addressed on all levels in the city.
“No city is better prepared than Boston to meet this moment,” Walsh said, adding that the city has “set a new standard for fiscal management,” and has earned triple-A bond ratings for seven consecutive years.
“We made the right decisions in the good times, so Boston has the strength to move forward now.” He mentioned many new investments, such as historic investments in parks, libraries, a brand new fire station in Roxbury, the renovation of Boston City Hall plaza, and many others.
“I believe in Boston,” Walsh said. “This is the city that welcomed my immigrant parents. This is the city that picked me up when I needed a second chance. This is the city where I fought side by side with you for marriage equality, immigrant rights, addiction treatment, criminal justice reform, education funding, and good middle-class jobs.”
He said that as part oof the Biden Administration, he “will work to make sure it’s the best federal partner Boston and America’s cities ever had.”
He continued, “the truth is, I’m not going to Washington alone. I’m bringing Boston with me. This city is not just my hometown, it’s my heart.” He mentioned many people who have helped and guided him over the years, including his parents, teachers, priests, the kids he coached in Little League, those he met in recovery, his colleagues at the State House, and other elected officials he currently serves alongside, among many others.
“Seven years ago, at my first inauguration, I said “I will listen, I will learn, I will lead. We are sworn in together and we are in this together – all of us.” I meant it. Every minute of every day in this job, I spent listening to you, talking with you, working with you and working for you. I will never forget it, and I will forever be grateful.”
Walsh finished his speech by saying that Boston still has “tough days ahead of us. But we’ve been knocked down before, and we always get back up. In 2021, Boston will rise up again. We will leave no one behind. And our city will be stronger than ever.”
The full text and video of Mayor Walsh’s address can be found at: www.boston.gov/news/state-city-2021.