Mayor Martin Walsh took a decidedly national tone in his State of the City address at Symphony Hall in the Back Bay on Tuesday night, unveiling few new local initiatives, but highlighting past successes in the City as an example for national leaders to move forward with ending the government shutdown.
It was a speech delivered to Boston, but seemed to be playing to a crowd far beyond the city lines – perhaps testing the waters for higher office, some have said in the moments and hours following the speech.
In a moment where Walsh’s passion showed through, as he brought the 25-minute speech in for a landing, he called on national leaders to look to Boston – the leader of cities. He delivered that ending to a rousing round of applause as the crowd of elected officials and municipal employees rose to their feet while he shouted out the final stanzas of the oratory.
“As we begin our sixth year together, I want you to know my door remains open to every voice, every idea, every dream, always. I invite you in, to help make Boston stronger,” he said. “And to our national leaders, I say: If you want to learn how to bring people together, not push them apart, look to Boston. If you want to grow good jobs and rebuild the middle class, look to Boston. If you want to see how social justice strengthens all of us, look to Boston. If you want to cut crime, protect the environment, lift Americans up, leave no one behind, and build a more perfect union? Then look to the city of hope and heart. Look to the city of courage and champions. At a time when cities must lead, look to Boston, the leader of cities.”
Walsh also announced in his speech that he and Gov. Charlie Baker – a Republican – will go to Washington, D.C., to urge the government to get things on track and tackle some problems facing Boston.
“One more thing: Gov. Baker and I are going on a road trip,” he said. “We have a Republican-led Senate and a Democratic House. So we’ll go to Washington with a united front and call for the investments in housing, transit, and the environment that our future depends on. Instead of building a wall, let’s show them how to build bridges.”
He said afterward to reporters that he and the governor wanted to try to get things moving federally.
“We want to get Washington moving forward and doing their jobs down there,” he said. “A lot of what they do affects us…We will go down there and we’re not going to talk about 100 things, but two or three important initiatives.”
He said transportation and public housing would be on the top of that list.
He said the Boston Housing Authority (BHA) is a state and federally funded organization that doesn’t get the federal funding it should.
“They’re getting less and less money and that’s not sustainable,” he said to reporters.
Walsh did announce a few things that had not been discussed – one of them being a new jazz café slated for the Bolling Municipal Building in Dudley Square and the re-branding of the Elderly Commission into the “Age Strong” Commission. The other new initiative was the announcement that Boston was a finalist for the 2020 NAACP Conference.
The mayor began the speech and continued on for about the first 15 minutes highlighting the things that he has done in the last five years – punctuating the issues of equity for women and minorities, as well as the programs trying to re-build the City’s middle class.
“Our City’s success is our motivation: to aim higher, work harder, and make sure every single person in our City gets a full, fair shot at these opportunities we are creating,” he said. “That’s how we truly succeed. That’s how we are determined to lead.”
That, naturally, led to the ideas of how Boston is leading where the federal government is not.
“The state of our City is strong, but I’m concerned about the state of our union,” he said. “What happens in Washington, we feel on the streets of Boston. But here’s what matters more: what we do in Boston can change this country. We’ve done it before, and we’ll do it again, because in this time of uncertainty and division, Boston offers a way forward. We are welcoming more voices and expanding our democracy. We are committed to leaving no one behind. And we are not just surviving, we are thriving. There’s no federal housing policy, none. But Boston’s moving forward. We’ve created more affordable homes than any time on record.”
He said the same thing about the lack of a federal infrastructure plan, and highlighted the building of roads, bridges, bike lanes, safe streets initiatives, parks and libraries.
“We’ve shown that differences don’t have to divide us,” he said. “When we come together, anything is possible. That’s democracy in action.”
In police news, he said the crime rate citywide has decreased by 25 percent, and 4,100 guns have been taken off the streets in the last five years. He also added that arrests are down 25 percent.
Related to that, he spoke about recovery and his plans for a regional recovery campus on Long Island, noting that the idea is more than just the re-building of a contested bridge.
“Our plan for a recovery campus on Long Island is not about rebuilding a bridge,” he said. “It’s about rebuilding a life, by getting that person, and thousands of others across our region, the care they need to get well. That’s what we’re doing.”
Afterwards, to reporters, he again called on the federal government to move forward, saying that politics is about negotiation.
“The president needs to be willing to negotiate,” he said. “You don’t always get what you want. You listen to all voices and you get some things and not others. That’s what makes democracy better. If he gives something to protect the Dreamers and those who are undocumented, maybe he gets some funding. But building a wall is not going to solve the problem for 13 million people we have here who have no pathway to citizenship.”