Walsh discusses development, refutes reports of tension with Menino

Matt Murphy, State House News Service
Dec. 20, 2013

Boston Mayor-elect Marty Walsh on Friday pushed back against reports that there is a simmering tension between his transition team and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, fueled by what has been described as a late push from Menino to win final approvals for several major developments before the mayor leaves office in January.

“I woke up this morning to a front page story in the Boston Herald that is inaccurate. As far as the transition goes, I think it’s going great. My team is working very closely with department heads and City Hall staff. We haven’t had one complaint from my team,” Walsh told the News Service in an interview.

Walsh and Menino spoke by phone Friday morning about the Herald story, and Walsh said the two men have spoken “pretty consistently” since he was elected in November, with Menino offering advice and guidance. Walsh and his girlfriend Lorrie Higgins plan to have dinner with Mayor Menino and his wife Angela in the coming days to talk about the impact of the office on family.

“We’re both on the same page. The mayor has said publicly he wants a smooth transition and he wants me to succeed,” Walsh said.

The Herald published stories on Thursday and Friday quoting anonymous sources close to Walsh describing the mayor-elect’s bewilderment and anger among some on his team about the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s apparent fast-tracking of approvals for major developments, including the Boston Design Center redevelopment on the city’s waterfront.

The stories described Walsh as “puzzled more than angry,” and quoted a Walsh insider who said, “There are lots of people very, very unhappy about this.” The Herald’s Thursday story also quoted an anonymous former BRA official who called the scheduled of a Jan. 2 board meeting days before Walsh’s inauguration “unprecedented.” “Two days after New Year’s Eve, they would have never had a meeting in a million years,” said the former BRA official said in the Herald.

Though the BRA took a vote on a lease change for the Boston Design Center redevelopment off its agenda for Thursday after the Herald made inquiries, according to the paper, the stories also reported that Walsh’s team was unable to see any documents related to the lease change crucial to the development.

Given an opportunity to respond to Walsh’s critique of the newspaper’s reporting, Herald editors did not immediately comment to the News Service.

During the mayoral campaign, Walsh promised to dismantle and replace the BRA with a new development agency that he said would be more responsive to neighborhood concerns. He also suggested at times on the trail that he would like to see Menino take his foot off the gas during his final months in office, particularly after Menino launched a brand new $16 billion housing initiative.

In recent weeks, however, Walsh has said he’s in no rush to replace the BRA immediately, and told the News Service he wants to send a message that he has no intention of slowing down development in the city as he gets his feet wet in City Hall.

“I never said I wanted to stop development in Boston and that’s extremely important. I know the BRA has an ambitious program going on right now. Some of them don’t have to be rushed through, but most of them are projects I support,” Walsh said. “The mayor’s probably feeling pressure, too, from people thinking development’s going to stop. Development is not stopping.”

Asked whether he would prefer votes on major projects like the Boston Design Center be delayed until after he gets sworn in, Walsh said, “Whether it’s the 19th of December or the second Tuesday of January, they’ve gone through the proper channels and I’m trying to get that word out there now.”

Menino spokeswoman Dot Joyce also downplayed any rift between the mayor and Walsh, despite the two men never being particularly close while Walsh served as a state representative from Dorchester. Many of Menino’s top supporters ultimately worked for Walsh’s electoral rival John Connolly, but Walsh said, “For the most part we’ve agreed on a lot more than we’ve disagreed on.”

Joyce told the News Service, “There is a concerted effort by some to try and create controversy and division. In reality, the transition is going smoothly. The mayor and mayor-elect speak regularly and we are preparing together for a great Jan. 6 that the public can be proud off and their city services won’t miss a beat.”

Asked whether Menino was trying to speed up the approval process for some developments in the closing days of his administration, Joyce said, “It’s complete sensational efforts to distort the actual facts, which are that these projects are ready. They’ve been through the process and it’s time to move forward.”

Walsh said members of his transition team, with whom he spoke Friday morning, were equally concerned about the perception of a schism between the incoming team and Menino.

“It’s definitely not coming from us,” Walsh said. “I’m not shy, if there were problems.”