‘We’re moving slow and steady,’ says the mayor

By 
Gin Dumcius and Bill Forry, Reporter Staff
Feb. 19, 2014

MEMENTOS MARK MAYOR MARTY WALSH’S OFFICE: The former House lawmaker is still settling in, but here is a look at some of the items surrounding him. (1) Sculpture of union workers, based on the 1932 photo “Lunch atop a skyscraper.” (2) Flag from Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan (it was here when he arrived). (3) Photo of a hand gripping rebar, a reminder of his union background. (4) Photo of him with President Obama. (5) Antique box from the old Baker Chocolate Factory in Lower Mills. (6) A brick from the old Ashmont MBTA Station. Photo by Bill Forry

At the end of his sixth week as mayor of Boston, Marty Walsh bent down and tinkered with the tall clock that had come with his new office in City Hall. It didn’t appear to be working. Someone had come in, looked at it, and said he would be back in five minutes to fix it.

“That was five weeks ago,” Walsh joked.

The office, with its high ceiling and clear view of historic Faneuil Hall, contains a mix of new and old – items that Walsh has brought from his State House workspace and things that Mayor Thomas Menino had left behind, like an Abraham Lincoln bust in the bookcase. Where once hung a portrait of Harry Truman, one of Menino’s political idols, now hangs a framed photograph of a workman’s hand gripping a piece of rebar, which Walsh had in his office when he was head of the building trades.

Appearing at ease, Walsh sat down on the office couch for an interview with the Reporter. Declining to give himself a letter grade, he said, “We’re moving slow and steady,” pointing to snow removal efforts and several key appointments, including two law enforcement officials who will join his office and focus on violence prevention. “We’ve handled three snowstorms now, I think we’ve handled them pretty well,” he added, as yet another one loomed over the Presidents’ Day weekend.

The debate over space savers – should residents be allowed to put an object of some sort in a public parking space after they’ve dug their car out of it? – continues to rage. “I grew up in ‘shovel your spot, it’s yours.’ Now it’s 48 hours,” Walsh said. Each neighborhood is different, he said. “There are certain neighborhoods in the city where people don’t naturally move their car in the course of the week. Neighborhoods like Dorchester, Southie, Charlestown, people depend on their car a lot to go to work.”

The South End, he said, is trying out a pilot ban on space savers.

“That’ll work great until somebody spends an hour and a half shoveling their spot out. We’ll see how that flies,” Walsh said. “But, you know, it’s city living. If somebody puts time into shoveling your spot, you should have it for a couple of days, maybe a few. I haven’t been pushed on it yet, but every single snowstorm, every single snowstorm, leading up to a snowstorm, the question’s asked.” And by “every station,” he added.

Kate Norton, one of Walsh’s spokespeople, broke in.

“He spends more time talking about space savers than about the storms.” Said Walsh: “I have more conversations about space savers than I have about casinos.”

As he has been settling into the job, the mayor has been holding 15 to 20 meetings a day, getting up around 5 a.m. and heading back to bed around 10 p.m., checking his iPad before he goes to sleep. Police Commissioner William Evans usually calls him between 5:30 and 7:30 a.m. to update him on what happened the night before and Dan Koh, his chief of staff, phones in around 7:30 a.m. Then the mayor is out the door, “off to somewhere.”

“I haven’t been able to spend as much time in the neighborhoods as I would like in the first six weeks,” he said. “But – I’ve been doing a lot of meetings in here – that’ll come. As the spring comes, people will see me more.” He still expects his constituents to call him at home when the weather warms up, much like they did when he was a House member. Walsh recalled sitting on his back deck once with Tom Golden, a state representative from Lowell. “He couldn’t get over how many people came in the yard to talk to me about something,” Walsh said. “I haven’t gotten many drop-bys, but the cop’s out front of the house now.”

Going out and moving around the city has become more difficult, the Boston Police security detail aside. “Like, having private time is extremely difficult,” Walsh said. “I can’t go – people know me in Dorchester anyway, but this is different. Anywhere I go, people take pictures, they want to talk to me, wherever I go.” He was able to slip outside the city a few times before he was sworn in, including to a December concert put on by Prince at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut.

The mayoral review: “It was awesome.”

Walsh usually isn’t at City Hall during the morning, he said. When he is inside its concrete confines, meetings range from 15 minutes to a half-hour.

“When we open this door, and you’re leaving, there will be people out in the hallway, waiting to get in,” Walsh said. “They just kind of circulate. Staff, whether it’s neighborhood services, or a department head, or somebody waiting for three minutes of my time.”

Walsh wasn’t off the mark: When the Reporter team stepped outside the office, several staffers rushed through and others, including Leon Graves and Daniel Mulhern, were waiting to get in to see the mayor. Graves and Mulhern have been appointed by the mayor to head up his anti-violence Safety Initiative.

Graves has worked at Dorchester District Court as a probation officer and as a staffer for the late state Rep. Kevin Fitzgerald while Mulhern has been ocused on gang-related homicides in the Suffolk District Attorney’s Office.

In noting that both have law enforcement backgrounds, Walsh said “the difference is that Leon also in his volunteer time coaches basketball. He’s very involved in community engagement. He tries to mentor some of these kids, even though they’re on probation.”

Mulhern has worked to bring together Cape Verdean gangs in Bowdoin Geneva in an effort “to get these kids into something other than the gangs. Danny is far more than a prosecutor,” Walsh said. “His line to the kids was, ‘If you do something bad I will put you away for the rest of your life. But I want to help you before you get to that point.’ ” The pair will be working with private hospitals, schools, and the Boston Centers for Youth and Families, the mayor said. “These guys will be able to work to make sure all the pieces of government are moving together.”

Asked if there had been too many silos in city government over the last decade, Walsh said, “I think everyone operated in a silo. I don’t think – you never have too many groups of people willing to try to help, but it’s the fact of who’s actually coordinating the effort.”

Different parts of the city also have different warring factions, Walsh noted, and others fly under the radar, like the Vietnamese community. “There’s violence going on but we don’t hear about it,” the mayor said. “Because it’s violence to each other and no one talks about it. So we have to deal with that, too.”

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