Second term focus is middle class, says Walsh

Mayor Martin Walsh, flanked by loved ones, the city council, and former Vice President Joseph Biden, takes the Oath of Office to begin his second term. Walsh handily won re-election in November. Chris Lovett photo

Mayor Martin Walsh stepped into his second mayoral term on a frigid New Year’s morning, pledging to support vulnerable Bostonians and bolster the city’s middle class through job programs, education improvements, and affordable housing initiatives.

Boston will celebrate its 400th anniversary in 2030, a point at which the mayor has kept the city’s planning eye fixed. His sprawling Imagine Boston 2030 master plan lays out a guide to growth across the Hub, the 50-year-old Walsh said, and “we want to finish Boston’s fourth century stronger and more united than ever.”

He was sworn in at the Cutler Majestic Theater, with former US vice president Joseph Biden Jr. at his flank. Biden called Walsh and Boston “a match made in heaven,” describing the mayor as “a man of extraordinary character in a moment when we need more character and courage.”

At the core of Walsh’s remarks: the need to build and sustain the city’s middle class. “We can be a city that’s world class – because it works for the middle class,” he said. He spoke of his parents, who came to Boston as immigrants and built a solid foundation for their children. “That’s the kind of progress a strong middle class provides: not just security for those who are already comfortable, but opportunity for all who need it,” he said.

“My greatest concern for our city’s future is that we could lose this engine of upward mobility.”

Private and public entities will shape the city’s future, Walsh said, calling on local universities and businesses to help Boston meet new goals for hiring, instruction, and construction. A campaign called Boston Hires has set a public-private goal of 20,000 low-income Boston residents trained and placed in good jobs by the year 2022.

More Boston residents are attending private colleges on scholarships than ever before, Walsh said, “but I also ask our colleges and universities, as good citizens, to do more. Come into more of our schools. Admit more of our graduates. And, by next year, I challenge you as a community to add 100 new full scholarships for Boston students.”

The mayor heralded changes to the public school facilities through the 10-year BuildBPS project and an expansion of a pilot food program in some East Boston schools “until every student gets at least two fresh, nutritious meals, every day, all across the district.”

He vowed to rebuild the Long Island Bridge, connecting the metro area to a new “comprehensive, long-term recovery campus” on the island. The island and its shelter were vacated in 2014 when the old bridge was closed and demolished due to structural safety concerns.

The logistics of Walsh’s Long Island proposal, which could cost up to $100 million for bridge construction alone, drew queries from city councillors and a rebuke from Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch, who asked that Boston look at water transportation options instead.

Looking ahead, back

Although the mayor did not mention his home neighborhood in his inaugural remarks, he sat down with the Reporter last week for a look back at 2017 and a look ahead at Dorchester in 2018.

Dorchester and Mattapan are among the neighborhoods most beset by violent crime, specifically homicides. Police data show 57 homicides in Boston across 2017, compared to 47 the year before. A Reporter review of the murders found the highest increases in homicides concentrated in Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan – even if the police districts included adjacent neighborhoods.

“I think it’s a hard number to grapple with,” Walsh said. “Any time there’s a homicide it’s terrible. Our goal is zero.” Police, city, and community leaders have convened for gun summits each year, trying to reduce access to deadly weapons. Walsh said he is deeply troubled by recent trends in victims. “It feels like the last 10 homicides all appear to be teenagers,” he said. “Access to guns is just too easy.”

The job and education initiatives he announced on New Year’s Day are vital steps, he said. “Ultimately, I think the answer is education. Keeping kids in school, keeping kids focused on education and careers and how do we move people forward.”

Boston’s public schools took a knock over the past month, with a controversial proposal to change bell times received poorly by many parents and ultimately postponed. “Work with us on schools,” Walsh said. “It’s complicated, it’s not easy, there’s no easy solution. I think there certainly could have been a better rollout of this plan. I think, for example, certain schools like the Henderson, what wasn’t fully taken into account was the needs of the children, and I think that some of the changes were so drastic, dramatic, that people couldn’t wrap their heads around it.”

But changes to school schedules can’t be made by half-measures, Walsh added, and the next year will be spent trying to find the best arrangement across the city with additional input from the school community.

Then there are the ongoing discussions around growth. A planning study for Glover’s Corner sparked protests in favor of more affordable housing. Walsh said the study areas need to include a variety of viewpoints.

“The reason for these conversations is to listen to everybody,” he said, “and that includes people who want to build moderate-income housing. That’s the point of these. The point isn’t to come in and scream and take over the meeting. The point is to come in and be part of the conversation.”

Glover’s Corner for years has been “an industrial junkyard,” he said, pointing to developments like Dot Block and the broader planning study as a continuing step to rejuvenate that stretch of Dorchester Avenue.

With the 2030 plan in mind, Walsh is monitoring major transit corridors like Morrissey Boulevard, where a redesign has been delayed while planners review community feedback to proposed lane alterations at the mayor’s request.

Still on Walsh’s plate is a smaller variation of state Rep. Evandro Carvalho’s pilot proposal for the Fairmount Line, a key transit corridor connecting South Station to Readville through a series of underserved neighborhoods. The 2030 plan calls for something closer to rapid transit along the line.

“It’s an incredible opportunity to open up a whole new world for people to access employment. It’s also an opportunity for businesses to look at expanding their businesses into the communities of Dorchester, Four Corners, Codman Square, Uphams Corner, really bring growth into those neighborhoods, as well as using more housing for Transit-Oriented Development.”