Back in Boston, Walsh bats back questions on what he left behind

Surrounded by cameras before an event on paid family leave, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh chats with Acting Mayor Kim Janey in Copley Square. (Gintautas Dumcius photo)

U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh came to Copley Square to tout the Biden administration’s support for 12 weeks of paid family or medical leave for every American worker. But once that was dispensed with, he fell into a scrum of reporters, a familiar scene from before the pandemic, when he was still the mayor.

The outdoor event, in front of a bus bearing the slogan “Paid Leave for All,” was his first public one in the city since he joined President Biden’s cabinet. “The president wanted me around the country,” he said as his top Labor Department aide, Dan Koh, and several candidates hoping to succeed him, hovered behind the crowd. “He didn’t want me in Boston, he wanted me around the country. I’ve been doing that.”

Walsh was heading to New York on Wednesday, and then Washington on Thursday and Friday. But the questions from reporters were of a local variety, from the five-way race to succeed him to some of the problems left behind in City Hall.

Asked to rate the acting mayor, who took over in March, Walsh said “Kim’s doing a great —” before catching himself and tweaking it to “good job.”

Perhaps mindful of what the other four mayoral candidates — Councillors Annissa Essaibi George, Michelle Wu and Andrea Campbell, and his former economic development chief John Barros — might say, he added: “Everyone’s doing a good job. I’m going to leave it at that.”

Walsh reiterated that while he plans to vote in the Sept. 14 preliminary, he would not be endorsing any of the candidates. He is limited from getting involved in politics as a federal official.

One reporter noted that he left behind a police department in disarray, with the commissioner he tapped to replace Willie Gross, Dennis White, removed from the role after the Boston Globe reported on years-old domestic abuse accusations, and a scandal involving former Boston police union chief Patrick Rose, who is accused of molesting children in the 1990s.

Walsh seemed to point to bumps in any transition as typical between administrations. “It happened with me, from Tom Menino to me, from me to Kim, to Kim to whoever’s after Kim,” he said. “It’s unfortunate.”

Turning to White, Walsh said, “The one situation I feel bad about is the Dennis White situation. I made it very clear I wanted to resolve that situation before I left and unfortunately wasn’t able to. But you know, Kim took action. I watched what she did. And now there’s a search for a commissioner and that’s the right way to go.”

White is fighting the removal in court, calling allegations false and claiming he is the victim of racial discrimination.

Walsh took incoming fire on the matter from Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins in June. Rollins, before she was nominated by Biden as the U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts, said during a sit-down interview with WCVB-TV that Walsh either “knew about” the allegations against White “and he’s lying,” or he didn’t know about it and “(he’s) a terrible manager, right?”

When a reporter asked Walsh about her remarks, the former mayor was diplomatic. “Rachael’s my friend,” he said. “Politics is politics. She’s my friend and I wish her well in the process moving forward.”

Biden’s labor chief also fielded questions on how he’s taking to the new job. Walsh, who served as a Dorchester lawmaker for 17 years before he won the top job at City Hall, said he heard an echo of his days at the State House now that he’s a member of Biden’s cabinet.

“It’s more like being a legislator than an administrator,” Walsh said. “But I’m adjusting.”

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