On Marty Walsh’s Cold Non-Sendoff of His Now-Former Communications Director
Make no mistake, Lisa Pollack’s demotion was Walsh’s way of getting rid of her. Here’s why that’s a bit troubling.
Ice cold, Marty. Ice, ice cold.
We just got the first look at how the new boss of city government gets rid of people—and make no mistake, Marty Walsh got rid of communications director Lisa Pollack—and I thought it was pretty cold. And, perhaps a little sexist. (“Definitely sexist,” says one of the professional women I chatted with about this, although not all agree.)
Pollack herself put out the news of her own departure, mid-day Friday before the Memorial Day weekend. That’s when you dump out news you don’t want to get much attention. Pollack told the Boston Globe that she was resigning to return to her previous City Hall position as press secretary for the Department of Neighborhood Development because the new position required too much time away from her three-year-old child.
Walsh himself put out no statement, and made no public comment; nor did anyone else in the administration. No “…thank her for all the great work, sorry to lose her, but I’m sure she’s making the right decision for herself and her family…” pat-on-the-back.
Bear in mind, Pollack was an ex officio cabinet member. Departing cabinet members usually merit some kind of public statement from the boss, especially when they’re hired by said boss.
Let’s be clear: Walsh and his top advisors decided to get rid of Pollack, mostly because they thought she wasn’t working out, and partly because a bunch of journalists were complaining about her. (Not me, for what that’s worth.) It’s a poorly held secret in and around City Hall, and I’ve confirmed it. It’s possible that part of the reason she wasn’t working out was that she wasn’t willing to spend the kind of time away from her daughter, but it wasn’t her idea to leave the job. Pollack did not respond to my requests for comment.
That’s fine that he sacked her; I’m all for figuring out who isn’t cutting it and getting rid of them rather than letting them linger in place. My issue is with how Walsh did it.
I’m sure he and his advisors thought they were doing her a solid by offering her the landing spot in her old position, and having her give a personal reason rather than saying they didn’t want her. I don’t understand or approve of this constant need to lie, which is pervasive in political offices, but apparently it’s considered uncool to say “Pollack is a terrifically talented person, which is why we put her in the position, but she wasn’t working out the way we hoped, so we’re going to make a change.”
If you’re not going to tell the truth, then you need to give her cover for the lie. That’s the part Walsh and the administration didn’t do, and that’s what seems awfully cold.
The other issue is the particular story that Pollack told. I don’t how it was arrived at, although I would be surprised if Pollack didn’t at least clear it with someone. I don’t doubt that she found it to be a positive spin, at least relative to giving no reason for a demotion; but, quite a few women I spoke with have a problem with it. They feel that, by having Pollack fall on this particular sword, the administration tainted her as someone unwilling to work hard enough to excel at a high-level job. Men can get away with saying they’re quitting to spend more time with their family, one woman told me; “for a woman, it makes you sound soft. To me, that’s career death.”
A single woman with children, who holds a high-level non-profit position, said that it perpetuates the notion that women with children can’t handle top-level jobs. “This doesn’t help any of us,” she says.
It doesn’t help matters that Pollack was one of only three women in Walsh’s cabinet, and one of the very few women with children in a high-level position in his administration.
To be sure, it was Pollack herself who put that spin out. But it seems to me that she was put in a very tough position of being asked to resign without any public explanation.
I’m not trying to suggest that Walsh did a terrible thing to Pollack—I don’t think that. But I do think that we should judge Marty Walsh, the new boss of everyone who works for the city, in part at least, on how he manages people. How he gets rid of people is part of that. The early signs seem to show that he has room to improve.