Q&A: Marty Walsh & John Connolly

On November 5, Boston voters will head to the polls to pick a new mayor. We sat down with the two candidates they’ll choose between.


Photographs by Scott M. Lacey

What’s the first thing you’ll do when you get into office?
MARTY WALSH: The first meeting I’m going to have in my office will be with folks from communities with high crime, to talk about gun violence in the streets. I think the long-term solution is strengthening our schools and creating more opportunities, but, short term, we need to sit down with the stakeholders and say, How do we combat this? There’ve been an awful lot of murders since Marathon Monday.JOHN CONNOLLY: I’d hire a forensic accountant to do a top-to-bottom audit of Boston Public Schools and begin the process of pushing resources down to the school-side level and decentralizing the school department. There are too many outside consultants and outside contracts that don’t make a difference for kids. We’re top-heavy on assistant superintendents and management within Court Street.
What do you think was the best thing Tom Menino did as mayor?
WALSH: He put the city in very strong fiscal shape. He’s handing off the city to us with a triple-A bond rating. Also, being so accessible to folks out in the community.CONNOLLY: He has been a trailblazer on LGBT rights and equality in the city from his very first days. It’s something that we should all look up to, and it’s one place very clearly where the next mayor needs to pick up right where this mayor left off.
What about the worst?
WALSH: I think some of the contract negotiations. I wouldn’t say, “the worst,” but they got so personal and so public and that’s not how to negotiate a contract. You can’t negotiate through the press.CONNOLLY: Look, I think I’ve been clear that our schools need to improve greatly and that we need to do much better in terms of closing the achievement gap and giving every child a high-quality education and a high-quality school.
A lot is made of how many ribbon cuttings and events Menino gets to. Would you keep up with that schedule? Or do you think that’s even a good use of time for a mayor?
WALSH: He was at every ribbon cutting. And that’s important—people want to see the mayor. But no, I think the first six months of my administration will be extremely important, because you have to put policy in place and a team in place that are going to be able to move the city forward. There are a lot of big decisions that have to be made. We have to make sure we get them right. You don’t have a second shot at being mayor for the first time.CONNOLLY: I don’t think anyone can be Mayor Menino. I think the best chance the next mayor has of being successful is to be his own person. And it’s not possible for me as a father of three young children. So I will work incredibly hard, but I will work in my style. His style is entirely unique across American politics. I don’t think anyone can do it the way he’s done it, but it doesn’t mean we can’t find our own way to be a great success.

Would you mind mixing in some sports flubs just for those of us in the media?

CONNOLLY: Yeah, I’ll give you that for sure.

On schools, everybody wants a longer school day, except the teachers union. How do you make it happen?
WALSH: I think the teachers union feels the pressure of a lot of the negativity that’s going on in schools now. They’re getting the blame for it. If they want to change that perception, we have to work out some understandings. A longer school day in certain cases is going to be needed. And I would hope that they would understand that. And if they don’t, then we’ll have to take the action that the legislature took in 2010. But I would much rather get to a compromise.

So when you say take the action the legislature did in 2010, do you mean basically going to the mattresses with them?

WALSH: Yeah, and that’s not the way I want to start negotiations. That’s the way John’s talking about it; draw a line in the sand. That’s not how you start a conversation.

CONNOLLY: It takes a different strategy at the bargaining table. My door’s always open. I’m always going to talk to whoever’s on the other side. But issues like the teachers’ contract move because of leverage, and one of the plus sides of working with charter schools is that we can create state legislation to benefit Boston Public Schools and the charter schools, which would give us some leverage to get a better agreement with the teachers’ contract. And we have that tool of implementing the city’s last best offer to the union, which I would hope not to use, but will if I need to.
If John Connolly were here right now, I’d suspect that he’d say that you’re in all the unions’ pockets. Why is John Connolly an idiot?If Marty Walsh were here right now, I suspect that he’d say you’re a one-issue guy who’s demonizing teachers. Why is Marty Walsh an idiot?
WALSH: No, no, he’s not an idiot. But it’s just simply not true. If you talk to folks on Beacon Hill or you talk to folks from my time at the Building Trade, I certainly was a guy that people looked to for compromise.CONNOLLY: I’m not taking that bait. But I think teachers work incredibly hard and they deserve to be well paid, and I’ve never said any different. I’m a former teacher. This isn’t about teachers. This is about the teachers’ contract, and we can change that contract in a way that makes a huge difference for our children, but also creates a culture of development and support for our teachers.
Two-part question: What’s something you can do to help make the city more affordable, and will you help me pay my rent?What’s one concrete thing the mayor can do immediately to make the city more affordable to live in?
WALSH: Help you pay your rent? Where do you live? [JS: Cambridge. Boston is too expensive.] Nothing to pay your rent! But one of the things that we’re looking at doing, and the city has started doing this a little bit, is building more single-, double-, triple-family housing in the neighborhoods. Building it and turning around and selling it back to a first-time homebuyer. And then capping the rent on the other floors. Helping the owners to pay the mortgage, but also allowing people affordability. We have a lot of vacant lots in this city where we can do this.CONNOLLY: There are not a lot of easy, short-term solutions. But in the longer term, it’s about a commitment to reforming the Boston Redevelopment Authority, creating a planning arm that’s truly independent and plans in a way that we prioritize the creation of more-affordable workforce and middle-market housing. If we don’t do that, we’re going to drive this gap between the haves and the have-nots to an even wider place. And that undermines the future of the city.
You are a white Irish guy.Now to tell you something you may not know, you are, I believe, a white Irish guy.
WALSH: Is that true?CONNOLLY: I will neither confirm nor deny that statement.
I heard in some radio ad somewhere that your parents emigrated from Ireland. That being the case, how do you address the concerns of people in the minority community who may look at this, the first real mayoral election in 20 years, and say, Okay, we’ve got to choose between two white Irish guys?How do you address the concerns of people in the minority community who may look at this, the first real mayoral election in 20 years, and say, Okay, we’ve got to choose between two white Irish guys?
WALSH: The 13th Suffolk district, which I represent today, has sent me back to the legislature eight times. I represent the folks of Dorchester. My district is 56 percent people of color, and I’ve represented my district well. I have no problem representing the entire city of Boston. Some neighborhoods have greater challenges and obstacles than others, and I look forward to those challenges and obstacles. One of the reasons why I’m running for mayor of Boston is the diversity of our city. I love that—that’s what makes us special.CONNOLLY: I have much more faith in the communities of color and the residents of this city than I do in those who love to frame this as a race between two white Irish guys. People know that I have a lifelong commitment to bringing this city together, and I think people respond to the fact that I’ve been a teacher in urban classrooms and that for six years, as city councilor, I’ve been present in all the neighborhoods. And that I drop my daughter at the Trotter School, on Humboldt Avenue, every day. And I think it’s also reflected in the issues I’ve worked on.
What’s an example of a policy that you can enact to address some of the concerns coming out of those neighborhoods?How do you think the city can better serve those neighborhoods right now?
WALSH: One of the things that I did already is create a program called Building Pathways, which gave people of color and women the opportunity to get into the building trades. Also, I would work to clean the streets. I was in Egleston Square a lot during this campaign, and other than the liquor stores and the convenience stores, most of those stores you have to buzz to get in. And that’s rotten. I’m assuming that the storeowners are fearful for the safety of their staff. So we have to change that. I mean, there’s drug-dealing going on out in the open in the park across the street. That can’t happen. You have mothers walking their children.CONNOLLY: I think that we need a serious economic-development strategy in our most underserved communities, and that’s why we put one out that was very focused on wealth creation and entrepreneurship in communities of color. I think that we need a comprehensive plan for safe and healthy neighborhoods. We’re going to empower community-based organizations and truly work on a cohesive strategy where we don’t duplicate services, we don’t leave big gaps, but we sort of go systematically, street by street, block by block, focused on a culture of opportunity and safety and health for every neighborhood.
We’ve seen the fire department and the police department resist changes over the past several years. The fire department bristled at a chief coming in from the outside with new ideas, and everyone agrees that the police department doesn’t have enough minority representation in leadership. Do you think BFD and BPD need a culture shift?
WALSH: I don’t know the culture all the way through. I know with the police department, there’s certainly a culture shift that probably has to happen. I think that it really does start with the top, and I think the two appointments that are going to be extremely important with the police department are the commissioner and the chief. In some cases, in some of these departments, there has to be greater transparency. In some neighborhoods, there’s a lack of trust, if you will. And we have to build that trust back up.CONNOLLY: Absolutely. Entirely, and I’m committed to a culture shift across all the city government. In one part to make it function like the Apple Store, but in another to make sure that it reflects the city as a whole. If we don’t look like the whole city in the leadership of the city and in the people who work for the city, then we can’t reach every corner of the city. And that makes us ineffective. I think you’ll also see one of the most diverse cabinets in the history of the city.
This may be a surprise to you, because I saw you celebrating after you won the preliminary election and you are quite the dancer. But there have been allegations that Boston is not the most fun city in the world. What are three things that you can do to make it more fun?Boston’s reputation is not exactly as the most fun place in the world. I don’t know how often you go clubbing, but what are three things you would do to make the city more fun?
WALSH: One is ease the permitting process. We have a lot of opportunities to bring festivals to this city. We have opportunities to bring in events like the Final Four and the Winter Classic, which I’ve heard won’t come back because of the permitting process. Two, allow restaurants to be open later at night and in certain cases serve beer and wine late at night. And also, look at our nightlife and come up with a true plan that can keep our nightlife open later. And in doing all of that, we need to make sure our MBTA stays open later as well.CONNOLLY: I think we need to extend hours in appropriate places. I think that we need a public arts agenda. And we need to pass Ayanna Pressley’s legislation and lower the price of liquor licenses and make it easier for entrepreneurs to open restaurants and clubs. The other piece is overhauling permitting. If we can make it one-stop shopping and accessible online, we can facilitate more arts festivals and a better social life.
We have a lot of great statues of dead white people and athletes here. But public art otherwise has often been said to be lacking. What can you do about that as mayor?So for public art, what can be done? Because, you know, right now, a statue of Yaz is what passes for public art in this city.
WALSH: I would love to put more public art into Boston. There’s been discussion, I believe, around the Bill Russell statue. I think that they did have some discussion at one point in City Hall Plaza of a statue row or whatever it was called. I think we should look at more public art, whether it’s statues or memorials or what have you. I think it’s important. It adds to the history of our city, and it tells a story.CONNOLLY: We elevate it—we call it an arts department instead of an arts and tourism department. We need an artist to be in charge of it and an arts commission above that person, which exists right now, but it has to have representation from the whole arts community and then let the artists drive the agenda. That’s the key.
Related question to people’s enjoyment of public art: Would you care if pot were legal in your city?
WALSH: I wouldn’t support legalization of marijuana.CONNOLLY: I am very concerned about young people in Boston Public Schools who are using marijuana, and I’ve met with young people who have talked about that impact on their lives. I accept adults and that’s not, like, a huge concern for me. But I just want to understand fully how that change would impact minors, and that’s what I worry about.
What about happy hour?
WALSH: I’m opposed to happy hour. I always have been. I know people have criticized me for this, but the studies have shown that the drinking in happy hour increases drunk driving. I don’t think that we necessarily need happy hour. I think if we give the bars and the clubs the opportunity to stay open later at night, they’d certainly be accepting of that.CONNOLLY: I’m fine with happy hours.
Okay, so now a little lighter fare. Fill in the blank here: To me, City Hall looks like…
WALSH: A big cinderblock.CONNOLLY: A prehistoric spaceship.
The most insane spot to drive in the city is…
WALSH: Oh my God, there are a lot. Columbia Road.CONNOLLY: Upham’s Corner.
Globe or Herald?
WALSH: Neither. None of them endorsed me in the preliminary. Boston magazine!CONNOLLY: Please.
Sports Hub or WEEI?
WALSH: Ooh, probably Sports Hub, because ’EEI made too many changes.CONNOLLY: Sports Hub. Come on, it’s the politics of Michael Felger versus the politics of Gerry Callahan.
Worst Boston accent in a Boston movie?
WALSH: Probably Martin Sheen in The Departed. He’s a great actor, but I didn’t think that was a good accent.CONNOLLY: Any movie in which the Kennedys have a role. I also want to say Martin Sheen in The Departed.
Worst Boston movie ever?
WALSH: Oh my God, let me think about it. Give me some Boston movies.

The classic answer here would be Fever Pitch.

WALSH: I actually didn’t mind it. I like Drew Barrymore!

CONNOLLY: Fever Pitch.

Marty Walsh said he likes Fever Pitch.

CONNOLLY: No one should be mayor who likes Fever Pitch.

Would you rather fight one Menino-sized duck or 100 duck-sized Meninos?
WALSH: I don’t know what the hell that means. I guess one giant-sized duck Menino.CONNOLLY: I’d rather fight one Menino-sized duck. It is a big duck, but a hundred duck-sized Meninos, nobody’s going to win that.