Mayor Walsh Makes the Case for Marty at the 2017 State of the City

In the election-year speech, he says a growing city can be good for everyone.

sotc 2017

Photo via Twitter/Marty Walsh

He doesn’t see it this way, or at least that was the impression he wanted to give to reporters, but Marty Walsh spent the 2017 State of the City address making the case for keeping him around.

He laid out an agenda, in a city where inequality looms larger than anywhere else in the country, that sought to address both ends of the spectrum. On one hand, he laid out his ideas for investment in education, school buildings, and affordable housing development. On the other, he argued Boston should be a place where high-tech innovation can flourish, where big business finds it worthwhile to settle down, and where City Hall Plaza can morph into a winter wonderland.

It’s a vision, he said, of a Boston that improves in every neighborhood.

“We are a city that believes every single person deserves an equal chance to thrive,” he said. “And when we stand together, there’s nothing we can’t achieve. We don’t wait for a better future, we create it.”

In an election year, those will be his priorities. And whether he’s still mayor in 2018 depends on whether voters believe he’s the best one to do the job, or whether they think that person is City Councilor and, now, mayoral candidate Tito Jackson, who, with other councilors, sat in the front row and took it all in.

When asked if he was seeking to counter Jackson, whose message has been that the city’s growth has left low- and middle-income Bostonians behind, Walsh said he wasn’t.

“I don’t counter anybody. I’ve been the mayor for three years,” Walsh said. “We’ve been doing it for three straight years and I’m going to continue to do it as mayor.”

A few highlights from the speech:

  • Walsh announced in his speech that he would seek to finally bring universal pre-kindergarten education to everyone in Boston, a plan he has argued for since his candidacy. He proposes using money collected in taxes from the tourism industry to get that done, but will need support from the Legislature, and it’s still unclear whether he’ll get it.
  • He also wants to funnel a $1 billion investment in fixing up aging school buildings over the next year—a plan that also relies on support from government outside his control: the Massachusetts School Building Authority.
  • After changes during the Walsh administration to the way Boston’s streets move traffic around the city—among them the reduction in the speed limit to 25 mph—Walsh also announced updates to street lights. The signals will be coordinated in such a way that drivers won’t have to stop and start quite as much, he said.
  • Walsh believes Boston has gotten safer, overall, under his watch. He cited a citywide drop in shootings of 6 percent. (His opponent, Jackson, meanwhile, points to addressing increases in crime in some neighborhoods as one of the centerpieces of his campaign.)
  • He is standing by the recruitment of General Electric as a boon for the city, and the ripple effects he believes are bound to come with it: from other big corporations and tech companies following GE’s lead, to GE-affiliated education in schools, to the possibility that Boston’s growing reputation as an innovative city will bring with it both manufacturing and knowledge economy jobs. “In robotics, 3-D printing, medical devices, and more, employers are coming, they are growing, they are hiring,” he said. “And, at our request, they are in our schools, helping young people get ready for those jobs.” (Jackson, again, pushes back on this point, and has made criticism of the incentives used to lure GE to Boston another focus of his).
  • On a related note, Walsh proudly touted the city’s new reputation as a “shoe capital,” citing New Balance, Converse, Reebok, Puma, and M. Gemi, all of which have their headquarters here.
  • And he argues that the new economy isn’t just blossoming in the Seaport. He made a point of referencing the Roxbury Innovation Center (which, don’t forget, is right in the middle of Jackson’s district).
  • Without referencing him by name, Walsh also reiterated his pledge to stand up to Donald Trump when the president-elect takes office. “We don’t just welcome immigrants in Boston, we help them thrive. And we won’t retreat an inch. In a time of uncertainty, we will step forward with confidence in our values.”
  • And in an election season where race is likely to figure prominently (Jackson would be Boston’s first black mayor) Walsh touted his November town hall forum on race and invited as his SOTC guests two young people he met at the discussion named Kendra Gerald and Dante Omorogbe. “They spoke with honesty and with hope,” Walsh said. “In them, I saw and felt our city’s core strength.”


Meanwhile, online, Walsh opponents were waging a counter-offensive, flooding the official hashtag for the event, #SOTC2017, with scores of tweets using #MartyLostMeWhen. Many were familiar faces from the campaign that opposed bringing the 2024 Olympics to the city, and many of the tweets made reference to Walsh’s support for the games and the myriad controversies that stemmed from it.

In an interview, Jackson declined to describe the moment Marty lost him (he supported Walsh’s campaign in 2013), instead saying this: “I would simply say in 2013 I chose the best candidate on offer, and in 2017, I’m the best candidate on offer.”

November is coming

Support from the #10PeopleOnTwitter notwithstanding, it’s hard to ignore the evidence that this will be a remarkably challenging campaign for Jackson, given the many advantages afforded a sitting mayor. As has been noted in Boston and elsewhere, you get a pretty good boost from being able to lay out a grand vision—much of which many would-be Jackson supporters endorse—in front of the entire city like this. Tuesday night was one more chance, after a weekend of MLK Day events that featured Walsh prominently, to do just that.

But Jackson was in full campaign mode last night once the speech wrapped up and the audience started trickling out of Symphony Hall. Although they agree generally on some of the major priorities a mayor of Boston ought to have—schools, housing—Jackson says there is plenty of daylight between the two of them.

For one, he says, he wouldn’t trouble himself with dealing with helipads and big tax incentive packages, nor would he be  “distracted by” ideas like Olympic bids and IndyCar races—both of which fell apart and, he says, squandered precious time and resources.

“Our city’s future was put in jeopardy based on a $12 billion party. We won’t be distracted by things like the IndyCar race which, again, put our financial future of the city in jeopardy,” he says, adding, “We have to have our priorities straight.”