Marty Walsh Is Trying to Nip Tito Jackson’s Progressive Charge in the Bud

The mayor's as shrewd a campaigner as they come.

Photo via Mayor's Office/Don Harney

Photo via Mayor’s Office/Don Harney

Let’s take a quick inventory of what Marty Walsh has been up to in the week since Tito Jackson formally announced his candidacy for mayor, shall we?

The day after Jackson decried gentrification as a fast-developing “neighborhood norm,” Walsh unveiled an “anti-displacement legislative agenda” of five bills co-sponsored by his allies in the Legislature. Among this bundle, a bill that would guarantee legal representation in eviction proceedings before Boston Housing Court; a bill that would require landlords to notify city officials of all evictions; and a bill that would reward landlords who rent below market rate with a state income tax credit.

In an MLK Day blitz about town, just four days after Jackson called for a mayor who would do more than merely talk about race, Walsh appeared alongside legendary community activist Mel King—whose 1983 mayoral bid was the closest any African American has gotten to securing City Hall’s corner office—and announced he would name a street after him.

Five days after Jackson panned cuts to public education and praised the students who protested them, Walsh announced Tuesday his intent to file “comprehensive education finance reform legislation,” which he claims would free up an additional $35 million in its first year by, in part, overhauling the controversial Chapter 70 state aid formula.


In his State of the City address, Walsh promised “historic investments in affordable housing,” lauded two young people of color, and returned to the theme of education, proposing universal pre-K financed by tourism taxes and a $1 billion renovation of the city’s schools (pending cooperation from the mercurial Mass. School Building Authority, of course). The next day, a Globe op-ed outlining his grand plans for BPS.

Barely one week into the 2017 mayoral race, Walsh has worked feverishly to crowd Jackson out of the progressive space the District 7 councillor hoped to occupy, using the power and visibility available only to an incumbent. By taking action—or at the very least, promising action—on the most reverberant planks of his platform, Walsh has made it that much harder for Jackson to differentiate himself from the status quo.

Of course, Walsh has had three years to address the housing crisis, and universal pre-K was a promise that got him elected in 2013. But in the game of “What have you done for me lately?”, Walsh has launched an all-out assault for the beachhead, a series of announcements and appearances—including this cringingly awkward photo at the Roxbury YMCA—that amount to the calculus of a shrewd, veteran campaigner.

All these initiatives and proclamations could very well have been in the works for some time, especially the overdue salute to Mel King. But their timing suggests Walsh is deeply wary of getting outflanked on the left, whether by Jackson, or any other progressive yet to enter the arena.