A tired but triumphant Martin J. Walsh basked in the glow Wednesday of his hard-fought victory in the Boston mayoral race, with applause greeting him at stops across the city as he began his transition to power.
City department heads clapped when Walsh arrived at the end of retiring Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s weekly Cabinet meeting. His fellow legislators saluted Walsh, a 16-year veteran of the State House, where Democrats and Republicans pulled him in for hugs and lauded him with speeches and standing ovations.
Supporters even cheered at the end of the mayor-elect’s first press conference, a 15-minute affair in which Walsh fielded a range of questions but offered few substantive answers. Still, the back and forth with a throng of reporters offered a window into pressing issues Walsh will probably confront as mayor.
He was asked about a controversial arbitration ruling for police. (“I’m not going to tell the City Council how to vote.”) Reporters quizzed him about the fate of Suffolk Downs after voters in East Boston overwhelmingly rejected a proposed casino. (“It looks like it might not be able to survive.”)
And he was asked how soon he would make good on campaign promises to dismantle the Boston Redevelopment Authority, push to raise the cap on charter schools, and bulldoze City Hall. (“My top priority is a smooth transition.”)
Walsh said he will announce leaders of his transition team Friday and unveil details about his inauguration committee. He told reporters he would resign his seat in the Legislature shortly before being sworn in as mayor on Jan. 6.
On Wednesday, Walsh still seemed to be grappling with the reality that he had won the election.
“It didn’t really hit me until this morning,” Walsh told reporters at Wednesday’s press conference as he recounted a conversation with his longtime girlfriend, Lorrie Higgins. “I was getting dressed, and Lorrie looked at me and she said, ‘Oh, my God, you’re gonna be the mayor.’ ”
Walsh and Higgins are planning to take a break after the long campaign and go on a trip, said Walsh’s spokeswoman, Kate Norton. She declined to disclose where they were going
“Lorrie and Marty are heading out of town this weekend for a well-earned vacation,” Norton said. “They’ll be out of town for about a week.”
Walsh defeated Councilor at Large John R. Connolly by fewer than 5,000 votes out of more than 140,000 cast Tuesday to become Boston’s first new mayor in two decades. Walsh rode to victory on the strength of thousands of campaign workers and volunteers who pulled out voters across the city.
Scores of Walsh volunteers celebrated Wednesday at the Banshee pub in Dorchester. Over the past few months, Conor McDonald said, he knocked on about 1,000 doors for Walsh. Police Officer Gerry Cahill said he took Election Day off and knocked on 100 doors for the campaign. Michelle Lavoie sat at a table full of champagne and empty beer bottles, still recovering after staying up until 3 a.m.
“We kept going back to houses to make sure the people in our area voted,” said the 31-year-old Lavoie, who got to know Walsh while working as a legislative aide on Beacon Hill. “I would have given a piggyback ride to anyone who needed to get to the polls.”
Walsh’s first public appearance of the day was at City Hall, where he met with Menino for 20 minutes to talk about the transition. The city included $50,000 in this year’s budget to pay for office space at 100 Franklin St. so that planning for a new administration could begin. A search firm has been put on retainer to help Walsh find staff, said Menino.
In his weekly Cabinet meeting, Menino recounted being at Parkman House earlier this year while convalescing from an illness. Walsh paid a visit. The lawmaker was weighing a run for an open state Senate seat. Menino asked Walsh what he wanted for his future. Walsh said that the job he really wanted was to be mayor but that he would never challenge Menino.
Menino did not tell Walsh what to do, but essentially urged him to follow his heart. Walsh passed on the Senate seat. Menino alluded to the conversation Wednesday when he and Walsh spoke briefly to reporters.
“When I was sick, Marty came to visit me and we talked about the future,” Menino said. “We talked about his future.”
Menino told reporters that he had “a lot of confidence in this young man.”
“We’re in good hands,” Menino said. “Marty has the ability, I think, to take the city to the next level. This is not about Marty Walsh and Tom Menino. It’s about the city of Boston and how we continue to move the city forward.”
At the State House, Walsh’s colleagues paid an emotional tribute. Representative Eugene O’Flaherty, a Chelsea Democrat, fought back tears as he spoke of how happy Walsh’s late father, John, would have been to see his son elected mayor.
Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, a Winthrop Democrat who once had a contentious relationship with Walsh but endorsed him and campaigned for him in the mayor’s race, delivered a speech in which he told Walsh, “You have tested my patience at times, many times.”
But he said Walsh showed his mettle by not backing away from his staunch support for labor unions, even when that support came under attack in the mayor’s race.
“Marty Walsh remained Marty Walsh,” DeLeo said. “His core values remained true to form.”