Forget the loftier tasks of ushering in “the New Boston.” On Monday, Mayor-elect Martin J. Walsh met with Mayor Thomas M. Menino to delve into a far more bread-and-butter issue: snow removal.
With Walsh at his side, Menino gathered more than a dozen heads of city departments to conduct a mock snow-response strategy session at City Hall, an opportunity for the mayor-elect to gain an inside look at what it takes to respond to a major snow event and the kinds of decisions he will be expected to make after he takes office in January.
It was an important learning opportunity for Walsh, who well knows that no matter what he might accomplish in office, his tenure will also be defined by his ability to manage the city’s everyday operations, especially on snow days.
“Why do you think I’m here?” Walsh replied to the suggestion that mayors live and die by their ability to quickly rid the streets of snow.
“I’ll tell you,” Menino added, “We had a couple mayors who didn’t last too long because of snowstorms.”
After winning the election, one of the first queries Walsh posed to Menino was “We [have] got to talk snow,” Menino recalled Monday.
Walsh said he knows the learning curve will be significant.
“I’m not ready for it yet,” Walsh said. “But the mayor’s on standby, and I’ll be able to call him and say, ‘Mr. Mayor, what do I do now?’ ”
Though the scenario was fake — a morning snowstorm threatened to dump a foot of snow in the Boston area — the strategy meeting felt real.
With grim looks on their faces, about two-dozen city staff members huddled around a black table in a poorly lit basement room, waiting for their turn to be grilled by the mayor on how their department planned to respond to the impending snowfall.
Menino sat at the head of the table, in an ornate wooden chair featuring the city’s emblem. Walsh sat on his left, leaning forward with clasped hands as he quietly watched the proceedings.
Interim Police Commissioner William Evans said officers would begin broadcasting public safety announcements starting at 6 a.m., in advance of the 9 a.m. flurries in the forecast.
“You sure three hours gives us enough time?” Menino asked.
Evans worried about waking slumbering residents.
“We could do it the night before,” Menino offered.
Public Health Commissioner Barbara Ferrer pointed out the need for more post-storm carbon monoxide poisoning warnings.
Menino wondered if snowplow crews would be dispatched for the whole storm or split into two shifts.
Bryan Glascock, inspectional services commissioner, said his team would be on the lookout for commercial parking lots plowing snowdrifts into streets that had been cleared.
Walsh waited for the end of the simulation before jumping in to ask questions.
When you call a state of emergency, but the snow ends up being less than anticipated, he asked, “How quickly can you call that off?”
The officials around the table chuckled; it was a situation they know all too well. They explained the factors that go into determining a state of emergency, then offered further tips and pointers: Impose and lift parking bans in the early morning or the evening, so people are not stuck at work when they have to move their car. Always make the call on school closures the night before, so parents have enough time to make child-care arrangements.
Walsh nodded and told the room that it was eye-opening to see the amount of planning that goes into the response to one snowstorm and the number of snow-related details Menino was responsible for keeping track of.
“I’m usually sitting in my living room putting a cup of tea on and watching you on TV,” Walsh said.