More than 1,000 community members participated Saturday in an all-day town hall, the signature event of Mayor-elect Martin J. Walsh’s transition into power — which included breakout sessions, a question-and-answer period, and a vow by the incoming mayor to help mend long-broken bridges between gay and lesbian groups and organizers of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in South Boston.
The groups are excluded from marching in the parade, and Walsh — who has marched in the parade — said the event should be inclusive and that he will meet with organizers and attempt to broker a deal.
“Every other parade that I’m aware of that is a celebration of a neighborhood or a community is inclusive,” Walsh explained in an interview following the meeting, held at Roxbury Community College. “I want to sit down and have a conversation with the organizers of the parade and really talk about how do we make the parade one where groups who want to march in the parade can march in the parade.”
The mayor-elect’s comments — which are consistent with the stance he took in a Globe questionnaire during the mayoral campaign — came after he was asked by a participant in the town hall’s question-and-answer period whether the city would consider taking over the parade. Walsh responded no, but said that he would try to make the event more inclusive.
The St. Patrick’s Day parade is one of the city’s signature events, but has been a thorny political issue for decades.
The parade’s organizers, the Allied War Veterans Council, have resisted allowing marchers who openly express gay identity, and fought the issue all the way to the US Supreme Court in 1995.
In response to their exclusion, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered rights groups have organized alternative marches along the route.
Walsh said that under no circumstances would the city take over the parade.
“The veterans run the parade,” Walsh said. “It’s their parade and it’s been their parade from the beginning.”
The comments came near the conclusion of an all-day town hall, during which more than 1,000 community members and elected officials participated in breakout sessions.
Prior to the breakout sessions, Walsh thanked attendees and shared highlights from his a mayors trip Friday to the White House.
“When I was down there yesterday, I had the chance to meet with the president and vice president,” Walsh said. “What he said to us [mayors] at the table is: ‘I want you to take the challenges you have in your cities and I want you to solve the problems.’ ”
Walsh said he told Obama that the biggest challenges facing Boston are poverty and the achievement gap, and that he hoped to find solutions for those and other issues that could be exported to other cities.
During the speech, Walsh vowed to be an inclusive mayor who will work to address the concerns of all constituents.
Walsh’s remarks also included criticism of a front-page story in the Globe on Friday, which said that the mayor-elect, during remarks to business leaders Thursday, had backtracked on a campaign promise to massively overhaul the Boston Redevelopment Authority.
“The Boston Globe didn’t get the story quite accurate,” Walsh said, prompting murmurs from the gathering. “Which leads me to, don’t believe everything that you read in the paper.”
In an interview later in the day, a Walsh spokeswoman said the incoming mayor objected to the story’s characterization that he was “backpedaling” from a campaign proposal to launch a major overhaul of the BRA in early 2014.
Walsh had said during the Thursday luncheon that he intends to make some immediate adjustments to the BRA, but that he plans to keep the basic agency structure in place for the first six months of his term, to facilitate review of development proposals now in the pipeline.
During the campaign, Walsh was by far the most aggressive candidate in calling for major changes at the BRA, including separating its planning and development functions.
Since the election, he has been more measured in his public comments about the agency.