Martin Joseph Walsh, the son of Irish immigrants who grew up in a Dorchester three-decker and rose to prominence through the labor movement, took the oath of office Monday as Boston’s 48th mayor, vowing a new era of progress and collaboration.
In an inauguration infused with Celtic tradition, Walsh alluded to his own biography as he described Boston as a city of big dreams, second chances, and redemption. Speaking to a crowd of 8,000 at a Boston College sports arena, Walsh traced the arc of the city’s history, noting its people have fought tyranny, stood up to slavery, opened doors to immigrants, and led the nation in recognizing same-sex marriage.
Walsh, 46, made nuts-and-bolts pledges to improve city schools, reduce crime, and overhaul the city’s development process. But in essence, he made three simple promises.
“I will listen. I will learn. I will lead,” he said.
The promise to listen served as the theme of his 26-minute inaugural address. Since Election Day, Walsh has held forums and town hall meetings where thousands of people have shared ideas for the new administration. Other suggestions have come through letters, e-mails, and phone calls.
“You are making your voices heard,” Walsh said. “I am listening, and I always will.”
The buoyant ceremony, which contrasted with the gloomy, rain-soaked day outside, marked a distinct turning point in Boston history. Former mayor Thomas M. Menino bade farewell to the office he has held since 1993.
“I’ve had a great 20 years,” Menino said before leaving his home in Readville.
After an emotional ceremony with staff at City Hall, Menino left Walsh a note and a set of four keys on the desk in the fifth-floor mayor’s office.
Hours later, Walsh was in City Hall, but had yet to read the letter from Menino.
“I haven’t opened it yet because too many people were in the office, I walked in the office and my mother was sitting in the chair” behind the desk, Walsh said, adding, “I’m not sure where the keys lead to.”
Menino and Walsh spoke by phone Sunday night, but the two did not cross paths Monday as power officially shifted. Menino did not attend Walsh’s inauguration, and Walsh declined Menino’s invitation for a morning meeting at City Hall.
It was a day of change on other fronts. The City Council elected Councilor Bill Linehan its president by a vote of 8-to-5 after a last-minute challenge by Councilor at Large Ayanna Pressley. The 13-member body also welcomed three new councilors — Timothy McCarthy, Michelle Wu, and Josh Zakim — and one returning member, Michael F. Flaherty, who had served previously.
But the day belonged to Walsh.
Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley and other clergy prayed for the new mayor. Walsh was serenaded by Irish tenor Ronan Tynan and cellist Yo-Yo Ma, who played strains of “Danny Boy.” Mel King, the only person of color in Boston to advance to a final election for mayor, wore a bow tie and dark blue overalls as he led students in song.
Senator Elizabeth Warren told the crowd at Conte Forum she was optimistic about the future because “we have a new mayor who will truly be a mayor for all of Boston.”
Governor Deval Patrick offered good-natured advice, reminding Walsh to remain grounded and not let the trappings of higher office go to his head.
“The day of my first inauguration, like the day of my wedding, is a blur,” Patrick said, warning Walsh that he “won’t remember precisely the moment your jokes became so funny, you became so photogenic, and you had to have an opinion on absolutely everything.”
Walsh blushed on stage as he sat between his girlfriend, Lorrie Higgins, and his mother, Mary J. O’Malley Walsh, who clutched the Bible in her lap that her son used for the oath of office. In his speech, Walsh alluded to his struggle with alcoholism and improbable rise to the city’s highest office.
“We are a city of big dreams, and we have what it takes to make dreams come true,” Walsh said. “And if you doubt any of that, look at this kid from Taft Street in Dorchester who’s now your mayor. I know my mother’s not the only one surprised.”
He noted the broad coalition that propelled him into office and vowed to carry that momentum into City Hall.
“Today, we are sworn in together,” Walsh said. “Together, we are committing to do all we can for the city we love. Together, we can move our great city forward.”
The new mayor pledged to reduce crime and in his first act at City Hall held a meeting to begin to address urban violence. The meeting, which was closed to the press, included Interim Police Commissioner William B. Evans, Suffolk County Sheriff Steven W. Tompkins, and members of Mothers For Justice and Equality.
“Mayor Walsh has assured us that there is going to be a change of culture,” said Kim Odom, whose 13-year-old son Steven was shot and killed in 2007. “It’s not going to be just talk, that there’s going to be action.”
Walsh also vowed to restructure the Boston Redevelopment Authority, create a city Ethics Committee, and set “tough new ethics standards” for his staff, which will include more detailed annual financial disclosures. He said he would launch a nationwide search for a new school superintendent and address problems faced by senior citizens.
Many in the crowd seemed less interested in policy implications of the speech and more focused on the character of the new mayor.
“He knows where he came from,” said Guilandre Dubuisson of Canton, who wore an elegant evening dress. Dubuisson was impressed that Walsh alluded to the troubles in his own life and that he was able to “become a new person.”
“I like his pitch, to tell you the truth,” she said. “Sometimes you think you’re the only troubled one.”
State Representative Russell E. Holmes of Boston said the day marked the dawn of a new era for city politicians who came of age under Menino. Holmes was optimistic about the direction Walsh will take the city.
“I know him as a person,” he said. “I know he’s going to allow us all to spread our wings.”