Last November, both New York and Boston elected new mayors, progressives Bill de Blasio and Marty Walsh. Over the last 20 years, these cities have restored their economies, made significant changes to their approaches to education, and reestablished a sense of order in the streets. Despite these gains, some observers have suggested that these resurgences have come at far too great a cost to their general populations.
These same commentators have sought to paint both mayors as new age progressive leaders ready to take on those who don’t accept their definition of community and entitlements. In superficial ways, De Blasio and Walsh may look similar, fitting the paradigm of angry post-Bush progressives. But that view misses the mark by a wide margin.
As been recently pointed out in several national columns, these new mayors need to decide whether they will be uniters or dividers. De Blasio seems to have drawn the line in the sand, and accepted the mantle of divider. But don’t be so quick to cast Walsh in the same light.
Walsh has been and will remain a progressive. But as he transitions to chief executive, be on the outlook for the beliefs and attributes that will define him as a uniter.
Both men possess strong belief systems that are direct results of their own personal narratives. Each narrative is obviously different, but it is those differences that will be critical to their success in the years ahead.
As Greater Boston will soon learn, our mayor is a uniter who is best positioned to deliver long term success. His resiliency and personal courage throughout his well-documented battles provide him with a perspective on life that is both hopeful yet realistic.
The world we live in is one of extremes, with partisans arguing their points of view from the edges. But mayors don’t have the luxury of living in the extremes, and Walsh understand this better than most.
He will do well with the basics of governing and he’ll be that mechanic that all mayors need to be, but his uniter approach will allow him to succeed on levels that Washington politicians can only fantasize about.
Walsh instinctively understands that one extreme insists that equality comes first while the other extreme believes that efficiencies in government must come first. A mayor’s success — and Walsh’s strength — is that he believes there can be a middle course. It’s a course where if government does its business smartly and more efficiently, there will be programs of equality that will make a difference in the long run.
No, he doesn’t believe that Boston must run like a Fortune 100 company — what reasonable person does? — but he knows that if he can communicate with businesses small and large he can lead them down the road to a city of true equality that will ensure equality across the broadest range of citizens.
Walsh also knows that while one extreme advocates community first and the other advances conservative notions of individual liberty, he as mayor must reconcile the residents’ individual rights with the belief in community and our duties as citizens in these communities. While he respects our need to be individuals, he will hold each of us accountable to accept and embrace this idea of duty, a duty that springs from our membership in our communities.
Walsh will lead as a progressive ,but his vision, a vision rooted in family, hardship and strong personal values, will enable him to reconcile the far too often destructive extremes we see in our national politics.
By being a uniter instead of a divider, Walsh will be able to position Boston as a new 21st century urban success story, resulting from the ability to properly balance our desire for equality, opportunity, and community with the public’s expectation of transparency.