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Inaugural should be joyful, accessible — not a big-money affair

The inauguration of the city’s first new mayor in more than 20 years is an event worth celebrating. All Bostonians should have free access to outdoor events to help usher in the new administration, and supporters of Mayor-elect Marty Walsh should be able to buy affordable tickets to a celebratory ball. But, in keeping with Walsh’s unpretentious, everyday-guy persona, it needn’t be a big-money affair — and shouldn’t be dependent on such large individual or corporate contributions as to raise concerns about buying favors.

One could easily imagine an event on City Hall Plaza, complete with tents and outdoor heaters, featuring performances by, say, the Dropkick Murphys and some of the excellent conservatory orchestras, as well as local high-school bands. The food trucks that have been such a culinary hit could play a big part. Local sports heroes could offer autographs for kids. The Museum of Science, the New England Aquarium, and the Museum of Fine Arts might be induced to offer admission-free weekends.

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In other words, rather than serving as an opportunity for movers-and-shakers to rub shoulders and curry favor with the new mayor, the inauguration could be filled with inexpensive fun and festivities for ordinary Bostonians. That kind of celebration would signal that the incoming mayor is intent on inaugurating a new era of openness, with no elites groups or special access, for the Boston he will lead.

Walsh hasn’t yet decided what he’ll do for the inauguration next month, but some members of his team envision a series of galas funded by big private-sector donations. The Globe’s Jim O’Sullivan reported recently that some of Walsh’s inaugural organizers have approached corporations and their lobbyists seeking help in paying for the events. A draft document, meanwhile, envisions platinum sponsors donating up to $50,000 to bankroll the fete. There’s also talk of a “private appreciation” event with the mayor to reward significant contributors to the inauguration.

Walsh’s political adviser Michael Goldman insists all that is premature because the mayor-elect has not yet decided what kind of inauguration he wants or what limit he will set on donations. Walsh himself says the limits will be less than $50,000, but as of Wednesday his team had not settled on the maximum they will accept. Goldman says all donations of any kind will be disclosed. That’s entirely to Walsh’s credit.

In addition, Walsh, who faced campaign concerns about his independence in light of the $2 million that unions spent to help elect him, won’t be accepting union money or PAC dollars for his inauguration. That’s good news, though citizens should be just as concerned about possible corporate favor-seeking through large inaugural contributions.

Walsh is hardly alone in seeking corporate contributions to fund inaugural festivities. Mayor Tom Menino and governors Mitt Romney and Deval Patrick have all gone that route as a way of saving taxpayer dollars. But having the first new mayor in 20 years presents a chance to revisit old norms that may not be entirely consistent with the public interest. Walsh should set a low enough limit for inaugural contributions — in the range of $5,000, the state maximum for donations to a city or state politcal committee — to spare himself any questions about just what contributors hope to gain through their generosity.

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