Will Marty Walsh sink or swim in Boston’s progressive, new wave?

Walsh is gearing up for the challenges ahead

Mayor Martin J. Walsh celebrated the opening of The Hub On Causeway on Wednesday.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh celebrated the opening of The Hub On Causeway on Wednesday.Joan Vennochi/Globe Staff

Confetti fell and U2′s ″Beautiful Day" blasted away, as Boston Mayor Marty Walsh basked in the glory of being mayor at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday for a new development at TD Garden that transforms a once gritty part of Boston into a sparkly hub of luxury housing and entertainment.

But this was the morning after a momentous municipal election that set up the most diverse, left-leaning City Council in Boston’s history. So Walsh didn’t stress the glitz. Instead he talked about the Star Market, the 45 units dubbed “affordable," the housing set-aside for seniors in the North End, and the activism and teamwork that made it all happen. This is investment “that’s good for all,” proclaimed the mayor, and will generate new revenue for future schools, housing, and transportation infrastructure.


There’s no question that Walsh is hearing the footsteps of potential challengers like Michelle Wu, the at-large incumbent who got the most votes in Tuesday’s City Council election — and has been calling out the mayor for presiding over a city that caters to the rich. In January, there will be eight women on the 13-member council and seven councilors of color, the most ever. Up against that backdrop, Walsh looks more old Boston than ever before — although he would argue that on the core issues of equity and equality, they are all on the same aspirational page.

In a telephone interview, Walsh said it’s “a little too early" to say whether he will seek a third term and sidestepped questions about whether he expects Wu to challenge him in 2021 if he does: “I don’t know. I called her and congratulated her. That’s something Michelle has to decide. . . . Two years is a long time away,” said Walsh.

But those close to Walsh say he intends to run for reelection and believes a Wu candidacy is quite possible. Besides — at a time when US Representative Joe Kennedy is challenging Senator Ed Markey in a Democratic primary, and US Representative Ayanna Pressley, a former city councilor, is making waves in Washington after beating longtime incumbent Mike Capuano — someone, if not Wu, is sure to run against him. Halfway through his second term, Walsh isn’t taking voters for granted. Like his predecessor, the late Mayor Tom Menino, Walsh is obsessive about showing up for neighborhood events, from a ribbon-cutting at a school playground in Roxbury to the opening of an “urban farm” in Hyde Park.


Meanwhile, Walsh is dealing with fallout from two City Hall corruption cases: Two aides were convicted on federal Hobbs Act violations, and a city employee is pleading guilty to accepting a $50,000 bribe from a real estate developer in exchange for influencing a vote taken by the Zoning Board of Appeal. “I don’t think it casts a cloud,” said Walsh, who is not implicated in either case. Still, the headlines give critics like Wu another reason to criticize his leadership.

“I feel confident in my record,” said Walsh. Asked how he would sum it up, he said, “I am working to close the achievement and equity gaps in the economy, housing, education, transportation, and the environment.” In the past, he said, the challenge was to nurture economic development and growth. Now, it’s figuring out how to share it. “What’s happened is, a lot of people have been left behind,” said Walsh. That, of course, is preaching from the same bible that propelled the progressive movement that now dominates the Boston City Council. And Wu has already been calling out Walsh for not doing enough.


“Marty can only control what he can control,” said Michael Goldman, a veteran political consultant who advised Walsh during his first mayoral campaign. “As long as he loves the job, as long as he’s willing to do it 24/7, it’s going to be really hard for anyone to make the case that they’re going to find anyone who will work harder than he has and he does.”

Of course, Walsh’s work ethic isn’t in question. Neither is Boston’s standing as a strong and vibrant city offering opportunity for many and safety for most. The problem for Walsh is the people who feel left out of a city that is transforming magically for some, but not for all.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at joan.vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @joan_vennochi.