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From Dorchester to D.C.: Marty Walsh’s departure is a ‘bittersweet’ experience for him

For the former mayor, uprooting himself is bittersweet, and he’ll tell you why

In April 2019, then-mayor Martin J. Walsh greeted students at Walnut Grove Head Start in Dorchester, his hometown, after he  announced a $15 million investment to expand free pre-kindergarten education in the city.
In April 2019, then-mayor Martin J. Walsh greeted students at Walnut Grove Head Start in Dorchester, his hometown, after he announced a $15 million investment to expand free pre-kindergarten education in the city.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

Just how Dorchester is Martin J. Walsh?

Boston’s 54th and freshly former mayor has called the city’s most populous neighborhood home for all 53 of his years.

But that will soon change, as Walsh leaves for Washington, D.C., to serve as the nation’s labor secretary. How soon remains unclear. On Monday, hours before he resigned from his City Hall post, Walsh indicated he was still trying to figure out what his Beltway living accommodations would be.

“We went down a few weeks ago, looking at places,” he said. “That’s all to be determined.”

If you sense reluctance for Walsh to uproot himself, he is ready to tell you why.

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“I think about my father, my mother, I think about them coming here, from Ireland, to Boston,” he said during his farewell news conference, at which he got misty-eyed. “The first house they bought was on Taft Street. My mother still lives in that house.”

Walsh arrived at Logan Airport Tuesday morning for his flight to be sworn in to the new D.C. gig gripping a token of his old life: a cup of South Boston’s Doughboy Donuts coffee, the same coffee — he typically orders a medium, hot with cream and sugar — that he routinely picked up on his way to City Hall.

Walsh was sworn in Tuesday as labor secretary by Vice President Kamala Harris.

Walsh may be looking forward to the new challenge his Cabinet job brings, as he told TV reporters at Logan, but he’s not ready to let go of Dorchester. A spokesman said Walsh has no plans to sell the single-family home on Butler Street in Lower Mills where he has lived with his partner, Lorrie Higgins, since 2015, a property assessed at $1 million.

Before that, Walsh lived on Tuttle Street in Dorchester’s Savin Hill neighborhood for 15 years. He has also lived on Dawes and Denny streets in Dorchester.

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While Walsh was earning his degree at Boston College over the course of several years, he lived — you got it — in Dorchester.

According to a spokesman, Walsh is undecided about whether he will rent or buy in D.C. Walsh doesn’t feel like he’s leaving Boston, “since he’s keeping his house here and will be back regularly,” the spokesman said. And with the COVID-19 pandemic still burning, Walsh plans to work remotely for the time being.

Walsh is far from the first native son to make this journey. Seeking to burnish his blue-collar Malden credentials during his primary fight last year, Senator Edward J. Markey repeatedly shared the story of how his first glimpse of the nation’s capital came after his election to Congress in 1976.

Markey, however, has become quite fond of the area since then and now spends much of his time in Chevy Chase, Md., a tony D.C. suburb, with his wife, Susan Blumenthal, a public health expert and health care consultant who has a private practice in the area.

According to one Boston pol, Walsh will soon discover at least one similarity between Boston and Washington, if he hasn’t already.

“The rents are god-awful in both places,” said Representative Stephen Lynch, a South Boston Democrat.

Lynch said he offered the mayor keys to his Capitol Hill apartment during Walsh’s Senate confirmation hearing. Lynch, quarantining in Boston because of COVID-19, wasn’t using the place, but Walsh didn’t take him up on the offer.

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Washington’s pluses, Lynch said, include a month more of spring and summer than Boston has and a less-antiquated public transit system. There are a substantial number of Boston and New England transplants in the area, said Lynch, a fact driven home by the legion of Red Sox fans who show up when their team travels to play the Washington Nationals or Baltimore Orioles.

“There are a lot of people who are excited to see him arrive,” Lynch said.

Like Walsh, Marty Meehan, the president of the University of Massachusetts system, who served for 14 years as a congressman from Lowell, had never lived outside of his hometown before he was elected in 1992.

“The first challenge is where are you going to live and how are you going to get to work,” Meehan said. “Housing is the first issue. It’s expensive to live in Washington, D.C.”

During his D.C. stint, Meehan rented — he would later regret not buying — for a time splitting a place with Representative Richard Neal, the longtime congressman from Western Massachusetts.

Managing what possessions are where becomes a real issue when you’re splitting time between two locales, said Meehan, who typically spent weekends back in the Commonwealth.

“You leave a pair of shoes in Washington and you want them when you’re back in Lowell,” Meehan said.

Massachusetts politics can be emphatically parochial, sometimes to a cringeworthy degree. Hometowns, neighborhoods, and places of residence often loom large in campaign narratives.

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And Walsh, with his meme-worthy accent, plainspoken demeanor, and working-class bona fides, is for some almost a caricature of a certain type of Bostonian.

“Marty is a Boston baked bean,” said Joyce Ferriabough Bolling, a Boston political consultant. “He’s Boston through and through. Yeah, he is.”

Ferriabough Bolling said she exchanges texts with Walsh regularly and thought that he was excited about his new job, but “cognizant of the fact that he’ll be the . . . first actual union guy in that role in a long time.”

Walsh was 21 when he became a member of the Laborers Union Local 223 in Boston, which his father had joined in the 1950s after emigrating from Ireland and which his uncle later led. Walsh went on to serve as president of the union, as well, and then headed the Building and Construction Trades Council. When he first ran for mayor, in 2013, unions fueled his campaign with financial contributions and volunteers.

“I don’t think that his being from Boston is a deficit; I think it’s really very much a positive,” Ferriabough Bolling said. “I mean, this is a hardscrabble town.”

On Monday night, Walsh said it’s been a “very, very bittersweet last eight weeks.” He was asked, essentially, what pulls at his heartstrings when he thinks of his hometown. His answer was long but started with four words:

“I grew up here.”


Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.