Last week, Mayor Marty Walsh declared to the business community that he will introduce a “new era of transparency” to economic development in the city.
I decided to put that to the test.
My first request:
Could I interview Brian Golden , the newly named acting director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, the agency in charge of economic development?
Golden, a Menino holdover and former state representative, had been the second in command, but no one really knows him because it had been the Tom Menino and Peter Meade show. Meade, the last BRA director, had the ear of the mayor and left along with him.
For days, I e-mailed and called, and e-mailed and called again. Then I was told Golden couldn’t talk because none of Walsh’s temporary agency heads were talking. Then I e-mailed and called again, reaching out to somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody over there.
Suddenly I realized this is what it must feel like to seek a building permit from the City of Boston.
New era of transparency? Ha.
When I pointed this irony out to the Walsh administration, I finally got somewhere. I still couldn’t talk to Golden — and I would soon find out why — but I could talk to Walsh about his intentions.
Golden, it turns out, is a short-timer and will go back to his old post. He was automatically elevated to acting director by BRA bylaw, which designates the number two to sign legal papers when there is no director.
Walsh said he plans to name an interim director in a couple of weeks. It will be an external candidate. He hasn’t decided who. Nothing against Golden, said Walsh, who served with him in the Legislature.
“Brian is a very talented individual,” he said, looking relaxed with his suit jacket off and sitting on a leather couch in his fifth-floor City Hall office, as if mayoralty becomes him. “I don’t see Brian as the permanent BRA director.”
Memo to developers: Stop kissing up so much to Golden.
Walsh said he hopes to have a permanent director in place by the summer. No one has talked to him directly about wanting the job, but there has been no lack of suggestions.
He didn’t say who is on the short list — or even if there is one — though the names of former opponents (and later, transition team co-chairs) John Barros and Charlotte Golar Richie are floating out there.
While Walsh may not yet know who will run the BRA, he knows what he wants.
“When people talk about the BRA, people think big and downtown,” he said.
“I want the director of the BRA also to think big in the sense of how do we incorporate opportunities into Dudley Square and incorporate opportunities into Mattapan.”
Just as important — if not more important — as who will become BRA director is the relationship Walsh forges with the authority.
Will he be a Ray Flynn or a Tom Menino?
Flynn, mayor from 1984 to 1993, had two BRA directors and was famously hands-off when it came to development.
Menino, who followed Flynn, churned through six BRA chiefs over 20 years, not including acting directors in between.
As one real estate lawyer told me, Menino wanted to be a developer not in his next life, but in this life. He particularly liked to meddle with design. There was the red brick phrase (more red brick, please) and the obsession with the tops of buildings (must resemble crowns).
“Certainly, I want to be very active in attracting new business to Boston,” Walsh said.
But as far as the BRA is concerned, he wants to allow it to do its job of steering billions of dollars’ worth of development.
“The only time I should be really involved in a deal is if there is a big decision to be made, like if there is a tax break on the table,” he said.
Unlike Flynn or Menino, Walsh spent a lot of time dealing with the BRA when he ran Boston Building Trades, attending meetings to voice support for projects because ultimately they translated into union jobs.
The new mayor won’t have the slightest urge to ask for more red brick?
“No,” he said. “That’s not my job to worry about.”
The Walsh administration flunked my pop quiz on transparency but passed the first test. Maybe next time I won’t need somebody to know somebody to get something done.