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Shirley Leung

Marty Walsh takes his time picking a BRA director

Turns out Marty Walsh is a betting man — and he’s not afraid of long odds.

I bet him that by the time Charlie Baker is sworn in as our next governor on Jan. 8, he will have his full Cabinet in place — and Walsh still won’t have a permanent Boston Redevelopment Authority director.

I am so confident of victory that I am betting the house on this. If I lose, I will hand over — just for a day — one of the most precious pieces of real estate in this city: my column space.

“That would be great,” said Walsh. “Would they publish what I write?”


Yes, I told the mayor. But, of course, it would be subject to editing.

“Sometimes,” he said, “your editors don’t edit enough.”

He’ll come to regret that if he wins, but that’s not going to happen and here’s why: Baker has wasted no time getting down to business. A week after being elected Nov. 4, he named his first Cabinet head, followed soon by a chief of staff and three more secretariat appointments. With eight secretaries to pick, that means our incoming governor is halfway to making the Cabinet his own.

Walsh moves at a different pace. He didn’t make his major appointment until two days before he was sworn in. Now a year after his election — yes, it has been that long — Walsh continues to keep holdovers from the Menino administration in acting roles, most notably the superintendent of schools and the BRA director.

He makes no apologies for taking his time to make critical personnel moves. In fact, he thinks slowing down the school chief search helped the city attract 20 more candidates, bringing the total pool to 60. “I’d much rather be more cautious and get something right,” he said.


He is even more deliberative when it comes to finding the next BRA director. He tells me he hasn’t offered anyone the job, nor has he begun interviewing candidates.

When might he start this process? “We’re heading toward that time now,” said Walsh.

We’ve been down this road before. At the beginning of the year, Walsh told me he would have a permanent director by the summer or possibly the fall. Now, Walsh says it’s going to be more like “the early part of next year.” He wouldn’t get any more specific than that.

The mayor said he can take his time because, as far as he is concerned, he does have a BRA director. His name is Brian Golden, the second in command who has been filling in and, I am told, still would like to get the job. Walsh hasn’t decided if Golden should get the gig permanently, but the mayor told me several times he is happy with Menino’s man.

The proof is in the number of cranes in the sky: The BRA this year has approved about $3 billion in projects and broke ground on $3.2 billion worth of development.

“If Brian Golden or somebody were in a role of an acting director of the BRA and development plummeted 50 percent, I would have concerns,” said Walsh.

To be fair, Walsh hasn’t been twiddling his thumbs, though it may seem like that. Revamping the planning and development agency was a big campaign issue, and when he got into office, Walsh launched an audit of this powerful arm of City Hall.


The review uncovered a disorganized BRA that was incapable of basic functions such as collecting millions of dollars in payments owed from developers.

He vowed to create a more transparent agency with a building process that did not favor certain developers. Board meetings are now streamed online, and projects require more public disclosures.

A second audit on the agency’s planning functions is in the works.

But this is why Walsh should be in a hurry. We are in a period of tremendous transformation, and we don’t know for how long Boston will remain one of the world’s hottest real estate markets.

Until Walsh hires a permanent director, Golden remains a caretaker. The business community craves certainty, and it’s time to act less like the state legislator he once was and more like the executive he needs to be.

It’s OK to spend some time fixing the city’s foundation, but now the mayor needs to look up, reach for the skyline, and make a decision on who will lead the BRA.

Shirley Leung is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at shirley.leung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @leung.