A few telling facts about Brian Golden: He attended Harvard and William & Mary School of Law. But after graduating, he joined the US Army, not a prestigious law firm. And later, while serving as a Democratic legislator in a Democratic town, he endorsed George W. Bush.
Golden, the person picked Wednesday as the new leader of the Boston Redevelopment Authority amid an unprecedented building boom, does not follow the crowd. In his public life, he has repeatedly defied conventional wisdom, a trait that could serve him well in shaping an agency often derided as a glorified rubber stamp.
"I'm eager to fix what's wrong with the BRA," Golden said in an interview Tuesday. "We have to continually work at being straight with people and fair. We have to let them know what we're recommending and why, and give them a chance to respond."
After keeping Golden in an acting role at the BRA for 11 months, Mayor Martin J. Walsh formally appointed him permanent director of the agency. He said Golden had displayed an ability to reform the BRA, while also pursuing billions of dollars of redevelopment.
The balancing act will only get more difficult in the months ahead, as developers pursue towering projects that could transform huge swaths of the city. More than 15 million square feet of development is already under way in Boston, the equivalent of nine John Hancock Towers. New skyscrapers are being planned at North Station, Government Center and at the edge of the Christian Science Plaza, among others.
Walsh has also launched an effort to build 53,000 new homes in the city by 2030, with an emphasis on making Boston more affordable to people of modest incomes. Golden, who will be paid $169,000 a year, pledged to pursue that goal with every housing developer who walks into his office.
"We will lean forward as aggressively as we can," he said. "Whether it's in affluent in neighborhoods, or ones further to the south and west, we will run up the numbers wherever we can."
The son of a cop and a file clerk, Golden grew up in Allston and earned a full scholarship to Harvard. He became an Army lawyer after graduating from William & Mary law school in 1992.
Golden, a lieutenant colonel, said he was nudged into military service largely by a modest granite monument that stands across from the fire station in Allston's Union Square. It commemorates the World War I service of a his great uncle, Joseph Golden, who was wounded in battle, returned home and died just a few years later.
"I used to ride by it every day on my way to school," Golden said of the polished stone monument. "My great uncle had a very unpleasant existence. He paid the price for me and my brother and a lot of other people. That speaks to you, and I think it pushed me into this vocation."
Golden was elected to the state legislature in 1998, though his political career was periodically interrupted by deployments to war zones. He was sent to Bosnia in 2001 and then to Iraq in 2005, where he helped reform the detention policies following the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal.
Since joining the BRA in 2009, he has helped guide its policies during a rapid run-up in construction activity. On Wednesday, he was unusually candid in acknowledging that the BRA's public process broke down at times, regarding both development projects and deals involving the use of public property. He cited a $7.3 million deal to give the Boston Red Sox permanent access to a section of Yawkey Way on game days as one example of a badly flawed process.
"It wasn't just that people were vexed by the deal," Golden said. "People were concerned that they had no voice and that there was no opportunity for public comment."
Earlier this year, an audit by the accounting firm KPMG found the BRA was not enforcing the terms of its leases on public property, costing the agency millions of dollars. In some cases, the audit found, the BRA was also not adequately tracking developers' promises to pay for neighborhood improvements.
Golden said he has spent much of his time during the past year trying to improve those systems. "All of those things still need a lot of work," he said. "But we're making progress."
His appointment helped to resolve lingering uncertainty within the development community over who is in charge of decision-making on major projects.
"Brian has shown a deep understanding of the issues affecting growth in Boston," Walsh said. "He has given me confidence that we can move ahead with deep reforms in the BRA, while still driving development forward."
Casey Ross can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.