fb-pixelMarty Walsh gets his man at the BRA - The Boston Globe Skip to main content
Shirley Leung

Marty Walsh gets his man at the BRA

Brian Golden.Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

Blame me or offer congratulations, but I just got you a permanent director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority.

The alternative take is that I just got swindled by Mayor Marty Walsh. But I’m not willing to accept that.

In my column last Friday, I made a bet with Walsh. After nearly a year in office, the mayor still hadn’t filled several key positions, including someone to run the BRA. Meanwhile, Charlie Baker, a month before he actually takes office, was well on his way to hiring all his critical players.

So I bet that by the time Baker is sworn in as governor on Jan. 8, he will have his full Cabinet in place — and Walsh still wouldn’t have a BRA chief.


This was no trivial bet — my column was on the line. If I lost, I said, Walsh could take over my space for the day. Before I engaged in such a high-stakes game, I did my homework. I checked with Walsh’s closest advisers. I grilled the mayor on whether he had interviewed any candidates. He assured me he had not.

On Dec. 3, I asked the mayor if Brian Golden, who has been the acting director since January, would get the gig. Walsh’s response: “I’m not sure.”

That actually was good news for Golden, who has wanted the job. When I talked to the mayor in February about Golden’s chances, he said: “I don’t see Brian as the permanent BRA director.”

What changed?

In the beginning of the year, some developers complained about bottlenecks at the agency and confusion over who was making decisions. Under Walsh, the BRA chief was no longer a Cabinet position; instead he or she would report to the newly created economic czar who would oversee the BRA.

I knew Walsh has been happy with Golden, whom he has known since 1999, when they both served together in the state Legislature. In the Walsh administration, the 49-year-old Army Reserve officer has kept a steady hand on the BRA through layoffs, an audit, and calls for massive reform of an agency charged with managing a massive building boom in Boston.


It was probably hard to picture Golden as the visionary BRA leader the city needs. He’s not charismatic, nor does he have much traditional real estate experience. But the more the mayor got to work with Golden, the more he liked what he saw.

Golden got things done. He cleared up confusion about development decisions. He was a Menino holdover who proved he could show allegiance to another mayor. And the lack of an outgoing personality just meant that Golden would never outshine Walsh. Under previous administrations, an underling with a too-high public profile could find himself looking for a new job.

Finding a BRA chief has never been easy. You serve at the whim of the mayor, and it’s a famously thankless job. You get little credit for building the skyline; that goes to the mayor.

Walsh, who still deliberates like the state legislator he was, probably figured Golden could do the job but wasn’t quite ready to pull the trigger. I think things crystallized in recent days as he finalized the speech he was preparing to give before the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce Wednesday morning at the Westin Copley.


Working on such major speeches often helps mayors take stock of what’s happened and what they need to do. A good chunk of Walsh’s remarks were about how much development was taking place. Developers, under a BRA run by Golden, have been able to break ground on nearly $4 billion worth of construction. The agency also has approved about $3.7 billion in development, including 4,700 units of housing.

As he put his speech together, it probably became clear to Walsh that Golden was his guy. The business community never likes uncertainty, and here was an opportunity for the mayor to deliver some good news to hundreds of executives gathered at the chamber breakfast.

On Tuesday afternoon, Walsh offered Golden the $169,000 job. The news was inserted into the mayor’s speech later that night.

I wasn’t the only one caught off guard by the timing of the mayor’s announcement.

“I was surprised,” Golden told me, “because we have had really little communication on this subject.”

When I saw Walsh after his speech, I told him the length of my column is 750 words.

“I can’t wait!” he exclaimed with the glee of a kid about to open presents on Christmas Day.

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