A new mayor’s day can take a quick nose dive when homicides suddenly spike.
Marty Walsh was in the midst of a string of meetings about organizing his Cabinet Monday when Police Commissioner William Evans and Superintendent-in-chief Willie Gross stopped by City Hall. It wasn’t planned as a 90-minute session, but suddenly there was a lot to talk about.
“There was a shooting, and suddenly there we were talking about what to do about the shootings, in the middle of it,” Walsh said Tuesday.
Within a six-hour span Sunday night into Monday morning, three homicides pushed the 2014 street violence total to nine. Police suspect that four of the homicides are related. Even so, the number ranks as the highest January total in some time, easily enough to provoke anxiety.
During the meeting with police brass Monday, Evans and Gross showed the mayor a list of “impact players’” — young men prone to violence who are believed to be drivers of a lot of street crime. Walsh was struck by the roster of lives headed down the drain.
“They showed me a document with 27 young men on the page, all players in the city of Boston,” Walsh said Tuesday in an interview in his office. “And you start thinking about these 27 young men. Their future should be worrying about getting a job and going to school, and their future is on this page. That’s 27 people. You look and say, ‘What’s in their heads?’ ”
It’s taken Walsh less than a month as mayor to learn that there are really no honeymoons in politics, because things happen whether you are ready for them or not. A day earmarked for getting organized can quickly became a day for agonizing over how to calm crime in the city.
Walsh is convinced that the long-range solution to the homicide problem will not come from law enforcement. “We can’t arrest our way out of the problem, and we can’t penal-system our way out of the problem,” he said. “It’s a short-term fix, but it doesn’t solve the problem.”
In the near term, he said, he hopes the city can address the problems of gang violence and the cycle of retaliation by getting some major players off the streets. “You’re talking about a lot of history and deep-rooted issues. We have to get people past retaliation to forgiveness.”
Longer term, he worries about how to provide more support to young people suffering the effects of violence in their neighborhoods.
“I think you have to put together good, strong trauma teams,” Walsh said. “That’s something we haven’t done well in the city.”
Looking at the start of his administration more broadly, Walsh said he believes the transition is on track. In the 25-minute interview, he made four references to the pace of the job, a big part of his adjustment from state legislator.
He said he doesn’t believe in arbitrary benchmarks for gauging progress, such as what he can announce within his first 100 days in office. “That said, I should be able to accomplish something every day I’m the mayor of the city of Boston.”
The adjustment from legislator to mayor can be as much personal as professional. For example, mayors don’t drive around the city — they get driven. Walsh admitted that he snuck out of his house and drove a few blocks to his girlfriend’s house one night. Emboldened, he tried it again a few days later. This time, his security detail tailed him.
“I got busted,” the mayor admitted. “But I can’t stop driving. It’s freedom.”
Walsh’s new job is a heady mix of responsibility and wonder. One minute he will say this about violence: “It’s almost like you’re a parent, making sure the city’s safe. You go to bed wanting to make sure the city’s safe.”
But there are also the moments he wants to pinch himself. “Once in a while, I just look out the window,” he said, glancing over at Faneuil Hall in the morning light. “It’s incredible.”