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Unforeseen events shaped Walsh’s first 100 days

Mayor confronts the unexpected

Martin Walsh attended a breakfast for the Mothers for Justice and Equality on Feb. 22.john Tlumacki/globe staff/Globe Staff

Martin J. Walsh was not yet sworn in as mayor when a top aide began counting down to when he would mark his 100th day in office, a milestone used by new officeholders to tout their political accomplishments and guide their future.

That was when the aide made a fateful discovery: Mayor Walsh’s 100th day would fall on April 15, exactly one year since the Boston Marathon bombings.

It was telling, and prophetic.

Once Walsh and his team realized when his 100th day would arrive, they immediately changed course. That day would be reserved to honor Boston’s recovery from what terrorists had wrought. There would be no mayoral celebration on April 15, no speeches or press conferences about Walsh’s achievements. He would do those things at another time — April 16 — his 101st day.


That decision was an early indication of how unforeseen events, combined with a poignant past, came to define how Walsh, a former state legislator from Dorchester, has led since succeeding Mayor Thomas M. Menino.

“He’s been tested, no doubt about it,’’ said one of Walsh’s constituents, Bob Workman, a retired state trooper from Roxbury who has watched the new mayor in the first stretch of his four-year term.

While Walsh has tried to set his own pace and follow his own agenda, he has lurched from one crisis or controversy to another, trying to gain a firm hold on the job.

In his first week in office, Walsh attempted to embark on a comprehensive violence prevention campaign, only to witness a surge in homicides, which prompted him to revive a controversial gun buy-back program.

Two major snowstorms in his first weeks in office deflected attention from his initiatives and caused him to cancel his national coming out party as Boston’s new leader — a planned trip to Washington, D.C., for a mayors’ conference.


Then Walsh expended significant political capital plunging into the St. Patrick’s Day parade controversy, trying — and failing — to broker a deal to allow a contingent of gay marchers.

And in late March, he found himself comforting his city after two Boston firefighters died while trapped in a burning Back Bay basement.

“Marty’s probably had to make more decisions in his first week as mayor than he did in his 16 years as a legislator — and that’s not to diminish his legislative job,’’ said John Tobin, a former Boston councilor. “He’s a man in charge now . . . who can’t afford to sit behind a desk. He has to be out there.”

Walsh, now overseeing some 19,000 full-time city employees, department heads, and the city itself, declined the Globe’s request for a formal interview before the 100-day marker out of respect for the Marathon anniversary. But in the days before the tributes, the mayor quietly cited his achievements, aiming to balance sensitivity to April 15 while spreading the word that he is a man in command.

Over the weekend, the mayor juggled a press conference laying out Marathon security and the separate announcement that the city had reached a tentative contract with the union representing Boston firefighters, the first time in more than a decade a deal has been reached without arbitration. Walsh had pledged during the campaign that as a former labor leader, he would be able to negotiate successfully with the fire union.


Among his achievements so far, Walsh revamped the top echelons of the Boston Police Department, installing a veteran officer as commissioner and naming the department’s first African-American chief. He took on the Boston Redevelopment Authority, launching a review and firing 14 people from the agency’s business arm, while still moving forward with Boston’s building boom, such as the planned Fenway Center and the redevelopment of Dudley Square.

Walsh also consolidated his Cabinet, creating some roles and sharpening others, but his early hires were mostly white men from his inner circle from Dorchester and South Boston.

Walsh spoke briefly with a Globe reporter about his 100 days on the job, after an event on aging at the University of Massachusetts Boston last Thursday, which was also his 47th birthday.

“It’s been incredible,’’ Walsh said. “I don’t think roller coaster is the right word. Really, it’s been highs and lows.”

Critics and supporters said among the highlights so far of Walsh’s administration has been his willingness to be visible in the neighborhoods, a skill virtually trademarked by Menino, who held the job for two decades. Walsh has attended community meetings and ribbon cuttings, and made a point to meet residents, including those at the margins of society.

Many residents and analysts who were interviewed lauded the mayor for putting his heart in the right place on issues such as his insistence that East Boston and Charlestown residents have a say in casino proposals on the city’s border; his early involvement in the effort to improve troubled schools; and his stance against two proposed marijuana dispensaries in the city.


Those residents said they were rooting for Walsh and willing to give him a break during the first months of his administration.

“In fairness, it takes a long time to get things accomplished,’’ said Jon Rudzinski, a 48-year-old affordable housing developer from Roslindale.

On the issue of diversity, Alisa Hunter, a 47-year-old Dorchester resident and founder of the Professional Women of Color Network, said she is heartened by the mayor’s first steps. In February, he dispatched a top aide to her group to offer assurances that he was committed to diversity.

“It’s important to have women in key positions. But I’d like to see people who represent the cultural background of the city also included’’ in his administration, Hunter said, stressing that she would like to see more African-Americans and other minorities on the mayor’s team.

When it comes to style and public persona, the mayor needs to relax on the job, said Cynthia Wellerbrady, a stay-at-home mother from West Roxbury.

“I think he should smile more. He looks so serious all the time,’’ said Wellerbrady, running errands on Centre Street recently. “And he has this entourage with him. Mayor Menino had one bodyguard. Mayor Walsh has an entourage — the whole Hollywood thing. He needs to enjoy life and smile.”

The 100-day milestone was pioneered by Franklin D. Roosevelt at the height of the Depression and seen as one way to reassure an anxious public that the nation would pull through hard times. In his first 100 days, Roosevelt pushed through 15 major pieces of legislation that led to the restructuring of the financial market and reform.


While some analysts contend that 100 days is too soon to judge any political officeholder harshly — or to judge them at all — journalists, scholars, and politicians themselves embrace the marker. Walsh used that milestone to steer his transition team, asking them to report back on what he could reasonably accomplish in his first 100 days. That report is expected this week.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, elected the same day as Walsh, spent his first 100 days pushing a string of broad policy initiatives, including trying to make good on a campaign pledge to tax the rich to pay for universal prekindergarten. Governor Andrew Cuomo scrapped the tax bid, but Cuomo did fund universal prekindergarten to the tune of $300 million.

De Blasio also signed a bill expanding the number of workers eligible for sick days, and he withdrew the city’s challenge to federal oversight of a controversial stop and frisk police tactic.

In Seattle, Ed Murray, a former state legislator and the city’s first openly gay mayor, has taken the lead in the minimum wage debate during his early days in office. He quickly kept the public up to date after a news helicopter crashed yards from the Space Needle.

In Boston, political observers acknowledge that Walsh had a hectic honeymoon period. They are willing to give him a pass for some stumbles out the blocks but said he has been slowly steadying himself.

Jeffrey Berry, a Tufts University political scientist, said that while Walsh has been adept at trying to connect with constituents, his leadership in the first 100 days sometimes seemed tentative and “undefined.”

“He is an emotive mayor, one who is not afraid to show how he feels and how he cares about the city,’’ Berry said. “He’s been less successful in conveying a vision of where he wants to take the city. Broad public policy direction is unclear at this time.”

Walsh took office after a weekend snowstorm in January, with thousands filling Conte Forum at Boston College cheering him on. With his longtime partner, Lorrie Higgins, and his mother, Mary Walsh, looking on, the mayor promised: “I will listen. I will learn. I will lead.”

In his brief remarks with the Globe about these 100 days, Walsh said there is one moment that has stuck with him: when he received a call that 9-year-old Janmarcos Pena had been shot, allegedly by his 14-year-old brother in Mattapan.

“That was hard,’’ Walsh recalled. “As mayor, you don’t expect to get a call like that.”

The job seems to change minute by minute, with no two days the same, the mayor said.

“One day I’m talking about Wicked Free Wi-Fi,’’ Walsh said, referring to a network of Internet hotspots planned in the city. “And the next hour I’m talking about casinos, and the hour after that I’m giving a report on elderly care. Who knows what the next thing is?”

Walsh said he expected a fast-paced job, but not this.

“I’m getting used to it now,’’ he added. “Certainly, the last 30 days I’ve settled in to understand that that’s my life for now.”

Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@globe.com.