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Mayor Martin J. Walsh, taking on a contentious issue rippling across the country, said Tuesday that he believes the election of Donald Trump was in part due to a backlash against the nation’s first black president.
“I would hope [that] as a country we have gone beyond that,’’ the mayor said, adding that the election exposed economic and racial divisions. “But I’m afraid that is not the case.”
Walsh took on race and other thorny issues during an hourlong interview, vowing to continue the city’s race dialogues to heal “deep wounds.” The mayor discussed the cloud of federal indictments looming over his administration, laid out the posture the city aims to take with the incoming Trump administration, and made his case for his reelection, saying Boston is much better off than when he took office three years ago.
Walsh spoke passionately throughout the live Political Happy Hour interview with Joshua Miller, refusing to budge under questioning about whether federal prosecutors have informed him that he is a target of a corruption investigation. He declined to say whether he thinks city staffers cross a legal line if they encourage — either implicitly or explicitly — groups doing business in Boston to use organized labor in their operations.
“I’m not going to answer that question,” Walsh said at one point, adding that he will wait until there is a ruling in the cases for his aides, who both pleaded not guilty, before publicly responding.
When the interviewer pressed, the mayor responded: “You can ask me 10 different ways, I’m not going to answer the question.”
Then he put down his microphone and smiled broadly to a small crowd gathered to watch the event at AT&T’s flagship store on Boylston Street.
“Move on to the next question,’’ he suggested.
But Walsh repeated a point that he has made for several months: he does not believe he is in any legal jeopardy.
When the issue of race came up, the mayor said the city has been working hard to ensure that Boston does not become like Ferguson, Mo., or Baltimore, where racial tensions erupted into violence after high-profile, police-involved deaths.
He noted peace walks in which he has participated, the White House’s recognition of Boston’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative to mentor young men of color, and a revived police cadet program that targets black and Latino residents.
Despite some black city residents’ concerns about an uptick in violence, the mayor said the Police Department has “shown a lot of tolerance” and noted that his administration is striving to prevent any unrest.
“I’m never going to say it would never happen in Boston,’’ Walsh said, “because it could happen in Boston. . . . I’m hopeful it doesn’t happen in Boston.”
Walsh shrugged off previous insults Trump lobbed at him during the presidential campaign, saying that the real estate mogul fairly won the election and he hopes Trump has a successful presidency. He said he is waiting until Trump is in office to reach out to the administration.
The mayor, however, held no punches when responding to a question about Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s assertion in Salon.com. Gates had said that he thought Trump’s victory represented a backlash against the progress of black people since 1965.
Walsh said Republicans vowed to stop Obama at every turn, yet the president is leaving office with unemployment in low single digits, the stock market soaring, and many people better off than they were eight years ago when the country was in economic freefall.
“Despite their efforts to make him not successful, history will go down that he’s been a great president because of what he has done with universal health insurance for all Americans and also what he did for the economy,’’ Walsh said.
The mayor said Trump’s election exemplified people’s frustrations with the dysfunction of government, and he urged a new day in politics.
“Politics is different today. It’s just a different world. It’s the higher scrutiny,’’ he said. “The public official is deemed as someone who is not trustworthy, and I get bothered by that.”
During the interview, the mayor also addressed highlights from his term in office, saying the city has a AAA bond rating, more affordable housing, and improved city schools rankings. He mentioned the moves of Reebok and General Electric to the city.
“Look at Boston three years ago and look at it today,’’ Walsh said.
Walsh also discussed income inequality, saying the city has more work to do to give people a fighting chance to help themselves. He took on immigration, pointing out that the city will always be a welcoming place.
He shrugged off the suggestion that Madison Park Technical Vocational High School is in turmoil, despite the fact that its headmaster, Sean Shackelford, is on leave. The mayor said he’s confident the school will become a model for other schools.
And he brushed aside a question about a possible challenge in 2017 from City Councilor Tito Jackson, who has said he is seriously considering a run, although he has not made anything official.
“I’m not going to get into that . . . right now,’’ Walsh said. “It’s all hypothetical. I’m the mayor. . . . My record speaks for itself.”