A cloud has lifted over Boston.
I don’t mean literally. Not the way this spring has been.
But figuratively. Think about it for a second. It’s been a long time since we’ve heard someone whisper: I’d better not say anything; I don’t want to tick off the mayor.
That was an oft-voiced sentiment in the Hub for a two-decade period running from mid-1993 through 2013. No one wanted to get on the wrong side of City Hall — and it didn’t take much to do so. Mayor Thomas Menino did a number of things well, but tolerating criticism — or sometimes just simple disagreement — didn’t number among them. Nor, for that matter, did keeping his cool. Or putting things in perspective. Or curbing his desire for political payback.
And as so often happens, his team took its cue from its leader.
Marty Walsh is a different kind of mayor. He’s much more relaxed, much less petty. Nor does he get his back up easily.
“There is a very different atmosphere with Marty,” says Paul Grogan, president of the Boston Foundation. “It is not tense or loaded the way it could sometimes be with Menino. He just doesn’t take offense the way Tom often did.”
That’s not to say Walsh never gets tetchy. Back during the winter from hell, when I offered my expert advice on a city snow-removal effort that struck me as somewhat lackadaisical, we had a few mildly heated words. But with Walsh, when it’s over, it’s over. Unlike Menino, he moves on.
With Menino, it could take a decade or more for bygones to go by. Just ask Larry Rasky. Rasky got crosswise with Menino back when he was a Hyde Park city councilor and Rasky was working for Cablevision. Ten years into Menino’s mayoralty, Rasky was still in the icehouse, suffering the famous Menino freeze-out, which, to steal a simile from a nation much in the news these days, lingered like the Russian winter. One could wait years for the return of the rooks to signal that spring had arrived.
“For a lot of people, including myself, the Walsh administration has been a breath of fresh air,” says Rasky, who has done some consulting work for Walsh. “There is a lot more openness to people, whether you were with him or against him.”
Further, people can differ with the mayor publicly without being sent to civic Siberia.
“You are not required to go into exile if you disagree with him,” notes Jack Connors, a prominent philanthropist and civic leader. “He doesn’t hold grudges.”
Now, the average voter may well say, all well and good, but beyond a casual handshake or two, I’m not one who ever has much to do with this mayor or that, so why does it matter?
For two reasons. First, the civic conversation in Boston is now far more freewheeling and open, with other local actors much more willing to offer their thoughts on the issues of the day. As a result, more ideas from more quarters are bandied about. Second, politics no longer operates on an axis of real or perceived slights. In the new environment, there’s a greater chance of decisions being made on the merits.
This isn’t as readily apparent an accomplishment as a new school or park or program. The effects, certainly, are harder to quantify. But over time, it matters. So credit where it’s due: As he pushes forward into his fourth year in office, Walsh has brought about a signal improvement in Boston’s civic climate.