Marty Walsh must clarify his views on patronage

When the mayor of Boston says that fraud in public hiring is no big deal, he’s sending an alarming message. Marty Walsh was wrong to minimize the misdeeds of former Probation Commissioner John O’Brien, and he should swiftly reverse himself before his words deepen public cynicism about government.

A jury convicted O’Brien of fraud, racketeering, and conspiracy last week, concluding that he created an elaborate scheme to hide the fact that he was essentially letting state legislators fill probation jobs through their “recommendations.” But Walsh said on Tuesday that he disagreed with the jury. The verdict unnerved many legislators on Beacon Hill, who are seemingly inured to the practice of recommending supporters for jobs. Walsh, a former state representative from Dorchester, apparently agreed with them. But unlike the others, he now runs a bureaucracy controlling thousands of public-sector jobs.

When Walsh’s constituents go to City Hall, they need to be confident that employees have been selected on the basis of competence. But by signaling his acceptance of the patronage system, Walsh undermined that trust. The only way to get it back is to reverse his comments, and loudly proclaim that he expects city officials to hire workers on the basis of merit, period.