WHEN MARTY WALSH’S biography is written, here’s what it might say: In his first term as mayor of Boston, Walsh focused on the challenges that seemed most immediate, including housing, human services, and the city’s business climate. He did such a solid job that voters reelected him overwhelmingly, even against a charismatic opponent.
Then, armed with his popular mandate, and the accumulated experience of those first four years, Walsh spent his political capital tackling the city’s seemingly intractable problems — starting with the uneven quality of the city’s public schools. And he did the political heavy lifting to ensure that the police and fire departments would more closely resemble the communities they serve.
That’s what voters can hope for, anyway.
Walsh completed the first chapter of that story on Tuesday, when he easily beat his opponent, city councilor Tito Jackson. Walsh earned it: On his watch, Boston is building housing for a growing population, managing the impact of a crippling opioid crisis, and attracting major employers like General Electric. He’s kept the city’s finances sound, and stood up for the city’s values against a hostile administration in Washington.
But Walsh largely deferred major education reforms in his first term. Several high schools are ailing, the system struggles to hire good principals, and the school budget wastes too much money on busing and unneeded classroom space. Walsh did win a longer school day, a real improvement, but too many city schools still aren’t living up to their potential.
And after winning the endorsement of public safety unions in 2013, Walsh was also in no rush to ruffle their feathers. The mayor initially resisted a body camera program for police, and still hasn’t made the pilot program permanent. Meanwhile, the Fire Department has maintained its poor diversity record.
With a renewed mandate from voters, Walsh can revive his stalled high school redesign program, provide universal pre-K, and follow through on the universal application for parents. He can press Beacon Hill for civil service reforms to ensure a more diverse fire department.
Jackson deserves the city’s gratitude for running, and for holding Walsh’s feet to the fire on some of his administration’s shortcomings. On a day when every incumbent city councilor who sought reelection won, the challenge faced by candidates like Jackson was abundantly clear.
Now, Walsh must go to work for all Bostonians. It’s taking nothing away from his accomplishments over the last four years, or his impressive victory on Tuesday, to say that he has his work cut out for him.