BostonHerald.com – ‘‘Great Expectations’ for Walsh’ – 1/5/14

By Kevin C. Peterson

Bill de Blasio was inaugurated mayor of New York City last Wednesday where he declared a new era in municipal government that includes creating universal kindergarten, reducing poverty and promoting affordable housing for the homeless.

The new mayor could not have been clearer: “We are called to put an end to economic and social inequalities that threaten to unravel the city we love. And so today, we commit to a new progressive direction in New York … that same progressive impulse has written our city’s history.”

Tomorrow, Bostonians will also celebrate a new mayor as he is sworn into office.

But what comprehensive vision will Marty Walsh bring to Boston?

Outgoing Mayor Thomas Menino leaves a legacy as the “urban mechanic” who got things done by paying attention to delivering basic city services.

Will Walsh offer more of the same? Or will he seek a different path like the newly minted mayor of New York?

Throughout last fall’s campaign some mayoral aspirants acknowledged that Boston was a decidedly Dickensian place — “A Tale of Two Cities.”

They agreed there is a Boston enjoyed by the privileged and protected. But at the same time they said Boston is a city where too many are poor and vulnerable.

A 2013 housing study released by Northeastern University economist Barry Bluestone highlights those vastly different realities faced by Bostonians.

In a report released by the Boston Foundation in October, Bluestone documented that, since the 2008 recession, the cost of living has increased twice as fast as the average homeowner’s income and three times faster than what renters earned in Boston.

With wage income relatively static in Boston, the study said that a trend like this is squeezing middle income earners and crushing the poor.

Public safety, the public school system and homelessness also present challenges to Bostonians. So, it would be easy for Walsh to mimic New York City’s mayor and reach for every liberal policy solution he could find.

But Walsh does not seem to be a big-spending liberal. And, like Menino, he seems deliberate and careful about how he uses his political capital.

Starting tomorrow Walsh must begin to articulate the direction in which he wants to take the city.

But instead of adopting de Blasio’s ultra-liberal stances, Walsh can take a more balanced approach.

In doing so Walsh can put to use another phrase from Charles Dickens by declaring his administration as one of “Great Expectations.”

Boston possesses enormous resources, including its colleges, hospitals, its young population and its ethnically diverse neighborhoods. Boston has also cultivated a highly functional and innovative nonprofit sector.

These assets should be put to greater use in ensuring a safety net for the poor while generating opportunities for land development and entrepreneurial efforts.

Striking that balance will be the challenge for Walsh not just in tomorrow’s speech, but in the days and months ahead.

Kevin C. Peterson is a senior
fellow at The Center for Collaborative Leadership at the University of Massachusetts Boston and founder of the New Democracy Coalition.

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