BOSTON — Two of the top aides to Boston’s new mayor, Marty Walsh, have taken quite divergent paths to get where they are now. Daniel Arrigg Koh, originally from Andover, is Walsh’s 29-year-old chief of staff and has a blue-chip pedigree. Fifty-year-old Joyce Linehan is from Dorchester, like Walsh, and has a rock-and-roll background; she’s even hosted musicians including Courtney Love and Eddie Vedder in her home.
WBUR’s All Things Considered host Sacha Pfeiffer sat down with Koh and Linehan in their City Hall offices Friday to talk about how they’re adjusting and how the policy proposals Walsh made during his campaign are progressing, as well as how the city is being run differently with Walsh at the helm. Koh said one major difference is Walsh’s aggressive use of technology.
“What we’re going to be doing is installing a couple of big screens in his office showing things like: here are the 911 calls today; here are the police emergencies today; here are the shootings that happened today; here’s how that compares to last year, last month, last week,” Koh explained. “And even things like: here’s a Word Cloud of all the Twitter activity going on in Boston by number of tweets and the different sizes of the text. So he can see it in real-time. We want it to be data that he can actually react to rather than some aesthetic thing on the wall that he just occasionally glances at.”
Koh says Walsh is embracing social media — not just by having a presence on Twitter, as Mayor Thomas Menino also did — but by using software that tracks tweeting trends and sentiments, and even identifies which parts of the city they’re coming from. For example, City Hall could study all the tweets originating from the Grove Hall neighborhood to monitor problems and spot emerging issues. Koh says Walsh will also do scheduled and impromptu online chats.
“The second week in office he did a Twitter Q&A,” Koh recalled. “We’re going to follow up that with a Facebook Q&A, one of the first ones that Facebook’s officially going to be deeply involved in. We’re also going to be doing a Reddit Ask Me Anything. I had a great tangible experience the other day when a constituent tweeted out a photo of her unplowed street. I got in touch with Mike Denehy, our commissioner of public works, [and] told him about it. About 15 minutes later, she tweeted the same thing, but it was plowed, and she said, ‘This is tremendous. You kept your word. Thank you so much.’ And the mayor understands the value of that.”
Koh has an undergraduate degree and MBA from Harvard. His family includes a father in the Obama administration, an uncle who served as dean of Yale Law School, and a grandfather who was South Korea’s ambassador to the U.S. He most recently worked for Arianna Huffington as general manager of HuffPost Live. And despite being almost 20 years younger than his new boss, Koh he says he believes they’re clicking.
“I think there’s a lot of overlap in our personalities and a lot of overlap in kind of how we think, which is interesting because we come from such different backgrounds,” Koh said. “But I think that he and I are constantly having interesting conversations about the next steps for things. He’ll say, ‘Hey, I’m thinking about appointing this person, or I’m thinking about enacting this policy.’ And he’s open-minded enough, and I think I’m open-minded enough, that we have back-and-forths on it, and we’re not getting on each other’s nerves.”
Just down the hallway from Koh is Linehan, the mayor’s chief of policy. For most of her career she’s been a music promoter and publicist for Boston arts organizations. About a decade ago, she began volunteering for the campaigns of progressive Democratic politicians. Linehan said she sees clear parallels between her work in the arts and the skills required in her new job at City Hall.
“Punk rock, which is where I come from, has a real DIY ethic,” Linehan explained. “It’s a lot about organizing before we knew that what it was was called organizing. We put on shows back then, we organized tours, we did promotions, we did marketing. We did all that kind of stuff. And somehow that skill set really translates well to grassroots politics. You know, trying to create a scene around art is not that different to trying to create a scene around policy.”
Linehan says she’s methodically going through each campaign pledge and proposal to determine how, and on what timeline, to try to execute it. And while the mayor is primarily focused on tackling gun violence and improving public schools and the city’s economy, the administration is also determined to find a way to use the arts to improve public safety and education, Linehan added.
“I think that we have a moment here where we can really turn Boston into a municipal arts leader,” she said. “I understand that there are issues that are more important and more pressing. But for me, in the long term, finding the right person — executing a national search to find the right person to lead the arts commission to a place where it’s really integrated well with all of those other policy areas — is something that is personally important to me.”
Linehan and Koh both say the administration’s biggest adjustment is managing a hectic schedule of meetings and public appearances, but they’ll soon have a new technology to help with that, too — one that can track much time the mayor is spending in different neighborhoods and what kind of progress those neighborhoods are making on various issues.