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8 Moments That Moved Me At Marty Walsh’s Inauguration

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh waves after giving his inaugural address in Conte Forum at Boston College in Boston, Monday, Jan. 6, 2014. (Michael Dwyer/AP)
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh waves after giving his inaugural address in Conte Forum at Boston College in Boston, Monday, Jan. 6, 2014. (Michael Dwyer/AP)
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One of the cardinal rules for sportswriters — no cheering in the press box — has this twist for political reporters: no sentimental weeping at political events.

Every now and then, in nearly 50 years in journalism, I’ve found myself in hopeless violation of that second standard. Wiping away a tear is simply not part of the drill at events you’re assigned to cover with presumably dispassionate remove.

I showed up at Marty Walsh’s inaugural not as a reporter but as a newcomer to Boston anxious to get a glimpse of the new mayor’s first moves. At the time of the election I was still registered to vote in Florida, and anyway had no particular favorite in the November mayoral race. But from my spot high in the bleachers at Boston College’s Conte Forum, here’s some of what moved me as the new guy took office Monday:

One of the cardinal rules for sportswriters -- no cheering in the press box -- has this twist for political reporters: no sentimental weeping at political events.

1. A stirring performance by students from the Boston Renaissance Charter Public School of a song written by 85-year-old Mel King, one of Boston’s first African American mayoral candidates (he lost to Ray Flynn in 1983).

2. Gov. Deval Patrick’s personal reminder to Walsh that the new mayor’s victories over cancer and alcohol underline his debt to all Bostonians in need of a second chance.

3. The matter-of-fact introduction of Lorrie Higgins as Walsh’s “partner” (he has no civilly or religiously sanctioned spouse). A small point, perhaps, but here’s hoping it wasn’t lost on the two priests seated stage right: Boston College President William P. Leahy, S.J. and Cardinal Seán O’Malley.

4. Newly elected members of the City Council sharing the stage with Walsh, along with some unscripted interaction raising hopes for collaboration missing for decades at City Hall. I especially appreciated City Clerk Maureen Feeney’s reading of the home addresses of each of the victorious candidates, as in… Matt O’Malley, 226 Jamaica Way; Josh Zakim, 177 Commonwealth Ave., Mark Ciommo, 10 Oliver Road, etc.

5. The new mayor’s neighborhood twist on Boston’s historic perch as “the city on the hill.” As Walsh put it, to some of the morning’s biggest cheers: “Boston has been called, a City upon a Hill. We are a City Upon a Hill, but it’s not just the shining light of Beacon Hill. It’s Savin Hill, where I live. It’s Bunker Hill, Bellevue Hill and Fort Hill. It’s Pope’s Hill, Jones Hill, and Telegraph Hill. It’s Copp’s Hill, Mission Hill and Eagle Hill.”

6. Walsh’s insistence that it’s time that “the city known the world over for its great colleges and universities… has a world class public school system.”

7. Walsh’s shout-out to the city’s gay and lesbian communities, as well as his raised fist salute to his “brothers and sisters in the labor movement.”

8. Brief but stunning performances by Yo-Yo Ma and Irish Tenor Ronan Tynan. After belting out “God Bless America,” Tynan turned to Walsh and said, “It’s a great day to be Irish!”

Just how great a day it’ll turn out to be for Bostonians remains to be seen, of course. Before long, we’ll see what all the soaring rhetoric really adds up to.

It’s the prospect of second chances -- for imperfect and damaged cities as much as their imperfect and damaged residents -- that moved me beyond sappy sentiment to realistic hope for a better Boston.

It was the governor's reference to Walsh's struggles with cancer and alcoholism that had me wiping away the tears. It's the prospect of second chances — for imperfect and damaged cities as much as their imperfect and damaged residents — that moved me beyond sappy sentiment to realistic hope for a better Boston.

Picking my way past the puddles on the Chestnut Hill Reservoir path after the inaugural, I recalled an encounter with an old friend a few days before the election. She’s a tough former newswoman whom I suspect would find my soft spots for the new mayor unbecoming of our profession.

In our conversation that evening — amid Halloween celebrations on Beacon Hill — I was struck by her adamant opposition to Walsh. She insisted his union ties would forever block the sort of educational reform the city’s schools need so badly.

That’s exactly the sort of challenge the new mayor will have to meet if he wants to keep moving people the way he did Monday. And if he does, he might even move that friend of mine.


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Bill Mitchell Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Bill Mitchell is an affiliate faculty member of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies.

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