Before his expected move to Washington, D.C. to serve as Joe Biden's Secretary of Labor, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh acknowledged that a deadly pandemic made 2020 "a tough year" for the city, but said 2021 will be "a year of healing."
"We may be hurting, but the state of our city is resilient," Walsh said in his final State of the City address on Tuesday, which he delivered from the rebuilt Roxbury branch of the Boston Public Library in Nubian Square.
"The state of our city is united; the state of our city is hopeful; and the state of our city is deep-down Boston strong," Walsh said.
As he honored the 1,060 Bostonians who lost their lives, including a social worker from Dorchester, a Boston EMT from Mattapan and a police officer serving Jamaica Plain, Walsh said, "We're a city aching with loss." And he acknowledged that the pandemic has hit some communities harder than others.
"In Black, Latino and immigrant communities, inequities in health, housing and work opportunities caused more illness and job loss," he said.
"The state of our city is united; the state of our city is hopeful; and the state of our city is deep-down Boston strong."Mayor Marty Walsh
In his speech, Walsh walked a line between acknowledging the pain and suffering that dominated 2020, while touting his administration's record of accomplishment during an historically difficult year for the city.
"We created a Health Inequities Task Force to close those gaps of race and ethnicity," he said. "We provided over six million meals to children, families, veterans, and seniors." He said the city delivered 40,000 laptops to help students, many of whom have struggled with at-home learning, while making investments in new parks, schools and affordable housing.
Walsh also looked ahead, and said his priorities start with keeping Bostonians safe during a new year in which the pandemic will continue to put many people at risk.
"That means making decisions grounded in science; wearing our masks and taking precautions to slow the spread of the virus," all of which, the mayor said, will continue to be necessary until vaccines become more widely available.
"Scientists are clear: these vaccines are safe," Walsh said, urging Boston's diverse communities to share information about the safety of the new vaccines in their native languages. "Our first responders have already begun to get vaccinated; I urge you do do so as well."
Despite the hardships for many small businesses, including restaurants and bars, stores and salons, gyms and art studios, Walsh used Tuesday night to talk about his hopes for economic recovery, saying Boston is poised to bounce back.
"For seven years, we built one of the most dynamic and resilient economies in the world," he said. "So far, we provided $26 million in resources to nearly 4,000 small business. ... These new opportunities, from outdoor dining to reopening grants, are just the beginning."
James Rooney, president and CEO of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, said Walsh delivered a speech that balanced concern for the challenges that Boston faced in 2020 with the right amount of optimism about its future. And he gave Walsh credit for being a mayor who was responsive to the neighborhoods, to activists and to the business community.
"There were a lot of people who were uncertain about what would a Mayor Walsh be like, given his background as a labor leader," Rooney said. "But he immediately reached out to the business community. So, I think he was true to what he said he was going to do, which was to be a mayor who listened and learned."
Beyond the pandemic, Walsh spoke Tuesday night of the other urgent issue that dominated so much of 2020: the police killing of George Floyd and the nationwide reckoning with systemic racism and police brutality. As he thanked Black Bostonians "for the way you made your voices heard," he said he is proud of the work his administration has done.
That work, according to Walsh, included declaring racism "a public health crisis."
"We launched a Health Equity plan to end the disparities for good," he said. "We shifted millions of dollars into youth, trauma, and mental health programs. We enacted historic police reforms, with Black and Brown Bostonians leading the work."
Michael Curry, the deputy CEO and general counsel at Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers and the former head of the Boston branch of the NAACP, said Walsh was able to make important progress on race and equity in Boston because he cared personally about the issue.
"It lead to the work that was done around police reform in the city of Boston," said Curry, who sat on the mayor's Health and Equity Task Force. "It led to the work addressing the underlying health inequities that had Black and brown citizens dying and infected at higher rates [than whites] from COVID-19."
"The truth is, I'm not going to Washington alone. I'm bringing Boston with me."Mayor Marty Walsh
Walsh delivered his State of the City address just about a week after Biden selected him as his pick for U.S. labor secretary. If he is confirmed by the U.S. Senate, City Council President Kim Janey will take over as interim mayor. Two other city councillors — Michelle Wu and Andrea Campbell — have already announced their plans to run for mayor.
Walsh's final major address as mayor was a kind of love letter to the city from a chief executive who is, more than anything else, a Boston boy through and through.
"This is the city that welcomed my immigrant parents," Walsh said, as he choked up with emotion. "This is the city that picked me up when I needed a second chance," said the the mayor who used his own story of recovery to signal to many battling addiction in Boston that he understood their struggles and believed in their ability to bounce back.
"You may have bumped heads with Mayor Walsh over many things, [such as] union contracts or economic development," Curry said. "But one thing you could not challenge is that he's a sincere guy who wanted to do the best for the city of Boston."
"He was a good mayor," said Rooney. "He was Marty from Dorchester — and I think that's what people wanted. They wanted regular-guy-Marty to be their mayor."
As Walsh prepares to leave the job he's held for seven years, he's promising that Biden's new administration will be a progressive partner to cities like Boston.
"In eight days, we'll have have friends and allies in the White House who believe in cities and share our values," he said Tuesday night.
"The truth is, I'm not going to Washington alone. I'm bringing Boston with me."
This segment aired on January 13, 2021.