U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh spoke to the Dorchester Reporter this week for his first one-on-one interview with Boston media since he resigned as mayor on March 22. Now three weeks into his tenure as a Cabinet member, he talked about his new (hybrid) commute, the conflict he felt about leaving City Hall, and his hopes for what comes next for his successor(s).
Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length. Read the full version in the Dorchester Reporter.
Dorchester Reporter: How is your new commute?
Marty Walsh: "Right now, you know, because of COVID, most of the work is being done remotely. There’s very strict protocols in place right now across the federal government. I've been down to DC every week since the job started. But I'm commuting back and forth. Eventually, I will be doing a lot more time in Washington and around the country, but because of COVID and some restrictions, I haven't done a lot of traveling yet…. I had to be at a Cabinet meeting two weeks ago at the White House. It’s hard to really build a team, and build camaraderie in a team when you're doing it remotely. The difference is that when I was the mayor and we went full remote due to COVID, we had already built a team in this particular case… But the people at the Department of Labor are great, great to work with. Lots of good people, lots of dedicated people…"
How are you adjusting to being “former” Mayor Walsh? Has that sunk in yet?
"Yeah, it's shifting every day as we move on. The best way to explain this job is that some of the skills that I learned being mayor have definitely been helpful, but honestly, a lot of it is from the State House, being a legislator. Working to build relationships, to build allegiances. A lot of that work happens here in this new role. It’s about relationships really, and you know, whether it's internal policy, a lot of policy work. As mayor, you have to make a decision quickly and it affects people instantly, almost. Here, it’s a little different because it's a lot of policy work. As you think about policy, you can't just wake up and say, we're going to do this or that. You have to really think about what's the impact is going to have on the American people and the people that we represent."
What’s the mood like within the Cabinet so far?
"Optimistic. Everyone's really happy. Everyone's really optimistic about the future of America. We all recognize there's a lot of work to be done, but the mood is optimistic and I would say the mood within the Department of Labor as well is optimistic and hopeful. There's a lot of important policy for the American worker that we're responsible for. So, I think that there's a real hope that, you know, we can move our country forward."
Where were you when you got the call from President Biden asking you to join his Cabinet?
"I was in the mayor's office. I was getting ready to practice my state of the city [speech]. Practice was at one o'clock. I talked to the president at five minutes to one. He called me on my phone and asked me if I would consider joining his administration."
How conflicted were you about staying as mayor, as opposed to joining the Cabinet?
"Very. Very conflicted. It tore me up a bit inside, because being mayor of the city I grew up in the city I love— and being a state rep before that— it was really hard. I was thinking about the people that work with me every day. That was the hardest thing. How would I let them know? You know, these are folks that, some, some were with me from 2013, some were with me from 1996. Some, I just met a few months ago. It was really hard. It's still, to some degree, hard. You know, when I think about my team at City Hall, I do get sad because I'm fortunate to have worked with so many incredible, wonderful people. And, you know, they're the ones who actually make the city look great and make me look good. It was hard."
Have you had time to consider what your legacy as mayor might be?
"I don't really think about legacy. I just think of how fortunate I am to have had the opportunities in my life. You know, it's amazing. When I was in the Cabinet meeting the other day, I was sitting two seats over from the vice president and across from the president. And I was just thinking like, ‘Oh my God, you know, I'm in the Cabinet for the president of the United States of America. And just thinking about the journey to that role, to that spot, it was just amazing…. I'm not sure what the legacy is, but you know, I'm just honored to have had these incredible opportunities and it's because people trust me and put their faith in me."
For all of the turmoil and challenges of the last year with COVID, your favorability rating among Boston voters remains high. Do you take some satisfaction from that?
"I guess, obviously as a person, yes. But I really would take satisfaction that I've left the city in a really strong position to move forward. Fiscally, we're the strongest we’ve ever been, with seven years straight of AAA bond rating. Our pension, liability, debt, as long as we stay on schedule, will be fully funded by 2024. There really aren’t many, if any, cities in America that can say that.
"The diversity of hiring since I became mayor has been 65% people of color, 55% women. We’ve tackled issues like pay equity. We’ve done police reform. I think we’re one of the only cities in America that actually did police reform and we did it with a group of private citizens who were on that task force and did some great things…. I'm really happy that we laid down a real good foundation for the next person, whether it's Kim Janey who is obviously doing a lot of stuff now, and then there's a race for mayor. So, there's a really good strong foundation. Whoever it is will not be inheriting a city that is a disaster."
The full version of this story originally appeared in the Dorchester Reporter.