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Boston Mayoral Forums 2017: Marty Walsh

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh at WBUR in 2015 (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh at WBUR in 2015 (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
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Part two of our special Mayoral Forums Series, hosted along with UMass Boston, The Boston Globe, NECN, NBC Boston and Telemundo Boston

This fall, Boston has a big choice: Give Mayor Marty Walsh a second term, or elect a new face for the city, Councilor Tito Jackson.

On Wednesday, we presented the first of two mayoral conversations, with Jackson. On Thursday, we spoke with Walsh. We talked to the candidates about education, inequality, race, public safety and their own personal backgrounds.

Missed Walsh's forum? Here's WBUR's Fred Thys reporting on it, and you can watch it here:

Having trouble viewing the video above? Watch via YouTube here.


Marty Walsh, mayor of Boston since 2014. He tweets @marty_walsh.

Interview Transcript

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and time.

Meghna Chakrabarti: The first question is going to come to you from the audience off a notecard. Someone wants to know something that I think a lot of us want to know: What is the biggest thing that you've learned about yourself throughout your first term as mayor?

Mayor Marty Walsh: Oh, that's a great question. That's a hard question to answer. I think one of the things that I said at my state of this, when I first got sworn in the first day, I think I've become a better listener.

When you're the mayor, you have to go around the city of Boston, you have to listen to people. It's not all about telling people what you think is right or wrong. It's about listening. And I think if you listened well and your administration listens well, you can do a lot of good things for the city of Boston.

And we've learned that in so many different issues, which we'll talk about today, about how we move forward. But I think listening is probably one of the best things that I've learned that I guess I knew about myself, but I really had to master.

Meghan Irons: What is a top priority for you going into your reelection? What do you want to accomplish that you did not accomplish in your first term?

Mayor Marty Walsh: Well, I think the first term, we really used it as a road map to the future for all Bostonians and you know, we did a lot of planning. We have the Imagine Boston 2030 plan. We have the Climate Ready plan, it's a cultural plan with transportation plan. So we've done a lot of planning moving forward.

I think that the next four years, it's continuing the work that we've already done, whether that's continuing to create low- and middle-income family housing, whether that's continuing to improve the quality of our schools in the city of Boston, whether that's looking at the infrastructure of our city when it comes to bikes and pedestrians and making sure that our Vision Zero policy is truly carried out, where we have safe streets.

On our public safety side — continue the diversity of the police department that we've done and continue the work with the police department, as far as building up relationships in the community.

So I think that we have laid the foundation down for an awful lot and now it's about how do you continue that work moving forward? And I think that we have some great people working in the city and we have some great folks working with us in the city in order to do things like that.

Meghna Chakrabarti: So let me ask if I can — Mr. Mayor, you told The Boston Globe recently that you felt overwhelmed during your first three months in office ... you said, I literally went home every night for the first two months and said, oh my God, what have I gotten myself into? It's a couple of years later. Why do you want a second term?

Mayor Marty Walsh: Let me expand on that. My first three months in office I was, I guess when I say this, I wasn't completely aware of the press inquiries that would come my way in this announcement

Meghna Chakrabarti: You've been in the State House, how could you not be aware of that?

Mayor Marty Walsh: The tenacity of the press coming my way, you know, that was one thing. Schedule was crazy as well, you know, trying to balance the office with the community.

And I couldn't talk to anyone about it, you know. Lorrie [Higgins]'s here with me today. She spent 9, 10 months of her life going 24 hours for me. And everyone that was close to me was working campaign full time, so I couldn't  let my guard down and say to somebody, you know, I don't know quite how to manage this. Because everyone around me was helping me.

But you know, it took a little while. I mean the first day in office, first I was there I had a public safety meeting, which I did have and were able to you know, we had that meeting. About an hour and a half later, when everyone left after the swearing in, one of the lawyers and the corporation counsel came down and said to me, you have to make a decision if you are a host or surrounding community for the casino.

And I'm thinking, well, the casino vote happened in November. It got defeated. Why do I have to deal with that. And I never realized that we hadn't moved on Everett. So now I'm in the middle of a casino conversation. And then trying to set up the operation, making sure that we live up to the promises I made with diversity of my team and making sure we bring in the right people.

So for the first three months, it was very daunting. After three months it became less daunting and I focused my life. I live my life a day at a time and I realize that this is the day, the time, for me to do to get this job right. And I feel comfortable. I love the job.

And the next four years, I'm going to love every day of it. Assuming the people of Boston love me and put me back there. So hopefully they do.

Meghan Irons: Mayor Walsh, this is from our audience as well: Is there one thing that you're most proud of in the time you've been in office.

Mayor Marty Walsh: Yeah. There's a lot of things I'm proud of

Meghna Chakrabarti: I'm gonna actually throw in Part B, your greatest misstep so far.

Mayor Marty Walsh: OK. Part A, I think looking back on my three and a half years as mayor — there's a gentleman sitting in the crowd here today, his name is Anthony Wheeler.

Anthony Wheeler is previously homeless. He's a homeless elder — he's been on the streets for 17 years, after we had to close the Long Island Bridge, which was an awful decision that we had to make in the city.

We actually looked at our homelessness, the way we deliver homelessness and we created a system that helped us house homeless vets and then homeless people, chronically homeless folks on the streets for a long time. For decades.

We've housed over 1,100 people. The day I got sworn in as mayor of the city of Boston, there were 1,100 people that are now in a home that were living on streets, under trees, under bridges you know, in staying warm. Today we've been able to put a system in place to house 1,100 people.

That I think is one of the greatest things we can do. We've affected so many people. That's number one. And on top of that, ended chronic veterans homelessness by doing that and on the pace to ending all chronic homelessness by the year 2018. Wnd we can do that in Boston we're going to do that in Boston.

The greatest misstep, I guess. It's hard to — I mean again, I think there was... there's a lot of things that we'd like to look at doing differently.

Meghan Irons: The Olympics?

Mayor Marty Walsh: No that's not a misstep.

Meghna Chakrabarti: Indycar?

Mayor Marty Walsh: That's not a misstep. The misstep --

Meghan Irons: It's not?

Mayor Walsh: No. The misstep is probably waiting a little too long to bring in a superintendent of schools.

You know, John McDonough, who did a great job as interim when I took over, there was an editorial in The Boston Globe that said, keep John McDonough for another year, and I did. I had him for two years. Again, not that John wasn't doing a good job. But Tommy Chang has some great vision for the future of the city and in his year and a half as superintendent, has really done some incredible things.

We have more Level 1 and Level 2 schools right now in the city of Boston than any other period in history of our city. We have more kids going to school level at top level schools. So I just think that one year of losing that leadership potentially, as far as a new vision, hurt us a little bit. But we're catching up and we're going to continue that growth in the second part.

The Olympic piece. You talk about the Olympics. That's something I inherited. When I came in, the Mayor was already under the process. The city and state were already in the process of moving toward the Olympics. I made it very clear in the Olympic conversation: Boston pulled out of the Olympics.

We pulled out of the Olympics because it was a document that the International Olympic Committee wanted me to sign that would say if the Olympic Games didn't happen or if something were to go wrong, that the city of Boston would be responsible for any shortfall that happened. That would have been a shortfall anywhere from a $2 billion to a $5 billion shortfall.

I felt and have said at the very beginning, I felt that that was something I could not sign and I could not mortgage the future of the city away. We have a AAA bond rating in Boston for the last four years. I've run a very tight economic ship in the city of Boston. We don't spend money bad. So I'm not going to sign a $5 billion note.

In saying that, what the Olympics forced us to do, is really look at opportunities. And what it did for us, is Widett Circle is an opportunity potentially for economic development in future growth in the city of Boston. Harambee Park in Roxbury where they were going to put the tennis facility, is an opportunity. We're renovating that park now — state of the art renovations going on there.

Our transportation system, which isn't completely controlled by the city of Boston, but we need to partner with the state because we need a reliable transit system that isn't completely reliable hundred percent today. And we need to continue to work with the state. So we came up with a plan to have the T first rate.

Meghna Chakrabarti: Mayor, sorry, I want to jump in because we were going to hold the Olympics till later, but here they are. Because I mean you did recently tell Boston Magazine that if it happened now, you'd still go for it again. But what I want to know is, just a minute or two ago, you talked about how the importance of listening, in terms of your job as being the leader the mayor of the city in Boston. But it's exactly that thing that I think a lot of Bostonians who were opposed to Boston 2024 felt that you weren't doing — that you weren't listening to them and their concerns about the economic cost of hosting if the bid had been successful. What do you tell them?

Mayor Marty Walsh: They were absolutely right with that. And as mayor of the city of Boston --

Meghna Chakrabarti: But they felt that you weren't listening to them and their concerns.

Mayor Marty Walsh: But I was listening. Because then the day we didn't go forward. And I think that that's very important to understand.

Meghna Chakrabarti: But not because of the concern they had about the economic cost if the bid had been successful. That's what they were worried about. They felt that the money — that it would cost Boston too much to host.

Mayor Marty Walsh: It wouldn't have. The way the plan was written for the 2024 Games is very similar to the plan that's being written right now in Los Angeles, California. The difference is Los Angeles has a lot of infrastructure. So I'm hopeful that Los Angeles gets the games because it's great to bring the games back to the United States.

I think what's happened with the Olympic conversation --again, am I going to go for it in 2032? No, we're not going to go for it. What I'm saying is I have bigger things to do here as mayor of the city of Boston. Education is more important. Creating more housing's more important. Making sure that we deal with climate change is more important. Ending homelessness is more important to me.

I looked at the Olympics as an opportunity potentially for growth in our city. We were looking... Let me just finish.

We were going to have to create 17,000 units of housing for the Olympic Village. Seventeen thousand units of housing that when when the Olympics are over after four weeks — because it's two weeks of the Olympics and two weeks of the Paralympics —  we would have 17,000 units of housing for moderate-, for middle- and low-income residents to be able to go in to buy and move forward.

We would have had to have an MBTA that's up to speed by the year 2024. It would have given a deadline date for the T to be brought up to speed that would have had to happen.

And as far as Widett Circle, that's where they were talking about Olympic Village at that point and Harambee Park, next to Franklin Field. All of those would have had millions of dollars of private investment. This isn't public money. This is all private investment that was going to go into these areas and again it didn't happen.

And I think the people that obsess about it are the press, because they're like 'Let's talk about the Olympics' all the time. It didn't happen. And in about a week there's going to be Los Angeles, probably Paris, are going to be chosen as the 2024 host and the 2028 host. And then we can stop talking about the 2024 games and Boston.

Meghan Irons: Mayor Walsh, we're talking about if you had regrets. You took the city through a very divisive, some would say, period over the Olympics, over the cost, over what it would do to communities. Would you really do this again if you had to do it again?

Mayor Marty Walsh: Let's talk about that, Meghan. Because I think that the divisiveness that happened during that time — a lot of it was driven by certain not reporting both sides of the fence.

And I think there was a lot of people that when those meetings happened for the Olympic conversation, there was more people in the room for the Olympics than against it. But again, it didn't happen.

Let me just back up. I'm going to end it here. I didn't move forward. I listened to the folks that were concerned about the Olympics. I will listen to the folks that are concerned about what it would cost the city of Boston. I listened to those folks because at the end the day, we pulled out of the bid because I wasn't willing to sign a document that stated that the city of Boston would pick up any overrun.

Now that overrun would be in building stadiums, that overrun would have been building infrastructure, that overrun would have been building housing, that overrun would have been if the games were canceled altogether. So we did not move forward on it. And it was Marty Walsh, the mayor of Boston that pulled the plug on that.

Meghna Chakrabarti: So I know you want to move forward, and we do too. But again, I keep coming back to the question of leadership. Let me just rephrase what I was wondering a little bit. Would you do anything differently if you were to do it again?

Mayor Marty Walsh: Oh yeah. See, it was already started prior to me being the mayor.

Meghna Chakrabarti: If you were to do it again, would you, how would you do it different?

Mayor Marty Walsh: The first question I would ask is the financial model and seeing if the IOC [International Olympic Committee] and the USOC [U.S. Olympic Committee] were willing to change the financial model of what we're going to do.

They put a plan out — when I say 'they,' the United States Olympic Committee and the International Olympic Committee put a plan out — to change the financial structure of the games after Russia because it cost $52 billion dollars or something to build those Olympics. So this model was a downgraded model that they were talking about. I would have had those conversations long before we even put an application in the very beginning. When I became the mayor, the application was in. It was already filed. It was moving forward.

Meghan Irons: But wouldn't you acknowledge then that you could have focused more on your education priorities for instance, if you weren't so focused on the Olympics? Or you'd be able to do of some of the things that you had on your list...

Mayor Marty Walsh: Let me tell you how much focus was on the Olympics. When you're the mayor of the city of Boston, you don't have the luxury of spending a lot of time focusing on issues like the Olympics. You have to spend a lot of time focusing on any issue that comes in front of you.

In the course of the day, I spend a lot of time on a lot of different topics, as we'll find out today what I do as mayor — you can't focus just on one issue. That's why you bring people in and around you that are experts and smart in those fields so they can move forward. You know, I think as mayor, I don't think the people of Boston want to elect a mayor that's only focused on one item at a time and can only handle one issue at a time. If that's the case, then whoever is running for the job is running for the wrong job.

Meghna Chakrabarti: Well, shockingly there are other issues that possibly we should be talking about here. But I appreciate you engaging on the question of what the process of Boston 2024 meant for you in the city.

So let's move to the thing that I think we get continuously the most listener and viewer response to and that's the question of affordability and housing. Lots of conversation and questions about that. Now your administration has facilitated the construction of more than 13,000 units in the past three years in Boston.

Mayor Marty Walsh: 19.

Meghna Chakrabarti: 19,000.

Mayor Marty Walsh: 19,000

Meghna Chakrabarti: Forty percent of them, your administration says are affordable. Lots of questions from listeners and viewers online about this. You know some of the folks point to developments where they see affordable housing being branded as housing for those earning up to $58,000 to $72,000. And I'm getting a lot of feedback from folks saying that they don't think that's affordable. How do you fix that?

And in fact yesterday, in our conversation with city councilor Tito Jackson, he actually said he thinks it's time for the city to reconsider what it means by affordable. What do you think about that idea?

Mayor Marty Walsh: I don't think we have to redefine. I think we know what affordable is. I think we know that a family that earns $58,000 a year might seem like a decent amount of money on paper, but you can ask any person in this auditorium or young person who's out trying, looking for an apartment, that some of the apartments are going for $25[-hundred] and $3,000 a month and $58,000 isn't going to give you enough to be able to afford some of those homes.

When I came in as mayor of the city of Boston in 2014, one of the things that we realized working with Sheila Dillon chief of housing, was looking at how do we make sure our city stays affordable for folks? We were growing. We had companies wanting to move into the city. We had young people, millennials wanting to stay in our city. We've had people that went to college here wanting to live in our city. We had Baby Boomers moving back to our city. So we launched a housing plan to look at different areas of housing and one was creating the 53,000 units in new housing by the year 2030.

That plan was about working with our college and universities to build on-campus housing to free up housing stock in neighborhoods such as Allston and Brighton. Parts of Dorchester, Mission Hill, areas where some of those neighborhoods are being overrun by students and the people that own those homes are raising rents in those areas, charging students $1,000 a month where there was four and five and six students living in an apartment. And that $6,000 a month prices families out of neighborhoods. We've seen it -- this has been going on for decades in those neighborhoods. So that was one aspect of our plan.

Second aspect of our plan was looking at how do we create more senior housing in the city of Boston — seniors who live in homes today that might not be able to maintain them anymore. How do we make sure that they have an opportunity to live in a senior apartment building that is affordable for them? Again, that frees up additional housing stock in communities.

We looked at publicly-owned land and how do we get the land costs down? And the Department of Neighborhood Development looked across the street, found 600 parcels of land across the city of Boston that right now, we're building 1-, 2- and 3-family homes on, for first time homebuyers, the most ever in the history of the city.

We're looking at some other ways of building homes. I brought in the business community, the inclusionary development and we talked to them. They were building 13 percent of affordable off-site or on-site and we changed that to 18 percent. And since we changed that model in, I want to say early 2015, we've raised over $71 million dollars in money that's gone into low-income housing and mostly low-income housing.

The Community Preservation Act in 2001 — the city of Boston went for it. That was a tax 1 percent surcharge on all the homeowners in the city of Boston. In 2001, the city council and the mayor went for it. They didn't get it. They lost at the ballot box in 2000. And last year, 2016, we did the same thing and it passed — 70 percent of the Boston residents supported that. We're going to have 20 additional million dollars a year that's going to go into affordable housing, open space and historic preservation. So when you think about the investments that the administration that I have has made, we've made $100 billion of investments in housing. Now...

Meghan Irons: How are you defining housing, Mayor Walsh? I mean, how are you defining affordability, Mayor Walsh?

Mayor Marty Walsh: Affordable, low-income and moderate-income. Low-income is somebody who is either, whether if they're not working or on a Section 8 or some type of assistance, we're working on it in our Boston Housing Authority. We have one of the largest housing authorities, the largest in the northeast not including New York City, and we're having our low income families move in there. We're working with other low-income providers. Also families who earn earn anywhere from $0 to $40,000 in low-income and say $40 up to to $100,000 are middle income. Those are all people we should be doing.

I don't agree with the premise that we shouldn't focus on somebody making $58,000 a year because if we don't focus on somebody making $58,000 a year, before you know it, they falter.

We want people to increase their wealth, not lose their wealth and if they're spending all of their wealth in housing, then they're not going to have ability to be able to live or put food on the table and do other things. So we not only have to work to lift up the people that have disadvantages, we also have to make sure our middle class stays a middle class.

Meghna Chakrabarti: So to that point, actually we have a question from a listener, Cameron. Cameron sent us this question: When will you be building fewer luxury high rises and stabilize rents, specifically to keep the middle class within city limits?

Mayor Marty Walsh: We actually have stabilized rents. Last year we made an announcement that our rents in Boston stabilized by 4 percent because of our housing stock.

It is a city like Boston — it goes back to the question of the Olympics — we can't... We have to be able to do both. We have to be able to walk and chew gum, if you will, at the same time. We can't just say OK, we're gonna stop building high-end housing and just build low-income housing. We're going to continue to build the housing in the city of Boston, continue to press where we can to get additional revenue into making sure that we want to continue to build moderate-, low-income housing  all over the city of Boston because we want to continue it.

And it's not just housing. Let's be honest. Let's take a step back. We created the Office of Economic Development. We can provide a house for somebody, but if they don't have a job then they're even at a bigger disadvantage. So we're working on creating more opportunities for jobs as well and trying to bring in some jobs here that have different types of skill sets so that we can get our people back working in the city of Boston.

Our unemployment rate is pretty low, but in certain parts of our city our unemployment rate could be as high as 9 percent. So we have to — and the reason why it's 9 percent is because people don't have the skills for some of the jobs that are out on the market and we have to work to -- if we want to lift people up, it's about lifting everyone up at the same time. That's what we have to do.

Meghan Irons: Mayor Walsh, your campaign sent out literature that says that during your administration you created 60,000 jobs.

Mayor Marty Walsh: Yes.

Meghan Irons: Is that accurate?

Mayor Marty Walsh: Yes, 60,000 jobs.

Meghan Irons: City Hall jobs? Are these all private sector jobs?

Mayor Marty Walsh: No.

Meghan Irons: What's the link to City Hall?

Mayor Marty Walsh: City Hall is only... there's 18,000 city employees work for the city. We don't have... we don't have beyond that.

Meghan Irons: How did you create the 60,000 jobs?

Mayor Marty Walsh: Working bringing companies into the city of Boston — all the tech companies, all the new companies. Our Office of Economic Development has attracted all kinds of companies. We had Reebok that's moving into the city Boston. We have Asics that's moving into the city of Boston. We have General Electric that's moving into the city of Boston. We just announced the other day that Amazon's moving into the city of Boston.

We have tons of tech companies that have come into the city that are making investments here in the city of Boston, staying here. We have other companies that are growing in the city of Boston. In the time that I — since 2014 to today, 60,000 new jobs have been created in the city of Boston.

Meghan Irons: And you had something to do with it? Your administration did?

Mayor Marty Walsh: Well I mean, of course we did. I mean we were making a culture here that people want to be here in the city of Boston. If they left, we'd be saying you chased them out, probably.

Meghna Chakrabarti: Well, underlying the question about housing and jobs is the bigger sort of issue that ties it all together, which is inequality in Boston. And your own report Imagine Boston 2030, had some pretty stark numbers in it, right? And I said them yesterday but they bear repeating today, that the median net worth for for white Bostonians is $247,500, $3,000 for some Hispanics and just $8 --

Mayor Marty Walsh: — for black families. It's awful.

Meghna Chakrabarti: So beyond the question of housing, we could also spend a whole hour talking about housing, but really, what more can you do? What more are you going to do, to close these gaps?

Mayor Marty Walsh: I mean again, I've been Mayor for three and a half years. This gap has grown prior to me becoming Mayor. It's not something that you can solve in three years. It's probably going to take realistically a decade to actually make some real input into closing some of those gaps.

We've done a lot of different programming that we have in the city of Boston. We have a job training program that we've worked on, with programs like Building Pathways and Operation Exit, strengthening those pathways into the building trades. We opened the Roxbury Innovation Lab over in the Boiling building. That was something that some people were kind of questioning why would we open an innovation lab in the Bolling building. Well, if it's good enough for the South Boston waterfront and it's good enough for the downtown area, it's good enough for the Roxbury community to have an innovation lab there. And again, young people going in there with ideas.

We're working on strengthening our free community — we put together a program for free community college that any Boston school, any graduate from Boston public schools that has a 2.0 GPA can sign up for Roxbury Community College, Bunker Hill Community College or MassBay community college and go to school for free. That includes fees. And if they can get a 3.0 GPA while they're in school — they have to graduate in 3 years — they keep that, get that GPA to 3.0, we're working with institutions like University of Massachusetts, like Boston University, to allow them the opportunity to go into further education with less debt than what some of the students are put up with today.

So the the answer is job training program. The answer is education. The issue of inequality, income inequality is not a simple solution. This is a nationwide problem. Certainly it's one that people are struggling with. But when I look at us in Boston, what we're doing is we're laying down a lot of great foundation.

Those 8,000, nearly 9,000 units of moderate- and low-income family housing, that's a big set, that's the most in the history of our city. Making sure that we're bringing more jobs to the city of Boston and making sure that we're spreading those jobs around. It's the first time or the lowest in a long time in the history of our city — having free community college has never been offered in the city of Boston and what you're seeing now, is the state has picked this up after this and they're working towards us.

I grew up in a 3-family house. My mother and father come from Ireland. You know, when I moved into my house on Taft Street, my mother — and everyone knows the story — we moved in the same day my father was renting it, he had a chance to buy it. I think he bought it in 1968. He paid $17,000 for my house. My father was an Irishman from Ireland. He was a laborer — he got dirty every single day. He went to work every single day. We didn't grow up rich. And the difference was that he had an opportunity to go to work every single day. He was able to raise his two boys. He was able to put food on the table every single day. We didn't have fancy things but we had a roof over our head.

We have to make sure that what the immigrant population did in this country a long time ago, we have to make sure that we create that opportunity not just for people coming to this country that are new, but for families, longstanding families.

We have families in Roxbury that are third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth generation family that is still struggling. We have to do better than that.

And I would argue that my administration over the last three years, has done more in the last three years than a lot has done. It didn't happen in the city over the last three decades.

Meghan Irons: You talked about that when you were campaigning — about the stark difference here in Boston when you go from Egleston Square to South Boston. What difference have you seen over the three years that you've been Mayor, in places like Roxbury in places like Mattapan, and parts of Dorchester, which have been struggling economically, with high unemployment and violence and all of that stuff.

Mayor Marty Walsh: I think we've seen the unemployment numbers go down in those neighborhoods and I think we've seen the overall violent numbers go down in those neighborhoods.

We've seen the numbers of arrests in those neighborhoods go down by 37 percent. I know that we will talk about violence in a little while I'm sure, and talk about the spike that we're seeing today, but at the end of the day, in the last three and a half years of my administration, 37 percent fewer people have been arrested. So you can just imagine how that's helping us and keeping our numbers down.

We're working towards, [city] councilor Ayanna Pressley filed before I became the mayor, she filed the liquor license law that allowed us the opportunity to get control of more licenses in Boston. When I became mayor, we were able to pass the legislation as well as take control of the liquor license board. The very first round of licenses that we put out there, unfortunately, we didn't get many. We didn't get anybody from Mattapan wanting to open a restaurant in Mattapan with a liquor license. We did get a couple in Roxbury that were able to get some license over.

That's why now we're refiling a piece legislation that's going to specifically focus in certain areas of the city of Boston to allow to build these restaurants ... We're not going to let them go downtown, not going to go to the North End, they're not going to go to Southie, they're not going to come to parts of Dorchester. They're going to be earmarked for areas like Mattapan, Four Corners where you live --

Meghan Irons: I grew up there.

Mayor Marty Walsh: -- Other areas that are important. And we have to help to continue to build wealth and help businesses continue to build wealth.

We've also, through our small business opportunity, we've created the small business under John Barros' shop. And in that shop we're helping build wealth there. Helping people be able to start businesses.

We changed the way that we do contracts in the city of Boston. We did executive order to make sure that people of color, women and veterans have access to contracts. When I became mayor, that number was dismally low. That was like, I think it was under a percent. And today, still it's about over a percent. But we have to continue to encourage helping people build their wealth.

Meghna Chakrabarti: So I want to move on to education here, in just a second. But given what you just said, a listener sent us this question — it's more of an invitation to you actually.

Lorraine Wheeler wants to know: Mayor Walsh can you tour Blue Hill Avenue with me? She says, worn out retail, missing buildings and absentee owners — despite hot economy, we can't even get a coffee shop. Maybe she would be glad to hear what you just said. Would you tour with her?

Mayor Marty Walsh: Lorraine, absolutely. I've been out on Blue Hill Ave. tons of times. I mean I absolutely will meet you out there any time. You call my office tomorrow — 635-3151 — and I will get out to Blue Hill Ave with you. It will not be my first time out there.

There are some major investments being made on Blue Hill Ave. right now. We're working with the city and the state and doing some streetscape out there. We're working to make sure that we keep Blue Hill Ave. clean. We have a Main Street district out there that's robust.

Yes, Blue Hill Ave. in Mattapan needs some assistance but it's also on the verge of — we've had more interest in Mattapan in the last year and a half than we have previously to that, so that's exciting to hear. And we're going to continue to work with the elected officials, your elected officials out there. Danny Cullinane and Russell Holmes and Tim McCarthy and Linda Dorcena-Forry, for me they're all — and Andrea Campbell — they're all working extremely hard to make sure we bring services and things. But absolutely, call the office. I would absolutely love to walk with you.

Meghan Irons: You talked about liquor license reform and how it's key to bringing vitality to some neighborhoods. But Mattapan has struggled with this. There's no restaurant right now that serves alcohol.

Mayor Marty Walsh: I said that.

Meghan Irons: I know and I'm making that point again. What are you doing to...

Mayor Marty Walsh: Well I mean again, it's about getting people to come in. I mean I can't, you can't just drop a liquor license in there and say OK, now we have a restaurant there, go in there.

You need to get people interested in opening and businesses that want to. There's been some businesses in Mattapan that we approached them to see if they wanted a liquor license or a beer and wine license and most of them said they don't want to deal with it. They don't want to deal with the — I don't know, you have to ask them. But again it's a special, unique — we have to get the first couple in there.

I mean, I'll give you an example. In Dorchester, in Ashmont station, Ashmont area, the Ashmont Grill came into that area probably 15 years ago. It took literally about 14 years for a second restaurant to open and the second restaurant was Tavolo, which was Chris Douglas who opened that restaurant. And what we have to do is continue to build supports and we've been doing that in the last three years by giving our main streets additional money, additional resources and additional supports to help them beef it up.

I mean Mattapan is a Main Street district so not only is it just the Business district it's a Main Street district which means that there's more help going into that area. And we've been assisting them, the Main Street district, to help them encourage businesses to come into those neighborhoods. I think people are tired of of Dollar stores. I think people are tired of those stores in the neighborhoods — I hear it about Roxbury, hear it about Dudley, I hear it about Codman Square. People want to see some other businesses coming in.

You know, pharmacies, God love them for being in there. They come in, they fix it up nice, but we need to bring some other businesses in. We have some great businesses in Grove Hall, small startup business. We have some great businesses in Egleston Square with clothes lines and shopping businesses. And we also need to encourage people that live in those neighborhoods to shop in your business district. Because you can't sign a business district if people aren't going there. And we try to encourage that at Christmas time and times of the year. Buy gifts in your local businesses. Don't go to the mall --

Meghna Chakrabarti:  Mr. Mayor...

Mayor Marty Walsh: -- go to your districts to buy stuff in there.

Meghna Chakrabarti: Mr. Mayor, I don't want to give education short shrift here because it's such a major issue for Bostonians and let's just get right to kind of one of the major criticisms that we heard from your rival yesterday, city councilor Tito Jackson.

His basic argument regarding the funding for Boston public schools is, he said that when you take into account inflation, schools have actually just been level funded overall. And so he argues that that means that you haven't necessarily meaningfully increased the budget and schools don't have the resources they need. What's your response to that?

Mayor Marty Walsh: We've increased the budget every single year in the school department since I've been mayor of the city of Boston, number one. Number two, the schools that are receiving less money next year, the reason why they're receiving less money, their enrollment has dropped.

Parent's choice, school choice is working in neighborhoods. People have been able to move their kids from what they feel is a school that wasn't appropriate for them into Level 1, Level 2 school.

But let me back up a little bit here. When I think of education, I think of birth — birth through at least high school, and now college. So just real quickly, I'll run through it. Working with the Black Philanthropy Fund to make sure there's a program out there so mothers when they when they have their children, we give them the tools they need, the education they need to be able to read to their kids — help their kids from age 0 to 4 to 5, until we get them into pre-Kindergarten.

... Working on a program to get into hospitals across the city of Boston, really giving young families the tools they need to help their children. So that when their children start pre-Kindergarten, they're not starting way behind. They're listening to the same amount of words as an affluent family does. We have a program...

Meghna Chakrabarti: Mr. Mayor, actually, let me just jump in here. I take your point about education being from the moment of birth but I do want to focus on BPS [Boston Public Schools] specifically.

Mayor Marty Walsh: I'm moving, let me get there.

Meghna Chakrabarti: But let me just ask you, because BPS issued a report last fall that said that the district is going to fall short some $20 to $25 million dollars in terms of a budget gap every year if fundamental changes to revenues and expenses aren't fixed.

Mayor Marty Walsh: Let me get to that point. Just real quickly. I need like three minutes and I'll get there, alright?

Meghna Chakrbarti: You'll have to take less than three minutes.

Mayor Marty Walsh: It needs to be three minutes, we can't just brush over education. We put 750 new seats for universal pre-Kindergarten inside our school system. We have a bill at the legislature right now that would take funding from the Convention Center. If we got that bill passed, we'd be able to have universal pre-Kindergarten in our city.

Meghan Irons: But the governor's... is the governor even on board with that plan?

Mayor Marty Walsh: I don't know. You have to ask him that. I'm telling you what the plan is.

We have 125 school buildings in our city. We have 22 different grade configurations. We have 22 different start times. We're all over the place.

We launched a plan called Bill BPS, a billion dollar investment in our schools where parents, teachers, students in the community are going to talk about what they want to see in the school district their models, what they want to see moving forward.

We're looking at our transportation costs in the city of Boston. When I say 22 different start times that means that we have 22 different school start times in our city. When you see buses go down the street down the Avenue in front of your house, you see the bus half-full or three kids are on it? The reason why it's half-full, because there's no other school in that proximity that they can make these work. There's an opportunity for us if we can streamline our transportation costs. That money will be reinvested back in the schools. If we can look at the costs that we're putting in all of our schools all 125 schools that — someplace we're replicating services, someplace we don't have enough services — and work to deliver a better system, we'll be able to take that money and reinvest in our schools.

We put $143 million dollars into Boston Public Schools over the last three and a half years. We put $207 million into all education. The $56 million dollars of education that went into charter schools went there because we got short reimbursed. We didn't get the full reimbursement from the state ... we have to pick up the tab for that. So what we're trying to do is work with the state as well. In 2013, they fully reimbursed charter school funding to all districts in the Commonwealth. 2014, they started to cut back on Boston and other places. There's 11 of us getting hit hard. [20]14, 15, 16, 17 — all of those different years we've been given less reimbursement for reimbursement for charter school reimbursement. Because the way the law was written, we have to pick up the cost.

So when you think about education, we're making investments in education and what we do, we need help — to go back to your point about the governor and the legislature. This is something that they should be doing. We're talking about pre-Kindergarten. If it's good enough for New York City, it should be good enough for Boston, Massachusetts. And this money is sitting there in a pot over there, collecting money. There's no expansion of the Convention Center. I'd like to see that money come back to the city of Boston so that we can invest in our kids.

If people want us to continue to be the tech capital of America — Boston, Massachusetts — we have to make sure that our children are prepared for that. And it can't be just Marty Walsh the mayor of Boston. It has to be all of the folks.

And one last thing I'll say about education funding. I've been lobbying at the State House for the last four years for additional revenue and I've seen maybe one or two other elected officials lobbying with me. So if elected officials are concerned about education money, go with me to the state house next time and advocate on behalf of the kids of Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan, Hyde Park, Boston all over the city bus.

Meghan Irons: Mayor Walsh, when you campaigned in 2013 you said you wanted to make every school in Boston a quality school. How close are you to accomplishing that goal, or is there a long way to go? Where are you on this?

Mayor Marty Walsh: No, I think you know, our graduation rates are the highest it's ever been in the city of Boston. And certainly in this year, going into fiscal year 2017-18, we'll have 26,000 elementary kids in junior high, more of them going into Level 1 to Level 2 schools and Level 3 schools. So we're seeing a lot better quality of education around our kids.

We're also extending the day for 26,000 of our kids. When I ran for mayor, we talked about the shortest school day in the country or one of the shortest school days in the country. We no longer have the shortest school day in the country. All of our schools will be expanded into longer days next year, in September. So we're going to have more quality, more education time for our kids in the classroom.

And we also have a program going on this summer called 'Fifth Quarter' where over 10,000 kids are learning and also going to summer camp, so so our kids don't lose their education that's happened. They're going to go back to school in September having gone through this program and staying ahead of the game, so they don't take the first few weeks of catching up on what information they've lost.

Meghna Chakrbarti: Shall we talk about public safety a little bit before we run out of too much time? Mayor Walsh, you mentioned it a little bit earlier, that crime overall in Boston is at a roughly two decade low, but homicides are up slightly — 26 homicides as of the 16th of July, compared to 23 this time last year. I just wonder what can be done? What more should be done?

Mayor Marty Walsh: Well let me just say, you know, when I look at the numbers of homicides and we're able to tell a story, OK, we're only three over last year. We're 26 homicides, 26 mothers lost their kids.

Meghan Irons: 27.

Mayor Marty Walsh: 27.

Meghan Irons: With the Mission Hill.

Meghna Chakrabarti: The number I gave was as of the middle of July.

Mayor Marty Walsh: Alright. 27 mothers have lost their kid. 27 mothers' children have been involved in a homicide. So 54 in this case, more than 54, but a lot of family devastation there. You know, one is too many. Our goal is zero.

I start my morning, every single morning, Monday to Sunday, talking to Commissioner Evans. Every day, he's the first person I speak to. We talk about what happened the night before. We talk about a plan for the day. We talk about what's going on in our city. We talk about the violence. We talk about the guns, we talk about the kids, we talk about the programs. We talk about everything you can imagine we talk about. Because it's something that we obsess about. That's the one thing that takes up most of my time, is the public safety.

In May of this year, May 23rd, we had a meeting with the community, with organizers, with clergy, with different nonprofits out there, and we talked about a summer strategy plan and we came, we implemented it. We went out there talking about it. You know, summer was moving along fairly peacefully and then July 4th week came and we had an uptick in violence. And it appears that since that time it's gotten a little bit quieter. Although, two days ago we lost a great member of the community in Mission Hill, a business owner who was apparently apparently being robbed, fought off a bit and he got shot and killed by three cowards who came into the city to kill him and rob him, hard working man.

Meghna Chakrbarti: Andres Cruz.

Mayor Marty Walsh: He was recognized by the Mission Hill business community. So in saying all this you know, this is one of the parts of the job that keeps me awake at night. That's the only thing that keeps me awake at night. The Olympics doesn't keep me awake, IndyCar doesn't keep me awake at night. This keeps me awake at night, because I feel it's my responsibility to make sure people in our cities are safe.

Part of that is through education, part of that's through creation of jobs. So what we try to do is working extremely hard on community policing on creating programming -- a lot of the job training program that we have in the city is out there to get young people off the street.

Operation Exit is a program I started with the building trades. We have about 60 graduates so far that have gone through that program. Not one of those young people — they all have CORIs [Criminal Offender Record Information], they all have long records, they all if you look at them on papers, they go, oh my god — not one of those young people have re-offended yet.

We have to take programs like that and expand them even more. We have to make sure we continue our Office of Financial Empowerment. We have to continue to work with our Boys and Girls clubs. I mean, I love seeing the number of arrests down by 35 percent. But you know more has to be done. The issue of guns --

Meghan Irons: Mayor Walsh, can I interrupt you for one second.

Mayor Marty Walsh: -- One second Meghan, please. The issue of guns is a nationwide problem. We've held three gun summits as mayor of the city of Boston. First time in the history of us doing that. We are getting guns coming into the city from the north, we're getting guns coming into the city from the south, we're getting guns come into the city from the west. We're working hard to get these guns off the street. We have to stop the flow of guns into the streets.

You have a Congress that's ineffective to work on these. You have a Congressman that was shot, nearly killed in Washington D.C. a couple weeks ago. Another Congressman was on the field, they asked him about gun control. One of his colleagues was nearly killed and his comment was, well, we can't really measure out the first amendment. We have young people in America, and most of the young people are black and brown boys, are killing each other. This is a national public health crisis that needs to be addressed on a bigger scale.

Meghan Irons: I was going to say your opponent has made the shooting closing rate an issue in his campaign, saying that it's not enough. You talked about the homicide closing rate...

Mayor Marty Walsh: I'm more concerned about not having shootings in the streets than closing the shooting rate. I think it's more important for us to get the guns off the street and focus on getting all those guns off the street. That's the important piece here.

Meghan Irons: But are you satisfied with the 15 percent?

Mayor Marty Walsh: Of course not. Why would I be satisfied with that? Who in their right mind would be satisfied with that? Nobody.

I'm not satisfied that we don't have 100 percent clearance rate on homicide. One of the candidates that was running for mayor of Boston that — she didn't get her signatures -- Mary Franklin, has spent her entire life fighting for justice for the killer who killed her husband. You and I know that.

I would love to be able to get the person who killed her husband and be able to give Mary Franklin a little bit of peace. It's not going to take her husband back. But these mothers and fathers that have lost their loved ones not knowing who killed them. That certainly doesn't make me happy at all.

Meghan Irons: Well, how do you fix that? What can be done?

Mayor Marty Walsh: It's a hard issue to fix. It has to be a comprehensive plan. And quite honestly, we need help from everybody and that's something that we're going to continue to reach out on. But again, it comes down to taking guns off the street.

You know, the week that President Trump was writing executive orders on immigrants and Muslims and banning Muslims and all the things he was doing in Washington, no one paid attention, but he undid an executive order that President Obama did on national background checks.

And all that background check that President Obama did, was force anyone who's buying a gun in America would have to wait 72 hours to get their gun, so that the business could do a background check. Now they might not get it done, but if they didn't get it done, the gun will be sold. [Trump] reverted that. That was helping us a little bit. That wasn't the answer to all. But we again, we're not talking about stopping selling guns, we're doing a background check so people with mental illness and people just aren't buying them by the truckloads and driving them down the highway and driving into Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan, and streets of Boston and dumping them in the streets. We've got to stop that.

Meghna Chakrabarti: But just one follow-up on what Meghan was asking about the closing rates. I mean specifically, the arrest rate for nonfatal shootings is 16 percent-ish. And as you know, Commissioner Evans says he thinks the department can do better.

Mayor Marty Walsh: No, we can.

Meghna Chakrabarti: And so...

Mayor Marty Walsh: It's very difficult.

Meghna Chakrabarti: But what should the department specifically be doing to improve the rate?

Mayor Marty Walsh: See, I think it's a difficult balance because what we need is help from people who understand who is doing these shootings. And people are afraid to talk about who are doing the shooting.

Meghna Chakrabarti: But you know for some people in the community, it sounds like you're heaping the responsibility on them.

Mayor Marty Walsh: I love that. That's perfect. Thank you for doing that. I'm glad.

Meghna Chakrabarti: Don't you think...? Haven't people told you that?

Mayor Marty Walsh: No I don't. I'm glad you threw that out --

Meghna Chakrabarti: -- I asked you about the department and you immediately answered and said we need people out in the community to talk to us.

Mayor Marty Walsh: I'm glad you brought that up because that seems to be the quick answer. So if we're --

Meghna Chakrabarti: That was my response to your answer.

Mayor Marty Walsh: If I'm not getting help, If we're not getting help from people in the community — I'm not saying everyone in the community — these guns are illegal. These guns are not traceable. These guns aren't necessarily, if we can trace these guns back to somebody. we don't know who they belong to, because they're illegal on the street in the first place. So it's very difficult for the city to be able to do this. And at the end of the day, what we have to do is cut down on the guns in our city.

Meghna Chakrabarti: Point taken but what can the department do to --

Mayor Marty Walsh: They do it everyday.

Meghna Chakrabarti: -- to... what improvements can the department make to convince the community that they are good faith partners in this so that more people do come forward.

Mayor Walsh: We build and reassure, it's not even about that. I mean, I think there are people that will come forward, I just think they're afraid to.

It's not even about — and it's not even about wanting to come forward. I think people are just concerned about it. I mean you know, again, it goes back to some of the work that we have to do with doubling down our efforts on the street worker program to get more street workers on the streets to find out what's going on the neighborhoods.

We're working with young people, trying to continue education for young people. This is not a simple solution. And quite honestly, the debate we should be spending — we just spent the last four minutes on this — we should be focused on what are we doing about the unsolved murders because those are the ones that there's somebody else on the other side of that.

Meghan Irons: How much money in this year's budget is for additional street workers?

Mayor Marty Walsh: I'm not sure. I think we put on ... I'm not sure what the exact number.

Meghan Irons: But you're going to hire?

Mayor Marty Walsh: We have street workers on the street now.

Meghan Irons: Are you planning on hiring more?

Mayor Marty Walsh: No, I said we're trying to get them into the streets doing more.

Meghan Irons: To do more work but not more street workers. Can I just ask one police question ...

Mayor Marty Walsh: Let me just say one more thing. Just so everyone's clear here.

When a young person or person gets shot in the city of Boston and they're brought to the hospital — I don't know if you've ever had a conversation with the police department or asked the victim themselves about who did the shooting — oftentimes, they will not talk to the police department. So if you have somebody who's been shot that's unwilling to talk to the police department, it's very difficult for the police department unless there's a camera in the area that might have caught the shooting to be able to find out who did it.

And I think that that's one of the questions that I would suggest that next time we're reporting is you go to the hospital, you talk to a person who's been shot and ask them who did this to you and that you'll hear back. Again, a lot of it goes back to fear.

We have more work to do in our city to reduce the violence. We have to continue to build relationships with the community. The community has gone through enough in a lot of ways. So what we want to do is make sure that people in the community feel comfortable and safe, that we're doing everything we can to make sure they live in a safe neighborhood.

Meghan Irons: Do you think the city needs more police officers? Should we have more officers?

Mayor Marty Walsh: I think at some point we have to look at attrition rates. I think we're in the process right now of just barely keeping the numbers that we have. We have a lot of officers retiring. I would like to see more specialized — and not so much police officers — but also specialized public safety enforcement in our city. Not necessarily policing, more public safety, continuing to build relationships and continue to get information.

Meghna Chakrabarti: Well, in the last couple of minutes that we have Mayor Walsh, I just want to switch back to politics for a moment here.

Now two of your aides are going to go on trial — accused of trying to extort union jobs from the Boston Calling Music Festival. It's a federal investigation. And several listeners and online viewers have submitted this question: Has Mayor Marty Walsh ever testified before a grand jury.

Mayor Marty Walsh: This is an ongoing legal process and I'm just going to let this play out in court.

Meghan Irons: Don't you think the public has a right to know --

Mayor Marty Walsh: Again, this is --

Meghan Irons: -- whether or not their Mayor testified --

Mayor Marty Walsh: Meg, you've asked me this question. I don't know how many times you asked me this question --

Meghan Irons: I will keep asking.

Mayor Marty Walsh: And my answer is going to be the same. This is a legal process and we're going to let it play out.

I'm proud of the work we've done in the city of Boston I'm proud of the accomplishments we've done in the city of Boston. And I'm going to let — this is a sad situation — but I'm going to let it play out in court.

Meghna Chakrabarti: OK. We'll keep asking. City Councilor Tito Jackson as you remember, he endorsed you when you first ran for mayor.

Mayor Marty Walsh: He did. I wish he was endorsing me this time.

Meghna Chakrabarti: Are you surprised that he's challenging you?

Mayor Marty Walsh: Nothing really surprises me in politics anymore. You know, I think Tito's ambitious. He's done a lot of great work in the city over the years. I mean, I was proud to have his endorsement 2013, he was very big in the campaign supporting me, came on after the primary.

But you know, I can't fault anyone. It's the greatest job in the world. Anyone wants to be mayor of the city of Boston, you should go for it and it's a beaut, it's a great job. I love it. You can do so much good. You can help so many people.

I think having having opposition is good as well — it keeps you fresh, it keeps you on top of things. It forces you to look at issues like clearance rates and how you would make sure we work better to have clearance rates. It forces you to look at issues around education and how you'd make them strengthen the education system. It forces me to look at issues around climate change — we didn't talk about climate change today — but you know. Washington has pulled out of climate change. We're not. Boston's doubling down on our efforts.

This article was originally published on July 20, 2017.

This program aired on July 20, 2017.


Kathleen McNerney Senior Producer / Editor, Edify
Kathleen McNerney was the senior producer/editor of Edify.


Meghna Chakrabarti Host, On Point
Meghna Chakrabarti is the host of On Point.



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