Mayor Wu talks MBTA, youth and proposed funding for controversial police unit

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Mayor Michelle Wu speaking on the air with host Tiziana Dearing on Radio Boston. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Mayor Michelle Wu speaking on the air with host Tiziana Dearing on Radio Boston. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu isn't happy with the state of the MBTA, but thinks the right team is in place to fix it.

Wu sat down with WBUR Radio Boston host Tiziana Dearing for their "Mondays with the Mayor" conversation. In the wide-ranging discussion, Wu spoke about her sense of urgency with MBTA system improvements, how Boston's school buses are running in the new school year, recent incidences of youth violence and why she wants funding for a police unit she once campaigned against.

Here are some takeaways from the conversation:

The state of the MBTA:

When asked how concerned she is about the T from a zero to five (with zero being that everything is working fine, and a five being "hair on fire"), Wu said she's at a 4.8.

"The experience of riding the T has very much changed even as technology has improved and now we have tap cards instead of little tokens," she said. "We are in a very, very dire place just in terms of service delivery. We are far from having a system that is barely adequate for the needs of a world class economic engine and hub for our workforce."

Even if things were working reliably, she said, the T system isn't extensive enough to serve the city. She named a couple points that need expansion, including extending the Orange Line, connecting the Red and Blue lines, and creating a way to get from North Station to the Seaport.

Wu said she's been encouraged by the work Gov. Maura Healey and new T General Manager Phil Eng have done to address the system's issues, even as they set up as a new administration.

"I truly believe that Gov. Healey, and the lieutenant governor [Kim Driscoll] and Phil Eng have done more in eight months for the MBTA than we've seen in decades of previous Republican governors' tenure," she said. "There were 22 years where we saw the T routinely ignored, dismissed — actually funding pulled away from that to go to other places. And so it's going to take a little bit of time." (Since 2001, there have been three Republican governors, and one Democrat.)

On Monday, Wu appointed Mary Skelton Roberts to represent the city of Boston on the MBTA's board of directors. It's a new seat that Boston gained through a provision in the state budget this year.

Wu said she wants Skelton Roberts to accomplish two things with the new role. One, is to follow and help set what the agenda will be at each meeting, with Boston's neighborhood needs in mind. The other is to serve as a representative for all of Boston, "to engage with those who directly have expressed interest and generated a long list of very good ideas that we need to push, and continuing to open up the channel so that people can not only follow along and know what's happening, but also directly feel that they can impact this."

Accountability and services for youth involved in violence:

The city council has asked Wu to obtain more details on how Boston police plan to address incident involving large groups of young people. The request comes following two incidents in August where groups of kids as young as 12 years old were arrested at South Bay Shopping Center and the AMC theater downtown.

"We have to just zoom out and have the appropriate conversation, which is one when there's violence, there needs to be consequences, no matter what led up to that and and all that we could have done and need to continue to do," Wu said. "We need to ensure that there are appropriate consequences so that it doesn't become a situation where it goes unchecked. But in order to ensure or to maximize the chance that someone doesn't again become involved in a similar situation after an incident, you really need the services and intervention."

The city has a weekly meeting with more than a dozen agencies during which they make sure that there's a plan for any young person who comes on the radar of one of the groups, according to Wu.

They ask questions like: "What other members of the school community or neighborhood community are impacted? And how do we ensure that we can really one by one by one put the right supports in place," Wu said. "We need both — we need accountability and we need services to ensure that we're really creating the right opportunities long term."

Why she's has changed her mind on BRIC:

Mayor Wu defended her decision to request more funding for the surveillance arm of the Boston Police Department. Criminal justice advocates say Wu has flip-flopped on her opposition to the Boston Regional Intelligence Center (or BRIC) and its controversial gang database.

Wu said she previously had a lot of questions about the gang database and how it was used to deport or arrest students. However, she said the landscape around police accountability is different now.

"There's new leadership of the police department, new structures in place as well," she said. "The city of Boston has since created and stood up an OPAT, [the] Office of Police Accountability and Transparency. There's also been the POST [Peace Officer Standards and Training] commission at the state, another mechanism for accountability of law enforcement statewide."

Wu said the police department is making changes to the intelligence center, like regularly removing inactive names and banning information-sharing in specific situations between law enforcement and schools.

The Boston City Council is set to hold a hearing on the $3.4 million in grants on Friday.

Don’t bet on Widett Circle as the solution to 'Mass. and Cass':

Wu said she was not on board with the recently launched campaign to establish a recovery campus at Widett Circle, the 24-acre property between the South End and South Boston that was once pitched as the site for an Olympic stadium.

For one thing, she said, that plan lacks funding. And the T recently bought the location to use as a rail yard.

For now, Wu’s sights are set on Long Island — where the city plans to overhaul abandoned buildings and resume recovery services in the next four years. In the short term, the mayor said her recently filed ordinance to ban tents around the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard would empower police to address the “criminal activity” and “dangerous incidents” in the area.

This article was originally published on September 25, 2023.

This program aired on September 25, 2023.

Headshot of Tiziana Dearing

Tiziana Dearing Host, Radio Boston
Tiziana Dearing is the host of Radio Boston.


Headshot of Amanda Beland

Amanda Beland Senior Producer
Amanda Beland is a producer and director for Radio Boston. She also reports for the WBUR newsroom.



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