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INTERVIEW: BOSTON MAYOR-ELECT MARTY WALSH

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Photo credit: Scott Murry | @hotdogtaco

The following is excerpted from an exclusive DigRadio interview with Boston Mayor-elect Marty Walsh on Monday, December 2. We asked some questions to get know the new Hub leader a bit better, and others to get a feel for his immediate agenda. Mostly, we queried him on issues we feel are most important to Dig readers, and that may not be getting much attention from the legacy media.

What are a few personal things that will be going on hold as long as you are the mayor of Boston? Do you have a model train collection in your basement that’s about to go in the closet?
I love sports so I wanna try and still watch as much as I can … Any free time I had during life as a state representative is pretty much gone, but I’ve got to make sure I keep it real, too … Some of the real stuff you do as a person, I’ve got to still do it. There’s gonna be adjustments. You’ve got to make time for family, make time for enjoyment.

There are countless plaques and signs that have Mayor Menino’s name engraved on them. Have you thought about this? Is this part of the transition? Is there a game plan for changing them?
No, it’s not a part of the transition, but now that you brought it up maybe it will be! You know, the Mayor’s name is on a lot of things and I’m not as worried about taking his name off of things right now. I mean it’s a cost to the taxpayers of Boston and, I mean, we can joke about it, but it is a cost and I want to make sure we’re not going to be driving costs on things we don’t have to drive costs up on … Day one, I’m not in a big hurry to change Mayor Menino’s name off every box and every trash compactor and sides of trucks and stuff like that. I’m sure it’ll happen over time.

Mayor Menino is legendary for never missing a ribbon cutting. What will be your trademark way of communicating with people around the city of Boston?
You know, bring some pride back into our schools here in Boston. If our teams travel outside of the city to other parts of the state, certainly I’d like to show up at those and show support as the mayor of the city … I think it is important to show people that their mayor is interested in them, whether it’s a new business or their sports activity or whatever it may be, I think it’s important for the mayor to be there.

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Are you going to have the same kind of security detail that Mayor Menino had?
Right now [my campaign team] is still together in the car. The band isn’t broken up yet … We’re setting up my office now on the fifth floor of City Hall, [figuring out] what the office will look like, and how to prepare myself to go to different events.

In regards to the foreclosure crisis, what can be done at a municipal level to keep people in their homes? And what safeguards can be put in place to prevent some of the same culprits from doing the same thing all over again?
A lot of people in Boston have lost their homes because mortgage companies took advantage of them … When you’re buying a house, you’re not really thinking about five years down the road that your interest rates are gonna go from 5% to 15% … We have to really sit down when I get in there and evaluate the situation. Sit down with the banks. Sit down with small community banks and see if they’re willing to, how they can actually help us in this matter. A lot of these people are losing homes, they’re losing their homes because they’re out of work. And then they’re out of unemployment and they can’t find a job and I think it’s a little harsh. And what happens is these companies come in, they shut the house down, they throw the person out and they sit vacant. And even when the owner wants to pay back rent to stay in the house, they might have it. So I think there has to be a little more common sense here, when it comes to that.

I was in Roxbury during the election and I went to a gentleman’s house. He was an ironworker. He was out of work for a long time and then he went back to work. He had the money to pay the current mortgage forward but not the back mortgage. I don’t understand why they wouldn’t work with him. They threw him outta the house and I don’t get that. Because that house is sitting empty on a street, that’s going to become a blighted house and become a target for whatever happens on the street.

So is it safe to say that’s a priority?
Absolutely. It’s going to be one of the early ones that we’re working on. The transition is working with [the Department of Neighborhood Development] now [on] housing. And as we continue to grow this transition, it’s one of the areas we’re going to see what’s in place now for the city and I think we’re gonna need some state changes as well.

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City Councilor Felix G. Arroyo, an ally of yours following the preliminary election, had a major win in his Invest In Boston campaign, which succeeded in spite of a reluctant Menino administration. For those unaware about this program, it essentially says that the city’s money will be kept in banks and institutions that lend to the community–that invest in Boston–and not in those that pollute it. How do you see this as playing out in practice, and will you stand up to the enormous pressure mounting on the private sector side?
I haven’t heard any backlash yet on it, but Councilor Arroyo’s proposal, he’s fought for this now for four years and it’s a good proposal and it goes back to one of your earlier points here about … trying to get some money freed up for homeowners and also small businesses in Boston. I mean, deals are tough to put together anyway, but we want to grow our small business and give people an opportunity to be able to do great things … I think we want to be able to try and create as much investment and money as possible for business entrepreneurs to be able to start out. You look around at and you see a lot of the businesses we have that are successful, they started out as little businesses. Even the big banks we have today, they didn’t start off as big banks. They started off as a small little bank, for the most part. So I think we’re asking them to give back a little and I don’t think that’s a big ask.

MassCreative and their Create the Vote Coalition did an extraordinary job of injecting pertinent arts-related issues into the race, and of getting you and others on the record about your possible plans for broadening the role of arts in Boston. Rather than bombard you with specific inquiries on that front, I’ll direct listeners to the MassCreative web site, and instead pose a philosophical question. At this late juncture, with artists all but being forced out of most parts of the city, is housing the biggest issue facing that community right now? If not, what is?
Housing definitely is a big issue in the arts community … One of the things that was pushing the campaign was 1 percent of the city budget to go towards the arts. This was a dedicated revenue source there … Really my focus is going to be, as we put the budget together, how do we get to that 1 percent. So we can really, not just say in the campaign, ‘I promise this’ ,but actually back it up. Because the stats show that for every dollar you put into the arts community, you get six back.

There’s an opportunity here for us to really be able to work and do some great things in Boston. Also, I made the commitment of a cabinet-level position in my administration [for the arts]. That’s happening. It might not be on January 6th, but it’s going to be soon thereafter as we announce the appointments we’re going to be doing. We’re looking right now at how we’re going to structure this office and how we’re going to fund this office. You know, what’s happened with the arts community in the past is people will pay attention to them but there’s no money there. And you really need the money to make it work. In Boston we have some great opportunities here, and MassCreative had a great debate, and it was one of the largest that was attended. They actually had to turn people away. They sat with us, during the primary, they sat with all the candidates and I had my meeting there. My first meeting with them wasn’t good, for me. I was tired and they weren’t happy with it. But my second meeting with them was a great meeting so now it’s about moving forward.

I think every major city in America has it and every major government in the world has a cabinet level position for the arts. So it’s important for us. We’re not really following suit, we had it at one point then it was taken away. We’ll have it again soon.

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Onto the professional and tech communities, many of who continue to flock and build here despite our city’s early closing times and inadequate transportation. Assuming this is a relative crisis situation, what can we expect from a Walsh administration in the way of correcting some of our transit problems?
A third of our population is between the ages of, I want to say, 18 and 30, something like that. So that’s a big deal for that population as far as keeping the MBTA open later, looking at keeping some of our nightclub entertainments open later, so it’s something we spoke about during the campaign …

I have not had a conversation with the MBTA about expanding service yet. But I noticed since the campaign, we spoke a lot about The Ride, which is a program for the seniors and reducing the fares. The MBTA is looking at reducing the fares, so they clearly heard on the campaign trail that we have to make it more equitable for seniors as well. So it’s something that I do plan on talking to the [MBTA general manager] about, and the Secretary of Transportation. The city might have to come up with some revenue here, maybe some private development, maybe private industry will come up a little bit, just to get this thing rolling because once it starts rolling, I think people will start to use it.

I have a good relationship with the T because I’ve been a rep for 16-and-a-half years, so I fought for funding for different stations in Dorchester and programs for them, so I feel the door is open. Now it’s a matter of not just opening the door, but [making] things happen. I think there is definitely a need out there. I was reading some stories about New York City and [Bill] de Blasio, the new mayor of New York, [and how he] is really being kind of [tied up] because of the contracts and all this stuff. But they talked about public transportation and they said, ‘Well, the public transportation system in New York is working great,’ so we have to maybe talk to New York about getting people on the train so people feel comfortable taking the trains at 2am. And I think we have to look at that.

How is the search for a new school superintendent going?
We have an interim Superintendent now, John McDonough, and he’s keeping the school system moving forward. There’s a process that has begun with the school committee and I’ve met with them several times since I’ve been elected. And we’re beginning the process of how we’re going to select a new superintendent of schools in Boston. It’s not going to happen tomorrow. I’ve said this in the campaign trail and I probably feel it even stronger now–it’s probably the most important decision I have to make as the mayor of the city of Boston. You know, if I pick the wrong BRA director, we’ll be okay. But if I pick the wrong superintendent, or work with the school committee and pick the wrong superintendent, we set education back. So we really got to put some good thought into this and [have] a good process on how to select somebody and do a nationwide search and come up with the most qualified, talented people.

Have you made up with the Boston Teachers Union after voting against them as a state rep? Do you sympathize with their position that they are in a fight for their lives against notorious union-busting entities?
I think in a lot of places in this country they’re fighting for their existence. I think the report that came out last week that 93 percent of [Boston] teachers scored proficient or better is a very big win for them. One of the papers in the city did an op-ed the other day criticizing the principals now, not teachers anymore. So I think we have a real opportunity here to move our system forward. If you wanna make schools better in Boston, you don’t do it by picking on teachers and saying it’s the teachers fault or it’s the parents fault or it’s the principals fault. I think we make the changes we have to. One thing with the school system, we almost have to look at it as if we’re starting from new … The school system was created a couple hundred years ago, here in Boston, and the first public school was Mather over a hundred years ago in Boston, and I think we try to make adjustments from a system that was set up that long ago.

What can we do about getting a computer in the hands of every BPS student?
I think we can team up with the high-tech companies and have them adopt schools. I think we have a real opportunity here in Boston to make sure we bring in more computers and more technology to these kids. It’s 2013. They need books and they need technology. I think if we can engage these kids better, technology wise, we’re only going to help them.

You’re always pigeonholed as this everyday blue-collar guy. With that said, everybody has something they like to splurge on. What’s yours? Steaks at Flemings?
I actually like Ruth’s Chris.

What would you do in the event of another mass uprising like Occupy Boston, in which public spaces are taken over in violation of municipal ordinances?
It’s about people wanting a voice. I think so many people got fed up with not having a voice. I hope that people in Boston would feel comfortable coming up to me as mayor of Boston to have conversations long before we have demonstrations in the streets. I think if people feel they have a voice in their government, and see changes on what they proposed, people will understand that. That’s what I’m all about. Before we get to that boiling point, I think it’s important to have those conversations.

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