On Tuesday, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, BC ’09, delivered what is expected to be his final State of the City address, after being nominated last week by the Biden-Harris administration as Labor Secretary. He spoke to Boston residents from the empty Roxbury branch of the Boston Public Library, in contrast to his 2020 address which he delivered to an audience of 2,000 people at Symphony Hall.
In his speech, Walsh reflected on the difficulties the pandemic has wrought over the past year, and looked to recovery efforts for the coming year.
“We have tough days ahead of us. But we’ve been knocked down before, and we always get back up,” Walsh said. “In 2021, Boston will rise up again. We will leave no one behind. And our city will be stronger than ever.”
Following confirmation from the U.S. Senate to Biden’s cabinet, Walsh will step down from his role as mayor and City Council President Kim Janey will become acting mayor, Walsh said.
“I am confident that the operations of city government, including our COVID response, will continue smoothly,” Walsh said. “And I want you to know, the work we have done together for the past seven years has prepared Boston to build back stronger than ever.”
In his address, Walsh took time to remember the 1,060 Bostonians who have died due to COVID-19. While all people have been impacted by COVID-19, Walsh said that the virus has hit some people, including Black, Latino, and immigrant communities, harder than others.
Walsh also looked back on decisions he had to make over the last year, including closing schools, pausing construction projects, turning the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center into a field hospital, and cancelling the Boston Marathon. These decisions were difficult, Walsh said, but ultimately saved lives.
In response to the pandemic, the City provided over six million meals to children, families, veterans, and seniors, according to Walsh. Boston Public Schools provided 40,000 laptops to students. Walsh established the Health Inequities Task Force to close the gaps of race and ethnicity by analyzing data and providing guidance for COVID-19 response for the Asian, Black, Latino, immigrant, Native American, and indigenous populations. The Boston Resiliency Fund also provided more than $30 million to help 250,000 households in need.
“We may be hurting, but the state of our city is resilient,” Walsh 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.”
Walsh urged Boston residents to get vaccinated for COVID-19, saying that first responders have already begun to receive vaccinations and that scientists advise that the vaccinations are safe. To keep the city safe, he also asked residents to continue to wear masks and to take precautions in order to slow the spread of the virus.
One of Walsh’s priorities for the coming year is the safe return of students to Boston Public Schools. The City announced on Monday a plan for reopening the remaining schools to hybrid and in-person learning.
“We’re building and modernizing schools all across the district, because we believe in all our students,” he said.
While the City’s economy was hit hard by the pandemic, Walsh said that he wants businesses and working families to know that the City is moving forward.
The City approved $8.5 billion in new investments, creating a potential 35,000 new jobs, according to Walsh. He also said that the City provided $26 million in resources to nearly 4,000 small businesses.
“We must build back the restaurants and bars, stores and salons, gyms, and art studios that make our neighborhood so special, along with the hotels, museums, and theaters that tell our story and bring visitors to our city,” Walsh said. “We’ll do that, by keeping small businesses at the center of our recovery.”
As of Wednesday, Walsh said in his address, Boston will have become the first U.S. city to have a Fair Housing requirement written in its zoning code. The zoning amendment is part of the Walsh administration’s efforts to address discriminatory housing practices. Walsh said that this will help to protect residents from displacement.
Walsh also said that science has guided his work throughout the past year, including action he has taken related to the climate crisis.
“I made sure that Boston never strayed from the Paris agreement, even when the White House did,” he said. “As chair of the U.S. Climate Mayors, I’ve led a national coalition of cities, ready to work with the Biden-Harris administration and bring America back to the fight.
Next month, Community Choice Electricity, a municipal electricity program that allows Boston to buy power collectively for businesses and residents, will begin. Walsh said that this will allow the City to purchase affordable energy from climate-friendly sources. The City has also moved major investments in parks to protect against flooding, he said.
Walsh also discussed the murder of George Floyd and the reckoning with racism that it sparked. In June, Walsh declared racism a public health crisis, pledging to review and reform the Boston Police Department’s use of force policies. The City also launched a Health Equity plan and shifted millions of dollars to youth, trauma, and mental health programs.
“I’m proud of the work we’ve done in Boston. But doing better than before isn’t enough,” Walsh said. “We need to address all the ways systemic racism hurts people in our city.”
Walsh said that historic police reform was enacted this year, resulting in a new national model for oversight and accountability. Walsh also appointed Dr. Karilyn Crockett as Chief of Equity in June to embed equity and racial justice into city planning and operations.
As he transitions to working in Washington, D.C., Walsh said that he will bring Boston with him.
“We have faced down big challenges together, just as we are doing with COVID. We have always prevailed, and we’re not about to give up now. In eight days, we’ll have friends and allies in the White House who believe in cities and share our values,” Walsh said. “As a member of that administration, I will work to make sure it’s the best federal partner Boston and America’s cities ever had.”
Featured Image Courtesy of AP Photo / J. Scott Applewhite