Walsh’s “State-of-the-City”: a clarion call by Marjorie Arons-Barron

If you want to hear everything our national government now is not, listen to Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s state-of-the-city address.  In a rousing half-hour speech at Symphony Hall, he credibly held out Boston as a model to be emulated nationally. It was a spirited reminder of how pathetically the federal government is failing to meet most of the challenges the nation is facing.  It was a welcome chronicling of ills that face our nation that Boston is doing something about.

Walsh cited Boston’s accomplishments in creating economic opportunity and jobs (a 2.4 percent unemployment rate in the city), developing affordable housing, reducing crime, addressing climate change, stemming opioid addiction, investing in education and expanding diversity.  And, if you think that recounting is merely aspirational, that there is much more to do, so, too, does the mayor, who doubled down on his commitments to social progress and middle class opportunity.

The point is: these values are precisely those that have gone dark in the Trump administration. Boston alone can’t  end global warming, but it is developing a  resilience plan to deal with rising sea levels. Racism abides here as elsewhere, but there’s now an Office of Diversity, new representation of minorities in the political hierarchy, a first-ever African-American police commissioner, and a commitment to tackle the lack of diversity in the city’s fire department. The NAACP is reportedly considering Boston for its 2020 convention.

While our crime rate has gone down, the murder rate has not, but perhaps some of Walsh’s social justice and economic initiatives will ultimately be reflected in an improvement there.  While major investments have been made in school structures, there’s still a performance gap for minority students.  Walsh is making his case at the State House for better education funding and better ways to expand housing. When in the last two years were any of these policies even discussed in Washington, much less achieved?

As they say on Jersey Street, “Mahty” hit it out of the park!  Unlike his stiff presentations upon taking office, he was really into this speech, his delivery polished, his cadence natural, his emphasis authentic. At the end, he told his pumped-up audience that he and Republican Governor Charlie Baker would be going together to Washington to ask for help in housing, transit, and the environment.  As he put it, “Instead of building a wall, let’s show them how to build bridges.”

The ending was a triumph: “If you want to learn how to bring people together, not push them apart, look to Boston. If you want to grow good jobs and rebuild the middle class, look to Boston. If you want to see how social justice strengthens all of us, look to Boston. If you want to cut crime, protect the environment, lift Americans up and leave no one behind, build a more perfect union? Then look to the city of hope and heart. Look to the city of courage and champions. At a time when cities must lead, look to Boston, the leader of cities.”  The electricity in Symphony Hall was palpable, even for those watching from home.  We know good things aren’t happening in Washington. But surely it’s not naive to be reassured that, in a different way, they are happening in Boston and other leading cities nationwide.

When Massachusetts residents traveling cross-country or abroad are asked where they are from, they typically answer Boston, not Wayland or Swansea or Fall River. And that makes sense. Many of Boston’s challenges are still works in progress, but this is a progression in which we can take legitimate pride, and that’s just as it should be.