Menino, Walsh: A Comparison of Philosophies

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh.

By Ming Ying

Former Boston Mayor Tom Menino.

Former Boston Mayor Tom Menino.

A modern “common man” not unlike his predecessor, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh provides Boston with a new face of leadership while preserving much of the legacy of Thomas Menino, who served as mayor for decades before retiring his post last year.

Just as Menino made up for whatever he lacked in youth with wisdom, Walsh compensates for his limited experience as mayor with blue-collar, down-to-the-streets smarts. In a bustling hub vibrant with rapid transformation, it is important to examine how Walsh’s philosophies, and those of like-minded progressive City Councilors, compare to Menino’s – and what those differences will mean for the city of Boston.

Boston-born and Boston-bred, Menino and Walsh share a hearty sense of Boston sensibility. Walsh’s self-described passion comes from within – at age 7, he survived a form of cancer known as Burkitt’s Lymphoma. To this day, he has been sober for 18 years. Menino seeks guidance in his idols, such as personal hero President Harry Truman, whose portrait hung sternly above his desk.

What relates the two men most of all, says Tim McCarthy, current City Councilor, is their shared “true love for the city…you’ve got to love what you’re doing to do a 24/7 job.”

Despite their difference in personality, the two mayors have clear commonalities. Take their stance on marriage equality. Walsh, who refused to attend the St. Patrick’s Day parade due to its ban on openly gay marchers, is reminiscent of Menino, who opposed the opening of Chick-fil-A restaurants in Boston due to the chain’s anti-gay sentiment.

“So much of our Irish history has been shaped by the fight against oppression,” Walsh said, according to the Huffington Post, a statement hand-in-hand with Menino’s support of the gay and lesbian community.

In fact, Walsh’s administration appears a confident continuation of Menino’s 20-year reign, a reign which echoes pro-charter school, pro-urban development, and anti-gun sentiment. Under both men, the expansion of charter schools gained traction, public works projects such as the expansion of the Mass Pike flourished, and gun control tightened.

So is Boston headed in a new path under Walsh, or is he steering Boston in the course laid out by his predecessor?

One of the of the most striking differences is a deviation in leadership style. Walsh, following suit with his persona of an approachable, friendly guy, aims to create a hands-off, inviting City Hall, while Menino, though cordial, carries the reputation as an intensive micromanager.

“My background has been in coaching and managing for 25 years,” says McCarthy. “Menino has more of a coaching style…that philosophy works for me. Marty’s philosophy is more team-based.”

For now, Walsh’s moderate form of leadership seems to be working. His track record as a longtime union member and leader shows that he is capable of creating unity and resolving labor disputes before they escalate into strikes.

Furthermore, driving Walsh’s administration forward is a new generation of City Councilors known as progressives, intent on instilling improvements for the city of Boston. Led by Walsh, a progressivist himself, Councilors such as Michelle Wu and McCarthy are carving changes for Boston in areas such as permitting, zoning, and city services.

“I see the government as the best place to help people,” said Wu. “I want to take down barriers for families with limited means.”

But as for the remainder of Walsh’s four-year term, we are barely peeking through the keyhole. While vast projects and hurdles lie ahead, Wu is optimistic. “What I love about Boston is that we are a city of resources and neighborhoods,” she said. “We have the tools to solve every problem. It’s a matter of connecting the dots.”

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