13 questions with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh

All eyes will be on Boston on Monday as the city hosts its first marathon after last year's bombings. The marathon marks a major milestone for Mayor Marty Walsh, who was sworn in earlier this year -- the first person not named Tom Menino to run Boston in more than two decades.

We caught up with Walsh over the weekend to ask him about the marathon, the anniversary of the attacks, his first 100 days in office, whether Elizabeth Warren should run for president, and if Vice President Biden has figured out his phone number yet:


AP Photo

FIX: So the race is almost here. How are you feeling? It's got to be a bit of a surreal weekend, right?

Walsh: It is and it isn't. It's weird because people are so excited out there, and today I saw a lot of survivors out in the streets. And they're really inspiring, is the best way to put it. You don't want to say too much about it because you want to wait and see how the survivors feel, but a lot of people walked the route today. One of the guys -- he didn't make it to the finish last year, and he lost a leg in the marathon -- I watched him do the one-mile walk today. And it was just inspiring to watch him finish the race today -- the race he didn't get to finish last year.

FIX: It feels like everyone in Boston is always asked this question, but, where were you last year when the bombs went off?

WALSH: I was about to go on TV. I was at New England Cable News ready to go on at 3 o'clock and ... the producer came in and said "we're probably going to have to cancel your interview because of an explosion at the marathon." We didn't know what it was, until we saw it on TV. At first, I thought it was manhole covers blowing up. I hadn't seen the footage yet, but I figure that's what it might be. We went home to my house and my phone started ringing. Somebody died.... I got a call that Martin Richard had been killed. I didn't know Martin at the time, but I knew the family. I had been in a picture with Martin prior to that, but somebody called me and told me, and I thought, "Oh my God."

At the time, I was on the board of the Neighborhood House Charter School, so I called the headmaster of the school and asked him. I thought maybe the Richard kids had gone to school there, and he said they did. So we started doing some stuff for the school behind the scenes right then. It was awful.

That weekend, Lorrie [Walsh's longtime girlfriend] had gotten me a weekend away on the Cape. I wasn't going to go because of the campaign, but we went because everyone suspended the campaign. We watched the whole manhunt on TV.

FIX: Yeah ... it was a pretty rough week....

Walsh: Oh my God. It was scary. It was almost like a movie. I just kept thinking: This can't happen here. They were chasing them around Watertown; they're throwing bombs out at the cops.

FIX: A ton has happened in the city since you took office. But I've got to imagine that the anniversary of the bombings has been one of your central focuses. It seems to transcend your time in office thus far -- your 100th day, in fact, was on the anniversary. 

Walsh: I've met all of the families now who lost loved ones. They're incredible people. My heart breaks for them. I've met a lot of survivors; they're incredible, inspiring people. It really is ... whatever the intended effects were, whatever the Tsarnaevs thought was supposed to happen by bringing that terror to Boston, it had the complete opposite effect.

I mean, look around. This place is booming; it has been all day today, all weekend. Ten thousand people ran the 5K today.

So what will the security be like on Monday? How do you feel about the city's ability to pull the marathon off without any problems?  

The police have a good hold on it. Boston Police Commissioner Bill Evans is an expert at this, and we've had events since the marathon. We've had the Fourth of July on the Esplanade; we had the First Night here on Boylston. Evans is a professional who understands it. He was able to defuse Occupy Boston without any problems. So we're going to depend upon Commissioner Evans and the police department and then the other first responders, fire and EMS. They've got a good plan for Monday, and they've got a good plan for this weekend. People don't see it, but they've got people intermingled into the crowd, watching the streets. There are police dogs out walking around, but you're not seeing it all. But there is a lot of protection here on the streets of Boston.

FIX: What has been your biggest challenge during the first 100 days in office? 

Walsh: Those unforeseen, unexpected, sad events. The fire that killed two of our firefighters. The young police officer dying. A young boy being shot. You can't really prepare for that. I think that's something that comes with the job, and unfortunately that's part of it.

The first two months, the lack of privacy and the pace of the job was difficult. I think that the last 10 weeks, you get used to it. It's part of the job. You get acclimated to the job. The fast ... pace, you get used to it. Every time the phone rings it's not as "oh my God" any more. You just deal with it.

Fix: What is your relationship with Tom Menino? He stayed out of the mayoral race to replace him, but Boston mayors have a long history of clashing with the men who replace them.

Walsh and Menino at the Red Sox home opener (Getty Images)
Walsh and Menino at the Red Sox home opener (Getty Images)

Walsh: I see him a lot. I've called him and checked in on him a few times, and he's called a couple times to check in on me. It's what it should be for a former mayor and a current mayor. You know, I've got a good relationship with former mayor Ray Flynn as well.

I called Mayor Flynn as well with some ideas and for some suggestions, and they've both been willing to offer their support to me. The last 30 years, Boston has known two people as mayor -- Ray Flynn and Tom Menino -- so I try to feed off of those two.

You've been down to the White House a few times, primarily for visits with the council of mayors. How have those gone?

Walsh: President Obama's office has been really incredible with the mayors. They really pride themselves on their relationships with the mayors, and they've really been offering a lot of support. When you call down, they respond.

Even here in Boston, the federal officers have reached out to us and have met with us. The relationship has been good. We're getting a lot of grant money; they can help us out that way. So it's been pretty good.

Going to the White House, the first time I went there, I had a chance to go into the Oval Office for the first time. It was pretty incredible being in the presidential office.

FIX: I can imagine. You had just gotten the keys to the City Hall's corner office, and now you're in the White House....

Walsh: It was right after I was elected.... I actually wasn't even sworn in yet

FIX: So, has Joe Biden figured out which Marty Walsh you are yet?

Walsh: (laughter) Yeah, yeah, he has.

Joe Biden, I'll tell you, his speech on Tuesday at was incredible, I thought. His personal connection to all of the families who lost loved ones; he was the absolute right person to be here that day because he has that connection with so many families because of his own personal tragedy. He was just incredible. He met with them in a private room, and I just know that the families appreciated the comfort that he shared with them.

FIX: Another person who you've got a good relationship with is Elizabeth Warren. How has that continued to develop since you've entered office?

Walsh: I've got a great relationship with Elizabeth Warren. Rock solid. She calls me a lot to offer support and anything she can do. She's been a real strong partner with the city, and she's been excellent.

She called and offered support right after the firefighters were killed. Actually, while the fire was still going on she called me on the phone. She's a good person to lean on. You know, Senator Ed Markey has been good as well. Most of the congressional delegation has been helpful.

FIX: So should Warren run for president in 2016?

Walsh: I don't think she's thinking about that. I think it's too soon. And, when I say that, I mean that I think she's going to be a great United States senator for us here in Massachusetts. We need a strong senator; we need strong senators, plural.

We're so used to having Ted Kennedy, who was here forever. And John Kerry. We need that kind of longevity in the United States Senate.

FIX: You've talked in the past of building relationships with the other new big-city mayors like Bill de Blasio and Eric Garcetti. How is that going?

Walsh: All of the mayors have been pretty busy with their first budgets and things like that, but I think as things progress there's going to be a lot of good relationships there. The new mayor of Pittsburgh, Bill Peduto, as well as KJ, the mayor of Sacramento [former NBA player Kevin Johnson], great guy who has been up here in Boston a few times. The mayor of Seattle has been up here once, and he's brand new is well.

I think those relationships are important because I think we're all in the same boat.

FIX: 100 or so days in, what has surprised you?

Walsh: The quickness of decisions. It's just like boom, boom, boom, boom, boom.

FIX: Tom Menino's legacy is as the "urban mechanic." You're 100 days into replacing him. Are you thinking yet about what you want your legacy to be?

Walsh: It's too soon for all of that. You'll have to ask me again in 100 days.

Wesley Lowery covers Capitol Hill for The Fix and Post Politics.
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