By Richard Campbell
The jewel that is the Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre provided a polished backdrop to an eloquent occasion: the inauguration of Martin Walsh as a second term mayor of Boston. From the opening call to order to the closing, the event ran flawlessly, and signified not only Martin Walsh’s ascendency as a time tested mayor, but the preeminence of historical and contemporary Boston among cities in our nation. There were charm filled moments (as when students from the David Ellis Elementary School gave the pledge of allegiance, jostling amongst themselves for the limelight), or when the Morning Star Baptist Church Sanctuary Chorale raised the rafters and spirits. But it was most importantly, a celebration of democracy. If this could be remembered as one of the coldest New Year’s in recent history, the unmistakable warmth of heart and good will in the house sent out a message of powerful belief in the future of Boston.
There is no doubt that ritual in these events sustains a certain faith in city government in and of itself. Emerson College president, M. Lee Pelton opened with warm remembrances of his long standing relationship to the mayor, praising Mr. Walsh’s dedication to education and the city. The presentation of the colors, the pledge allegiance, and national anthem all gave a certain pride-filled solemnity. We begin to hear the underpinning of a particular civic theme of hope and opportunity which would return throughout the ceremony, fairly resonated in the opening prayers of Reverend Joseph White of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church- words that were later cemented in presentations by the mayor and former vice president Joe Biden.
The very presence of Joe Biden for the Democratic faithful elevated the occasion, adding grace, humility, humor, and a certain verve. Biden immediately recognized all the attending local officials, from Charlie Baker to Michael Capuano, and cracked warm-wise about Stephen Lynch and his old friend Ray Flynn. The distinguishing feature of his remarks was how he seemed to include everyone in the Boston circle from city councilors, and singled out Associate Justice Kimberly Budd for special commendation. He gave warm thanks to Attorney General Maura Healey for remembering his son Beau, and reminisced fondly about being in audience with the Pope by the side of Ambassador Flynn- including clever jokes about police escorts to Italian restaurants.
Joe Biden began his comments about mayor Walsh by frankly stating he “believed Mayor Walsh is one of the very best mayors in the entire country”, and called mayor Walsh “a man of extraordinary character, at a moment when we need more character, and incredible courage… you know this a man without a phony bone in his body.” Biden enumerated the things Martin Walsh learned early in life, through childhood cancer and chemo, overcoming addiction to alcohol, and struggling growing up in the city as “things that can’t be learned in a book.” The most resounding part of Biden’s acknowledgements were directed to the mayor’s humility for others in life’s struggles. “This is a man, a mayor, who will never forget where he came from… who believes that every single man, woman and child deserves to be treated with dignity.” Biden spoke the narrative of the poor and outcast: “Can I beat my problem? Can I get my life back on track? Will anyone believe in me? Will anyone give me a second chance?” As he reminded the audience of the value of having a mayor who understands fully the need for people to be given opportunities in life, this humanist discussion led into praise for mayor Walsh’s well known courage in the protection of the working poor, and immigrants struggling to become Americans. The theme of possibilities for the middle class, the importance of honesty in civic life, and how to deal with tough issues, was stressed as ever more important- given the situation in Washington. It is no secret that Joe Biden loves Boston and finds affinity with audiences here. In summarizing how incredible Boston is, and the unique values the city owns through its trials and accomplishments, he said to resounding applause: “Boston still owns the finish line.”
When Boston City Clerk, Maureen Feeney, (who had been keeping the agenda on cue throughout), read the official certification of the election, and introduced those who would witness the Oath of Office with the mayor, civic pride turned to official solemnity. Kimberly S. Budd, Massachusetts Supreme Court Associate Justice, was joined on one side of the stage with the 47th Vice president, Joe Biden, mayor Walsh’s mother, Mary Walsh, and his partner Lorrie Higgins. With all the city councilors behind them, the mayor was sworn in and signed official documents. The mayor’s inaugural address began shortly after the city council members were sworn to their offices-in unison- by the mayor.
Mayor Walsh began his comments after thanking all those before him for their kind words and service, and pledged love to his family and Lorrie Higgins. He thanked all the elected officials in attendance, and in particular, the city first responders who have been battling the cold to keep the city safe. He made tribute to city councilors, business people, teachers, students, veterans, and citizens in the city. He began with his accomplishments of 5,000 new homes, and the commitment to a new regional housing plan for moderate income homes, public, and senior housing. He mentioned the forced closing of the Long Island Bridge, and pledged to rebuild and open care for the homeless, and a newly remodeled addiction recovery campus. He distinguished between homelessness and the opioid crisis, and dedicated comprehensive efforts to resolve these separate complex problems. He pledged a new campaign Boston’s Way Home Fund with 10 million privately to create 200 units of permanent housing for the homeless over the next four years, simultaneously announcing a quarter million-dollar donation already secured from Bank of America. He pledged a challenge to Boston as a city of firsts, to become the first American city to end chronic homelessness in its midst.
The mayor’s confidence in Boston was ebullient and refreshing after a cold new year. Reminiscent of speeches once given by John Kennedy, the mayor’s rhetoric took flight in his conclusions. “From around the world and across our nation people look to Boston for hope, for opportunity, for a chance to build a better life. They make Boston their home…” “Today we take another step forward together, mindful of our history as a city of purpose and progress, optimistic about our future, and determined to fulfill a vision that grows with each generation… We are more than a city on a hill with the eyes of the world upon us. We are a city built by all the people of the world, as they turn hunger into hope, crisis into recovery, conflict into community. We are a city of neighborhoods that care, a city of second chances, a city of learning and healing, a city of current day creativity. We are one of the greatest cities of the world, and after four centuries our greatest days are yet to come.” By the time the Reverend Liz Walker recited a spirited benediction, the audience was truly ready to sing “God Bless America.”