By Jon Keller

BOSTON (CBS) – Boston Mayor Marty Walsh wouldn’t be human if he didn’t contemplate his political future with a bit of apprehension.

The popular second-term mayor faces a re-election fight next year in a majority non-white city where voters of color and their ideological allies are increasingly flexing political muscle. From Ayanna Pressley’s upset win in the 2018 congressional primary to last November’s City Council elections that swept an unprecedented number of women and minorities into office, this is no longer your father’s Boston political culture.

WATCH: Full State of the City Address

But while that might, on paper, seem like an existential threat to a white guy like Walsh, his 2020 State of the City Address showed why the 2021 mayoral race is going to be about much more than race or gender – if it’s about those things at all.

At every turn, Walsh is making sure there’s little if any room for attack on the issues that matter most to poor and middle-class Bostonians, whatever their identity.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh at 2020 State of the City (WBZ-TV)

When he said “I believe safety comes from lifting people up, not locking people up” and noted that both the crime rate and arrests are down sharply since he took office, Walsh aligned himself with Suffolk County DA Rachael Rollins and her controversial but – in the city’s communities of color – popular philosophy of referring non-violent suspects in a range of criminal categories for rehab and restitution rather than prosecution.

But for city residents who want law and order restored to city streets that idiots use as speedways, Walsh promised an enforcement crackdown: “The speeding, the texting behind the wheel, blocking lanes and intersections—enough is enough.”

Gifted with a whopping surplus from the city’s extraordinary real estate boom, Walsh is taking a page from Ray Flynn’s old “mayor of the neighborhoods” mantra, redirecting much of that loot:

• $100 million in “new revenue for direct classroom funding, [a] level of planned new investment over and above cost increases [that] has never been done before;”
• $500 million over five years for affordable homes, funded in part by a luxury-housing transfer tax that needs Beacon Hill approval;
• And if the Legislature balks at a major boost in transportation funding, Walsh asked for authority to put tax hikes targeted to fund transit improvements on a local ballot.

Walsh also touted his track record of new hires over the past six years, claiming a majority of the jobs have gone to women and people of color. And he promised to host “the best NAACP convention ever held” this summer when the iconic group returns to the city where it was born.

For many years, the claim that the city’s almost-exclusively white male political leadership couldn’t adequately represent an increasingly diverse population carried with it the presumption that, when push came to shove, those white males would at best be insensitive to the struggles of minorities, and at worst, were a bunch of indifferent bigots.

That was always going to be a hard label to stick on Marty Walsh.

His big speech – assuming he delivers on its promises – just made it much harder.

Jon Keller

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