For 11 days, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh got the celebrity treatment in Ireland, posing for pictures with friends and supporters wherever he stopped and connecting with relatives and talking trade opportunities with local officials.
Now that he’s back in Boston, Walsh has to be resigned to just being mayor again, although that’s not too shabby either. He discussed his trip and much more with Emily Rooney.
The following interview has been condensed. Watch the video above for the complete conversation:
EMILY ROONEY: Back home, we were reading all the stories, and they were making it sound like you were the second coming of JFK. Was it that big?
MAYOR MARTY WALSH: Everywhere I went, they were quoting a JFK speech. The villages that my mother and father are from are small little villages in Connemara, and they had an event one night that there were 1,000 people that showed up. They were just so excited to be there. There was a lot of hype; during the race for mayor, the Irish papers covered it pretty closely, so a lot of people knew what was going on in Ireland, and when I went over there, they were very, very excited.
So was there a bigger mission?
Yeah, we did a lot of good stuff over there. There was about four days back Connemara with the family and then we went to Galway and then up to Donegal, over to Derry, up to Belfast and over to Dublin, and we did a lot of connecting with elected officials and also talking to business leaders. It’s interesting, because in Ireland, and in the north, there’s a lot of discussion around mayors doing more, just like is happening here, you know: less dependent upon the national government and a lot of complaining about how slow it’s going, and really using mayors as a better way of communication—so a lot of comparisons. We made some good connections. I went to Primark in Dublin; they’re the company that’s moving into Boston, and I saw the whole operation. There’s companies in Ireland that employ about 130,000 people in America, so it really shows you that it’s a two-way global economy: the Irish economy and the American economy.
So back home, there’s so much focus on Ebola, and there’s renewed attention on the BU biolab because that’s one of the diseases that they’re going to be looking at. Do you have any concerns?
I know the neighborhood is concerned about the lab, but when you think about Ebola, it’s important for us to have research on it to see how we can come up with some cures. I mean, the public health commission had a press conference about a month ago to talk about the potential scare of Ebola in this country, and we’ve had a couple of instances now where Ebola is here in the country. I know people will watch tonight and say, "You shouldn’t be for it," but we have to do studying on it, and we have to make sure we look for a cure and a treatment.
Tom Menino has a new book out, and I was wondering if you’ve had a chance to look at it.
I’ve seen bits and pieces of it; I haven’t read the whole book. You know, it’s interesting, what I’ve seen of it so far. A lot of it’s been what I’ve been reading in the paper. I’m looking forward to seeing the book and seeing what his perspective was on being mayor—certainly to see if I can pick any tips up—he lasted 20 years, and he had a lot of success, you know?
One of his quotes was about keeping fear alive, and he meant that in kind of a colloquial way. How do you respond to that?
I operate completely differently. I don’t think you have to govern by fear; I think you can govern by sitting and talking to people, compromise. I don’t know if the fear factor works. I’ve been in politics now for 17 years; I’ve seen all kinds of different elected officials govern in different styles and different ways, and I don’t necessarily think you need fear to govern. If you’re a good, effective leader, you’ll earn the respect of people.
We’re been having so much discussion about possibly bringing the Olympics here…
We’re exploring the opportunity. First of all, I’m not going to mortgage the city when it comes to the Olympics. But I think it’s an interesting idea of what does it mean long term for the city of Boston, not necessarily the Olympics but what’s the long-term benefits of having the Olympics. I think we have an opportunity to upgrade our transportation system, an opportunity to upgrade a lot of different things in the city of Boston, hopefully with some money, some private development money. Again, we’re a long way off on it. We’re still in the process of talking to a whole bunch of different people on it.
You may have been in Ireland when this report came out, broken by ABC News, basically saying that Boston is a potential birthing place for terrorists. Did you have any advance warning of that, and do you believe it?
I talk to the commissioner every morning; we talk about a whole host of issues, and we have a special ops inside the police department looking at terrorism in particular and what’s happening around the world and what could be happening in our own city, and it’s something we have to be very diligent on. You know, we never expected Boston to be attacked, and we were internally on Marathon Monday. It’s something I talk a lot with the commissioner about because we have subways and roadways and tunnels, so we have to be diligent. The world’s a different place today, and as much as we work on community policing, we have to look at terrorism, too, and anti-terrorism.
But did it make sense to you that Boston would be a hub for that?
I think that any major city—Boston is one of those that’s on the forefront; we have a major airport here, international, we have a lot of international flights coming in and out of Boston. We have a lot of students that are here in Boston, a lot of international students. I think that some people will look at Boston and say it might be one of the places that would potentially be a place—I don’t think we are, but in saying that, we also have to be very diligent and be very careful about what’s happening.
Police Commissioner Evans has said the same thing that police commissioners before have said: wants to step up community policing, but there’s still the matter of distrust in communities of color. There's been a lot reporting on unsolved murders, unsolved crime, even though some of that is down. How do you break through that?
We’re working very hard. We started at the beginning of the year, of making sure the command staff reflects the city of Boston, which we have done that. We’re working on promotions and how do we promote more captains of color and lieutenants of color and sergeants of color. I think that’s another way of doing it: to get people in the leadership of the police department. I think there’s some lessons to be learned from what happened in Ferguson, and thank God that hasn’t happened here, and we want to make sure that doesn’t happen here, so we’re out working hard in the community with community policing.
The unsolved murders go back 20 years; it’s difficult. You know, a lot of those murders are gang-activity murders; people are afraid to talk, and we’re working to try to get more and more information out of people so they can step up and speak up about what happened. We need help and cooperation from the community as well, but we’re trying to do our best to get right on top of it right away. Again, it’s a day-at-a-time issue that we’re working on. I think we’ve done a good job in the city of Boston. But do we have more to go? Absolutely. Nobody’s perfect, but we’re going try and continue to make it the best police department we can and the most understanding police department.