Updated 8:31 p.m.
In his seventh and final state of the city speech, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh — who is leaving his job to become President-elect Joe Biden’s secretary of labor — lamented the human toll taken by COVID-19 and touted his administration’s response to the pandemic.
Early in his address, Walsh noted that more than 1,000 Bostonians have died due to the coronavirus pandemic, and he mentioned three of them: Beverly Ann Rock, a Dorchester social worker; Regina Phillips, a Boston EMT assigned to Ambulance 19 in Mattapan; and Jose Fontanez, a Boston police officer who worked in Jamaica Plain.
“We are a city aching with loss,” Walsh said. “Not a day goes by that I’m not speaking with a grieving family member, a worker facing unemployment or a small business owner struggling to hang on.”
For Black, Latino and immigrant Bostonians, Walsh noted, the direct and indirect damage from COVID-19 has been especially acute.
In response, the mayor said, his administration has taken a multitude of steps aimed at containing the virus’s spread, including closing schools, pausing construction and canceling the Boston Marathon.
“These decisions, and many others, were not easy,” Walsh said. “But we had to act to save lives. So we worked with the state, with hospitals and universities, with businesses small and large, nonprofits and residents in every neighborhood — and we moved forward together, one day at a time.”
As Boston recovers from the pandemic, Walsh said, keeping the populace safe and getting Boston’s public-school students back in the classroom are top priorities. He urged Bostonians to get vaccinated when possible and said his administration is working to soften the impact of remote learning on the city’s most vulnerable students — for example, by providing laptops for every student and helping students who face food, clothing or housing insecurity.
The city will also continue working to aid small businesses reeling from the pandemic, Walsh said, and has providing $26 million in resources to date.
After touting Boston’s ongoing efforts to increase housing stock and fight climate change, Walsh closed by focusing on his administration’s response to George Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis policeman and the wave of protests demanding racial justice that followed it, in Boston and across the country.
“I thank Black Bostonians for the way you made your voices heard,” Walsh said. “I thank everyone who joined the movement — Black, white, Latino, Asian and Indigenous people standing together."
In response, Walsh said, his administration declared racism a public-health crisis, launched a health equity plan to address health disparities in the city, appointed a new chief of equity and embraced police reform, including the creation of the new Office of Police Accountability and Transparency.
“I’m asking all of us to accept this responsibility as our own and commit to fighting racism,” Walsh said. “It’s our deepest moral obligation, and it’s our greatest opportunity for growth.”
Walsh, who fought back tears toward the end of his speech, vowed to make the Biden Administration “the best federal partner Boston and America’s cities ever had.”
“The truth is, I’m not going to Washington alone,” Walsh said. “I’m bringing Boston with me. This city is not just my hometown — it’s my heart.”
Walsh addressed the audience remotely from the newly rebuilt Roxbury branch of the Boston Public Library in Nubian Square, immediately following a brief documentary about the last year of his mayoral tenure.
According to the City of Boston Archives, Walsh’s address continued a tradition that began in 1822 at Faneuil Hall, when John Phillips, Boston’s first mayor, addressed the City Council. The speech seems to have been given every year since then, even during the Civil War.
Walsh is also following in the footsteps of former Boston Mayor Maurice Tobin, who became President Harry Truman’s labor secretary after first serving as governor of Massachusetts.
The last Boston mayor to join a presidential administration was Raymond Flynn, who served as President Bill Clinton’s ambassador to the Vatican.
When Flynn exited City Hall in 1993, then-Boston City Council President Tom Menino became acting mayor. He was later elected to the job outright and went on to serve for two decades, the longest term of any Boston mayor.
In Tuesday’s speech, Walsh said he’s already working on a mayoral transition of power with Boston City Council President Kim Janey, who will become the first woman and person of color to run the city if, as expected, Walsh’s appointment is confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
“I am confident that the operations of city government, including our COVID response, will continue smoothly,” Walsh said. “And I want you to know, the work we’ve done together for the past seven years has prepared Boston to build back stronger than ever.”