Boston Mayor Marty Walsh will give his sixth major annual speech Tuesday evening at Symphony Hall, a showcase for the second term accomplishments his administration wishes to tout, as well as a look into Walsh's future plans for Boston and Massachusetts as a whole.
"I think what you want to do, for me anyway, in those speeches is you want to be able to inform the Boston resident of what we're doing, inform the Boston resident of where we're going and kind of lay out a little bit of a plan," Walsh said of the upcoming State of the city address.
"This is now my sixth either swearing-in or State of the City. So it's tricky. And you want to be creative and try and do something different," Walsh told reporters Thursday after the annual Three Kings Day celebration at City Hall.
One of the different tones Walsh has taken in the buildup to his speech is the roll-out of an ambitious legislative agenda aimed at getting Boston's, and Walsh's, priorities passed into law on Beacon Hill. The mayor is puissant in the corridors of City Hall, but in the State House, where he served as a representative from Dorchester for 16 years, his power is more persuasive than compulsory.
On Walsh's mind for what state lawmakers should get behind are bills on public safety, energy and environment, education, economic mobility, transportation and health.
"It's not the answer completely to these questions, but what it does, it allows us the tools to be able to address the issues around housing, climate, resiliency, education, safety — things like that," Walsh said of his 30-bill agenda released throughout last week. Each topic area was accompanied by a roundtable briefing with some of the city's top officials, including Boston Police Commissioner William Gross.
Walsh wants lawmakers to pass bills granting some low-income tenants the right to counsel in eviction proceedings, rent relief for the elderly, giving the city the ability to fine gas companies for untended leaks and redirecting more tax money from ride-hailing apps to city coffers.
"We're looking at some of the ridesharing issues and making sure that we can create more opportunities for revenue to go into climate resiliency and also reduce traffic," Walsh said.
Walsh said the areas he's heard the most from Bostonians, and where he's targeted his legislation, is on housing, traffic and congestion issues, energy use and climate adaptation.
Walsh's legislative successes in his first five years in office are hard to pin down, suggesting that his blessing on this year's slate may not be as effective as advocates would like to believe. Many of the bills he declared support for in previous sessions met untimely deaths in legislative committees, but there may have been less tangible successes in the secretive budget arena and in behind-the-scenes talks with his former colleagues that have benefitted Boston.
When repeatedly asked for examples of the mayor's past legislative victories over the last five years, Walsh's administration did not respond. Aside from a major education funding bill filed by Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, no legislative sponsors for Walsh's bills were known by Sunday. The bill filing deadline for legislation is Friday.
City Councilor Matt O'Malley said he's pleased with Walsh's agenda roll-out, especially the gas leaks provisions he's been fighting for on the council level.
"He's in his second term, has an opportunity maybe to be a little bolder on certain issues, so I was very pleased with sort of the the aggressive nature of many of the bills," O'Malley said.
Walsh said he's "been pretty aggressive when it comes to new Legislative sessions," and that this year in particular, his office is doing more outreach on items he backs, like Chang-Diaz's bill to rewrite the local school funding formula.
"You know, if we don't get some major funding formula changes in two years, Boston will be paying the state to educate kids, and that's not something that will be sustainable long term here in the city of Boston," Walsh said.
Chang-Diaz has championed the bill for years and sees an opportunity this year to get it past the finish line. Walsh was one of the main speakers at a State House press conference touting the education funding bill last week.
"It is not the sole responsibility of any mayor to do all, to carry all the advocacy load for their community. That's why you have a legislative delegation as well. So, you know, it's our job to work together to be good partners," Chang-Diaz said, adding that Walsh, like most municipal leaders, informs the city's delegation from his perspective as city CEO.
Another element of Walsh's legislative push is the deep ties he has in the State House, especially in the more moderate House under Speaker Robert DeLeo. Walsh served as DeLeo's Ethics Committee Chair until his election as mayor in 2013.
Former Boston CIty Councilor Larry DiCara has watched several mayors haggle with Beacon Hill over legislation. He said Walsh is unique in recent memory because of the "extraordinary, long-standing personal relationships" both he and top City Hall attorney Eugene O'Flaherty, also a former DeLeo lieutenant, enjoy with top legislative leaders.
"He was in the legislature a long time," DiCara said. "And there are members of the legislature who are more likely to vote for a bill which he has sponsored than a bill being sponsored by somebody whose mayor was not in the Legislature."
As for the speculation that Walsh's ambitious agenda, with several bills spilling out from the city limits to effect the rest of the Commonwealth, signals a turn to statewide interests, O'Malley isn't convinced.
"What's good for Boston is good for the state. What's good for the state is good for Boston. So I don't think there's any tea leaves that can be read with this," O'Malley said of Walsh's possible political ambitions.