Keller @ Large: Mayor Michelle Wu shows Boston attitude in first State of City address
BOSTON - Love Boston Mayor Michelle Wu or not, you've got to give her credit.
Fourteen months after taking office in the middle of a pandemic without the usual transition time, her young administration is still a work in progress. But in her first State of the City speech Wednesday night, Wu demonstrated a solid grasp of her policy challenges, formidable political skill, and a splash of that uniquely Bostonian attitude that we'll charitably call self-confidence.
Remember the fuss Wu supporters made over campaign opponent Annissa Essaibi George's emphasis on her Bostonian roots? "It's a message of belonging," one Wu partisan told the New York Times. "That unless you're from the neighborhood, you don't have deep roots and can't represent this city. It's a statement of belonging, versus the other. That's the quiet suggestion."
Nonetheless Wu opened her speech by emphasizing the local roots of key cabinet officials: Chief of Human Services Jose Masso, who "started as a lifeguard in our community centers"; Police Commissioners Michael Cox, "the boy from Roxbury who wanted to serve and protect"; "the toddler who took his very first steps in City Hall daycare," Chief of Economic Opportunity and Inclusion Segun Idowu; and so on. Huh. Guess parochial pride isn't such a crime against nature after all.
And when Wu boasted that "we fought off a state takeover of Boston Public Schools," spin detectors went off across town. According to the Globe: "Under a 'systemic improvement plan' mandated by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, BPS must take steps to dramatically improve the education, transportation, and other services students receive, particularly in chronically underperforming schools. The plans are especially aimed at better serving multilingual learners and students with disabilities, as well as addressing delayed and no-show buses and school safety."
Seems a bit of a stretch to be comparing that deal with the Battle of Agincourt.
But while hubris can be overdone, there's no denying it's a crucial aspect of any successful political leadership. Wu didn't pull any punches in a lengthy description of the city's past planning and development failures. And she wasn't shy about committing the city's windfall of federal COVID funds to a range of promising housing and economic development initiatives.
Some of the mayor's promises seem destined to fail. The Legislature is unlikely to approve her rent control home rule petition. And unless Senate President Karen Spilka gets the MetroWest representation on the MBTA board she's been pushing for, the Boston seat Wu demanded Wednesday night is a non-starter.
But you can't fault the mayor for trying. That's what she was elected to do. And if the rhetoric seemed a little dicey at times - "filling 5,000 potholes" and "plowing through 53 inches of snow last year" are acts that "in so many other cities" would not "have been possible"? Really? - maybe that's because Wu is unlikely to be given much credit unless she demands it.
"Boston has never let anyone else define our possibilities," she said Wednesday night. With this rhetorical flex, Wu made clear she intends to be the definer-in-chief.
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