By Peter Shanley and John Ruch, Gazette Staff
Boston mayoral candidate Marty Walsh wants it known he’s not going to be vacillating when his past 16 years as state representative for Dorchester comes up during the campaign.
“My record is black-and-white. I’m proud of my record,” said Walsh in a recent interview at the Gazette office, noting that he has voted on issues such as gay marriage and death penalty during his time at the State House.
Besides his tenure as a legislator, Walsh discussed the importance of the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA), while adding some changes might be needed there; his view on the Boston Public Schools (BPS); his support for an East Boston-only vote on a proposed casino for the city; and growing up in a Democratic and pro-union home in Dorchester.
Both his father and uncle were involved in the leadership of Laborers Local 223 and Walsh himself was a union laborer.
Walsh entered the State House in 1997 and was immediately confronted with the push to legalize the death penalty in the state by then Gov. Paul Cellucci, who recently passed away from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
Walsh said at that time there had been a lot of high-profile murders, including that of 10-year-old Jeffrey Curley. He said it was his first time hearing advocates push for an issue and he talked with families who had loved ones murdered and fell on both sides of the argument. A debate went on in his head, but Walsh said he ultimately voted against legalizing capital punishment in the state.
“It was the right decision,” he said.
Walsh also discussed his vote in favor of gay marriage, saying that is the “last civil rights issue we are going to face in the country.” But, he said, there is more work to do on other issues, such as equal pay for women.
“That was my greatest vote in the legislature,” Walsh said of his action on gay marriage.
Walsh talked about helping to create a budget as a state legislator. He said that is unlike city councilors, who do not form a budget but vote on the mayor’s. Five of his opponents are city councilors. He said his experience as a state representative makes him the best option out of all the candidates.
“Some of the issues that will come up as mayor, I have already tackled,” he said.
Elaborating on his State House experience, Walsh pointed to his vote for the 2010 Education Reform Act, which, he said, allows administrators to make changes in teacher contracts when they are needed to improve schools.
Walsh said he does not want have an administration-versus teacher-union split, as teachers need to be part of the conversation, but sometimes changes need to be made. He said as mayor, he has the union experience to be able to sit down with the Boston Teachers Union, which he says he will do to make changes in the contract for the betterment of BPS.
The candidate said the discussion about Boston Public Schools (BPS) has to move beyond the buzzwords that politicians come up with, including quality, busing and neighborhood schools.
“We have to go deeper. What is going on in the system?” said Walsh.
He said there should be benchmarks for schools that go beyond the MCAS testing to make sure every community has a strong school. Walsh said he wants to use other benchmarks, such as graduation rates and whether students go to college and are “prepared for a life of work.”
Walsh said BPS spends $15,000 per student, about the same amount of money it costs for tuition at Boston College (BC) High School. He said if BC’s graduation rate was that of BPS, which is about 60 percent, “people would be up in arms.”
Walsh talked about having an array of schools for students to choose from, including trade, innovation, charter and regular schools. “Give them a say where they want to go,” he said.
Walsh said he is in favor of extending the school day, noting the successful MCAS early-morning tutoring program at the Neighborhood House Charter School in Dorchester. The program improved student scores for that test.
He also said education needs to begin early, saying between birth and 3 years old is critical for development. Walsh said there should be a City program partnering with local hospitals to send new parents home with a gift bag “to start the ball rolling.”
The interview also touched on development in the city. Walsh said that planning and development need to be more in sync with each other. He pointed to the 225 Centre St. and 161 S. Huntington developments in Jamaica Plain as examples. Both are dense developments, but the former had a much better planning process, leading it to be more accepted by the community, said Walsh.
Asked about the BRA, the agency that controls development in the city, Walsh said, “You can’t blow up an authority like that. It’s too vital to the city.”
But, he said, the role of the BRA might need to be redefined, saying there should be more community input.
Continuing on development, Walsh talked about Hyde Square, which he said is completely different from 20 years ago, with breakfast places, housing developments and mixed-use buildings. But he cautioned that there needs to be a balance between creating opportunity and maintaining a neighborhood’s identity.
“The city is losing middle-class families. We’re losing the identity of who we are,” said Walsh.
He said he was nostalgic for when he grew up and people could identify a house by the family who lived there. Walsh was raised on Taft Street in Dorchester, where he said there was a mix of Irish, Italian, Polish and black people. He said there was never any racial tension and everyone did things together.
Walsh talked about his support for an East Boston-only vote for a proposed casino at Suffolk Downs. He said he doesn’t think it is fair for other people to dictate what is best for East Boston. Walsh compared it to the 1960s when the New England Patriots were debating building a stadium where Pope John Paul II Park now is in Dorchester. He said he certainly wouldn’t want other parts of the city dictating to Dorchester what to do about the stadium
“If we don’t get the casino, we will live,” said Walsh, noting that Boston is not Atlantic City and that the casino would only be one piece of the economic puzzle.
The Gazette asked Walsh if he stayed up to watch the Bruins game the night before the interview. He said he did, even though the game went well past midnight, going into triple overtime. Walsh said as the game continued, he kept calculating how much less sleep he would get because he had to wake up early for campaign activities.
Walsh is no stranger to Stanley Cup overtime thrillers. He said he was at the Boston Garden in 1990 when the Edmonton Oilers topped the Bruins 3-2 in triple overtime, the longest game in NHL Finals history.
Walsh also recently opened a campaign office in Jamaica Plain at 668 Centre St.