Politics as Unusual: Walsh’s working-class concern is what the city needs

November 8, 2013
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It’s easy to retrospectively say this now that Marty Walsh has emerged as the next mayor of Boston, but for anyone who made it to the Strand Theatre in Dorchester for his Election Eve rally, it was clear that his team would reign victorious. I showed up just before the storm, and was sitting comfortably when Walsh arrived flanked by hundreds of boisterous supporters. Unless John Connolly had a comparable event underway, I thought, the councilor was certain toast. He didn’t. And he was.

At the Strand, Dorchester district Councilor Frank Baker held court until the Walsh posse arrived. Greeting friends, neighbors, and his own constituents up front by the stage, Baker put on full display, whether intentionally or not, the community spirit that powered the Walsh campaign. Even with untold amounts of so-called dark money flowing in from out of state, there was a sense that the election would be won thanks to local troops like those at the Strand.

Everybody seemed to know each other. A guy in a bright red Walsh hoodie alerted his son to a man walking by: “Do you remember Mr. O’Donnelly? He coached the all-star team you played on for that giant trophy over your bed.” In front of me, a large man squeezed into one of the balcony seats, only to have a friend hurl an insult from a few rows over: “I’m not sure how we’re going to get you out of that seat to work the polls tomorrow.” It was a pep rally, and the Strand was the locker room before the big game.

As Walsh entered through the back and proceeded toward the stage, pressing flesh the whole way, the place shook like the Casey Overpass. A Dixieland band gave way to Bruce Springsteen’s “We Take Care of Our Own” on the loudspeaker, and so the tone was set. The gaggle on stage, perfectly diverse as if plucked out of a vintage Benetton ad, cheered raucously. It’s not every day you see House Speaker Bob DeLeo raise the roof, but with so much vigor about, he did just that.

Of course, it wasn’t just the energy or a heroic get-out-the-vote effort that put Walsh over the top. In most likelihood, the catalyst driving that momentum was a deep concern for an eroding working class. As City Councilor-At-Large Felix G. Arroyo shouted in an almost tearful Election Eve soliloquy, sometime over the past few months, the media and public in general failed to question the motives of developers and corporate interests. Walsh played his union card as prudently as possible up to that point, but his team’s workplace pride finally erupted this week. As visiting labor icon Terry O’Sullivan reminded the largely union Strand crowd packed with everyone from pipefitters to glaziers and elevator constructors, “Brothers and sisters, Marty Walsh is one of us.”

As I exited the Strand, an older gentleman from Dorchester in a black hat and jacket pointed at my notepad: “Walsh by 20,000 tomorrow. You heard it here first.” In the end, he only won by about 5,000 votes, but at his party last night at the Park Plaza Hotel, it seemed like half of the Bostonians who pulled for him were on location. When word of a Walsh victory made its way around the crowd, people weren’t just exhilarated because their particular guy won. Rather, the individuals I met were ultimately stoked to be represented by someone who believes they deserve a piece of the American pie they’ve helped to build and maintain. Far too many politicians these days put trust and responsibility into the hands of an elite and monied few. A Walsh administration has the potential to curb that trend in a healthy vanguard city that pols elsewhere look to for guidance.

In case it’s not clear, I’m excited that Walsh won. This should come as no surprise to anybody who read any of the 35 “Politics as Unusual” columns I’ve written since April. In my very first installment, I warned against embracing a potential business-mogul candidate; leading up to the preliminary, I railed about the depravity of District Attorney Dan Conley; moving on, I hammered unsavory electoral developments, including the encroaching corporate education reform agenda that came to define the Connolly campaign. Though the Gazette wields but a tiny bullhorn in this small but major metropolis, “Politics as Unusual” echoed loudly in this race, and I believe that’s for the better.

Walsh has some flaws, there’s no doubt about it. But at least he’s pledged to care of his own. In 2013, that’s exactly the kind of boss this city needs.

A former Boston Phoenix staff writer, Chris Faraone is now contributing editor at DigBoston.