The COVID-19 pandemic is requiring our city and state officials to make critical decisions every day that have the potential to impact millions of lives. In Boston, one of the leaders at the center of everything is Mayor Marty Walsh. Mayor Walsh recently took time to participate in a virtual session of the Curated Conversations series presented by MassChallenge and Boston.com to share with us his thoughts as one of Massachusetts' leaders in this time of crisis.
Linda Henry, co-founder of Manifest Boston and managing director of Boston Globe Media Partners, spoke with the mayor about crisis leadership, our economic recovery, his first job, and his hopes for the future. "We're going to get through this, and we're going to get through it stronger than we were going into it," said Mayor Walsh. While Boston has been hit hard by the pandemic, and there's still more to come, he's hopeful that we will stay strong as a city and be the next generation to lead Boston forward.
Over the course of the Curated Conversation, we learned several things from the Mayor about his approach and learnings from the pandemic. Some of our top takeaways:
- Times of crisis make our community stronger - Since starting his work in politics in 1997, Mayor Walsh has seen increasing polarization pull government apart. "In the last three months, we’ve been able to govern without that polarization, and that’s been amazing," he said. People in Boston have pulled together in the face of the virus, just like they did after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.
- When it comes to keeping people safe, go with your gut - The mayor has had to make some unpopular decisions during the pandemic, but those decisions have ultimately helped prevent additional illnesses and even deaths. Back in March, Mayor Walsh decided to cancel the St. Patrick's Day parade, something that seemed significant at the time. We now know that it was just the tip of the iceberg. The mayor has continued to make sometimes unpopular choices in the interest of safety.
- Moving slowly will help protect Boston's future - Boston's businesses are in a tough position with the extensive closures the pandemic requires. While being very "pro-business" and understanding the importance of getting businesses up and running again, the mayor expressed that we have to reopen in a thoughtful way because of the public health risk. "If we move too quickly and take our guard down, we’re going to be in a far worse situation for the second surge," he said. Rather than taking things one day at a time, he's looking at a snapshot in time — and that snapshot is 14 days.
- Supporting small businesses will take creative thinking - "We have to think outside the box," Mayor Walsh said of keeping Boston's small businesses, like restaurants, running. Over 250 establishments in Boston have expressed interest in offering seating on sidewalks or in parking lanes, which could lead to Boston looking like a European destination with its outdoor dining options. The city has also created the Reopen Boston Fund for small businesses that need help implementing safety protocols as they start to reopen.
- Now is an opportunity to find new ways of learning - While the plan for reopening Boston's schools is still being determined, the mayor hopes that by September we’ll have a process in place to put kids back in schools. Over the next three to four weeks, hybrid learning will be discussed and debated, but Mayor Walsh thinks the future of education is going to be a mix of in-person learning with an online competent. He says we have an opportunity now to work on closing the achievement gap by teaching students both in the classroom and doing additional work online.
- All of Boston's industries are critical to our success - When asked which sectors are the pillars of our economic recovery, the mayor couldn't pick just one. "It’s like a wheel on a bicycle. There’s many different spokes, and they all have to be working to keep Boston going." From health care and social assistance to accommodation and food services, each industry supports the others.
One of our favorite moments from the conversation revolved not around the pandemic, but Mayor Walsh's career. During the lightning round of questions, we learned that the Mayor's first job was filling jelly donuts at a Dunkin' Donuts in Andrew Square — a perfect reflection of his Boston roots.
For more details, you can watch the whole conversation between Linda Henry and Mayor Walsh on Boston.com.