Boston is strong, but federal crisis could upend it all

Mayor Walsh’s fifth State of the City speech on Tuesday night was familiar to the ears of longtime city observers. As in bygone years, the address summed up the progress of Walsh’s tenure and laid out new goals for the balance of his second term.

Walsh is proud of his record to date. And he has cause to be. As he noted from the stage at Symphony Hall, he has led the city through a period of remarkable growth across many different indicators— in people, in buildings, in jobs. The city has the lowest unemployment rate ever at 2.4 percent, he noted. Overall crime is down. There’s a building boom that continues to churn into corners of Dorchester and Mattapan that have long been ignored.

But for a speech peppered with plenty of upbeat news— “we are not just surviving, we are thriving”— there was also a definitive streak of dread cutting across the mayor’s remarks.

“The state of our city is strong, but I’m concerned about the state of our union,” Walsh told his audience in the room and watching and listening remotely. “What happens in Washington, we feel on the streets of Boston,” he noted, a reference to the federal shutdown that is exacerbating an already turbulent, divisive two years under the Trump White House.

Walsh never called out the villain— this president—by name. He ticked off all of the key policy areas— housing, infrastructure, public safety— for which cities like Boston have been left to fend for themselves. He called on the nation to follow Boston’s example.

“If you want to learn how to bring people together, not push them apart, look to Boston. If you want to grow good jobs and rebuild the middle class, look to Boston. If you want to see how social justice strengthens all of us, look to Boston. If you want to cut crime, protect the environment, lift Americans up, and leave no one behind, then look to the city of hope and heart. Look to the city of courage and champions. At a time when cities must lead, look to Boston, the leader of cities.”

That’s something Bostonians, who have consistently voted for progressive candidates and rejected the nationalist nihilism inherent in the Trump regime, are happy to export. But we need leaders who are ready to bring “tough-love” conversations to our national leaders as well.

In his closing minutes, Walsh pledged that he and Republican Gov. Charlie Baker were planning a “road trip” to Washington as what he called “a united front” to call for investments in “housing, transit, and the environment that our future depends on. Instead of building a wall, let’s show them how to build bridges,” said the mayor.

It was a nice rhetorical flourish. But let there be no mistake: There is fast approaching a time of reckoning for those who continue to enable Trump’s shutdown and all of his other excesses, several of which are reportedly under investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, including the potential of collusion with one of our longtime foreign foes, Russia.

We hope that if Baker and Walsh do mount a more aggressive approach in DC that it will be to confront the obstructionists in Baker’s column and urge them to stand up to the unhinged occupant of the White House.

Let’s agree to drop the insulting conceit that “both sides” are to blame for the current crisis, an old saw that Baker leaned on again this week in ruling “a pox on all their houses.”

Walsh is right: Washington, and in particular the White House, is a giant fail. But it’s even more serious than he outlined on Tuesday. The crisis that Trump has promulgated in his mania to soothe his racist base is a virulent threat to the republic. We expect our city and state leadership to confront it as the assault that it clearly is. Re-opening the government and getting millions of federal employees back to work is step one.

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