Wu: I need to cut through the racket

In an interview this week with Mayor Wu, Reporter editors had occasion to ask her a range of questions on policies and budget priorities large and small that impact our neighborhoods. We also asked her what leadership challenge she has found most unexpected through her 18 months in the captain’s chair at City Hall. Her answer boiled down to unease about the difficulty in communicating the city’s achievements and priorities amid what she called a “deteriorating social media environment.”

She continued: “I had a little feeling about this, even in my years on the council, that there’s a real gap between what is happening and all the various ways in which we’re trying to move policies and create new programs and create access and deliver services. I think what I have learned is that I need to do more and better in terms of finding ways to help process and digest the whole range of what we’re doing and find ways to get it to the neighborhoods.”

One tool in her box is the Mayor’s Coffee Hour tours of parks and playground, which start up this Friday in Dot’s Town Field. It’s hardly an innovation. They’ve been a constant since the latter days of the Flynn era, offering opportunities to chat with constituents, pose for photos, hand out potted plants and, most times, get an earful on the indignities large and small that people expect city government to know about and fix.

Wu wants to put her own spin on them, surveying attendees ahead of time to get prepped on questions that might come up.

“This year we’re framing it almost like a little mini-state-of-the-neighborhood [address] in each of the locations,” the mayor said. “It’ll keep getting more and more tailored as we go, but we’re trying out not just giving out plants and saying hello to everyone but also giving a real summary that’s specific to that neighborhood of some of the deliverables, some of the numbers, unique to that area.”

Last year’s coffee stops, indeed most of her public appearances, were fraught with harassment and disruption from noisy critics – most of them anti-vax yahoos – who trailed Wu from her Roslindale driveway to wherever her schedule brought her on a given day. To her credit, she plunged ahead gamely, including the long march up Dorchester Avenue for our June parade, when she was pursued by bull-horn blaring nastiness, but never deterred by it.

While the mayor weathered that storm, she worries that the toxicity that she and other elected officials have experienced is no longer just their burden. She says the entire city is targeted and menaced when white supremacists march, for example.

Things have eased a bit as pandemic mandates have lifted, but this mayor worries that the toxicity could stay “baked-in” to the civic discourse in a different way. She worries that aspiring public servants will be discouraged from stepping into the arena.

“We’re missing out on talent and leadership if we are sniping at each other in certain ways or if we’re not doing everything that we can to create a civic space that is welcoming and inclusive for everyone,” she said.

No Boston mayor has enjoyed a tenure uninterrupted by the vagaries of personalities, the pettiness of political rivalry, or the unpredictable pulse of tragedy that disrupts the best laid plans. The added challenge for this mayor, she surmises, is how to cut through the racket and deliver on promises big and small.

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