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In sit-down, Mayor-elect Walsh talks Election Night to chief-of-staff

By Gintautas Dumcius, special to the BIR, November 8, 2013

By Gintautas Dumcius
Nov. 8, 2013
Marty Walsh arrived at the Park Plaza Hotel around 6 p.m. on Election Night and headed up to the 15th floor. For the first time during that day, he was nervous. West Roxbury, Beacon Hill and Back Bay, friendly turf for his opponent, John Connolly, had seen a high number of voters turn out.
Inside the hotel room, he was joined by his mother Mary, his brother John, his longtime partner Lorrie Higgins and her daughter Lauren, and his campaign manager Meg Costello. Walsh kept in touch with his campaign workers, who were crunching numbers inside the "boiler room" and keeping him updated.

Walsh showered and focused on writing his victory speech. He didn't write a concession speech, believing that if he had to deliver one, he would speak from the "heart and head," he said. "At 7:30, I just got a feeling, a feeling came over me, that we were going to be okay," the state representative and labor leader from Dorchester recounted 48 hours later, inside his campaign office at 11 Beacon Street, steps from the State House. "And the nervousness went away."

After the polls closed, he received a text message from Alessandra Petruccelli, state Sen. Anthony Petruccelli's wife, telling him that he had won her East Boston precinct. He would later learn he had won East Boston, which also had a referendum on a casino at Suffolk Downs on the ballot, by a slim margin. "I think he was banking on winning East Boston," Walsh said of Connolly, a councillor at-large from West Roxbury. "I think I won all of the communities of color, wards, for the most part. I think I won most of them all." Winning every precinct in Ward 18, which includes Hyde Park and Mattapan, "was huge," he added.

Around 8:45 p.m., the call came in from the boiler room: He was going to be the 48th mayor of Boston.

In an interview with the Reporter, Walsh credited the field team, which included Costello, Joe Rull and Dan Manning, for the win. He heard about their thoroughness throughout Election Day: people frequently came up to him and told him their doors had been knocked on three or four times over the course of the campaign. "We really pounded the doors," Walsh said.

Walsh himself put in almost 17 to 18 hours a day after the Sept. 24 preliminary, he said. "I didn't have a down minute," Walsh said. "I came home, I went to bed. I woke up, I went out."

Asked if he felt some of the criticism of unions crossed a line during the campaign, Walsh said, "I thought it was too much, in a way. I mean, people didn't look at the other side, what labor represents, 40-hour work week, benefits, pension, preserving the middle class in a lot of ways. I think people kind of lost sight of that…I think people were trying to demonize labor and I don't think it's fair."

It was mostly the print media, he said. "I think it was unwarranted," said Walsh, who benefited from millions in spending by labor-backed outside groups. He acknowledged that the controversial arbitration award to the Boston police union and an illegal bus drivers' strike didn't help. "But I've got to say, after the primary it really kind of died down and I've got to give credit where it's due," he said.

Now his attention is turning toward the inauguration and wrapping up his time at the State House, after 16 years as the 13th Suffolk state representative.

He remains in the early stages of putting his future administration together. He said wants a chief-of-staff who is a "good listener" with "compassion for people," but also willing to say "no." "That's also going to be the finance director," Walsh said. "Can't give away what you don't have."

When he was asked about keeping William Evans, the South Boston resident appointed last month by Mayor Thomas Menino to serve as acting police commissioner, Walsh said, "Let's see what happens." Walsh said he will be reviewing at the structure of the upper echelon of the police department. "A lot of people respect Commissioner Evans, I know he has a lot of respect by the rank and file. But we'll see what happens. I'm not opposed to it."

He and Connolly haven't talked since Election Night. Asked about a potential slot in the Walsh administration for Connolly, Walsh said, "I'm not ruling it out. I don't know if John would want it, though."

As for his dwindling days at the State House and any priorities before he leaves, Walsh said, "I'm not sure what the speaker's looking to do as far as legislation." Walsh plans to focus on constituent services, though some "open constituent cases" could come with him to City Hall, he said. "These are my constituents, they've been my constituents for most of the 16 years. I want to properly address them."

Walsh was back in the State House on Wednesday for a formal session and received applause from his colleagues. "It'll be strange not being in the House anymore," Walsh said. Sitting inside 11 Beacon Street, where he would often go to make calls to donors, Walsh turned wistful and called the welcome his House colleagues gave him as mayor-elect "bittersweet." "It's winding down there," he said. "I've enjoyed it. I've grown up in that place."

Before he resigns and takes the mayor's chair in January, Walsh also plans to at least get a hearing for a bill that would officially deem "Roadrunner," a 1972 number by the Modern Lovers, the state song of Massachusetts. A top Walsh supporter, Dorchester's Joyce Linehan, has pushed for the bill. "I have to try and get it done," he said.