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Boston’s New Mayor Faces Up To The Largest Equality Gap In The Nation

Marty Walsh walks into his tenure inheriting a healthy economy that nonetheless challenges many long-time Boston citizens.

[Image: Boston via Shutterstock]

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s first weeks in office come with a video highlight reel. That his "New Urban Mechanics" office, a joint venture in civic innovation with the city of Philadelphia, produced some cinema in the first place is a sign of the different kind of energy Walsh hopes to bring to his new role (though the office was started under his predecessor).

As Co.Exist has been tracking a class of eight new mayors of major U.S. cities who took office in January (see: "The Class of 2014: The New Mayors Who Are Building The Future of America’s Cities"), Walsh walks into his tenure inheriting a healthy economy that nonetheless challenges many long-time Boston citizens. Boston actually has the highest levels of income inequality of any large city in the country, ahead of New York City.

"The new mayor is inheriting a very strong situation, and there’s an opportunity to build on that," says Paul Grogan, CEO of the Boston Foundation. "Part of our success in Boston is in building an innovation economy. If you are qualified for the kinds of jobs that economy has created, you do very well. If you’re not, you’re pretty harshly punished."

Both Walsh and New York City’s new mayor Bill de Blasio are progressives who have focused their campaigns largely on the issue. Some of their policy proposals to address these gaps have been similar—such as a push for universal pre-K education and a more holistic approach to neighborhood safety and crime prevention than simply "arresting our way out of the problem." Where they may differ is in their approach: some perceive Walsh as more of a "uniter" whereas de Blasio has been more aggressive in his stance.

He will also face a balancing act in trying to continue to promote economic development—he has said (perhaps very optimistically) he wants to make Boston "the tech capital of the world." And though Boston is a coastal city that faces threats due to climate change, Walsh is a relatively blank slate on issues of resiliency, the environment, and sustainability.

Grogan notes that, in many ways, former mayor Tom Menino was not himself directly responsible for what made Boston such a vital city today—largely, cleaning the incredibly polluted harbor and the continued expansion of its education and research institutions. What he did right, says Grogan, was enable growth by being a competent executive who improved city services and kept the city safe and clean. On Walsh, Grogan says: "Much of what he’s going to be doing, he has no track record on—which he freely admits. So it’ll be a bit of an adventure.

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