Marty Walsh was sworn in as Boston mayor on Monday, January 6, and Beantown could hardly believe it.
When Yo-Yo Ma plays “Danny Boy,” the Dropkick Murphys blast it out and the Boston Fire pipe and drum band beats its battle tattoo, you know it is not Bill de Blasio they are inaugurating – thankfully.
But Marty Walsh would not have been a favorite pick when the contest began.
Too much of the old style they said, a neighborhood guy, not sophisticated.
All true, but he overcame that and much more.
And when you add Walsh’s Connemara mother, Mary, who gave interviews in her native Gaelic tongue, then you know it is a throwback Boston mayor they are inaugurating.
Not since James Michael Curley, whose sainted mother and father were also from Galway, has an immigrant couple’s son occupied the city’s top office.
“Now it’s Maaahty Time,” as acerbic columnist Howie Carr noted in the Boston Herald.
You've come a long way, Marty and family.
His mother Mary and her late husband John grew up in remote Connemara with little hope of work and set out in the mid-fifties for what Irish speakers call “An T-Oilean Ur” or "the fresh land'"as they call America.
Ordinary immigrants on a familiar trail, their life’s destiny seemed set fair.
After the road to the bright city, as some immigrants called Boston, John and Mary met, married and had two kids.
Marty’s prospects in life looked dim to say the least. If Boston had passed casino legislation back then you could have bet the house against him becoming mayor.
He merely battled cancer as a child, was shot in a drive-by shooting, defeated alcoholism, dropped out of college.
Just standing up and not falling down might have been a remarkable achievement after all that.
Instead he has become mayor of, arguably, America’s most politically tough city.
It has been a long time since a shanty Irishman from the neighborhoods took the storied position once held by Honey Fitz and Mayor Curley.
The son of working class Irish immigrants and a laborer himself for many years, Walsh beat an opponent, John Connolly, with a Harvard education and upper class Irish roots, formerly known as lace curtain Irish.
Boston may be the only city in America where such distinctions still count, but there was a lot of satisfaction among Walsh backers I spoke to right after the election.
The Dorchester Irish love their local boy. He still eats the $4 special in his local diner. You won’t find any lace curtains in his modest home.
The working class hero persona fits him; there is nothing fake.
But he is not just a mayor for the Irish. These lines in his speech reinforce his commitment to treating each neighborhood equally:
“Boston has been called, a “City upon a Hill.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone use that phrase to make a lofty point.
But let me tell you what I think about when I hear it, with apologies to John Winthrop, the Puritan settler who said it first.
We are a City Upon a Hill, but it’s not just the shining light of Beacon Hill.
It’s Savin Hill, where I live. It’s Bunker Hill, Bellevue Hill and Fort Hill. It’s Pope’s Hill, Jones Hill, and Telegraph Hill. It’s Copp’s Hill, Mission Hill and Eagle Hill.”
The remarkable underdog campaign of Marty Walsh was predicated on that same commitment. Many years ago, shanty Irish and lace curtain Irish were not just at eachother’s throat, but also shamelessly exploited racial fears in minority neighborhoods against each other.
Marty Walsh secured key minority endorsements by making clear his commitment to helping each neighborhood equally and bringing Boston together.
While he comes from a traditionalist Irish past, he is very much a politician for the future.
Back in November, right after his election, his first event was our Irish Central/Irish Emigrant salute to Boston Marathon heroes.
At that event he slipped in the back, no security, and neither demanded nor sought any extra attention.
There is that rare bird, I thought, a politician very comfortable in his own skin and not in the least impressed with himself.
I think Boston has elected a very different and very talented mayor.
Here's footage of the inauguration: