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November 11, 2013

On Friday, I stopped by Mayor-Elect Marty Walsh’s press conference downtown, where he announced the "core" of his transition team, outlined his plans for the next few weeks, and took questions on assorted topics. Here are five things that stood out (at least to me) about Walsh’s performance:

1. He gets political symbolism. Let's start with the fact that three of the six transition co-chairs Walsh introduced today—his former mayoral rivals Felix Arroyo, John Barros, and Charlotte Golar Richie—are people of color. Walsh has said he wants to make City Hall look more like the city itself, and that he'd like his mayoral cabinet to consist of up to 50 percent people of color. Tapping this trio shows Walsh is serious about those goals.

But naming Boston Municipal Research Bureau head Sam Tyler as a transition co-chair may be an even savvier move. In a nutshell, Tyler's day job consists of urging Boston's city government to behave in a financially responsible way—and Walsh says that’s exactly why he picked him. “He’s here because he’s somebody who can say, ‘Wait a second—this isn’t the right way to go,'” Walsh said. Throwing Tyler into the transition mix should mitigate fears that Walsh, given his deep union ties, won't be able to run a tight fiscal ship. Also helpful on that cou nt: Walsh's decision to add Katherine Craven, a fiscal whiz with extensive experience in state government, to his transition team.

And Joyce Linehan, Walsh's friend and campaign consigliere? Her spot on the team shows that another key part of Walsh's coalition--the idealistic lefties who elected Deval Patrick (twice), and Elizabeth Warren, and now Walsh himself—won't be left out as the Walsh Administration takes shape. Again: smart move.

2. The endorsements that helped Walsh win could make his life difficult. At today's presser, Walsh's former rivals were grilled about whether their presence on his transition team reflected some kind of quid pro quo, with them endorsing Walsh in return for a sweet gig at City Hall. The answer, more than once: absolutely not.

Toward the end of the event, Arroyo seemed to grow frustrated with the line of questioning. “That’s the answer, folks,” he said. “The conversation about whether or not we have a job with the administration hasn’t come up.” But speculation about whether, at minimum, Arroyo, Barros and Golar Richie endorsed in the hopes of a future role is sure to continue until Walsh actually names his cabinet. And if one or more of those three is on his list, the scrutiny will intensify.

3. The Walsh Machine isn't well oiled—yet. One of the stranger moments today came when Walsh basically said today's announcement was premature. “I probably should have waited a few more days,” Walsh said, “but I’m sneaking away for a couple days, and so I wanted to get the core here to get the ball rolling, if you will.”

Refreshing candor, but it also raises a question: shouldn't the mayor-elect's first big announcement be a bit more...decisive? What’s more, Walsh also said he hadn't identified specific responsibilities for his various transition co-chairs. Maybe he's being open and inclusive. Then again, maybe there's an embryonic organizational floppiness that could pose trouble in the coming years. We’ll see.

4. Walsh is a bona fide populist. My WGBH colleague Peter Kadzis believes that to succeed as mayor, Walsh needs to be an "imperial populist"—combining Mayor Tom Menino's Everyman aesthetic with Meninio's countervailing knack for putting his head down and getting stuff done, criticism be damned. There's no question Walsh is an everyman; when I asked him if we should be calling him "Mayor-Elect Walsh," or "State Rep Walsh," he answered: "I'm Marty." And it seemed like he meant it.

But Walsh's populist instincts may run deeper. On Friday he said he'll be holding a series of town meetings around Boston in the coming weeks—largely unstructured events at which the residents of the city tell the mayor-elect what they consider important and what they'd like the city to do differently. Maybe Walsh is a populist, period.

5. The Boston media is weirdly obsessed with Walsh's marital status. On WGBH's Beat the Press Friday night, we looked at the press's strange fixation on the fact that Walsh and his longtime girlfriend, Lorrie Higgins, aren't married. Case in point: after today's wide-ranging, detailed discussion of how Walsh plans to become the first new denizen of the mayor's office in two decades, the last question was...whether he's bringing a ring on he and Higgins' impending vacation. Give it a rest, people!

Bospoli, Boston Mayor 2013

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