An emotional Boston Mayor Marty Walsh delivered what may have been his last State of the City address on Tuesday, as he prepares for a new post as President-elect Joe Biden's labor secretary.
Acknowledging his pending departure, Walsh said that he'll bring the city, "my heart," with him to Washington, and that as part of the Biden administration, he "will work to make sure it's the best federal partner Boston and America's cities ever had."
Walsh gave the annual speech virtually, devoting much of it to the coronavirus pandemic that's ravaged the city and country. But he also touched on his achievements not only from the past year but over his seven-year tenure at City Hall. And he declared that Boston may be struggling, but it's positioned for a strong recovery.
"We may be hurting, but the state of our city is resilient, the state of our city is united, the state of our city is hopeful and the state of our city is -- deep-down -- Boston strong," Walsh said.
His voice cracked as he recalled his promise to the city from his first inauguration as mayor, to listen, learn and lead. He said he will be forever grateful to Bostonians for the opportunity to do so.
"In 2021, Boston will rise up again. We will leave no one behind and our city will be stronger than ever," Walsh said.
Like so much else in the city amid the coronavirus pandemic, the speech adapted to the pandemic. It began with a seven-minute prepared video that highlighted Boston's battle with COVID-19, this summer's reckoning with racial justice and City Hall staffers' messages to its residents.
Then Walsh launched into a more traditional speech from the Roxbury branch of the Boston Public Library.
"Tonight, we may not be in the same room. But we are still together, united by our belief in Boston. And we are still moving forward," he said.
He named the city's priorities: keeping residents safe, returning Boston Public School students back into classrooms safely, bringing back jobs and making sure they are distributed fairly, expanding fair housing, acting on the climate crisis and combating racism.
Walsh noted that he declared racism a public health crisis in the city of Boston after thanking the city for how it stood together after George Floyd's killing in Minneapolis.
He said he was proud of the work the city did in response, highlighting the Boston police reform that's a "new national model for oversight and accountability," but also reflected on the grief he heard from Black Bostonians.
"The pandemic made it clear: a community crisis demands a community-wide response," he said. "So I'm asking all of us to accept this responsibility as our own and commit to fighting racism. It's our deepest moral obligation and it's our greatest opportunity for growth."
Walsh, 53, has been Boston's mayor since 2014. He's a former state lawmaker with a long history with organized labor. Walsh is a former head of the Boston Building Trades, a union umbrella organization.
Walsh moving to the U.S. Labor Department sets the stage for what could be a wide-open mayoral race. He said the transition to Boston City Council President Kim Janey, who would take over as acting mayor if Walsh is confirmed by the Senate, has already begun.
"I am confident that the operations of city government, including our COVID response, will continue smoothly. And I want you to know, the work we have done together for the past seven years has prepared Boston to build back stronger than ever," he said, perhaps referring to the Biden-Harris "Build Back Better" plan.
City councilors Michelle Wu and Andrea Campbell have already thrown their names into the race. Sen. Elizabeth Warren has expressed her support for Wu.
On Monday, Boston Police Commissioner William Gross said he was considering running for mayor of the city as well, but hadn't decided yet. According to The Boston Globe, Gross' decision to run would factor into whether others, including City Councilor Michael Flaherty, may also choose to run.
If Walsh does leave, Janey would serve as acting mayor until the next election, but when that election happens depends on when Walsh officially vacates City Hall. If he leaves after March 5, Janey would stay in the role until the November general election. If he leaves before that date, the City Council could call a special election before then.
Janey is set to become the first woman and first person of color to lead New England's largest city. Janey, who was elected in 2017 and became council president last year, is Black.
Secretary of State William Galvin has expressed support for bypassing a special election, saying multiple elections amid the coronavirus pandemic would cause confusion, the Globe reported.
The City Council can choose whether to bypass the special election, and the move would need approval from the state legislature.