South End Leaders Note Unfinished Business With Walsh’s Departure: Most Give Him Good Marks, Could Have Done Better With Opioid Crisis

With all signs this week pointing to Mayor Martin Walsh being confirmed as the next U.S. Labor Secretary for President-elect Joe Biden, many in the South End said they gave his Administration high marks on things like affordable housing and City services, but would have liked to see him do better on the opioid crisis in their neighborhood.

At the same time, many said they also worry about a lot of unfinished business that the sudden departure of Mayor Walsh has left undone – issues like private sewers, Mass/Cass 2.0 and pedestrian safety efforts.

South End Forum Moderator Steve Fox was one who felt there was a lot of unfinished business left in the South End. He said he would be using those unfinished issues as a gauge for any candidate.

“We wish the mayor well in his new work in DC,” said Fox. “What we want to know now is how we can continue to advance the agenda on so many issues like Mass/Cass 2.0 and Long Island and Water & Sewer equity…Our attention will be focused on what the policies and positions are for candidates on these unfinished issues of crucial importance to the South End.”

George Stergios, president of the Worcester Square Area Neighborhood Association (WSANA), said most of Mayor Walsh’s efforts were successful in the neighborhood, but said his effectiveness on the opiate crisis could have been better.

“I hope he has as much success as Secretary of Labor as he had with most of his efforts as Mayor, for example, in expanding affordable housing, and more success than he had with the one that affects us in WSANA the most, the opiate crisis,” he said.

Eight Streets President Michael Almond had a similar view of Walsh’s time in office.

He said residents have felt that Walsh has responded well to COVID-19, and coordinated well with Gov. Charlie Baker on the pandemic. He said the flow of information and services to residents has been “laudable.” Almond also said the talent on the ground, with the Office of Neighborhood Services (ONS), was substantially upgraded during Walsh’s tenure – and also gave him high marks on expanding affordable housing.

“In the South End in particular, ONS staff have been very responsive to residents’ concerns and we trust that this commitment will continue,” he said.
“The track record of the Boston economy speaks for itself. As importantly though, the Walsh Administration has made a commitment to providing affordable housing to ensure that the city remains a diverse community.”

He said one area he would have liked to have seen more improvement, like Stergios, was on the opiate crisis.
“One disappointing aspect of the Walsh Administration has been the slow response to the Opioid crisis,” he said. “It took a long time to develop an adequately resourced response and this delay put a huge strain on many South End residents and neighborhoods. Going forward we hope that the Mayor’s successor will redouble the legal efforts to reopen the Long Island Bridge and shelter facilities to give those devastated by the Opioid crisis the support they need.”

WSANA Vice President Desi Murphy said he felt the Administration was just hitting its stride when Walsh announced his departure.

“I thought his Administration was starting to hit their stride becoming more confident and engaging us better,” he said. “It’s disappointing for him not to finish his term but let’s be honest with ourselves – who is going to say no to a job offer from the president? Many of the actual and potential candidates will bring new perspectives on Mass and Cass. Hopefully they will continue the successful efforts like public works and the continued willingness to engage neighbors. I hope that the eventual new mayor or mayors continue supporting Long Island (Recovery Campus).”

Like Eight Streets, East Berkeley Neighborhood Association (EBNA) President Ken Smith said his Association members really valued the consistent talent at ONS – which he said helped EBNA advance some long-time goals.

“The EBNA has been fortunate to work with Mayor Walsh’s Administration these past few years,” he said. “We haven’t always had the best support and visibility from the Mayor’s office, but this did improve over the past few years.  We gained traction with our goals for the neighborhood through the support and dedication of Faisa Sharif. We believe her promotion is a sign that the Administration valued her level of engagement and listening to the concerns with neighborhood leaders and the associations/constituents they represent.”

WSANA Board member, and Walsh supporter, Bob Minnocci said he was convinced Walsh wasn’t leaving his seat, so he was surprised of the announcement – and disappointed. He said the departure leaves a lot of loose strings, and hopes those issues won’t see a reversal just as he felt they were hitting their stride.

“He assured a number of people over the past few months that he was in Boston to stay and finish the work he started and would not be going to Washington,” he said. “Politics and words of politicians sometimes have a short shelf life. His departure leaves some of his best work, like Long Island, possibly in peril, depending on who succeeds him and their inclination toward the drug recovery campus, which we desperately need.”

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