Boston Mayor Marty Walsh has told people to avoid Boston Common on August 19 because the city has allowed the controversial Boston Free Speech Rally to go on as scheduled. One of its organizers, John Medlar, has insisted that the Boston Free Speech Coalition is not associated with the alt-right that organized last weekend’s deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The 50-year-old Walsh is only the second Boston Mayor in the last 24 years, succeeding the late Mayor Thomas Menino in 2014. Before serving as Mayor, Walsh represented the 13th Suffolk District in the State House of Representatives. He was also the president of the Boston Metropolitan District Buildings Trade Council, a union group, from 2011 until he began his mayoral campaign in 2013. Walsh is a Democrat, and Boston hasn’t had a Republican mayor since 1930.
You can follow Walsh on Twitter and Facebook. Walsh is not married, but he lives with his long-time girlfriend Lorrie Higgins. He was born in Boston to John and Mary Walsh, who both emigrated to the U.S. from Ireland in the 1950s.
Here’s a look at Walsh and what he’s had to say about today’s rally.
1. Walsh Urged People to Avoid Boston Common During the Free Speech Rally
Although the Boston Free Speech Coalition has insisted that it’s not affiliated with white supremacists, there was still fear in the week leading up to the event that it would attract neo-Nazis and hate groups. After the violence in Charlottesville led to the death of one woman after a car drove into counter-protesters, Walsh said hate groups wouldn’t be welcome in Boston. He urged Boston Free Speech to change their plans.
“We also have a message for the hate groups, especially any who are planning to come to our city this weekend: Boston does not welcome you here. Boston does not want you here. Boston rejects your message,” Walsh said at a press conference on August 14.
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Barker, a REpublican, stood by Walsh’s side and agreed that the Bay State won’t “tolerate the kind of hatred and bigotry” seen in Charlottesville.
“It’s disturbing and sickening to turn on the news and to see that there are people in this country who believe that the color of their skin or their place of birth makes them superior to their neighbors,” Barker said on August 14.
After Boston Free Speech got their permit approved, Walsh urged people on August 18 to avoid going to Boston Common today. CBS Boston reported that he wants counter-protesters to avoid the area and just ignore the rally.
Walsh said he spoke with the Southern Poverty Law Center about how to deal with white supremacists events. “They say that interacting with these groups just gives them a platform to spread their message of hate,” Walsh said during a press conference. “They recommend that people should not confront these rallies. So we’re urging everyone to stay away from the Common.”
Five-hundred police officers are expected to be at the rally and over a hundred others will be available if anything happens.
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2. ‘I Think We’ll Be Fine,’ Walsh Said After Boston Free Speech Got Their Permit
Walsh and Boston Police Commissioner William Evans both have confidence in the Boston rally turning out to be a peaceful event. As the city granted the permit, they both went on WGBH’s Greater Boston to assure citizens that the city will be fine.
“The commission got a chance to meet with them [the organizers] and to talk about the rules and regulations of getting a permit and they were fine with everything that was put in front of them,” Walsh explained to WGBH.”That group, to our knowledge, that’s coming to Boston Saturday is not the same group that was in Virginia last weekend,” he said, explaining that officials anticipate it will be a much a more orderly demonstration in Boston.
Evans noted that the city has a lot of practice with these kind of events, having seen the Occupy Wall Street movement. The city also had a “Free Speech” rally in May that only saw a few arrests. They are ready in case today gets violent.
“It’s a measured approach,” Evans told WGBH. “It starts very soft and we can pick it up. If things are going to get thrown at us and we’re going to get assaulted, then you know I’m not going to leave my officers out there to get injured.”
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“I think we’ll be fine,” Walsh told WGBH. “I have full faith and trust in the Boston Police Department and the people of Boston. We’ve gone through the toughest things in our history, and I hope that people come into our city and treat it with respect.”
3. Walsh Vowed to Defy President Trump on Immigration & Boston is Considered a ‘Sanctuary City’
When President Donald Trump threatened to cut funding to “sanctuary cities,” Walsh issued a strong statement of defiance. Boston has offered to help undocumented immigrants with the 2014 Trust Act, which says that Boston police won’t report undocumented immigrants to federal authorities. It keeps local police out of the deportation process and city councilors said it is a sign to undocumented immigrants that local police will help them, not threaten them.
“Washington is advancing the most destructive and un-American threat on America during the campaign. The latest executive orders and statements by the president are a direct attack on Boston’s people, Boston’s strength and Boston’s values,” Walsh said in a January press conference, reports the Boston Globe.
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He continued, “We will not be intimidated by a threat to federal funding. . . we will not retreat one inch. To anyone who feels threatened or vulnerable, you are safe in Boston.”
In an Immigration and Customs Enforcement March report, Boston was included on its list of Sanctuary Cities. Other Massachusetts cities on the list include Northampton, Cambridge, Somerville and Amherst.
In April, a U.S. District Court judge in San Francisco blocked Trump’s plans to pull federal funding from sanctuary cities.
4. Walsh Is a Recovering Alcoholic & Opened His DNC Speech With ‘My Name Is Marty Walsh, & I’m an Alcoholic’
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In July 2016, Walsh attracted national attention with his speech at the Democratic National Convention. He surprisingly opened the speech with, “Good evening. My name is Marty Walsh and I’m an alcoholic.”
In the speech, he said that the only people who offered him a helping hand when he hit “rock bottom” in April 1995 was his family and the labor movement.
“I followed my father into the Building Trades when I was 18 years old. Labor gave my immigrant family a chance. And the labor community got me the help I needed, and gave me a second chance,” Walsh said. “Eighteen years later, I became Mayor of Boston, a city of big dreams and big hearts.”
Walsh said that Hillary Clinton was the “champion American workers need,” not Trump. “We may not have our names in gold on the outside of any buildings we worked on. But our sweat, our work, and our pride is on the inside of every one of them,” Walsh said. “Hillary Clinton knows that. She believes what I learned in my labor family: We are stronger together.”
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Walsh has been open about his battle with alcoholism. He’s been sober since 1995 and his battle was featured in a 2013 New York Times profile during the mayoral campaign. He told the Times that he was still attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and had the support of other former addicts.
“My drinking went from good to bad to ugly,” he told the Times. “I was thrown out of a Bruins game, passed out at a bar. There was just guilt and shame and constant disappointment.”
Other addicts told the Times that they supported Walsh because he’s been supportive of programs that will help them.
“With Marty, we don’t have to hide it anymore,” Peter Barbuto told the Times. “We have a voice, and it’s going to be heard.”
5. Walsh Called Trump’s Budget Proposals ‘Reckless’ & ‘Heartless’
Walsh was also a vocal critic of Trump’s budget proposal, which was unveiled in March. The budget was only a proposal to Congress, and it included eliminating funding for 19 independent agencies. Sixty-six programs would be cut under the proposal.
In his response to the budget, Walsh said “every single” cut would impact Boston’s neighborhoods, as well as those across the country.
“This is not a responsible budget. This is a reckless budget and it’s a heartless budget,” Walsh said. He specifically spoke about the community block grants, which make up $24 million in Boston’s current budget.
“They touch rich. They touch poor. They touch every single child in our city,” Walsh said in March.
Even Baker criticized Trump’s budget proposal, calling it “bad for Massachusetts.”