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State of the City 2021

Mayor Martin J. Walsh delivered his annual State of the City address on Tuesday, January 12, at 7:30 p.m.

You can read the text and watch the video of the speech below:

Good evening, my fellow Bostonians. One year ago, I delivered my State of the City address at Symphony Hall with an audience of over 2,000 people. Together, we celebrated our city and I laid out plans to move Boston forward in 2020. 

The year turned out different than we expected, to say the least. 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. 

I’m joining you live from one of Boston’s newest civic treasures, the completely rebuilt Roxbury branch of the Boston Public Library in Nubian Square. Despite the pandemic, we made sure to advance this project — along with new parks, schools, and affordable housing — to be ready for you as we recover and rediscover our great city. 

2020 was a tough year. 2021 is a year for healing. But we have some work to do first. So I’m going to talk tonight about how we must keep each other safe; get through this final stretch of the pandemic; and build a recovery that moves all our neighborhoods forward. 

I’m also going to talk about how we will sustain this work through an upcoming transition. As you may know, President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris have nominated me to be Labor Secretary in their administration. I have accepted this honor. 

If confirmed by the United States Senate, I will step down as Mayor, and City Council President Kim Janey will become Acting Mayor. I have spoken with Councilor Janey, and we have begun the transition. 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. 

I want to start by honoring the 1,060 Bostonians we have lost to COVID-19. They are loved and missed and their families are in my heart. I think of people I knew, like Beverly Ann Rock. Beverly was a longtime social worker in Dorchester. Her family and the thousands of families she helped miss her terribly. 

I think of Regina Phillips, a Boston EMT, assigned to Ambulance 19 in Mattapan. Her mother, her daughter, and her coworkers miss her warm smile each and every day. 

I think of Jose Fontanez, a proud father and Boston police officer who served Jamaica Plain, and this city, for a quarter of a century. His son Keaton said being a police officer, for him, was about “protecting everyone.”

We’re a city aching with loss. Not a day goes by that I am not speaking with a grieving family member; a worker facing unemployment; or a small business owner struggling to hang on. 

COVID has affected all of us, but there’s no doubt, it hit some harder than others. In Black, Latino, and immigrant communities, inequities in health, housing, and work opportunities caused more illness and job loss. Older Bostonians and those with disabilities face the highest risk and the most isolation. Most students have been out of classrooms since March, and families have struggled with childcare. 

There’s a mental health impact to all of this. I encourage anyone feeling overwhelmed to reach out to the City. We have help available. If you call 311, we can connect you to resources, counseling, or recovery services.

But if 2020 was a year of struggle, it was also a year that brought out the best in our city. We saw nurses, doctors, and medical staff gearing up and going into battle to save lives and provide comfort. We saw EMTs on the frontlines of a pandemic, helping over 4,000 COVID patients. Firefighters brought recovery coaches to calls, to help those struggling with addiction. Police officers took 800 guns off the street, keeping us safe no matter the risk. Essential workers and City employees answered the call, day after day. Residents stepped up to help each other in a thousand different ways. The heroes are all around us.

As mayor, I made decisions I never thought I’d have to make: to close schools; pause construction; turn our convention center into a field hospital; and cancel the Boston Marathon for the first time in its history.

These decisions, and many others, were not easy. But we had to act, to save lives. So we worked with the state; with hospitals and universities; with businesses small and large; nonprofits and residents in every neighborhood and culture -- and we moved forward together, one day at a time. 

We built that field hospital in five days. We created a Health Inequities Task Force to close those gaps of race and ethnicity. We’ve provided over six million meals to children, families, veterans, and seniors. We got 40,000 laptops to students. We got permanent rental vouchers to over 1,000 families with children at risk of homelessness. And, we created the Boston Resiliency Fund, providing over $30 million to help 250,000 households in need. 

I thank every single resident of Boston for keeping your family safe, helping your neighbors, and moving our city forward. And I want to say to you tonight: 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. 

We must keep drawing on our strength — and on each other. Recovery won’t be easy. The virus will be with us for much of the year. The economic impacts will continue as well. There will be more hard decisions to make. 

Whatever happens, I know one thing: Boston will stay true to its values. We believe in keeping each other safe. We believe in caring for those who are vulnerable. We believe justice and opportunity are for everyone. 

In recovery, we must double down on those values. So here are the priorities we have established. 

It starts with keeping you safe. That means making decisions grounded in science; wearing our masks and taking all precautions to slow the spread of the virus; providing free COVID testing; and, helping you get access to vaccines that will put this pandemic behind us. Scientists are clear: these vaccines are safe. And we are empowering local residents to share information in your communities and your languages. Our first responders have already begun to get vaccinated. I urge you to do so as well. 


The next top priority is getting students safely back into Boston Public Schools. Yesterday, we announced a plan to safely reopen all remaining schools for hybrid and in-person learning. I want to thank our Superintendent and teachers for working together. And I want to thank all our school leaders and staff, as well as students, families, and administrators, for doing an incredible job this year. This is a community committed to learning. 

We are ready to do more than ever to close the opportunity gaps that COVID further exposed. We’ll keep providing laptops for every student, and expanding internet access citywide. We’ll ensure there’s a social worker and a family advocate in every school. We’re expanding our food, clothing, and housing supports. And, we’re building and modernizing schools all across the district, because we believe in all our students. 

I want to talk now about economic recovery. We’ve been hit hard by the COVID recession. But, I want businesses and working families to know: we are moving forward. 

For seven years, we built one of the most dynamic and resilient economies in the world. And in 2020, despite the pandemic, we approved $8.5 billion of new investment in our city, creating a potential 35,000 new jobs. 

As we build back, we can bring these good jobs to every neighborhood: green jobs, through our resiliency investments and climate policies;  tourism jobs, promoting diverse businesses in every neighborhood; and good City jobs. This year, the State Legislature approved our plan for the first-ever Fire Cadet program, a new pathway into firefighting careers.


I want to say a word to small business owners. You are the soul of our economy, and you sacrificed so much for the safety of our city. I will never forget it. So far, we provided $26 million in resources to nearly 4,000 small businesses. These new opportunities, from outdoor dining to reopening grants, are just the beginning. We must build back the restaurants and bars; stores and salons; gyms and art studios that make our neighborhoods so special — along with the hotels, museums, and theaters that tell our story and bring visitors to our city. We’ll do that, by keeping small business at the center of our recovery. 

We must also keep building homes for everyone. Last year, we focused on keeping people safely housed. That work continues. At the same time, we built new homes for seniors, veterans, and families, and we stayed the national leader in subsidized, affordable housing. 

Now, we’re taking new steps forward. Tomorrow, we become the first city in the United States with a Fair Housing requirement written into our zoning code. It’s a powerful tool to protect residents from displacement. 

We’re also making homeownership a reality for more families. Last week, we secured state legislation to help more people become homeowners and find affordable housing. I thank the Legislature for passing those bills. They will grow our middle class, close wealth gaps, and help families stay in our city. 

We’ve also expanded our work to end youth and family homelessness. We created the first ever City-funded rental vouchers, so more families can live in neighborhoods they love. And, after housing over 2,300 formerly homeless individualswe are ready to build more of the supportive housing that changes people’s lives.

We can’t forget another health crisis hurting our communities: substance use disorder. We’ve maintained in-person recovery services, and telehealth counseling, since March. I thank the staff doing this life-saving work. 

Addiction is a national and regional epidemic. But the concentration of services in Boston brings intense impacts, especially to the South End, Roxbury, and South Boston. I understand why residents are frustrated, and I thank you for understanding how difficult this situation is. 

I only ask us to remember: we are one community. Our enemy is not each other, but a disease – and we will only beat it if we work together. We have not stopped fighting to build a bridge and a regional recovery campus on Long Island in Boston Harbor. We are closer than ever to making it a reality. I ask everyone in Boston, Quincy, and across our region to be part of the solution. 

This past year, science guided our work. The climate crisis requires the same decisive action: based in facts, working as a community, protecting our city. That’s why I made sure that Boston never strayed from the Paris agreement — even when the White House did. As chair of the U.S. Climate Mayors, I’ve led a national coalition of cities ready to work with the Biden-Harris Administration and bring America back to the fight. 

Here’s what this year will bring:

In the end, climate action is not about global conferences or complex formulas. It’s about a child here in Roxbury, who needs clean air to breathe, a park to play in, and a future filled with opportunity. That’s who I’ve been working for. 

The urgency of our work has never been more clear. Last summer, George Floyd’s murder sparked a long-overdue reckoning with racism. I thank Black Bostonians for the way you made your voices heard. And I thank everyone who joined the movement — Black, white, Latino, Asian, and indigenous peoples standing together.

The gravity of this moment weighed on me. I’m proud of the work we’ve done in Boston. But doing better than before isn’t enough. We need to address all the ways systemic racism hurts people in our city.

In the end, I went back to what I learned in recovery. I listened to those who have been there tell their stories and speak their truth. Young Black members of my team shared their thoughts first. I held Zoom calls with our Black Employee Network, to listen. I reached out to leaders, activists, and clergy. They spoke about daily fears that something will happen to a loved one. They described lifelong anxiety around being pre-judged and denied opportunities. I heard grief, not just over lives lost -- but over children’s futures limited. 

I will never forget those conversations. And I resolved to take action. We declared racism a public health crisis. We launched a Health Equity plan to end the disparities for good. We shifted millions of dollars into youth, trauma, and mental health programs. We enacted historic police reforms, with Black and Brown Bostonians leading the work. The result is a new national model for oversight and accountability. And we re-organized City government, appointing a Chief of Equity to drive the work forward.

The pandemic made it clear: a community crisis demands a community-wide response. 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.

No city is better prepared than Boston to meet this moment. I know that, because I’ve spent every day for seven years working with you to strengthen our city. We set a new standard for fiscal management, earning perfect triple-A bond ratings every single year, even 2020.

Now, that hard work is paying off. A national study reported in the New York Times named Boston the city best prepared to come back strong from COVID. We made the right decisions in the good times, so Boston has the strength to move forward now. 

Here’s what that means for you.

These are the goods we hold in common as Bostonians. We have strengthened them more than ever, and now we need them more than ever. They are the places we will gather as we emerge from this pandemic to reconnect, bring every voice into our democracy, and build the future together.

I believe in Boston. This is the city that welcomed my immigrant parents. This is the city that picked me up when I needed a second chance. This is the city where I fought side by side with you for marriage equality, immigrant rights, addiction treatment, criminal justice reform, education funding, and good middle-class jobs. 

We have faced down big challenges together, just as we are doing with COVID. We have always prevailed, and we’re not about to give up now.  In eight days, we’ll have friends and allies in the White House who believe in cities and share our values. As a member of that Administration, I will work to make sure it’s the best federal partner Boston and America’s cities ever had. 

The truth is, I’m not going to Washington alone. I’m bringing Boston with me. This city is not just my hometown, it’s my heart. It’s my mother and father at the kitchen table on Taft Street in Dorchester, talking about helping people. It’s the teachers, nuns, priests, and clergy who guided me. It’s every kid I coached in Little League or CYO, or at the Little House; everyone who shared recovery with me or reached out for help; my union and labor family; my mentors and colleagues at the State House; and all the elected officials I ever served with in Boston.

It’s the staff at City Hall, and every employee of the City of Boston: 

Police officers, Firefighters, and EMS first responders; Public Worksand  Transportation, library and parks workers; security officers, custodians, city inspectors, neighborhood liaisons and 311 call takers; teachers, principals, and BPS staff; those who serve veterans, seniors, youth, immigrants, women, the disability community; everyone who works on housing, homelessness, recovery services, and public health; and all my fellow public servants.

In the end, I carry with me the people of Boston, from every neighborhood: every child who shared a dream with me; every senior who shared a memory; every business owner who welcomed me in; every nonprofit or community leader I worked with; and everyone watching right now who cares about their family and the future of this city. 

Seven years ago, at my first inauguration, I said “I will listen, I will learn, I will lead. We are sworn in together and we are in this together – all of us.” I meant it. Every minute of every day in this job, I spent listening to you, learning from you, working with you and working for you. I will never forget it, and I will forever be grateful. 

We have tough days ahead of us. But we’ve been knocked down before, and we always get back up. In 2021, Boston will rise up again. We will leave no one behind. And our city will be stronger than ever.

I want to thank you. God Bless you and keep you safe. God Bless the City of Boston. And God Bless the United States of America.

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