Ed Davis appeared on a panel at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government a week after the Boston Marathon bombing in April, joining several homeland-security types to discuss lessons learned from the Marathon tragedy and its aftermath.
Just three days removed from the dramatic lockdown of Boston and the capture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev , emotions ran high.
Davis was thoughtful and measured. He defended the lockdown, countering a challenge by some in the audience who called it unnecessary. In an emotional moment at the end, a Marathon runner — one of those who got turned back not far from the finish line — went to a microphone in a question-and-answer session.
“I don’t really have a question,” she said, after telling her Marathon story. “I just wanted to thank you for everything you did.” Then she broke down sobbing.
Davis left the stage, strode over, and wrapped her in a gentle bear hug.
His response made clear that even in the learned halls of Harvard, far from the grittiness of police headquarters, Davis operates on his own terms. And now something else is clear: That appearance foreshadowed Davis’s future.
The commissioner is announcing his resignation Monday, headed for a teaching job at Harvard. We’ll see how long he stays there, since he, at least, believes he remains in the running for US Secretary of Homeland Security.
His resignation itself isn’t surprising, though its timing will be subject to interpretation.
Davis never had much interest in serving under another mayor. Indeed, the Tom Menino-Ed Davis relationship has been strained for some time.
The love for Davis has not been unconditional, especially lately. For months he has been assailed by minority officers for the BPD’s weak record on diversity, particularly at its highest levels. Only Davis can say whether that tension contributed to his departure, but to see his retention become an issue in the mayoral campaign had to be as uncomfortable.
One concern about Davis’s departure was allayed Sunday when Menino announced that he has no plans to try to name a successor before he leaves office. In a statement, he said he will work with Davis to ensure a smooth transition for the next mayor and commissioner.
Davis was commissioner during a period of relative calm in the city, and within the department. But his tenure will be defined by the department’s response to the greatest public safety crisis in many years, the Marathon bombings. That performance was nearly flawless. No one has forgotten the panic that gripped Boston in April, or Davis’s sure-handed and reassuring response to it.
Not everyone was sold on Davis when he came to Boston from Lowell seven years ago. Some feared he would be overwhelmed by the change. That didn’t prove to be the case.
The new mayor will have plenty to consider in picking the next commissioner. Davis’s successor will have to forcefully address the department’s diversity issues, which will not suddenly be forgotten. They will have to take on the department’s difficulties in solving homicides, a problem rooted in eroded community trust. They will face the timeless problem of labor-management tension.
It’s a good department, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to run. We may find that Davis made a very difficult job look easier than it is.
Harvard wasn’t on anybody’s short list of likely destinations for Davis, but soft landings always hold a certain allure. Like his boss, Davis has decided to pass the baton. Without question, he leaves the BPD better than he found it.