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City Council candidates divided on police pay

The contentious issue over whether Boston police should receive a hefty raise, which flared up in Boston’s mayoral race, has opened a deep divide in the campaign for City Council.

Two weeks before voters decide which four of the eight citywide choices to pick, the candidates are drawing hard lines on where they stand on an arbitrator’s recent ruling that patrol officers deserve a 25.4 percent pay hike over six years.

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The City Council must approve the recommendation for the labor contract to take effect.

Three of the candidates said they strongly favor the pay hike, according to a Globe questionnaire and their responses at two Boston.com debates. Three others oppose the award, and the two incumbents want more information.

“We need, as a city, to stop chasing our tail and move on issues that are important to the city of Boston,’’ said Annissa Essaibi-George, an East Boston High School teacher and small business owner who supports the contract. “We spent how many years on that contract? It goes to a neutral arbiter. It comes out. We need to support it.”

Councilor at Large Ayanna Pressley, who said she is leaning toward opposing the contract, called the process flawed, saying it pits public employees against one another and leaves lower-paid city workers vulnerable to pay cuts and staff reductions.

“The system is broken,” Pressley said in a debate streamed live Tuesday on Boston.com. “There’s a two-tiered system that is being created here. There are some 30 unions, our public employees, who don’t even have a right to arbitration. . . . I’m very concerned about the wealth inequities that we continue to perpetuate.”

The arbitrator’s ruling, announced in September, would cost taxpayers an estimated $80 million. It includes a pay hike, longevity benefits, and bonuses for officers with college degrees.

Pressure is mounting on the current 13-member City Council to hold a yes or no vote on the contract before the Nov. 5 election. Council President Stephen J. Murphy, who is running for reelection, lashed out at those pressing to quickly resolve the matter.

“I haven’t taken a position on it yet,’’ Murphy said. “We are doing our due diligence now. What I do oppose is having it dumped in our laps.”

He criticized officials in the mayor’s office for leaking the arbitration award to the news media, catching councilors off guard.

He said he quickly convened a hearing with the arbitrator in October, but the meeting was continued because the councilors could not get answers to more than a dozen questions about the award, Murphy said. He said he will demand more answers when the hearing reconvenes Wednesday in City Hall.

While the council debates the issue, the candidates seeking office are speaking out on the proposed contract. All of the candidates agree that police officers work hard, risk their lives, and deserve a raise. But they are split on how much the raise should be.

Essaibi-George joins Martin Keogh, a West Roxbury lawyer, and Jack Kelly, a former neighborhood coordinator, in support of the compensation package, saying the city should comply with the arbitrator’s contract for the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association.

“If I were on the council I would vote for it,’’ Kelly said.

“Speaking as an attorney, a deal is a deal,’’ Keogh said. “The BPPA and the mayor’s office sat down and tried to work something out. They decided to go with an arbitrator, and this is what the arbitrator awarded them.”

But Michelle Wu, who worked on the 2012 campaign of Elizabeth Warren; Jeffrey Michael Ross, an immigration lawyer; and Michael Flaherty, who previously served on the council, said they would not support the contract in its present form.

“Every contract is a huge chunk of the city budget,’’ Wu said at a debate Monday with four council candidates. “These officers are owed a raise after months and years without a contract. However, it’s a serious decision.”

Ross said in the Globe questionnaire: “Officers deserve a raise, but not at this level.’’

Flaherty said the contract has multiple flaws, including the fact that it does not contain language for mandatory random drug and alcohol testing similar to what was demanded in the firefighters’ contract.

“The contract is also back-loaded, which is unfair to officers and ready-retirement officers alike,’’ Flaherty said.

“My hope is the parties will go back to the negotiation table to secure mandatory random testing and mutually agreeable contract language on salary, benefit, and retroactive pay that is evenly distributed and fair to all officers,” he said.

Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.
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