Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis deserves respect for calm leadership, especially after the Boston Marathon bombings.
But respect need not include a commitment from Boston’s mayoral candidates to hire him if they win.
After 20 years of one mayor’s rule, the city is finally on the cusp of change at the top. Tom Menino’s successor should enter City Hall unencumbered by obligations to any members of the current administration. That includes Davis, no matter how popular and well-regarded he may be after his much-praised response to the April 15 terrorist attack.
Maybe the next mayor will want to reappoint Davis — and maybe he deserves reappointment. But there’s no reason to make that pledge now — except for candidates’ desire to hitch their City Hall quests to Davis’s current popularity.
That’s not only self-serving Politics 101. It also raises questions about how much shaking up voters can expect from a candidate who is already buying into the status quo.
The pledging began when Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley told the Boston Herald he would retain Davis as commissioner. Over time, the two men have disagreed over personnel and jurisdictional issues. As the Herald noted, a public feud broke out between them after Davis became commissioner and reassigned detectives in the homicide unit; in response, Conley threatened to rely on State Police rather than Boston detectives in certain situations. But Conley said all is well between them now and he would be “delighted if Ed stayed on as police commissioner.”
As district attorney, Conley has particular reason to want to stay in the good graces of Boston’s top cop. It’s not a stretch to say that as DA, he’s beholden to the Boston Police. As he runs for mayor, he’s still in charge of investigating and prosecuting Suffolk County criminal cases. Having allies in the Police Department helps him do his job, win or lose. As the mayor’s race unfolds, one question for future consideration is how much Conley’s desire for allies in the BPD influenced past decisions as DA.
But he’s not alone in pledging fealty to Davis. After Conley’s declaration of loyalty, five more mayoral candidates contacted by the Globe’s Maria Cramer said they, too, would retain Davis. They include City Councilor Felix Arroyo; John Barros, a former School Committee member; City Councilor Robert Consalvo; Bill Walczak, cofounder of the Codman Square Health Center; and Martin Walsh, Democratic state representative from Dorchester.
Five wouldn’t commit. They include community activist Charles Clemons Jr.; City Councilor John Connolly; Charlotte Golar Richie, former director of the Boston Department of Neighborhood Development; City Councilor Michael Ross; and David James Wyatt, a Roxbury resident.
Those who said they are keeping their options open raise some good points, including the need to listen to the community; taking time to fully understand the current commissioner’s agenda; and addressing diversity issues within the department’s leadership.
Promotion and diversity issues in the Police Department stand to be a serious challenge for the next mayor. As the Globe has reported, top union officials complain that under Davis the best assignments go to political favorites. (He denies it.) The Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers also believes it’s time for a qualified candidate of color to be considered for the job.
Davis may deserve consideration for reappointment, but promotion and diversity issues should be on the table for discussion. A new mayor committed to change would want them to be.
After 20 years, there’s finally an opportunity to open the doors and windows of Boston City Hall so fresh air and thinking can blow through. That’s not a negative review of Davis. That’s simply recognition that at the very least, a new era in Boston politics requires a willingness to consider new faces.
In contrast to his embrace of Menino’s choice of police commissioner, Conley believes the new mayor should have the authority to choose the replacement for outgoing School Superintendent Carol Johnson. There has been speculation that Menino might try to appoint someone to the post before he leaves office in January. But having to live with Menino’s choice for superintendent, Conley told the Herald, “would be in the nature of a forced marriage.”
He’s right. And, running off with Davis before election day is an elopement Boston can do without.