Boston Police Commissioner William G. Gross, the first Black officer to oversee the department and a leader with a reputation as a cop’s cop, is seriously considering a mayoral run, according to three people familiar with Gross’ thinking.
One source said Gross is “95 percent sure” he will run for City Hall’s corner office in what could be a crowded field following Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s anticipated impending departure for a Biden administration Cabinet position, adding that the commissioner wanted to speak to his family, including his mother, before finalizing his decision.
Gross became Boston’s first Black police commissioner in August 2018. His ascension was, to some, symbolic of the city’s progress, but in recent months his department has been a target of community complaints amid calls to cut police funds and a national uprising over racism and brutality in policing.
Gross joins an array of city leaders exploring possible bids to be mayor, as well as two prominent city councilors who have declared their intentions — Michelle Wu and Andrea Campbell.
Another name that has been floated as a potential candidate is Councilor Michael Flaherty, who has run for mayor before and, as an at-large councilor, already has a citywide network.
Reached by phone on Sunday, Flaherty would neither confirm nor deny whether he would run, but did say that a Gross candidacy would be a factor into such a decision. He said the commissioner would be a formidable candidate because he’s “well-liked and respected across the city and he would be able to raise a lot of money quickly.”
“People are calling me across the city saying ‘If you’re not running, I’m with Willie Gross,’” said Flaherty.
Others were less sure if a Gross run for city executive would be prudent.
“Commissioner Gross is a great guy, a competent commissioner, and this is not the smartest idea he’s ever had,” said the Rev. Eugene F. Rivers III, a Dorchester-based founder of the Boston TenPoint Coalition, a faith-based anti-violence organization.
Attempts to reach Gross on Sunday were not successful.
During his three-plus decades on the force, Gross has served as a patrolman in several districts, as well as in the gang and drug control units. He later worked as a sergeant in Mattapan, Dorchester, and Hyde Park before he was appointed as chief in 2014.
He is no stranger to headlines. Gross has publicly traded barbs with a city councilor on social media over how law enforcement should respond to recent protests against police abuses. More recently, he opposed a city council initiative that would have placed restrictions on the police use of chemical agents like tear gas and projectiles like rubber bullets in crowd-control situations, saying the proposal, which was ultimately vetoed by Walsh, was “highly inflexible and sets an impossibly high burden to operationalize in real time, making it ill-suited to restore peace during episodes of crowd violence.”
Months after he was sworn in as a leader of the nation’s oldest police department in 2018, he used a Facebook post to criticize the ACLU of Massachusetts as a band of “paper warriors” more concerned with filing lawsuits than helping police combat crime. That move drew a sharp rebuke from the civil liberties organization, whose executive director said Gross was trying “to divert attention from the serious issues raised by an ACLU lawsuit” regarding the department’s treatment of immigrants and people of color.
Gross also drew criticism last year for meeting with controversial US Attorney General William Barr, prompting the commissioner to repeatedly defend his decision to use the visit to discuss race and police relations.
Barr, then the Trump administration’s top law enforcement official, was widely criticized in the run-up to that meeting for his order to remove peaceful protesters outside the White House for a presidential photo op and the Justice Department’s decision to seek the dismissal of criminal charges against former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn.
But there have been successes. Crime in Boston has remained relatively low during Walsh’s administration, despite an uptick in shootings and homicides last year.
At his swearing-in, Gross said his administration will be marked by four key initiatives: sustain the department’s community policing work; improve transparency within the department; set out a plan to diversify the department across the city; and promote wellness programs for police officers, saying officers “are not robots” who are immune to the trauma they encounter on the beat.
In the immediate aftermath of last week’s news that Biden is tapping Walsh for labor secretary, rumors began to circulate among Boston police’s rank-and-file that Gross was mulling a run for mayor.
WBZ first reported the news on Sunday.
Besides city councilors Campbell and Wu, an array of other Boston politicos are said to be contemplating a mayoral run now that the seat may be open.
Suffolk County Sheriff Steve W. Tompkins is considering jumping into the race, saying he could bring a different perspective as a Black man and executive. State Representative Jon Santiago, a South End Democrat and Boston Medical Center emergency room doctor, said he is weighing whether to run.
In addition, Annissa Essaibi George, an at-large city councilor; and State Representative Aaron Michlewitz, the House’s budget chairman, are considering running, people close to each of them said. A person close to state Senator Nick Collins said the South Boston Democrat also hasn’t ruled out a campaign.
And Council President Kim Janey, who would become acting mayor if Walsh steps aside, is also considering running, according to people who know her.
According to Boston police rules and procedures, department employees have to take a leave of absence upon becoming a candidate for public office.
A Boston police commissioner running for mayor does have precedent.
Francis M. “Mickey” Roache ran for the office in 1993, when he resigned from his commissioner post to jump into the mayoral field.
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