The Boston mayoral race took another turn on Thursday, with one city councilor, Annissa Essaibi-George, kicking off her campaign and another potential candidate, Boston Police Commissioner William G. Gross, ruling out a run.
Calling herself “a Dorchester kid with an Arab name,” Essaibi-George formally announced her mayoral run in front of East Boston High School, where she taught for 13 years Thursday morning.
As snow fell and the occasional plane passed overhead, Essaibi-George said she is running for mayor because she believes in “a Boston that sees the inequity, the everyday injustices, the wrongs, and tackles them head on.”
Just hours later, Gross, the first Black officer to oversee the nation’s oldest police department, told the Globe he would not be running for mayor after previously saying he was considering joining the race. Gross also announced his abrupt retirement from the force on Thursday, citing a desire to spend more time with his family.
Gross, 56, said that he has no political ambitions. He said he never put his name forward as a mayoral candidate, adding that “the people did, as a matter of fact, several thousand people did.”
“It’s just an honor that the folks that raised me, from young to old, said ‘We want you to be the next mayor,” said Gross.
The announcements came just three weeks after President Biden picked Mayor Martin J. Walsh to be secretary of the Department of Labor, shaking up the mayoral race. Walsh, a popular incumbent, was widely expected to seek a third term before the Cabinet announcement and was seen as an early favorite. An incumbent Boston mayor hasn’t been defeated at the polls in more than seven decades.
So far, three candidates have formally declared their intentions to run for mayor, all of whom are female city councilors of color: Essaibi-George, Michelle Wu, and Andrea Campbell. City Council President Kim Janey, who is slated to replace Walsh as acting mayor when his nomination is confirmed by the Senate, is reportedly considering joining the race as well. And rumors have swirled about a number of other potential candidates, including John Barros, Walsh’s economic development chief, and State Representative Jon Santiago, a South End Democrat.
But Gross’s rapid retirement and announcement he won’t run caught some analysts by surprise.
Maurice Cunningham, a University of Massachusetts Boston political science professor, said to publicly acknowledge considering another 24-7 job, only to retire, and then decline to run all within a few weeks time is “just dizzying.”
“Politically, it’s just an odd trajectory,” he said.
With Gross, who at times has attracted both headlines and the ire of progressives as commissioner, out of the mayoral race, the absence of a candidate who is more moderate may benefit Essaibi-George, he said. She is thought to be a relatively centrist member of a political body that has become increasingly progressive. Her opponents, Wu and Campbell, have been known to champion progressive causes, including proposals that deal with police reform and climate change.
“If you’re the only one . . . for centrists to take a look at, that helps her at the beginning of her campaign,” Cunningham said.
Running for mayor requires “a completely different skill set” than running a police department, said Thomas Nolan, a retired Boston police officer who now teaches criminology and criminal justice at Emmanuel College.
Nolan saw parallels between Gross and Francis M. “Mickey” Roache, who resigned from his BPD commissioner post to jump into the mayoral field in 1993. Roache, like Gross, had “a lot of integrity, a lot of credibility, he was a very visible commissioner,” Nolan said.
Those attributes didn’t matter at the ballot box, as Roache lost the mayoral preliminary contest that year, finishing seventh in a field of eight with 3 percent of the vote.
“This is a different terrain entirely,” Nolan said of the difference between running for mayor and being police commissioner. “I don’t know the extent to which there is crossover.”
Meanwhile, in East Boston, Essaibi-George, 47, said she envisioned the city as a place of growth and inclusion, justice and safety, wealth and equity.
“These things are not mutually exclusive,” said the mother of four who owns a yarn shop on Dorchester Avenue.
She said the city welcomed her immigrant parents and cited her experience as a councilor, teacher, small business owner, and mother as preparing her for tackling the challenges facing the city.
The COVID-19 pandemic, she said, has “shone a bright light on our shortcomings and disparities.”
”We can and will learn from our mistakes and build a stronger, more resilient city for all,” she said.