The abrupt retirement announcement Thursday of Boston Police Commissioner William Gross unleashed a torrent of speculation that upended Boston politics, which is quickly shifting amid the imminent departure of Mayor Martin J. Walsh.
Gross, the city’s first Black police commissioner, addressed the most pressing rumor himself. No, Gross said, he would not be running for mayor. But even with Gross’ declaration, questions persist.
Why now? What’s next? Would he endorse a candidate or play some other political role?
The lame-duck Walsh administration issued a press release at 10:15 a.m. Thursday, announcing that Gross, 56, would be gone the next day. And it shed little light on the process and preparation that went into the move. The administration immediately named his successor, Superintendent Dennis White.
One impact of the sudden moves is clear: Walsh’s appointment of a new police commissioner potentially blocked soon-to-be-acting mayor Kim Janey from installing her own. The move will leave the outgoing mayor’s imprint on the new administration.
Gross’ sudden retirement and White’s appointment will also keep control of the Police Department within the same family of leadership. White rose through the ranks and served as a Gross’ chief of staff. White will take the reins of the nation’s oldest police department as some mayoral candidates have pushed for bolder criminal justice reforms.
In an interview Thursday with the Globe’s Andrea Estes, Gross shed some light on these issues. Here’s what he said:
To Gross, his retirement wasn’t sudden
“I had an agreement with the mayor as friends. He’s my brother. I was planning on leaving whenever he left. And my family — I have an obligation to my family as well. They are like, what is this talk of you running from mayor? Are you kidding me? You promised that when your brother went out the door, you were going to as well. We have plans. So again, I’m not robotic, and I’m not. I don’t have this hyper ego where I want to be mayor, but I think it’s time; I’ve given 38 years of my life [to the Boston Police Department] since I was 18. "
This was about Mayor Walsh tapping the best commissioner, not blocking Janey
“Superintendent White is his pick because he has over 30 years of service and has helped build this Police Department. He’s fair to everyone. He’s a mentor of mine. ... What you want is someone that can hit the ground running in a smooth transition. It has nothing to do with who is interim this or that. We’re talking about the efficiency of a police department that [is] going through police reform on a state, local, and federal level. So you want a true leader, and he is a true leader. ... this has nothing to do with trying to eliminate someone making a choice. We wanted the city to move forward, and that’s the man for the job.”
Gross was emphatic he wasn’t running for mayor. But it sounded like an endorsement could in the offing.
“I am a citizen of Boston and I will voice my opinion. And I think I can be just as effective in my civilian role, helping people in guiding their decisions about what a leader should be and what a leader should look like.”
If he could change something, Gross said it would be the circumstances of George Floyd, killed by a Minneapolis police officer who pinned him to the street with a knee on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Floyd’s death sparked global protests.
“I wish Mr. Floyd was alive. I wish people had never had to witness that horrible act. I wish it had never taken place. I wish everyone would have the ability to interact with each other without there being death involved. That’s why I wholeheartedly believe, when people saw the murder, Mr. Floyd that was 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Let’s split the time — 4 minutes and 23 seconds — and learn to talk and learn from each other. Police reform means community reform too. Respect on all sides.”
“Boston needs a true partnership”
“We need to work together in partnership and not one side dictate to the other, but a true partnership. Take the 4 minutes and 23 seconds. Have a conversation. Stop Monday morning quarterback[ing]. Get off the fence, be active, become involved, and start having the conversation. So we continue to show the world, the nation began here in Boston, and Boston is a place you can look to for progression.”