It is a relatively rare thing.
In a crowded and competitive Boston mayoral race where candidates are jockeying for every advantage, it is not often all the contenders are in lock-step on an issue.
But following a scathing report detailing domestic abuse allegations and a continued odd limbo atop the nation’s oldest police force, all six mayoral contenders agree: Commissioner Dennis White has no future leading the Boston Police Department.
The city awaits a judge’s ruling on a preliminary injunction request from White, who is looking to block his firing. Acting Mayor Kim Janey moved to remove White after the release of an independent report earlier this month that said White was accused in 1999 of striking and threatening to shoot his then-wife, also a Boston police officer, as well as allegedly hitting a 19-year-old woman in a separate incident in 1993. White was never convicted of any crime and has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
Janey is among six candidates running for mayor. City Councilors Andrea Campbell, Annissa Essaibi George, and Michelle Wu, the city’s former economic development chief John Barros, and state Representative Jon Santiago are the others. Beyond agreeing that White must go, the candidates expressed some variations in how they responded to the growing scandal. Some are emphasizing that a permanent replacement should wait until after this fall’s municipal elections. At least two talked about the need for due process for White.
Janey, as acting mayor, is in the spotlight on the issue. When White moved to block her from firing him in court, she vowed to press forward and remove him as soon “as the court allows.” She cited the independent report her administration released as justification: “I think everyone here has seen it, and I believe it speaks for itself.”
The White case has engulfed city politics. William Gross, the former police commissioner, said in an explosive court filing last week that former Boston mayor Martin J. Walsh knew about White’s internal affairs history when Walsh appointed him to lead the force. Walsh has vehemently denied that allegation. Janey became the city’s acting executive once Walsh left to become labor secretary in March.
There was a court hearing last week that ended with Judge Heidi Brieger taking White’s request for an injunction under advisement. For now, White is still technically the city’s top cop, although his days in that post may be numbered.
In a blunt assessment, Wu said White cannot lead the department, adding that whomever is elected mayor in November should launch a national search to fill the post. She thought naming the city’s next permanent police commissioner should wait until after that election.
“As Mayor, I will lead a comprehensive vetting process and national search to engage community in choosing a permanent police commissioner to shift to a public health-led approach, demilitarize our police, and rein in ballooning overtime costs,” she said in a recent statement. “These changes must be embedded in the new police contracts, which the city is currently negotiating. The public deserves and needs an update on the state of those ongoing negotiations.”
Essaibi George said in a recent statement that White would not be police commissioner should she be elected mayor.
“Domestic violence is never okay and I will make sure that message is communicated loud and clear via my words, actions, appointments and choices in leadership,” she said. “As Mayor, I will need to build my own administration that shares my values and helps me address the critical issues facing us, including improving and reforming policing.”
As Walsh prepared to leave office for Washington, D.C., he hastily appointed White police commissioner without any vetting. Walsh has said he relied on the advice of Gross, who recommended his longtime friend and top deputy. Two days after White took office, when The Boston Globe inquired about decades-old domestic violence allegations, Walsh immediately suspended his commissioner.
Santiago said White should never have been appointed commissioner. He was among those to blast the vetting process, or lack thereof, that resulted in the current legal morass.
“These allegations are grounds for termination,” he said. “The initial vetting process failed the citizens of Boston and rank and file officers. BPD requires leadership that is above reproach. I appreciate Chief [Gregory] Long’s presence stabilizing the department. As Mayor, I will appoint a commissioner guided by a thorough, professional, and transparent search and vetting process.”
Campbell said recently that the “barrage of stories about coverups and allegations of abuse continues to erode trust between our police department and Bostonians.”
“As mayor, I will ensure all candidates for appointments are thoroughly vetted, and that all department leaders demonstrate a commitment to transparency, accountability, and equity,” said Campbell in a statement.
Campbell also criticized Janey, saying that the acting mayor’s administration “owed” White due process, with her campaign adding that Janey fell short of following proper protocol in the matter.
“I believe the best way forward is for the Acting Commissioner to continue to lead our department while the City does a robust and transparent search for a permanent commissioner — Bostonians deserve that,” she said.
Janey’s campaign manager, Kirby Chandler, defended the acting mayor’s record on policing, saying in a statement Janey “has taken strong steps to increase transparency, accountability and reforms in the Boston Police Department.”
“While others talk about reforming the BPD — Mayor Janey is doing it,” said Chandler.
White’s attorneys have argued that there is no cause to fire him and that White did not get a proper hearing to present his own witnesses and cross-examine those making allegations against him before he was told he would be fired.
Barros said during a recent phone interview White “should’ve been able to respond to allegations and that has not happened.”
Still, Barros said, “going on the information we have now, I don’t believe that Dennis should be leading the Police Department.”
“Unfortunately, we got a messy situation in front of us,” said Barros.