Is Marty Walsh telling the truth when he insists he knew nothing about domestic abuse allegations lodged against Dennis White, the police officer he promoted to commissioner when he was still mayor of Boston?
Walsh’s honesty, especially on this topic, should matter a lot to President Biden.
In 1990, then-Senator Joe Biden sponsored what ultimately resulted in what he has called his “proudest legislative achievement”: the Violence Against Women Act, landmark legislation that changed how the country deals with domestic violence. As a presidential candidate, Biden pledged to make its reauthorization a priority after it expired two years ago. In March — right before Walsh was sworn in as US labor secretary — the House voted to do just that, and the Senate is expected to take it up sometime this year. Naturally, Republicans have problems with it.
Walsh sailed through his confirmation hearing, fielding no tough questions from Senate Democrats or Republicans. Now, however, what he knew or didn’t know about White should generate some interrogation from his new boss in the White House.
Implemented in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act was the first law to acknowledge domestic violence and sexual assault as federal crimes, regardless of whether they were committed by strangers, relatives, or spouses. As Biden said last March when he introduced the reauthorization act of 2021, “I was raised to believe that the greatest sin was the abuse of power and I’ve spent my life in public office trying to fight those abuses everywhere I see them.” It’s what motivated him, he said, “even as I was told time and time again that domestic violence was a ‘family issue’ that should be left to families to address in private.”
That’s what essentially happened with the White allegations. For the most part, they were left to the Boston police “family” to sort out privately. They were not part of the public conversation until after White’s appointment. Two days after Walsh swore him in, the Globe reported on an allegation that White threatened his then-wife back in 1999. Walsh suspended White, saying these “disturbing issues were not known to me or my staff” but should have been. In May, when an independent investigator’s report released by Acting Mayor Kim Janey detailed more allegations of domestic abuse, Walsh again said he was “not aware” of any such accusations when he first promoted White to the command staff in 2014. “Neither the allegations nor the internal affairs files were shared with me,” he said, adding, “had I known, I would not have chosen him for police commissioner or any other role.”
White, who is fighting for his job, denies all the allegations. But in a sworn statement, White also said he personally told Walsh that he had been the subject of a restraining order due to what he described as false charges. In a video, White said that over the course of seven years, he had several conversations with Walsh, during which the mayor spoke about his troubles with alcohol and White discussed his marital problems.
“I mentioned that I had a restraining order put on me with false accusations I tried to shoot somebody,” White said in the video. Walsh, he said, “was very sympathetic to what was going on with me as I was about his past and how we had overcome some hurdles in our lives to move on.” (Michael Goldman, a longtime Walsh adviser, told the Globe “at no time” did such conversations ever take place.)
White’s words and Walsh’s words do not compute. Both can’t be true.
Perhaps Walsh, who is a living example of the power of second chances, believed White deserved one, too. If so, he should have said so.
Given the legislation that Biden championed 30 years ago and is pushing again today, it would be awkward to have a labor secretary who, as mayor, appointed a police commissioner despite domestic abuse allegations that he allegedly knew about.
But in some ways, it would be more awkward to have a labor secretary who isn’t telling the truth about something Biden says he cares deeply about. Whether or not he admits it, Walsh’s honesty is now a matter for Biden to judge.