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Equity remains challenge for Walsh administration

People of color still underrepresented in City Hall

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1990 and has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
Equity remains challenge for Walsh administration
Mayor Martin Walsh helps light the Holiday Tree in Roslindale Square. (Photo: Mayor’s Office photo by Isabel Leon)

When Mayor Martin Walsh convenes his cabinet chiefs, one-third are people of color. At meetings of the city’s department heads, more than half are people of color.

But cabinet chiefs meet no more than twice a month and department heads have no regular meeting schedule. It’s Walsh’s senior staff that has his ear, meeting with the mayor several times a week. Among the five on that staff, all are white.

That pattern of broad inclusion where City Hall power is most diffuse and exclusivity where decisions are made replicates itself throughout city government. As the NAACP noted in its recent report card, people of color make up 53 percent of the city’s population, but 45 percent of the city’s workforce. And the more than 7,000 people of color working in City Hall earn substantially less on average than their white counterparts.

As Walsh enters his second term in office, civil rights advocates will be looking for more substantial progress on efforts to bring equity to City Hall.

“Diversity and inclusion are not the same,” commented Boston Branch NAACP President Tanisha Sullivan. “While the administration made incremental progress in diversifying city government, it is our hope that we will see greater inclusion of blacks and Latinos in decision-making on all matters. We will be interested to see who is included on the ‘senior’ staff in the second term.”

Campaign pressure

During the weeks leading up to the Nov. 7 election, civil rights issues came to the fore with challenger Tito Jackson pressing Walsh on police reforms, city hiring, civil rights lawsuits filed against city agencies and a housing market that threatens to displace working-class and middle-class Bostonians of all races.

In its 2017 report card on the Walsh administration, released in October, the NAACP Boston Branch gave the Walsh administration failing grades on multiple measures of diversity and inclusion, pointing out challenges the administration faces in living up to the mayor’s campaign trail promise to build a municipal workforce that reflects the diversity of Boston’s population.

A similar report card issued by the Greater Boston Latino Network in June reached similar findings. Titled “The Silent Crisis,” the report detailed underrepresentation of Latinos in city employment rolls and leadership positions in city government. The group is still waiting to see progress, said Executive Director Marta Rivera.

“It’s not just about hiring Latinos,” she said. “Having us in positions where we can help inform policies and decisions is imperative to having a more responsive and informed government. Not only do we lack representation, but we lack influence, as well.”

Lack of hiring power

Early on in his administration, Walsh drew some praise for assembling a diverse team of department heads. John Barros and Felix G. Arroyo, both of whom ran against Walsh in the 2013 mayoral preliminary, received positions in City Hall: Barros as chief of economic development and Arroyo as chief of Health and Human Services (Arroyo has since been replaced by former Mass Mentoring Partnership Executive Director Marty Martinez). Other high-profile people of color in the Walsh administration include Alejandra St. Guillen, who heads the city’s Office for Immigrant Advancement; Jerome Smith, head of the Office of Civic Engagement; Education Chief Turahn Dorsey and Environment, Energy and Open Space Chief Austin Blackmon.

By the time it was fully staffed in 2014, Walsh’s cabinet was 65 percent people of color — the most diverse mayoral cabinet ever. But while the chiefs and department heads Walsh appointed bring diversity to high-profile positions, many of Walsh’s chiefs do not control budgets or hiring in the city departments under their purview. They function more as policy advisers than as executives.

Outside of the Boston Public Schools, headed by Superintendent Tommy Chang, major departments including the Boston Police Department, Boston Fire Department and the Boston Planning and Development Agency have never been led by people of color and have workforces that are not representative of the city’s majority people of color population.

City Hall sources interviewed by the Banner say it’s Walsh’s senior staff — Chief of Operations Patrick Brophy, Chief of Staff David Sweeney, Chief of Policy and Planning Joyce Linehan, Corporation Counsel Eugene O’Flaherty and Chief Communications Officer Laura Oggeri — who have the greatest influence over the day-to-day decisions that Walsh makes as he governs the city of nearly 680,000.

A spokeswoman for the Walsh administration said the senior staff meetings do not appear on the mayor’s schedule.

“The Mayor attends Cabinet meetings once a week and Department Heads meetings every month,” Press Secretary Nicole Caravella said in a statement emailed to the Banner.

The low number people of color in positions with the power to hire and promote may explain why the administration has so far fallen short of Walsh’s 2013 campaign trail promise to create a city workforce representative of Boston’s diversity. A 2014 Boston Globe analysis found that of 248 new hires listed by the Walsh administration, 59 percent of the 147 full-time hires were white, while 83 of the 101 part-time hires were people of color, including 53 part-time youth positions. In their report card, the NAACP noted that white city employees on average earn $73,001 while blacks earn on average $63,202 and Latinos, $59,710.

Latinos, too, are concentrated in low paying city jobs. Latinos make up 19 percent of the city’s population, but are just 12 percent of city employees, not including the police and fire departments, where they have far less representation.

While Latinos hold 10.5 percent of 57 executive positions in city government, five of the six Latino executives are concentrated in Health and Human Services, the sole major city department headed by a Latino.

The lack of Latino representation in the Boston Public Schools is particularly acute. While they represent 40 percent of the student body, they make up just 12 percent of teachers.

“In Walsh’s second term, the administration must mount an aggressive campaign to recruit and retain Latinx teachers,” Rivera said.

Police and fire departments

While blacks and white reformers have for decades sought an independent civilian review board to investigate claims of police misconduct — a demand that resurfaced during this year’s mayoral race, Walsh has steadfastly voiced opposition to this reform. Walsh has also balked at calls for immediate implementation of a body-worn camera program for police. While police in most major cities have body-worn cameras and dashboard cameras in their vehicles, Boston police implemented a limited, six-month body camera pilot program that ended in September.

The Police Department, which has a workforce that is 66 percent white, may soon lose many of its officers of color to retirement. The Fire Department, which is 72 percent white, similarly faces a declining population of black and Latino workers. The NAACP noted that neither department has a strategy for increasing black and Latino representation “linked to clear, measurable, or reportable goals and timelines.”

In the Police Department, city officials are fighting several high-profile discrimination lawsuits that have cost the city millions of dollars to defend, including a suit charging the department used a hair test for drugs known to cause false positive results among African Americans and a lawsuit charging a pattern of discrimination against black recruits in the Police Academy.

“Of the almost 30 police officers on the BPD Command staff, only two are Latinx,” Rivera said. “Sadly, the most recent class to graduate the Police Academy does nothing to improve Latino representation on the force.”

When Walsh is sworn in to his second term in 2018, he will face what many describe as a city at a crossroads, with a booming real estate market that threatens to widen the gulf between the haves and have-nots and a City Hall where inequities in pay and power often break neatly along race lines.

Sullivan says the mayor’s actions during his second term in office could go a long way toward creating more equity.

“The first term ushered in a number of announcements relative to diversity,” she said. “It will be important for the second term to address the very real racial inequities that exist in the city. This will require a focus on accountability for implementing policies that are announced and ensuring that senior officials are held accountable for results.”

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