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City council approves mayor's budget; majority says 'no' vote would only have forced layoffs, not structural police change

Bok and Campbell

Differing opinions: Bok and Campbell.

The Boston City Council voted 8-5 today to approve Mayor Walsh's spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1, with the main issue being whether to make even more drastic changes in the police budget than the $12-million shift out of the police overtime account proposed by the mayor.

Councilors Ricardo Arroyo (Hyde Park, Mattapan, Roslindale), Andrea Campbell (Dorchester, Mattapan), Kim Janey (Roxbury), Julia Mejia (at large) and Michelle Wu (at large) voted against the proposed operating budget. Under the city charter, councilors can vote for or against the budget, but they cannot formally offer amendments to it.

Councilors on both sides praised residents who showered them with thousands of e-mails and phone calls on the issue of the police budget and racial equity - although Councilor Linda Edwards (East Boston, Charlestown, North End) issued a rebuke to some of the people who e-mailed and texted here with some particularly strong criticism. "I'll be damned if anybody questions my blackness" or commitment to structural change, she said.

Supporters of the operating portion of the $3.61-billion budget praised it for its increased funding of Boston schools and towards programs addressing homelessness and mental and public health. They warned that voting against the budget would cause a potential budget crisis - given that the fiscal year starts next week - that could mean layoffs of many city workers. And they said the fight for racial equity would continue - especially with the contract for police officers coming up for negotiation over the coming year.

Councilor Kenzie Bok (Beacon Hill, Back Bay, Fenway, Mission Hill), chair of the council's Ways and Means Committee, started more than two hours of debate by urging a yes vote on the budget. She said that a no vote risked the additions for education, homelessness and mental and public health being stripped out. And she said supporters of rejection, who wanted to negotiate with the mayor to do more about racial justice issues had failed to present "a viable counterproposal" to the mayor's budget.

She said she agreed that "in this city, we spend too much of that [budget] overpolicing our black and brown communities," but said that police overtime is baked into the budget and that the time to deal with that is during negotiations with the Boston police union. Although the council has no seat at the negotiating table, she said she could and will hold a series of hearings to figure out how to reform police over the coming months.

"I love my city and I cannot in good conscience and in this historic moment vote for this budget," Campbell said. She said black and brown people have been waiting for decades for more than incremental change and that now, in the midst of a revived Black Lives Matter movement and a pandemic disproportionately affecting minority people, it's time to take a stand and demand more.

"To those who say there is no counteroffer there is and has been for decades," she said. The city could begin by increasing the education budget even more to ensure a quality education for all students, it could reform civil service to allow the hiring of more women and minorities, it could do more to address persistent health inequities, it could review every single budget though "a racial equity lens."

"How many times in history have we told people of color to wait for another time?" she asked.

"Enough is enough and gradual will no longer do," she said.

Campbell noted the structure by which the council got the budget and derided those who preemptively blamed her and other councilors for voting no. "It is the mayor's budget that is unsatisfactory and doesn't go far enough to to respond to our residents' desperate needs. "

Councilor Matt O'Malley (Jamaica Plain, West Roxbury) said he struggled with the concerns of some constituents who felt more needed to be done to pare back the police budget and spend more on social programs and the concerns of other constituents outraged at possible police cuts. Like Bok, he said he could not support just rejecting the budget. "We do not know if we can prevent layoffs if this budget were to fail," he said. And like Bok, he vowed to continue the fight for racial justice. Addressing his black colleagues, he asked them to view him not as an ally, but as a "co-conspirator."

Edwards said she was disappointed she was being forced to worry about pitting legitimate calls for change with the potential impact on city workers.

She said she concluded that "I'm not willing to treat those workers as cannon fodder in a culture war." She said that the new budget will mean particular benefits for her district, which has been hard hit by both housing displacement and Covid-19 and that she had to go with that rather than "an undefined goal with an undefined timeline" that would be the result of a budget rejection.

"I'm not going to cheerlead for this budget," she said, but she also praised Bok for her leadership in calling for approval of the budget and continued work towards "structural change." She added she will soon file legislation to try to wrest ultimate budget control away from the mayor and give the council more of a say in drafting the city's yearly spending plans.

Arroyo, though, said a budget is not just numbers, but a reflection of values and that he could not vote for a budget in which just the police overtime line item - some $48 million - far outweighs budgets for community centers, fair housing, veterans and immigrant programs and other social services.

Arroyo pointed to the moment of silence - of 8 minutes and 46 seconds - the council took at the beginning of the day's meeting at his request. "It felt incredibly long, it was very painful," he said. "Now imagine waiting decades for funding in your communities and being told to wait."

Councilor Liz Breadon (Allston-Brighton) acknowledged the city is at a particularly painful time, but that, like Bok, agreed voting the budget down would not solve anything but potentially cause problems.

Like Campbell, Wu essentially asked, if not now, when? "The bread and butter that feeds structural racism are evasion and procrastination."




Well said Andrea Campbell and well done so the folks who voted no.

It's not a great place to be caught in between "there can never ever be change" and "nobody gets any money if you don't rubber stamp the mayor". But Lydia Edwards is a disappointment here. It's not about you personally, it's about a real skewed set of priorities that has been screwing people of color since forever.

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self congratulatory member of the council. Since she is a doer and seems to lack the desire to jump in front of anyone with a camera she would make a great mayor. Arroyo carries Felix ax to the Walsh grinding. Wu, a Menino acolyte, is Pressley like with her sharp political elbows. Edwards, in since 2018, gets things done in East Boston and doesn't shy away from a fight with anyone. The obvious political question is why Wu and not Edwards, Campbell or Janey as the next mayor?

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she said she could and will hold a series of hearings to figure out how to reform police over the coming months

That should provide plenty of time for all the current momentum against skyrocketing police payrolls to dissipate. /s

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Great job, guys. See you same time, next year, when you'll do the same thing.

But you all got a couple of quotes out of this for your re-election flyers, and that was the whole point, wasn't it?

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A serious setback for the #bospoli twitter echo chamber that likes and RTs all of each other’s tweets, rails against a mayor with a very high approval rating as if he’s unpopular, and thinks it’s completely fine to lay off underpaid and overworked city workers while they continue to collect their six-figure Council salaries at home. May this be a reality check for them.

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For years, the Boston City Council has waded into areas far beyond its expertise, such as US foreign policy in Burma, criticism of Republican President (insert name ___________) and reaction to a brutal murder by a police officer in Minnesota, 1390 miles by car from the Boston City Council's jurisdiction.

Usually, the media kindly reassures voters not to worry, the Council is a toothless tiger and "largely ceremonial," save for their power to cut the budget. Now that the Council has welched on its promise to defund the police, can we change the description to "entirely ceremonial?" About time for another Council pay raise, nobody will notice during the pandemic and civil unrest.

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Nothing but crickets on this story. I guess it doesn't fit the narrative.


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thanks for sharing this! really inspiring to be reminded people have the power to keep their own neighborhood safe from the police

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Nothing but crickets on this story.

You know why? It’s because nobody gives a shit, OK?

Were the police officers in question murdered by state agents given wide latitude to use deadly force with impunity? No? Then what does this whataboutist drivel have to do with anything at all?

The article can’t even muster the strength to describe any injuries, but you’re willing to power through the heavy lifting on its behalf. Could it be that you *gasp* are pushing a narrative of your own?

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and Obama through a secret Clinton Code is sending orders to BLM through Gates 5G transistor radio channel.

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Don’t forget Bubba Wallace.

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I don’t understand Lydia Edward’s argument about people questioning her blackness nor did I read or hear any of those comments As for myself, I’m certainly not questioning her blackness but I’m questioning whether she has a spine. Good Lord, this could have been your finest hour and you folded like a house of cards.

Councilor Kenzi Bok is looking for a “viable counter-proposal” from the NO people. Isn’t the viable counter-proposal up to the mayor according to the rules? The point of voting NO is so they can force the mayor to submit a new budget. The way I read the rules, and I could be wrong, the mayor has to make it work for the council’s liking because the City Council has no say in the budget except YES or NO. The council can’t offer amendments or counter-proposals. Read the rules Councilor Bok.

Matt O’Malley gave a typical wishy-washy answer. His concern trolling for the black community is insulting to my intelligence. Thanks Matt, good job.

So this is it? I mean, what is this? What is this system? Why is the City Council even there? Are they just a glorified debating society? They had a chance to step up and they didn’t. I’m just flabbergasted over the complete lack of courage by the “conflicted” YES councilors. I cannot believe what my eyes and ears just witnessed.

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It's easy to knock the Council but they were presented with specific individuals and departments that would lose their jobs if this didn't pass. We're not talking about highly paid police officers. These are the every day employees that have kept the city running during a pandemic at risk to themselves and none of them are becoming wealthy off their city jobs (unlike a lot of cops). This is also a diverse workforce, unlike the police or fire departments. The budget process is a joke by design where the mayor holds all the cards and it's understandable why someone like Lydia Edwards or Matt O'Malley are sympathetic to the need to defund police but weren't willing to vote to lay off a number of their own constituents who have nothing to do with BPD. You don't have to agree with it but that's why they voted Yes.

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