In their fight to keep the status quo, Boston police throw money at Essaibi George
The Boston mayoral election isn’t for another three weeks, but the city’s cops have already made their choice with their wallets. As candidate and City Councilor Michelle Wu calls for major police reforms, directly targeting union contracts, cops and cop contractors are donating in record amounts to Wu’s opponent, City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George, who has supported some soft reforms but refrained from strongly criticizing the embattled department.
A review of campaign finance reports from the start of this year to Oct. 1 shows members of the Boston Police Department have donated 270 times to Essaibi George’s campaign this year, handing her $108,299. Overall, in 2021 Essaibi George has received at least 306 donations from people across the state who listed “police” as their occupation, for a total of $115,574. (According to campaign finance data, at least 28 spouses or family members living with BPD members also donated nearly $17,000 to Essaibi George during the first nine months of 2021.)
In contrast, Wu has received four donations from police, all Boston cops, for a grand total of $700.
The outpouring of cash is significantly larger compared to BPD’s previous donations in the last two mayoral races, where members heavily supported Marty Walsh. But the circumstances are different, according to UMass Associate Professor of Political Science Erin O’Brien, who said police are likely concerned about Wu’s plans to shake up the department.
“[The police] view progressives as more of a threat,” O’Brien said. “Threats are a lot more motivating than the status quo.”
Cash from cops, city workers, and contractors
Essaibi George also beats Wu in money from City of Boston employees overall—pulling in more than $151,000 from nearly 450 donations, compared to Wu’s $10,000 from almost 150 donations. Wu leads in total funds raised so far, with nearly $1.8 million to Essaibi George’s nearly $1.6 million. In the 2017 election, incumbent Marty Walsh raised $2.1 million through the end of September, with $114,127 coming from 509 city worker donations—getting more donations than Essaibi George, but not as much money.
O’Brien said she wasn’t surprised to see more city employees donating to Essaibi George as opposed to Wu.
“Wu is viewed as more of a change agent. If the status quo is your job, the status quo doesn’t look so bad,” O’Brien said. “New bosses are scary.”
And Essaibi George’s police donations are at a clip that hasn’t been seen in recent mayoral races. In 2013, Walsh received the lion’s share of donations from police when he and John Connolly vied to replace outgoing Mayor Tom Menino, pulling in 74 police donations for $16,966, according to campaign finance reports. More than 200 city employees donated to Walsh in that campaign for a total of $37,721.
Four years later, after the maximum individual donation was raised to $1,000, the incumbent Walsh pulled in 235 police donations for $68,000, well under what Essaibi George has taken in so far this year. That year, Walsh received 16 donations of $1,000 from Boston police, while so far this year Essaibi George has pulled in 39 donations of $1,000 from Boston cops.
“We need urgent reforms to the structures and culture of the Boston Police Department to address racism in policing and ensure safety for all our communities,” Wu said in a statement in response to an inquiry about the disparity in donations. “I will fight for true accountability, transparency, and a public health-led approach to crisis response to ensure we are building trust with communities.”
Essaibi George’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment. The Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association, the union for officers and the largest union in the department, also did not respond to requests.
Besides getting direct donations, both Essaibi George and Wu have benefited from Super PACs that have raised millions of dollars on their behalf. Super PACs can receive donations well beyond the $1,000 limit for individuals donating to individual candidates, and a Hyde Park man with half a million dollars in contracts with BPD has sent $16,000 to one of the Super PACs supporting Essaibi George.
Elias Akiki owns 16 real estate companies that each donated $1,000 to the pro-Essaibi George Bostonians for Real Progress Super PAC, the Dorchester Reporter first reported. Also, according to a list of BPD contracts filed with the City Council, his body shop Akiki and Sons Inc. has two contracts for car repairs with BPD for nearly $500,000 that run through June 2022.
Akiki had two other contracts with BPD that expired in June of this year for $93,500, according to the list. He did not respond to request for comment.
‘Accountability’ versus ‘dismantling’
Both Essaibi George and Wu have said they want to make changes at BPD, after the police killing of George Floyd and other Black people in 2020 led to Walsh creating the Boston Police Reform Task Force. That group called for creating an Office of Police Accountability and Transparency with full subpoena power and a civilian review board, among other recommendations, and Walsh agreed to establish both the office and oversight apparatus,although not with full investigative power.
But City Hall has not acted on all of the Task Force’s recommendations. Jamarhl Crawford, a member of the Task Force, said Walsh’s relationship with BPD meant he could sign off on some reforms while holding back on others and maintain police support. And Essaibi George’s ties to Walsh—such as the backing via Super PAC of his former Police Commissioner, William Gross—makes her the choice for BPD now, Crawford said.
“Walsh ended up ushering in police reform, but [he] was still their guy. It’s more so who they think is really their kindred spirit,” Crawford said. “It seems as though [Essaibi George] is going to be Walsh part two. Some people are more comfortable with that maintenance of the status quo.”
O’Brien, the UMass professor, said that donating heavily to Essaibi George also has no impact on BPD’s relationship with Wu, which is already adversarial.
“By giving a lot of money to Essaibi George, the thought process is let’s try to have influence,” O’Brien said, “[Wu] has stated objectives they find problematic. She’s going to do policy change[s], they don’t want that policy change.”
A review of the public safety platforms for Essaibi George and Wu indicates why police themselves would support the former—and may view the latter as an existential threat. Wu has been extremely critical of the police, voting against last year’s budget because it did not cut police spending, particularly overtime. On her campaign website, Wu says she wants to “dismantle racism in law enforcement by demilitarizing the police,” and give an independent civilian review board subpoena power to investigate cops.
Meanwhile, under the heading “Rebuilding the culture and structure of the Boston Police Department,” Wu calls for cutting overtime spending and taking traffic enforcement away from BPD, and makes it clear where she wants to see the most change—the department’s union contracts.
“We must deliver structural changes that go beyond announcements or goals, and instead are embedded in the collective bargaining agreements with the City,” Wu’s materials state. “We need a contract that gets to the root of the cultural and systemic reforms we need.”
In contrast, Essaibi George’s platform proposes softer reforms. While she promises to “continue to support and work alongside” the city’s new civilian review board and other watchdogs and to mandate body camera footage be released publicly 24 hours after it is filmed, she also says that footage should be used for “non-disciplinary quality assurance, coaching and improvement/training objectives for all officers” and proposes training, counseling and follow-ups for officers with multiple misconduct complaints. For new officers, she says BPD should “Re-imagine new-recruit academy training and expand academy training for existing officers with the additional college style course opportunities that integrate developing theories and police reform perspectives.”
And her proposals also include perks for the police. According to her platform, Essaibi George wants promotional exams to have incentives for years of service, and wants to “expand educational incentives for officers with advanced degrees including non-criminal justice fields.”
“In a time where reform in some shape or form is inevitable, [the police are] hedging their bets,” Crawford said. “The police are definitely on the side of what’s going to lessen meddling in how business is currently done.”