Turner presses Menino on administration diversity

In the fall election, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino dominated his opponents in the city’s minority neighborhoods. But one of the criticisms of his administration raised on the campaign trail by mayoral candidates Michael Flaherty and Sam Yoon – that it isn’t as diverse as the city it serves –is flaring up again.

District 7 Council Chuck Turner has told the Reporter that he’ll be calling for a hearing into diversity within the administration. He said he raised the issue three to four years ago, and met with then-administration official Sandra Henriquez, who asked him to pull back because the administration was working on a strategy. Henriquez, who worked as head of the Boston Housing Authority, left to work in the Obama administration last year.

“I haven't seen the strategy developing,” Turner said this week. “It's questionable whether he'll run for another term. This is a good opportunity to increase the number of people of color.” He added that city departments are not following an affirmative action plan.

"They haven't done it," Turner said, adding that the matter doesn’t have to become a “political fight, just something the mayor needs to do. In a city that's 50 percent of color...you look at the leadership of the city, it seems disproportionate,” Turner said. “It doesn't seem like the leadership represents 50 percent of communities of color.”
Some Menino supporters have privately expressed hope that a fifth term will bring more faces of color to City Hall. Menino has a number of officials in the administration who are minorities, including his health and human services chief, Larry Mayes, and Boston Public Health Commission head Barbara Ferrer, among others. Rev. Gregory Groover heads the Boston School Committee.

State Rep. Marie St. Fleur, one of Menino’s top campaigners during his re-election bid last year, said the Menino administration is more diverse than it’s given credit for. She attended campaign rallies with other supporters, including Sheriff Andrea Cabral and state Reps. Byron Rushing and Willie Mae Allen.

“I think he has to do better and he has acknowledged he has to do better,” she said.

A Haitian-American, she pointed to the recent appointment of local activist John Barros to the School Committee. He is the first Cape Verdean to serve on the mayorally-appointed panel.

“We have folks on the committee that represent the diversity within the black community,” St. Fleur said.

In a statement, a Menino spokesman said measuring diversity “shouldn’t be limited to City Hall. Inclusiveness is about creating an environment citywide that welcomes and provides opportunities for people of all backgrounds, and our city has never been more diverse,” said Nick Martin, the spokesman. “Mayor Menino understands that there is always room for improvement, and he recommitted his administration to bringing the city closer together across diverse background during his Inaugural address.”

Martin added: “The mayor has a history of fostering diversity, not only within his own administration, but also in the upper ranks of higher education, government, and other sectors. He'll continue to build on that sprit of inclusiveness for all of Boston's neighborhoods."

Turner’s call for a hearing comes as signs of turnover at City Hall are emerging and rumors swirl of who’s coming and going.

One exit that was unsurprising to City Hall insiders was Dennis Royer, the city’s chief of public works and transportation who apparently did not always to get along with Menino. Royer submitted his resignation on Jan. 8, taking effect immediately. He had been hired in July 2006. He oversaw the installation of global positioning systems in city trucks and new parking meters that are said to be vandal-proof. He is heading back to Colorado, where he was deputy manager of operations at Denver’s public works department. A permanent replacement has not been named.

On the “coming” side of the ledger, Mitchell Weiss recently started as Menino’s new chief of staff. He had previously worked at the nonprofit Tobin Project and spent some time at City Hall, including helping craft several of the mayor’s major speeches.

“He would not have taken the position if he wasn’t sure the mayor was committed to real change,” said Sam Tyler, head of the independent Boston Municipal Research Bureau.