Wu’s budget vetoes stay largely intact in 7-6 council tally

During Monday night’s hearing in the Council Chamber, Clementina Chery of the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute made their case for funding within the city budget with fellow survivors of homicide in support. Chris Lovett photo

Funding restored for Dot’s Peace Institute in 'partial' override

It was after almost seven hours of budget grind, and a barrage of mostly failed amendments, when Liz Breadon dropped the f-bomb, then defused it with a quick apology.

At issue was the upcoming vote on a “partial override” that would redirect $500,000 to the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute for supporting survivors of homicide. The group’s efforts at emotional healing and urgent financial assistance reminded the District 9 (Allston-Brighton) councillor of her native Northern Ireland, with its cycle of violence and multi-generational trauma—and the heroics of women who crossed “peace lines” to bond with fellow survivors.

To support the program by shifting money originally from a fund for legal settlements (“Execution of Courts”), councillors would have to muster at least nine votes. That’s what it would take to reverse Mayor Michelle Wu’s veto of the amendments to her budget proposal that were approved by the Council on June 5. And though work of the Peace Institute had been acclaimed for 28 years, some councillors had been repeatedly raising concerns about money being deducted from the fund.

“This whole performance this evening is making me sick to my gut,” Breadon told her colleagues. “We should not have to fight for these things.”

Two nights earlier in the same chamber, at a hearing convened by Ways and Means chair, District 4 (Dorchester/Mattapan) Councillor Brian Worrell, the Peace Institute did its own fighting, contributing to more than three hours of budget testimony gathered from speakers who participated in person or by remote connection.

Introducing eight fellow survivors who lined up alongside her, the group’s president and CEO, Clementina Chéry, announced, “This is just a small glimpse of your constituents.” Among the survivors who followed suit were Kim and Ronald Odom, whose son, Steven, was fatally shot in Dorchester at age 13 in 2007.

“To have the parents who’ve lost their children to gun violence come in here and beg, practically get on their knees to beg us to do the right thing, it’s obscene,” said Breadon two nights later. “We have to do the right thing, so let’s get on with it here.”

After more encouragement from like-minded councillors, the “partial override” carried, by a vote of 12-1.

What the council had backed off doing in bulk six hours earlier—completely overriding her veto of budget changes approved by the Council on June 5—would be attempted in piecemeal fashion, through a flurry of “partial override” amendments, patched together by Worrell, and a barrage of rollcalls that continued past 11 p.m. By the end of a long day’s night, the council had passed amendments adding up to $8.2 million in budget changes, including $1.9 million retained by the mayor when she vetoed the budget changes—totaling $15.3 million—that were passed by the Council on June 5.

The day after the June 26 vote, a city spokesperson said the reallocation of money originally budgeted for Execution of Courts “cuts against responsible municipal budgeting and finance,” adding, “We will carefully review with Corporation Counsel’s office and the Finance team to understand how best to address these votes and to plan for future financial sustainability.”

In a statement issued the same day, Mayor Wu said, “I’m grateful to Councilors for passing our budget after due diligence and debate. With these investments over the next year, City departments will build on our daily work to deliver excellent City services, build community across every neighborhood, and make Boston a home for everyone.”

A referendum approved by Boston voters in 2021 gave the City Council more power to make changes in the budget filed the mayor, though without being able to increase the total spending amount. Before the referendum, councillors could only make cuts or apply pressure by holding off budget approval. Since 2022, councillors have been able to increase spending for individual items, but only by transferring money that was already planned by the mayor for other uses.

Last year, the Council passed an amended version of the mayor’s budget that reduced spending on the Boston Police Dept by $30 million. After the changes were vetoed by the mayor, the Council managed to pass only a single override amendment, and the Police Dept. emerged with a budget increase over the previous year by 9 percent.

In this year’s amendments approved on June 5, the differences were smaller, with only $3 million to be transferred from the Police Dept. $1.8 million of that was to come from putting off a promotional exam, a move that District 6 (West Roxbury/Jamaica Plain) Councillor Ben Weber said could still allow promotions based on the 2020 exam, possibly with even more racial diversity. But, in voting last night, an override amendment that would have reallotted the money failed, with District 6 (South Boston, South End, Chinatown) Councillor Ed Flynn citing a lack of support from Police Commissioner Michael Cox.

In her veto message on June 10, Wu said money shifted from the Police Dept. was needed “to operationalize contract reforms in modernizing paid details, upgrading technology, and other planned improvements.” One of three councillors who opposed the budget changes on June 5—along with Councillor At-Large Erin Murphy and District 3 (Dorchester) Councillor John FitzGerald, Flynn declared in a Twitter post that “budget cuts to public safety departments and neighborhood services would hurt Boston residents and negatively impact the quality of life for our residents.”

In its own post, the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association applauded the mayor’s veto, crediting her with “not only prioritizing public safety, but moving to fully restore any irresponsible cuts to the police budget by a City Council seemingly more concerned with playing politics.”

In his Boston Globe op-ed appearing four days later, Worrell took a different view. “Although the council decreased the mayor’s proposed budgets for the police and fire departments,” he wrote, “they both still received the largest increases in city history ($47 million for police and $27 million for fire) and the council increased investments in combating violence and crime, making community safety central to our proposed budget.”


Councillor Brian Worrell during a June 24 budget hearing at City Hall. Chris Lovett photo

In a single advisory measure approved on Wednesday night, the Council added $1 million, in agreement with Flynn’s urging, for the Police Dept. crime lab. The money would fund personnel and testing kits used for sexual assault cases. Other successful override amendments provided money for spending backed by speakers at Monday’s hearing, including money for rental assistance vouchers, ESOL programs, and a Black male equity study.

According to Worrell’s office, the changes approved last night provided an additional $1.8 million for housing, $2.4 million for community safety, $1.6 million for “quality of life issues,” and $2.4 million for college and career readiness programs.

Before the partial overrides, the Council voted on whether to fully reverse the mayor’s veto of its June 5 amendments. The resulting 7-6 vote fell short of the two-thirds majority needed for an override.

Voting against the override were three councillors who opposed the amendments on June 5 and three colleagues, all backed by Wu in last year’s election: Councillor At-Large Henry Santana, District 5 (Hyde Park/Roslindale) Councillor Enrique J. Pepén, and District 8 (Back Bay, Fenway, Mission Hill) Councillor Sharon Durkan.

“I do believe that reallocating funds from one particular job, from one particular department to another, is a cut,” Flynn argued before the first override vote. “I also believe it does impact delivery of basic city services, quality of life for residents. And it impacts future hires into the city of Boston.”

And Murphy contended that the override would replace unfilled positions with non-existent positions. “These are permanent budgetary damaging that will be inflicted on solid union jobs, many of them entry-level code enforcement, transportation, librarians, assessing ‘parks and rec,’” she said. “We are preemptively hamstringing the city's future ability to provide core services because we're making these decisions today.”

Councilors supporting the override argued that much of the money being reallocated was from accounts with a history of under-spending in recent years.

“Any reallocations made are based on looking at six years of data on line items and spending to see where money has been underspent,” said District 1 (East Boston, Charlestown) Councillor Gabriela Coletta Zapata. “Even still, the council did not take all of the unspent money from any line item, meaning that there is significant cushion.”

Other supporters of the override drew attention to their meticulous trawling for underspent money through analysis of spending data going as far back as six years.

“I'd like to thank Councillor Worrell for driving a process here where we looked at the data and he created an atmosphere where we are all able to work together,” said Weber. “Whether you support this or not, my faith in the council has certainly been restored being involved in this process on the inside.”

Like Clementina Chéry, Domingo Cintron, Jr. spent hours observing the process from a gallery seat in the Council’s Iannella Chamber. A formerly homeless veteran and member of the West End Civic Association, a tenant association, and the Mass. Alliance of HUD Tenants, Cintron spoke at Monday night’s hearing in support of money for rental assistance. He told councillors that “a million-and-a-half dollars can house at least one hundred families or people like me,” acknowledging, “If I go back out there, become homeless again, I probably won’t make it back.”

Though they did not have a chance to speak at Wednesday’s meeting, Chéry and Cintron were back for the decisive votes. Even late into the night, councillors deciding how far to push their budget agendas could still see them in the gallery.

Subscribe to the Dorchester Reporter