Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu on Thursday criticized the funding model of two funds Mayor Marty Walsh has formed to aid city residents — the Boston Resiliency Fund, launched in March amid the coronavirus pandemic, and the Racial Equity Fund, launched a few weeks ago — prompting the mayor to strongly defend the funds at a press conference and denounce Wu's criticisms as an ill-informed, cheap political shot.
Both funds utilize money from private sector donors to provide aid to city residents, which Wu said on Boston Public Radio Thursday could distort the political process by melding private fundraising with government work.
Walsh fired back about an hour later, defending the $33 million the Resiliency Fund has raised from 1,700 different donors — according to Walsh — and accusing Wu of making uninformed, politically-motivated criticisms.
On Boston Public Radio, Wu said the Racial Equity Fund, which is dedicated to the economic empowerment of residents of color, does not go far enough.
“Whenever we’re in a position where the mayor of Boston and the official platform of City Hall is soliciting money from donors [and] corporations, and then deciding which nonprofits get it in our city, that just creates a very disruptive and dangerous dynamic,” Wu said. “Philanthropy is wonderful. We have a very generous city and a great deal of giving in Boston, but when that happens through city government instead of through nonprofits or foundations, we are distorting the political process.”
Wu agreed with the goal of promoting racial equity in the city, but said for that to happen, the city will need to tackle larger structural problems such as making its contracting and development processes more transparent and accountable to the community.
“We need more dollars, more funding going to communities of color, going to Black-led organizations, going to Black and brown residents, that is unquestionable. But from my perspective, this is not adding to that,” Wu said. “This is city government stepping in to suck the money that would otherwise be going through efforts led and created by Black and brown business leaders in Boston, and injecting this political element to it, when in fact, our jobs in city government is to do the structural work.”
According to a WGBH News report using data from the Walsh administration, of more than $12 million of emergency coronavirus contracts issued by the city, less than 2 percent went to minority owned businesses.
Without naming her, Walsh later slammed Wu's comments, saying that "if the city councilor took time out of her schedule just to give me a call or maybe go on a call to talk about the Resiliency Fund, she would understand what the Resiliency Fund has done."
Walsh defended the way the fund's donations have been spent, asserting that of the over $24 million distrubted, "53 percent of those have gone to businesses and/or industries of color."
Walsh said the money has been used to "put food on people's table so they don't go hungry," expanding COVID-19 testing in community health centers, expand telehealth medicine, buy Chromebooks for schoolchildren, and donate give to food distribution charities.
"So, when I hear people talk about how it's not effective, they should take a little bit of their time to learn about why the fund was set up and what the intention of the fund was, and maybe help us get some money for the fund rather than Monday morning quarterback on a radio show when they have no idea what they're talking about when it comes to resilliency funds."
After Walsh's press conference, Wu defended her comments on Boston Public Radio in a statement emailed to WGBH News. She reiterated her concern that "Mayor-controlled private funds launched during the pandemic ... creates conflicts of interest under a troubling lack of oversight" and added that she "would hope that Mayor Walsh has the capacity to understand that this was not a personal attack on him, but a call for Boston to do better."
Clarification: This article has been updated to clarify that the 2 percent minority participation in Boston emergency spending refers only to contracts awarded by the city, not grants or other funding sources.