Boston Democrat Mayor Michelle Wu has been accused of racial discrimination by a group of white restaurant owners who say they were targeted for city fees in part due to their ethnic heritage.
According to the restaurant owners, Wu and the city singled them out for a $7,500 outdoor dining fee, a fee which only applied to establishments in their neighborhood. The plaintiffs are seeking $500,000 in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages.
“It is commonly known that the traditional owner of a restaurant in the North End of Boston is a white male of Italian descent, and the North End is generally regarded (as) the last true ethnic Boston Italian neighborhood,” a Tuesday legal filing from the group of restaurant owners said.
“The Plaintiffs had a right to be treated the same as other restaurants in the City who were granted outdoor dining and not singled out to pay fees … to have outdoor dining because of their sex or national origin/ethnicity as appears in this case,” the lawsuit continues.
Those suing Wu include Jorge Mendoza-Iturralde, Carla Gomes, Jason and Kim Silvestri, and Patrick Mendoza, all of whom run restaurants in Boston’s North End neighborhood. In October, a judge dismissed a similar claim from the group when they said the fees imposed on them were unconstitutional.
Wu claimed the fees were necessary to ease traffic congestion and garbage disposal in the historic neighborhood, which was the only place in the city to be given the extra fees. After criticism, Wu eased the requirements somewhat and introduced a way some establishments could apply for exemption.
“I won’t comment on ongoing litigation that the city is involved in, but I will say that we stand fully behind decisions that are to ensure residents can live in their neighborhoods with the full range of ease of access and safety and opportunity,” Wu told reporters when asked about the suit.
Jorge Mendoza-Iturralde, one of those involved in the suit, ran unsuccessfully for a city council seat last year in response to Wu’s restaurant fees, running on a platform of supporting law enforcement, small businesses, and maintaining the city’s historic monuments.
“The city of Boston is failing the people and I feel I have to do something about it,” he said in announcing his campaign. “I will be a vocal challenge to Mayor Wu.”
Wu has come under fire for racially charged jokes in the past, making a joke last St. Patrick’s Day about having to deal with “white” problems.
“I’m getting used to dealing with problems that are expensive, disruptive, and white — I’m talking about snowflakes, snowstorms, snowflakes!” Wu said at the time.