Turner faces challenger for council seat

April 17, 2009
By

John Ruch

EGLESTON SQ.—Incumbent District 7 City Councilor Chuck Turner, who is under indictment on federal corruption charges, is now facing an electoral challenge from Roxbury activist Carlos “Tony” Henriquez.

Turner told the Gazette that he intends to run for the council seat—which includes part of Egleston Square in Jamaica Plain—two more times, then retire in 2013. His possible plans after that include a statewide initiative to legalize industrial hemp, he said.

Henriquez also ran for the seat in 2007 and was trounced by Turner. While a federal indictment usually would be considered a problem for a candidate, Turner has drawn supporters to large rallies in recent months and expressed confidence in his re-election.

Turner said the 2007 race was “very responsible and respectful…So I welcome [Henriquez] running this time.” Turner also said Henriquez’s challenge is good for democracy. “Those of us in office need to support those who are running for office, even if they’re running against us,” he said.

“Either he’s being confident or he thinks [the district is] a kingdom,” Henriquez said of Turner. Henriquez has criticized Turner as more interested in political theater than in results, and cited Turner’s corruption-charge rallies as another example.

“My major concern is, if we can have three rallies in two weeks around [Turner’s] personal problems, I’d like to see three rallies in two weeks around the [Boston Public Schools] graduation rate” and other city issues, Henriquez said.

Turner and Henriquez agree on the fundamental needs in the district: education and economic opportunity. The difference is in their approaches: old school versus new school.

Turner, who turns 69 this year, is a Green-Rainbow Party member and a rally-staging activist in the 1960s mode. Henriquez, 32, calls for a more pragmatic style and has some traditional political connections to City Hall: his mother, Sandra Henriquez, is head of the Boston Housing Authority and has been nominated by President Obama for a position at the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. Carlos Henriquez previously served as an aide to City Councilor Michael Flaherty.

Henriquez noted that the district is still facing huge challenges after 10 years of Turner’s leadership. But Turner pointed to the many organizations and initiatives he has co-founded over the years, ranging from the District 7 Roundtable to the Boston Workers Alliance. Turner said he soon will start a new public safety initiative based partly on his own research into the demographics of Boston homicides.

“What I want to do is continue the work on putting structures and initiatives in place,” Turner said. “That’s one of the activities that a councilor can play that has a long-term effect.”

Turner’s legal trouble is another issue in the race. Turner is charged with taking a $1,000 cash bribe in a nightclub liquor license deal and lying to FBI agents about it. He is also charged with conspiring with former state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson, who faces many more bribe-taking charges, in the deal. [See related article.] Turner and Wilkerson have both proclaimed their innocence.

Henriquez said that, like many people, he is on the fence about Turner’s situation.

“I have a hard time believing that Chuck Turner is a corrupt elected official,” said Henriquez. “I don’t believe everything I read or see, but I can’t really deny what I see in pictures, either,” he said, referring to an FBI evidence photo released last year that allegedly shows Turner accepting the $1,000. He added that it is also hard to believe that someone as smart as Turner would not know that taking $1,000 in cash would violate campaign finance laws, at the least.

Claiming he is the victim of a racist conspiracy, Turner has denounced the federal prosecutors at rallies and other events. In a dramatic Boston Globe interview in February, the undercover government witness who allegedly gave Turner the $1,000 reportedly said Turner might have thought the money was a simple campaign donation, which would make him innocent of bribe-taking.

Most recently, Turner has battled a court order not to publicize government evidence he receives as part of his case. He has expressed unhappiness with that order because the government already released some evidence, including the FBI evidence photo.

Turner told the Gazette that his battle over publicizing government evidence is reducing the time his attorneys have to plan his defense. But, Turner said, the fight is worth it because of what he sees as his First Amendment rights on the line.

“I’d rather risk going to jail than give up our rights,” Turner said. “I think people are beginning to have a sense [because of his case] of how unjust the system is every day and what people in my district face every day. If this helps people understand how unjust the courts are every day, I feel I’m just doing my job.”

Noting that some people will support Turner “right or wrong,” Henriquez tied Turner’s legal situation into his larger advocacy for less ideological politics.

“In our community, we’ve really got in the habit of turning the other way [from bad situations] and making ourselves the victim,” Henriquez said.

If Turner sticks to his promise, District 7 will have a new councilor no later than 2013. Turner said he is not looking at any specific person as a potential replacement, though he mentioned a few possible good candidates, including his aide Darrin Howell. Turner said he is constantly advising young adults, citing his former aide and current City Council candidate Felix G. Arroyo as one successful example.

“We could see the results of my mentoring” if Arroyo wins a seat, Turner said.

Henriquez said he apparently will not be among the potential candidates Turner mentors.

“I met with him in 2006 and told him I wanted to be the District 7 councilor [one day],” Henriquez said of Turner. “I asked him to kind of groom me. He said he doesn’t really like to support young candidates because they’re too attracted to [establishment] power downtown.”

As for his own future, Turner did not rule out a run for some other office, though he added with a laugh, “I’m not convinced I’m electable beyond my district.”

“One thing I’ve been looking at is the use of industrial hemp as the basis for a local economy,” Turner said, referring to the currently banned plant that is related to marijuana but contains virtually no psychoactive drugs. He said he might start a statewide effort to grow hemp in rural areas and manufacture hemp products in urban areas.