Turner ousted from Boston City Council

December 3, 2010
By

David Taber

The Boston City Council voted 11-1 to expel District 7 City Councilor Chuck Turner at a hearing Dec. 1.

Turner, whose district includes part of Egleston Square, was convicted last month on felony charges of public corruption and three charges of lying to federal agents in connection with a $1,000 bribe he accepted in 2007 to help a nightclub get a liquor license.

City Councilor Charles Yancey was the only councilor to vote against Turner’s expulsion.

Following the afternoon hearing, which was webcast live, newly inaugurated City Councilor Matt O’Malley, who represents most of Jamaica Plain, told the Gazette in a phone interview that, “It is obviously tough to vote to expel a colleague, and it is a sad day for Chuck Turner, his family and supporters. But Councilor Turner committed a severe breach of the public trust, and I had to vote to expel.”

Turner’s ouster is the first time in Boston’s history that a sitting City Council member has been voted out by his colleagues.

The City Council was empowered to consider Turner’s ouster in private, but the hearing was made public at Turner’s request—though the public was not invited to testify. Shortly after it began at 3 p.m., City Council President Michael Ross announced that an overflow room equipped with a closed circuit view of the proceedings was being opened. According to O’Malley, the chamber was packed with Turner supporters.

Ross had to interrupt the proceedings a few times to ask spectators to remain quiet during the proceedings.

In an impassioned speech to the council, which was webcast live, Turner maintained his innocence and defended his moral integrity. “What I am saying to you is the conviction was rotten,” he said, addressing his colleagues. “You know the reality of who I have been with you. There has never been an accusation that I am an inside player. They call me a crazy radical.”

Turner accused former US attorney Michael Sullivan of persecuting him and former state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson, who resigned after she was indicted in the same investigation. “This is a situation US attorney Sullivan created when he used his power to take down Sen. Wilkerson and myself,” Turner said.

Turner also repeatedly compared himself to Irish politicians who struggled to gain political clout in Boston in the early part of the 20th century.

“Did your grandmother and grandfather think it was just that the Mayor of Boston could not appoint the police commissioner?” he asked, referring to state government’s habit of usurping city authority during that period in Boston’s history.

“That’s why the Irish elected [former mayor James Michael Curley], they knew they were at war with the Yankees,” turner said. Mayor Curley was famously corrupt.

Freshman at-large city councilors Felix Arroyo—a JP resident—and Ayanna Pressley both expressed remorse about their decisions to vote for Turner’s ouster in speeches to the council.

“The facts are the facts, and Councilor Turner was indeed convicted of the worst crime a public official can be convicted of,” Arroyo said.

Noting that he worked as an aid in Turner’s office about a decade ago, a tearful Arroyo credited him with “introducing me to public service,” and with teaching him that, “Real change comes through organizing, not politics.”

Pressley also credited Turner as a mentor and inspiration. “He paved the way for young elected officials of color like me, and that is not lost on me,” she said.

“Chuck, you told me that no matter how I voted, you loved me, and I love you, too,” Pressley said, addressing Turner.

She also said she was “troubled” by the actions of the US Attorney’s office.

Yancey, Turner’s lone supporter on the council, argued unsuccessfully at the beginning of the hearing that City Council rules bar the council from voting on a motion on the same day it is introduced, and that the council had no authority to oust a council member under the charter.

The rule under which Turner was being expelled—City Council Rule 40a—was approved unanimously by the council—including Yancey and Turner—after Turner’s indictment last year. Boston City Council rule 40a says that if a sitting councilor is convicted of a felony, a vote of the city council is required to determine if that councilor is “unqualified” to continue serving on the council. A two-thirds majority vote by sitting councilors is required to remove a councilor from office under the rule.

Yancy also defended Turner’s moral character, saying he would “not be here supporting him today,” if he had any doubt about Turner’s integrity.

Turner’s 2009 indictment came in the course of an investigation that also targeted Wilkerson, who was also indicted and pled guilty to charges of public corruption.

Wilkerson’s sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 22. She faces up to 20 years in prison. Turner’s sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 25. He faces up to 35 years in prison.

Correction: This story has been corrected to reflect that the heaing where former City Councilor Chuck Turner was voted off the council occured Dec. 1.

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