District 7 Council race pits new blood vs. veteran activist
Voters counting the days until the preliminary election Sept. 25 - there must be a few - are witnessing a race for City Council's District 7 seat that pits one of a growing cadre of 30-something political hopefuls of color in the city against a civil rights-era office holder that is not about to retire.
Henriquez, 30, is challenging Chuck Turner, 66, for the seat. Althea Garrison, a perennial candidate for District 7, state Rep. and other offices is also in the race.
According to Carlos Henriquez, 30, incumbent Chuck Turner, 66, uses techniques that are outdated products of the 1960s.
"I don't want someone to fight for me," said Henriquez on Monday. "Fighting is really something from the civil rights era. The role of the politician in my mind is to be the bridge between the activist and the city. I don't think he's doing a good job with constituent services."
"When people say the tactics of the 60s are outmoded, I don't really know what they're speaking of," responded Turner. "The union movement uses as a main tool: physical demonstrations. People continue to demonstrate around the world."
Grassroots organization too, is a child of the 60s. Turner said he was instrumental in organizing that led to the New Majority Conference in 2003, which he said helped bring votes to Councillors Felix Arroyo and Sam Yoon in 2003 and 2005.
"In terms of issues about that resolution about the war [in Iraq], Councillor [Michael] Flaherty voted for it," said Turner, who has been criticized for sponsoring a resolution against the war in Iraq at a time when bullets were flying in his own district. "Henriquez worked for Flaherty. Some people say Flaherty put him up to running."
Turner mentioned this rumor more than once and Bob Marshall, a member of the Black Educators Alliance who works the streets for Turner's campaign, went so far as to compare the current race to Ego Ezedi's challenge to District 4 Councillor Charles Yancey in 2003. Flaherty openly supported Ezedi's run, but likely hurt Ezedi's chances when he called Yancey a fraud in a Boston Globe column.
In the same column, but apparently less memorable, Turner was quoted insinuating that Flaherty's running of the council smacked of "institutional racism."
"I don't think it's a bad thing that that someone worked for the City Council President," said Joyce Ferriabough-Bolling, Roxbury-based political consultant. "What's wrong with having a connection to downtown? Mike's got a lot of friends in Roxbury. If you're still playing those 60s games and we're not moving forward, someone's got to change the game."
Henriquez said he believes Turner's "Seven Point Program for the Economic Resurrection of Greater Roxbury" is an effort by Turner to shore up his support after two years of slowing down his efforts.
"I find it insulting that only now when you've been challenged do you come out with that plan," said Henriquez. "Where was that in 2001?"
Turner replies that some of the seven initiatives are already underway, such as the organizing of the unemployed, accomplished under the banner of CORI reform, and bringing together organizations to work with high school dropouts. Henriquez is skeptical of Turner's youth outreach.
"Even at 30 years old, without talking to a 15-year-old, there's no way for me to relate to what they're experiencing every day," said Henriquez, who works with youth at the Dudley Square Neighborhood Initiative. "For someone who's 60 years old, that's an almost impossible bridge to gap."
Turner's supporters are adamant that he is not out of touch, citing frequent visits to Madison Park High School where he is known for ensuring the school received a football field. But the issue has a personal twist for the two, at least from Henriquez' perspective.
Henriquez said he met with Turner in August 2006 and asked if the elder might be interested in grooming him for the job. Henriquez said Turner told him something to the effect that he didn't trust the youth to resist the powers-that-be. Henriquez claims Turner doesn't do enough mentoring of young political talent, even though Turner has hired a handful of young men who are still active as political aides in City Hall.
Turner said he didn't recall the discussion. But he did remember trading emails with Henriquez years earlier for roughly six months.
"I asked him when we had a debate on BNN," said Turner. "He admitted I was the only councillor that took the time to respond to his emails."
Some observers say Henriquez may be positioning himself for future contests, particularly if Turner decides to retire from the post in 2009. But some worry about a backlash in the community, for running against a popular candidate.
By all appearances Henriquez is making a real run of it, knocking on doors, sending out mailings and debating Turner on the Boston Neighborhood Network cable access station. But no race is without its challenges. Henriquez campaign manager Sava Bahrane recently flew to Washington D.C. to join the Barack Obama presidential campaign as a policy writer.
"I didn't have the heart to ask her to stay," said Henriquez.
This leaves Henriquez somewhat alone, strategy-wise, against an experienced incumbent.
"In the end, the community will win," commented Linda Monteiro, a former public affairs officer for Senator Dianne Wilkerson. "Whoever wins will be more on top of their game."