Backers say Ross has votes for council presidency

City Councillor Michael Ross will succeed Dorchester's Maureen Feeney as the president of the Boston City Council next year through a unique agreement that will make his chief opponent for the job, Councillor Steve Murphy, the body's vice-president. The arrangement was disclosed on Wednesday, hours after the Reporter's website broke the news that Ross had lined up the seven votes he needs to win the presidency.

In a joint statement issued from Feeney's office yesterday, Ross and Murphy declared that they had "decided to merge their respective campaigns with Councilor Ross as president and Councilor Murphy as vice president." The two said the decision would spare the council the distraction of a contentious rivalry over the next several months leading up to the January 5th vote.

The statement came just hours after City Council dissidents went public on dotnews.com with the news that they had collected enough votes to crown Councillor Michael Ross as president in January.

Ross's supporters confirmed that he has seven commitments, providing the one-edge margin he would need to best Councillor Murphy in the January vote, but cautioned that the tally could change in the intervening three months. Councillor Maureen Feeney, the sitting president, will leave the post by the end of this year to honor a two-year term-limit restriction. City Council presidency elections are famously unstable affairs, with loyalties often shifting at the last minute.

"My own unofficial count has seven," said Councillor John Tobin, a West Roxbury Democrat. "As far as I'm concerned, [Ross] has the votes."

"He tells me he does," Councillor Chuck Turner, a member of the Green Rainbow Party from Roxbury, said of Ross. "I'm supporting him. I haven't talked to each of the people he says, but I'm assuming that he does have enough to become president."

Turner pledged support to Ross late last month, about a week before Murphy, the Hyde Park Democrat, asked Turner's support for his own bid, the Roxbury councillor said.

Councillors said Ross has also received verbal pledges from Councillors Michael Flaherty, John Connolly, Mark Ciommo, and Sam Yoon.

Elected in 1999, the camera-friendly, 36-year-old Ross represents the Back Bay, Fenway, Beacon Hill, Mission Hill, and the West End.Both Flaherty and Yoon are weighing mayoral campaigns next year, and the vote for the body's top job is suffused heavily with the politics of that race. Councillors said that Boston Mayor Thomas Menino prefers Murphy to Ross.

"The mayor stays out of council politics," said Menino spokeswoman Dot Joyce. "It's up to them to decide their next president."

City Hall insiders said the Menino administration has frequently been active in council machinations, using his considerable influence to persuade members. One former councillor said Menino has frequently pried commitments to swing key votes.

"If there's a power vacuum, he's going to go in there," the former councillor said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

One City Hall aide said, "If the mayor wants to swing one or two votes, it's certainly within his power to do that, and that could change the picture come January."

City Council President Maureen Feeney's tenure is restricted by term limits that prevent the 13- member body's titular head from serving more than two consecutive years. That change blocks a president from consolidating power over multiple terms by doling out select committee assignments.

"This new dynamic has been created where there will be a new City Council president," Tobin said. "There's not a sitting City Council president who will be challenged."

A Ross presidency supported by Yoon and Flaherty could have large implications for the mayor's race. If either launches a challenge to Menino, a major committee post would give them a perch from which to garner attention or hobble the mayor's election-year initiatives.

But Turner predicted the electoral ramifications would be limited.

"I don't think Mike Ross's being president is going to be significant in terms of the race for mayor. I think they're two different tracks," he told the Reporter Tuesday.

While had earlier Murphy declined to respond to phone calls, a 2003 Boston Phoenix story revealed his thinking then about early electioneering for the big chair in the Iannella Chamber.

"The race of the council presidency is much like the old Bugs Bunny cartoon," Murphy said then. "The first person that sticks their head out of their rabbit hole gets blasted."

Ross, Tobin, and Connolly hosted a party Tuesday night at the Lir pub on Boylston Street for the Obama-McCain debate. Menino attended.

STATEMENT OF COUNCILORS FEENEY, ROSS AND MUPRHY

 Boston--The offices of Council President Maureen Feeney, Councilor Michael Ross and Councilor Stephen Murphy released the following joint statement:

 The City of Boston is facing great financial challenges that will impact the way we do business in 2009.  This will have great repercussions on all residents of our city.  The Boston City Council will be on the forefront of many fiscal discussions, and as a result the body will need to band together to work through these challenges.

 In that spirit, Councilors Mike Ross and Steve Murphy, both candidates for president of the Boston City Council, have decided to merge their respective campaigns with Councilor Ross as president and Councilor Murphy as vice president.  Together with their colleagues, they are committed to moving the legislative and budgetary functions of the Council forward on behalf of all Boston residents.

 Current Council President Maureen E. Feeney praises the effort, saying:  "During my tenure as council president I have worked hard to build a culture of collegiality and a spirit of cooperation in this council.  I am so proud that my colleagues have joined together in that spirit to ensure that we are not distracted by internal politics, but remain focused on serving the people of Boston in these challenging economic times.  In the next few months, I will remain focused on continuing to serve the colleagues I am so privileged to represent."

 Councilor Ross said:  "It is an honor to have the support of my colleagues.  By joining together we strengthen our ability to make a difference for the people of Boston."

 Councilor Murphy said:  "I believe that it is important in a challenging environment that the Boston City Council not be fractured.  I work every day with talented dedicated people and believe that we should collectively continue our efforts on behalf of those we represent.  By putting to rest what usually is a contentious exercise, I believe the council will be able to continue to proactively address all the issues we face."

 The City Council will vote to elect its president on Monday, January 5, 2009.  The council president is elected by majority vote.