Turner decries 'media court,' vows innocence
City Councillor Chuck Turner at City Hall on Monday. Photo by Pete Stidman
City Councillor Chuck Turner raged at City Council President Maureen Feeney and the "corporate media" in front of City Hall on Monday, berating them for trying him in a "media court."
Turner, whose seventh district includes sections of Dorchester, declined to explain how or why the FBI was able to surreptitiously record him allegedly palming a wad of bills totaling $1,000 at his district office in Roxbury in exchange for help obtaining a liquor license for the Dejavu nightclub in Roxbury. Turner cited his lawyers' advice to let them defend him.
According to an FBI affidavit, Turner denied taking the money to investigators who visited him the day then Sen. Dianne Wilkerson was arrested. Wilkerson was indicted on a wider array of charges Nov. 19.
Turner did, however proclaim his innocence on several occasions over the weekend and on the Grove Hall radio station TOUCH 106.1 FM on Monday morning. Unlike Wilkerson, he is defending himself at high volume and attacking those he sees as his detractors.
At Monday's rally, his target gallery included Council President Maureen Feeney, who on Friday stripped Turner of his committee assignments, including the chairmanships of the Education and Human Rights Committees, and also scheduled a meeting to discuss "options" for dealing with the charges brought against Turner. That meeting was postponed hours before it was to begin.
"This body is not, and will not become, a stage for political theatre," Feeney said as she announced the postponement, much to the relief of some of her colleagues.
"It was my gut feeling that it would not be right to take part in a meeting where there is no clear objective, and talking about a man who hadn't been convicted," said Councillor John Tobin. "I'm glad the councillor decided to postpone it."
Among the potential actions Feeney said could be taken are: a call for resignation, a vote to censure, or, a vote to judge the councillor "unqualified" to serve. It is unclear if any of these actions would force Turner off the council. If Turner did leave office, it would trigger a special election.
At the mere mention of Feeney's name, Turner's rally erupted in boos and calls to occupy Feeney's office, causing Turner to urge supporters not to harass Feeney.
Target two for Turner was the "corporate media."
"Newspapers that would not cover my work as a City Councillor are now knocking on my door every hour demanding that I talk to them," said Turner, his wife Terry standing next to him in front of hundreds of supporters in Government Center. "Their behavior has been so oppressive that my wife yesterday had to call the police department to give us protection from the press."
The crowd booed at that statement, as dozens of reporters - from highly paid TV reporters on down to volunteers from radical leftist websites - scribbled in notebooks, milled about the crowd and trained cameras on Turner's iconic white beard. When Turner called a Channel 5 News crew "criminals" for refusing to leave his front porch the night before, cheers erupted.
He then related waking up at 4 a.m. to trick his pursuers, only to be jolted by the "beep beep beep" of a news truck backing up outside his home. He dressed so quick, he said, that he forgot to zip up his pants, a fact talk radio hosts have noted with glee.
Many in Monday's crowd were Turner's faithful constituents from the South End, Jamaica Plain, Roxbury and Dorchester. But others came from slightly farther afield, from Cambridge and Brookline, part of the councillor's popularity with leftist groups. A few of the slogans yelled out from the back verged on the weird, such as "The third eye is on Chuck!" and "We want the animal DiMasi!"
Despite the photographic evidence distributed to news outlets by the U.S. Attorney's office, very few in the crowd admitted the possibility that Turner could have taken a bribe, and a few said they'd support him even if he did.
"I don't know what that picture's about," said Meck Groot from Jamaica Plain. "I don't even know if that's Chuck in the picture."
"I don't particularly care," said a woman from Roxbury who asked to be identified as an 'anonymous citizen of the world.' "This man has done a tremendous amount for the city, for the state and I dare say for the country."
What many didn't seem to fully understand is that the photograph is actually a still from a video recording.
Among those willing to entertain the possibility that Turner may have done something wrong - as in, 'even the most unbelievable things are sometimes possible' - the reaction is more akin to one of a loss of a colleague, someone to depend on, someone who has always been a fighter for his constituents since his first term started in 2000.
"I got in with Chuck in 1999, I wanted to elect him," said Isaura Mendes, whose sons Bobby and Matthew Mendes were both murdered in the Uphams Corner area where she lives. "I was in so much pain because of my son, I wanted to name a street after my son. After that, [Turner] always stood with us. Every year he's been elected by his constituents. He works very hard and he's a great guy. I don't believe he did what they said he did but I don't know about that."
Turner is known for his work on CORI reform, his stance on school choice, his anti-violence work and dozens of other initiatives. He has also been criticized for straying too far from what can be accomplished in city council, such as putting too much focus on national issues like the war in Iraq, to which he is vehemently opposed.
The charges against him also dredge up a distrust of the FBI, which many believe had a hand in sabotaging black leaders in the past, such as Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and others 1960s figures.
"I think they set him up," said Marjorie Hill, of the South End. "People just have a way of bringing you down, especially if you're in a high position and black. They're going after them one after the other. I don't believe any of it."
U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan has responded to reporters with incredulity when asked if African-Americans are being singled out, but the sentiment that there is an imbalance is gaining ground among community leaders.
"The emotions are running the gamut in the neighborhood," said John Barros, director of the Dudley Square Neighborhood Initiative and a field director for half of Boston on the Barack Obama campaign. "You would like to think that there are sting operations going on all the time and they run across the board, but I don't think that's the case. I don't think there's an FBI agent trying to hand some money to any elected official across the state just to see if they would take it."
According to the FBI agent's affidavits in Wilkerson and Turner's cases, a cooperating witness alerted the agency to Wilkerson's activities, which eventually led to Turner's involvement.
"The sad thing is, whether it's true or not, it really hurts Roxbury to have a cloud over a Senator and a City Councillor," said Carlos Henriquez, who ran against Turner in 2007 and has been pondering another run in recent months. "They have been strong advocates for over a decade."
Supporters of Turner have set up a website dedicated to his defense. Turner said he planned a press conference and rally for 10 a.m. Wednesday in front of his district office in Roxbury's Dudley Square.