Council president once more, Murphy looks ahead

Gintautas Dumcius, News Editor
Jan. 9, 2013

Stephen Murphy on Monday cruised through another election for City Council president, with his colleagues on the 13-member body voting unanimously to hand him the title a third time.
District 4 Councillor Charles Yancey initially voted for himself during the roll call, and then asked for the vote for Murphy to be unanimous.

The vote came at the council’s first meeting of the year. Members also unanimously voted to retain Maureen Feeney, the former District 3 councillor who represented Dorchester between 1993 and 2011, as city clerk.

A Dorchester native and Hyde Park resident, Murphy has served on the council since 1997, after stints as an aide in the state Senate and the Massachusetts secretary of state’s office. He has spent time as head of the council’s committees on the city budget and public safety and has frequently expressed interest in higher offices, such as state treasurer and Suffolk County sheriff.

The son of a teacher’s aide and a policeman, Murphy was first elected council president in 2011, gaining a larger office and staff during an election year. All councilor seats will be on the ballot again this year.

Michelle Wu, a former aide to US Sen. Elizabeth Warren who has launched a bid for the one of the four at-large seats, raised about $30,000 before the end of 2012. “I think it is very difficult for anybody to come out of anywhere” and knock out an incumbent, Murphy said. “The citizens will make up their mind.”

Murphy said that when he first ran for the council, he was aiming for an open seat. He doesn’t understand the desire to run against well-heeled incumbents, he added.

With his presidential post, Murphy would also become acting mayor if the current officeholder were to step down. Mayor Thomas Menino, who is recovering from several ailments and lengthy hospital stays that followed a trip to Italy with his wife, became acting mayor in 1993 after President Clinton tapped Ray Flynn as his ambassador to the Vatican. Menino later won a race against Dorchester state Rep. Jim Brett.

In an interview in his office after the vote, Murphy spoke broadly but said he plans to focus on the city’s finances, affordable housing and reforming gun laws. Squabbling over spending cuts in Washington, D.C. is leading to fiscal “uncertainty” in Massachusetts, which depends on grants and funding for housing, he said.

“I think we’ve had a good couple of years in tough fiscal times,” Murphy said of the city. “How we continue remains to be seen.”

He mentioned as one issue needing attention the matter of affordable housing for municipal workers, many of whom are forced to live in the city due to a residency requirement. Transit-oriented developments, particularly around the Fairmount Line, a commuter rail line that is adding stations in Dorchester and Mattapan, provide an opportunity to grant relief for city workers, he said.

Citing the Dec. 14 mass murder of schoolchildren and staffers in Newtown, Connecticut, Murphy called for “vigorous” mental health screenings for individuals seeking to purchase firearms. He slammed Hollywood and video games, saying they “glorify mind-numbing violence.” He recalled lighter fare from when he was younger including, “Mary Poppins,” a 1964 Disney musical about a British nanny, played by Julie Andrews.

“All it is, is people killing people,” he said of current movies and video games, name-checking the “Grand Theft Auto” series.

Asked what the councillors would be able to do about violence on television and in movies, Murphy said they can add an “important voice to the debate.”