South Boston Councillor Bill Linehan appears to have the seven votes he needs to become president of the City Council, sources told the Reporter earlier this week. The battle for the council’s top job historically has been a contentious and fluid affair, and there could be a shift before councillors vote early next month. But insiders say Linehan seems to have the votes lined up, with newcomer Michelle Wu as his seventh supporter.
Wu, whose support for the councilor from South Boston has set off an online firestorm among outraged progressives, was elected in November to one of the two at-large seats that opened up after Councillors Felix Arroyo and John Connolly ran for mayor instead of reelection. The other expected votes, according to sources, come from Councillor At-Large Stephen Murphy of Hyde Park, who was re-elected in November but term-limited from serving another year as president; Allston-Brighton Councillor Mark Ciommo; East Boston Councillor Sal LaMattina; Councillor At-Large Michael Flaherty of South Boston, who is back on the council after a few years off; and incoming Hyde Park Councillor Tim McCarthy.
Most have previously worked with Linehan in some capacity, including McCarthy, who was a youth fund director while Linehan worked in the city’s Parks Department. Wu was spotted at a Linehan fundraiser in 2011 when he was facing Suzanne Lee, a former teacher. Lee won the preliminary but came up short in the final. She made another bid this year and again fell short, this time by a wider margin.
Jamaica Plain Councillor Matt O’Malley and Dorchester Councillor Tito Jackson, both members of the council’s younger wing, have also been eyeing the City Council presidency. The title offers several benefits, including a larger office, additional staffers, and the ability to dole out committee assignments. The president also becomes acting mayor if the incumbent steps down or is out of town.
Wu, a South End attorney who worked on Elizabeth Warren’s 2012 US Senate campaign, has become the subject of an intense backlash among progressives, who still remain hopeful that she will change her vote. Linehan, who was reelected to the 13-member council by a 1,072-vote margin, is widely viewed as a controversial figure. He was elected to the council in 2007 after serving as director of operations for the Parks Department and special assistant to the city’s chief operating officer. His district includes South Boston, the South End, and Chinatown.
Several progressive activists who supported Wu in the recent municipal election took to Twitter and Facebook on Monday night to express their disappointment over the news of her expected vote.
Dorchester’s Ward 15 Democratic Committee members circulated e-mails expressing disappointment: “Our endorsement was, I believe, based on her projection of herself as a progressive candidate, committed to a forward-looking Boston. And her first vote will be to elect Bill Linehan?!? If she continues with that decision it will be, to me, a reversal, if not a betrayal, of the direction that she made us believe was her core.”
On Wednesday, Wu defended her decision to back Linehan, saying she was drawn to his plans to decentralize the power of the office of the president and empower the council’s committees. “I’m supporting Bill because of his ideas for the structure of the council,” she told the Reporter.
“There are many places I disagree with Bill Linehan and he knows that and he will continue to know that,” she added. “I want the conversation to keep going and I want my supporters to know that I will always be listening and I will always be transparent in how I got to my decision.”
Linehan drew criticism last year for his handling of council redistricting efforts. A collection of civic and voting rights groups called for him to relinquish his chairmanship of the redistricting committee, arguing that he tried to remove the most diverse precincts from his district a year after winning reelection by 97 votes.
The committee was tasked with redrawing the boundaries of the nine council districts and Mayor Thomas Menino twice rejected maps that emerged from the council, citing the high concentration of people of color in District 4, which includes Dorchester and Mattapan. The mayor eventually signed off on a map pushed by Jackson and O’Malley and opposed by Linehan.
Linehan also caused a minor uproar last spring when he told the Boston Globe he wanted to hold onto hosting duties for the St. Patrick’s Day breakfast roast, since the host has usually been from South Boston. But the host of the breakfast has also usually been the state senator from the First Suffolk District, and Linda Dorcena Forry, a Haitian-American from Dorchester, won the seat earlier this year. After a slew of statements from elected officials condemning his stance, Linehan backed down. Dorcena Forry, in a joint statement with Linehan, chalked the incident up to a “miscommunication.”
Walsh transition team plans all-day town meeting
Residents will get a chance on Saturday to weigh in on what they want from a Marty Walsh administration inside City Hall. The mayor-elect’s transition team, with help from the Rappaport Institute, is helping with the set-up of the town hall session, which will be held on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., at Roxbury Community College, 1234 Columbus Ave. “Attendees at morning and afternoon proposal sessions can choose from 11 topics of interest which will meet in smaller groups to share their ideas,” the transition team said in a release. Walsh will attend the meetings, as will Ed Glaeser of the Rappaport Institute.
The Walsh team has been holding issues-oriented forums. Two, featuring education and economic development, were held earlier this week. Others are on the docket. Transportation will be tackled at 280 Congress St. on Dec. 15 while an environment session will be the focus of a Dec. 17 forum at 7 p.m. at English High School in Jamaica Plain. And public health will be the topic on Dec. 18, from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., with the location to be announced. And there will be an event focused on human services at the Haitian Multi-Service Center in Dorchester on Jan. 11 at 10 a.m.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Check out updates to Boston’s political scene at The Lit Drop, located at dotnews.com/litdrop. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org  and follow us on Twitter: @LitDrop and @gintautasd. Material from State House News Service was used in this report.