City Council president Maureen Feeney defended her reputation - and lashed out at the alleged corruption of Senator Dianne Wilkerson - in an interview with the Reporter this week. Feeney was among the several elected and appointed officials from the city and state government who were named by their titles in a 32-page affidavit from FBI special agent Krista Corr, which detailed the extortion charges against Wilkerson last week.
In sum, Feeney says her actions were completely on the up and up, and legal.
"I feel outraged, I feel appalled that those of us in public life who are well intentioned and really working hard have found, much to our sadness, an individual who I don't think came to the table with the same agenda," said Feeney in a phone interview Monday.
Feeney is among several officials who have been subpoenaed and asked to turn over records pertaining to liquor license bill S. 2358, which Wilkerson allegedly pressed Feeney to introduce as a home rule petition from the city. Others have also been asked to produce information relating to Parcel 8 in Roxbury, a state-owned site that Wilkerson allegedly planned to deliver to an out of state developer with direct designation legislation. That developer turned out to be an undercover agent.
References to Feeney in the affidavit timeline begin with a July 18 phone call Wilkerson told a cooperating witness she made to the councillor. Wilkerson allegedly said she told Feeney that she was delaying a piece of legislation that was intended to eliminate the 2007 preliminary election for at-large city council, until she could get a liquor license for Dejavu, a proposed nightclub.
"It's very frustrating to have a colleague use something that was important to her personally over the greater good," said Feeney. "That is something that could have cost the city of Boston $500,000 if that election was held. It was very frustrating to have someone trivialize that."
According to the affidavit, Wilkerson relayed to the cooperating witness that Feeney "reacted angrily to Wilkerson's use of her political clout to stall the legislation" at the time as well.
By Aug. 1, Wilkerson allegedly told the cooperating witness that she had convinced Senate President Therese Murray to press Feeney for a liquor license. A month later on Aug. 16, according to the affidavit, Wilkerson met with Feeney, Murray, Sen. Michael Morrissey, who heads up the Senate Committee for Consumer Protection & Professional Licensure, and Dan Pokaski, Chairman of the Boston Licensing Board.
At the time, Wilkerson was also allegedly holding up legislation for a pay raise for the Boston Licensing Board as a way to pressure Pokaski.
Feeney said this week that the home rule petition that came out of that meeting - submitted by her and the council and sponsored by Wilkerson in the Senate - was a good one.
The bill allows for 40 new non-transferable liquor licenses and 30 new beer and wine licenses for the city of Boston. Eight of the all-alcohol licenses would be reserved for hotels, 10 for beer and wine licenses. The rest would be distributed only in Boston Redevelopment Authority designated Main Street districts, urban renewal areas, empowerment zones, and other specifically under-developed areas.
"For me, the legislation that was proposed, I felt it was a very positive outcome because it really targeted those areas of need," said Feeney. "I think the agenda of so many of the people that looked at this issue was commendable. It is something that has had an ever-increasing demand in the last five to six years in particular."
The bill passed in the Senate in April, but has languished in the House Committee on Steering, Policy and Scheduling ever since.
When asked if she felt pressured to support the bill by Wilkerson's use of the primary election legislation, Feeney responded that she thought the timelines of the coercion and her submittal of the home rule petition were different. Feeney said that she and her staff would need to review their records from the time, over a year ago, to be completely confident about the chain of events. Meetings between legislators, bureaucrats and City Councillors are routine when creating new legislation, she said. The two incidents described in the affidavit are nearly a month apart.
In addition to her sadness about Wilkerson's alleged corruption, Feeney also hits on the home rule petition rule that requires the city to garner approval from the Legislature on a wide swath of sundry issues, from liquor licenses to levying taxes. Home rule, which ironically was born out of a mistrust Brahmins in the Legislature had for Irish-dominated Boston governments earlier in the last century, has frustrated the city's politicians for decades.
"It's a huge issue for us," she said.