Reporter's Notebook: Doing the right thing

Councillor Felix Arroyo: Once worked for TurnerCouncillor Felix Arroyo: Once worked for TurnerCouncillor Ayanna Pressley: Council's first African-American womanCouncillor Ayanna Pressley: Council's first African-American woman"City Councillor At-Large Felix Arroyo had wrestled with expelling a mentor and a friend since the day he knew it could occur. It was the toughest vote he had to take all year. “Without a doubt,” he said.

But by an 11 to 1 vote last week, Councillor Chuck Turner was removed from the 13-member City Council after an emotional hearing at City Hall’s Iannella Chamber, becoming the first member in the council’s history to be removed. Turner was unanimously convicted in October of accepting a $1,000 bribe and lying to FBI agents about it.

Dorchester’s Charles Yancey was the lone “no” vote – Turner was advised not to vote because of the conflict of interest involved in him voting on his paid position as a councillor — and Yancey repeatedly clashed with City Council President Michael Ross and the city’s counsel.

But much of the focus was on the votes of the two young councillors of color: Arroyo and fellow City Councillor At-Large Ayanna Pressley, the only two to stand up, and with tears in their eyes, explain their votes against Turner. The jury had made a determination, and Turner was now a convicted felon, despite the good he had done for them as a mentor and for the community as a politician.

Invective from the pro-Turner crowd that had packed the City Council chamber and the overflow room followed.

Turner, who has maintained his innocence, attempted to quiet the crowd, saying, “This is not the place to express our feelings. They have spoken, we will have the opportunity to speak in November.”
Whether Turner’s supporters will turn out in force next year – a down-ballot year when city councillors are the ticket-toppers – and successfully mete out a punishment over the ouster vote is unclear, but a highly unlikely prospect.

Many black leaders have stayed quiet during Turner’s fiery denunciations of, well, everybody, from former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan to the U.S. Constitution. That silence is in stark contrast to the support of former state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson, who has pleaded guilty to accepting $23,500 in bribes as part of the same FBI investigation that ensnared Turner, and the positive letters to the federal judge about to sentence her from Pastor William Dickerson and former City Council candidate Jean-Claude Sanon, among others.

Young black leaders say privately that Arroyo and Pressley will receive even more vocal support if it appears they are in danger of losing their seats next year. Pressley is the first African-American woman and they want her to stay, and Arroyo is following in his father’s liberal footsteps.

And even some of Turner’s staunchest supporters are unsure what effect his ouster will have in 2011. “I do believe he has proven to have a level of support that is unquestionable and we can take that based upon his initial indictment and the 20 percent turnout in his district alone,” said Darrin Howell, a Turner aide who ran for state representative in Mattapan earlier this year. “We know Councilor Turner served the whole city of Boston as a district councilor. His support goes beyond district.” Will it have an effect? “That’s the question,” he said. “I don’t know that answer.”

Yancey said Arroyo and Pressley shouldn’t be singled out for their votes on Turner. “Each of us has to answer for how we vote,” he said.

Neighborhood liaison heads to police academy

Three weeks ago in this space the Notebook offered congratulations to Mayor Thomas Menino’s neighborhood liaison, Lauren Smyth, on her engagement to the Parks Department’s Ryan Woods.

Congratulations are again in order, since she’s heading off to the police academy. Her final day was last Friday. A St. Brendan’s native, Smyth started in March 2006, covering Dorchester for Menino’s Office of Neighborhood Services, which Menino has described as his “eyes and ears” in the district.

A replacement for Smyth has not yet been named, according to the mayor’s office. Smyth’s predecessor, Molly Dunford, is currently Menino’s liaison to the City Council.

“Dorchester is an amazing community that to me is like no other,” Smyth wrote in a farewell e-mail, which thanks the mayor, City Councillor Maureen Feeney, and others. “The way people work together to solve issues, come to the side of a neighbor that needs help, form groups to better the quality of lives, this has been the most rewarding part of the job. Whether it’s working to better our community center, creating new traditions like the Irish Heritage Festival, giving back and cleaning up the neighborhood at Boston Shines, or attending/planning one of the many fundraisers for our many many youth programs that make a difference in all of our lives.”

Quote of Note: Charles Yancey

City Councillor Yancey has served on the City Council since 1983 and has long lobbied for a new high school, particularly in Mattapan, two things he likes to frequently bring up at public appearances. He alluded to the former and pointed to the latter this week at a meeting of parents hoping to keep open Fifield Elementary School in the Codman Square neighborhood. But Yancey also urged parents to lobby the mayorally appointed Boston School Committee, saying he had little control over them.

“I barely have any influence on the City Council,” he quipped as a follow-up. “But you do have a great book fair,” a parent helpfully offered.

For the record: The Melville Park Neighborhood Association is asking the city elections department to change the present polling location at the Oliver Wendell Holmes School. A Nov. 24 article incorrectly stated that they were petitioning the state elections department.

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