City Councillor At-Large Stephen Murphy had every reason to bang the gavel with glee on Monday: Bagpipes? Check. Hatchets buried? Check. Unanimous approval by your colleagues? Check.
By a 12-0 vote, Murphy was elevated to the mostly ceremonial post of City Council president. The 53-year-old Dorchester native takes the reins of the council as the city heads into what promises to be another brutal budget cycle and as it proceeds without the familiar presence of longtime District 7 Councillor Chuck Turner, who was expelled last month after being convicted of federal corruption charges.
A preliminary election will be held this month to winnow the field of candidates hoping to replace him, with the final in March. To add to the issues facing the council, Turner has sued the council, saying they violated his constitutional rights when they voted him out of office.
One of four at-large councilors and a top vote-getter in city elections, Murphy said he views his new job, which comes with a bigger office, as that of “consensus builder.”
“I think his relationship with Beacon Hill in this city will be helpful,” Dorchester City Councillor Maureen Feeney said at a reception after Murphy’s election that was filled with politicos from his home neighborhood of Hyde Park and elsewhere, including Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray, state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, House budget chief Charley Murphy, and several members of Boston’s House delegation.
Murphy’s former rival for the position of state treasurer, Steve Grossman, also attended. Before the September primary, Murphy had argued that if Grossman, a top Democratic fundraiser and former candidate for governor, was the nominee, the Democrats would lose their hold on the post to Republican state Rep. Karyn Polito.
But Grossman triumphed by a 10 percent margin in November, and last month, the two of them got together with their mothers at the Newton Marriott, where the women got along as if they were sisters, according to Grossman.
Asked about finances, Murphy estimated that the city could see a $30 million budget deficit, in part because there won’t be $61 million in federal stimulus funds pouring into the city’s coffers as was the case last year. “That’s not coming back,” he said.
In his speech to council members and a packed Iannella Chamber, Murphy noted that in his first year health care, pensions, and debt service took up 8 percent of the budget. Currently, those three items take up 15 percent of the budget.
“Meaning,” he said, “that for every dollar we receive in revenue only 85 cents will be used for basic city services, like education, public safety, infrastructure, and the environment.”
Mayor Thomas Menino has frequently mentioned that the city spends $300 million a year on health care costs for its employees. He has proposed setting up a local version of the state’s Group Insurance Commission.
Asked if he supports Menino’s proposal, Murphy told Greater Boston’s Emily Rooney, “It’s going to be difficult; [it’s a] “bit unfair” to unions and takes away their place at the negotiating table. Murphy added that there was “no guarantee it would be passed at the State House” if it passed the City Council.