Discord inside City Hall over subpoenas, redistricting spills outside the chamber

Councillor Ricardo Arroyo speaks at the Aug. 31 meeting as his father, Felix D. Arroyo, the register of probate, looks on from the audience. (Screenshot)

Several City Hall storylines and subplots came to a raucous head at a recent meeting of the City Council, nearly three years into a pandemic that has frayed nerves and a week before an election that divided the city. Shouting, table-pounding, and expletives filled the air as a public gallery of loudmouths screeched in the background. The entire affair was televised and livestreamed.

What will happen at next week’s meeting (Wed., Sept. 14) after this week’s primary featuring State House and DA races is anyone’s guess. “Who knows?” said Dorchester Councillor Frank Baker to the Reporter. “Maybe there’ll be an all-out riot.”

The main storylines driving the outbursts: Hyde Park Councillor Ricardo Arroyo’s running for the DA’s seat while the Boston Globe reported on accusations of sexual assault against him from when he was a teenager, all of which led to dueling subpoena requests and to City Council President Ed Flynn temporarily removing Arroyo, who has denied the allegations, from committee chairmanships.

One subpoena request came from Baker, a supporter of Arroyo’s opponent, interim District Attorney Kevin Hayden. He wanted to see city records of the investigation. The other came from Jamaica Plain Councillor Kendra Lara, an Arroyo ally who wanted to see records from when Baker was convicted of marijuana possession in the 1990s.

Both ultimately withdrew their requests as the council plunged into subplots, including dismay over the removal of Arroyo from the chairmanship of the redistricting committee, which is redrawing the boundaries of the nine City Council districts. Allston-Brighton Councillor Liz Breadon, the vice chair, has been put in charge.

Roxbury Councillor Tania Fernandes Anderson, who also supports Arroyo, stood up to say her constituents feel that white councillors are taking advantage of the Arroyo situation to hand over the reins of redistricting to block people of color from joining the council.

“We’re going back and forth about allegations but here people are not innocent until proven guilty,” Anderson said. “People are guilty first, people are crucified, people are lynched. Same old tricks, same masters, though.”

People are calling her up to “stay in your lane” or you’ll lose your seat, she said, adding, “What the [expletive] do I have to do in this [expletive] council in order to get respect as a Black woman? And I’m going to tell you. I’m not afraid of losing the votes, I’m not afraid of this seat. I’m not afraid of anybody here.”

She used the occasion to play a message from a white supremacist who left an expletive-laden voicemail. “This is what I get. I get about three or four of them in my office.”

She then pivoted to say, “I’ve made mistakes. And once I learned it, I corrected it immediately. Because I made a stupid mistake. Because I brought people who were loyal to me. I had six staff; as of yesterday, I had four.”

Fernandes Anderson did not elaborate nor did she respond to repeated Reporter inquiries about what she meant by saying she had made a “mistake.”

“They’re allegations, for crying out loud,” Anderson said, turning back to the Arroyo matter. “Let the court decide.”

Lara voiced support for Fernandes Anderson and said she, too, has received racist threats, which were instigated by City Councillor At-Large Erin Murphy’s sister, Darragh. Lara said she went through “proper channels,” asking Flynn to speak with Councillor Murphy about her sister. Murphy told Flynn she could not get her sister to back off, Lara alleged.

Fernandes Anderson and Murphy did not respond to a request for comment days after the meeting.

Baker did and called Fernandes Anderson “unhinged,” then added, “She was just speaking what she feels and what she thinks.”

When it was noted to Baker that he had used a swear word after a virtual City Council vote in March 2021, apparently unaware he was on a live microphone, he said, “Two different things.”

Asked whether he was concerned about the tenor of Council operations, Baker said, “I’m the dean of that delegation. We looked like total [expletives],” adding, “I own everything I said. Every bit of it, I own.”

Asked further about his comment as he withdrew his subpoena that sounded like he was calling Arroyo a “predator,” the councillor said it was up to the listener to determine what he meant.

After the meeting, statements from other councillors flowed into inboxes and onto Twitter. Flynn sought to cool things down, saying, “We need to focus on the big picture, work together as colleagues, and to improve the quality of life for the people of Boston.”

Councillor Brian Worrell, who represents Dorchester and Mattapan, acknowledged that tensions are high.

“No city representative, staff, or citizen should feel unsafe in their workspace. Threats, racist, name calling, and objectification should never be accepted as we work to create a safer and more equal Boston.”

Breadon, now in charge of the redistricting panel, said that transparency in the effort is crucial. “While we are working under a tight timeline of roughly 60 days, I commit to stewarding a redistricting process to craft a legally defensible redistricting plan that is equitably representative of the City of Boston,” she said in a statement.

After her Twitter account briefly disappeared, Fernandes Anderson returned to social media to say that she does not apologize for using “the F word” in the Council chamber.

“I like this word, it’s a good word,” she said. … “However, I am disappointed I used the F word while expressing hurt/anger. Negative energy is never good. Forgive me. I will do better.”

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