Walsh must press on despite federal probe

The indictment of a second city of Boston official this week on alleged extortion charges is a troubling development for the Walsh administration. The mayor and his team need to confront the reality of this unfolding federal investigation swiftly and restore the public’s confidence in their ability to govern effectively amid a swirl of alarming allegations.

How do they do that? It’s a delicate balance, but the mayor himself is the key.

A veteran union organizer and negotiator, he insists that hiring union labor as a requisite for acquiring city permits or other official approvals is strictly prohibited on his watch. That is what the public should expect to be the case. And yet, these indictments allege that his lieutenants did exactly that: They used City Hall permits as a tool to secure jobs for favored labor allies.

The men charged with these acts — Ken Brissette and Tim Sullivan— may well be innocent of these charges, and they deserve to have a robust defense mounted on their behalf.

Of Sullivan, who was arrested on Wednesday morning at his Dorchester home, Mayor Walsh told the State House News Service and other reporters: “I’ve known Tim for a long time. Certainly it goes back many years back to before the State House days. Certainly I’m bothered by this. Tim has a wife and a young baby at home - a two year old, I believe now. So I feel bad for what’s happening here, but certainly it’s something that I don’t stand for. If these allegations are true I’m certainly not happy with it.”

It is clear that the fact that the charges have been made can erode public confidence in city government. The mayor and his team seem to understand that dynamic. Walsh has said forcefully that he won’t tolerate public officials using their positions to seek rewards for labor.

“We don’t encourage people to use union labor,” the mayor said on Wednesday. “There’s a process in place. We have 800 events a year in the city of Boston and the topic of union labor should never come up, and to my knowledge it hasn’t.”

The mayor added that he expects his department chiefs to go through ethics training. An independent lawyer, he says, will give new oversight to how the city manages special events, like the concerts on City Hall plaza that are at the root of these alleged abuses.

The criminal probe comes at a sensitive time for the Walsh administration. The mayor and his team have to show that they can withstand the scrutiny of this inquiry and still focus on managing the complex and often competing interests of a city — making tough decisions as they prepare for a new school year, guiding smart development in changing neighborhoods, and improving quality of life for all residents during a summer that can — and has— turned violent in the past. The distraction of a criminal inquiry into City Hall is an unwelcome addition to that mix of already difficult issues.

This administration, we believe, is capable of rising to the challenge. We hope that residents will give city officials, led by a decisive and thoughtful mayor, the opportunity to prove us right.
– Bill Forry