Maura In The News

Council dissidents secure a foothold

By Thomas Keane Jr.
Friday, November 7, 2003

This week's City Council elections were the fallout from a backfired strategy: a failed effort to replace councilors that some members deemed too liberal, too independent and too old. Instead of adding to their existing majority, however, President Michael Flaherty and the rest of the self-styled Young Turks have unintentionally created a newly energized and angry group of rebels.

For the last two years, the six Turks and two allies (district City Councilors James Kelly and Maureen Feeney) have controlled the council. Their only opposition was a small faction that included at-large Councilors Maura Hennigan and Felix Arroyo (the council's only Latino) and district Councilors Chuck Turner and Charles Yancey (the only two African-Americans). On occasion at-large Councilor Stephen Murphy would be part of the group, making it five in number - not enough to dominate the 13-member body, but still enough to be annoying.

Two key races began to shape up last spring. In one, Ego Ezedi, a Baptist minister, made plans to challenge Yancey, a 20-year incumbent widely perceived as bored and out-of-touch with his district. In the at-large race, Arroyo (who only made it on to the body in January when Councilor Mickey Roache left) looked vulnerable. On assuming office, he had turned down the opportunity to chair the council's Education Committee and instead spent his time on a silly, Friday-only fast against the Iraq war. A strong challenger, it was thought, could easily best him.

And then hubris reared its ugly head. Rather than letting the elections play out on their own, Flaherty and other councilors saw an opportunity to get rid of two dissenters (Yancey and Arroyo), potentially weaken a third (Hennigan) and secure their base of power.

Flaherty led the charge. In April, he was calling Yancey ``unimpressive.'' By the end of the summer, he was denouncing him as a ``fraud.'' At the same time, many of the Young Turks - especially Beacon Hill's Michael Ross - pushed the candidacy of Patricia White. White was daughter of the city's longest-serving mayor and an effective campaigner and fund-raiser in her own right. In her and Ezedi, the Young Turks saw kindred spirits.

This being Boston, however, the involvement by the Young Turks quickly became embroiled in race. It's easy to see why. The Turks are all white men, and they were trying to oust two of the body's three minority members. Combine that with an internal fight over what issues could be brought to the council's floor, and it was easy to denounce the Turks as bigots - which is exactly what happened in September when Turner accused the majority of ``institutional racism.''

That charge was incorrect. After all, Ezedi's black. And the real differences were not over race (or gender) but over politics, attitude and age. The Turks liked Ezedi and White because they were young (age is a near-fetish with the Turks), moderate in their politics and seemingly willing to be part of a club that was averse to dissension.

Then, to the Turks' dismay, Yancey outpolled Ezedi in the September preliminary election - and he did so in large part because he was able to frame the election as a bunch of white outsiders trying to dictate to a largely black community. Meanwhile, however, White did remarkably well in the at-large portion of the preliminary, coming in third. The only question now for the final seemed to be who would lose, Hennigan or Arroyo?

Every action provokes a reaction. The Turks overweening enthusiasm for adding White to their ranks and their seemingly delicious pleasure in the prospect that Hennigan and Arroyo would be at each other's throats, battling for fourth place, began to rub people the wrong way. Hennigan and Arroyo refused to follow the script and instead campaigned together. They mobilized progressives and minority voters. On top of that, they made the powerful argument that dissent was necessary and that in trying to oust them, the Turks were trying to stifle it - a claim that a last-minute endorsement of Arroyo by Flaherty failed to undercut.

Those messages resonated, and a comparison of numbers from the preliminary and final elections shows just how much. Between the two elections, the number of votes cast increased by 1.8 times. Flaherty, Murphy and White kept pace, with their vote totals also climbing by around 1.8 times. In a normal election, that should have been sufficient for them to finish in the final in the same positions as they finished in the preliminary: 1, 2 and 3.

But Arroyo and Hennigan increased their vote by an astounding 2.4 and 2.1 times - leaping past the field, driving Murphy into fourth and White, out of the money, into fifth. At the same time, Yancey maintained his margins over Ezedi.

It was a sharp and surprising rebuke to the Young Turks. Absent their involvement, Yancey and Arroyo very well might have lost. Now the dissenters are now emboldened. ``Instead of using their power to empower others,'' says Hennigan, ``they tried to use it to empower themselves - and they failed.''

Talk back to Tom Keane at [email protected]

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