Amid Cheers And Jeers, Boston City Council Expels Turner

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Chuck Turner (WBUR)
Chuck Turner (WBUR)

For the first time in its history, the Boston City Council has expelled one of its members. In an 11-1 vote late Wednesday the council acted to remove Chuck Turner from office, effective on Friday. The vote follows Turner's federal conviction in October of taking a $1,000 bribe.

With the same tone of the recent court trial — a trial that ended badly — the council took up the expulsion order for Turner. It needed eight votes to pass. But whereas the verdict of the federal jury wasn't known until it came back to convict him, this jury had the votes lined up ahead of time.

"I'm a convicted felon," Turner said, laughing. "But you know the story."

And the story Turner told, knowing they were going to vote against him, was of being set up by the U.S. Justice Department.

"They knew that in a city where the gap between the rich and the working class and the poor is getting wider and wider, I'm a dangerous threat," Turner said.

And here, as he did all day long, Turner portrayed himself as the black James Michael Curley, the notorious long-ago mayor, legendary hero of the Boston Irish and scourge of the establishment Yankees. Curley too was brought down unfairly by federal prosecutors, Turner said.

"And it wasn't fair when it was happening to your grandmothers and grandfathers and it's not fair when it's happening today," he said.

Curley got to keep his job as mayor even while serving time in prison. Now, Turner was making a last bid to keep his job as councilor, even after being convicted of taking a bribe, seen on secret video.

"In the end we cannot escape our mistakes, we can not escape our deeds," said Councilor Felix Arroyo.

The real drama involved Arroyo, the young city councilor who had worked as a staffer for Turner.

"A man I have grown to love and someone I refuse to judge, I will not run from my responsibility to vote and I will live by my vote," Arroyo said.

But he didn't say which way he would vote. Ayanna Presley, the other young city councilor of color, did.

"It is with a heavy heart and extreme sadness that I intend to vote in the affirmative on council President Ross's motion," Presley said. "This is a terribly sad day; no one in this chamber..."


"Shame," one heckler called out in the gallery packed with Turner supporters. Hoots and boos followed. So did the vote.

"Councilor Ross."


"Councilor Ross: Yes. Councilor Yancey?"

Yancey had tried but failed to stop the proceedings on parliamentary grounds.

"The answer to your question, Mr. President, is no," Yancey said.

A long roll of yeses followed, including Arroyo's — to hecklers' shouts of "Judas."

Back in his office, Ross called it a difficult vote, but the right vote, prompted by a serious conviction.

"We have but one justice system that we have to abide by. We swear to that. I think the council acted responsibly," Ross said.

Turner was defeated, but unbroken.

Outside, he railed against those who had judged him and those who had brought him down.

"This city will only have integrity when the working class people of all races come together," Turner said.

And there he returned to his populist theme in his self-comparison to Curley.

"James Michael. Forgive them. For they know not what they do," Turner said.

At the end of the day, Turner may be a convicted felon, but he will be no James Michael Curley. The council says the days of Curley are dead.

Earlier Coverage:

This program aired on December 2, 2010.

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David Boeri Senior Reporter
Now retired, David Boeri was a senior reporter at WBUR.



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