In Public Letter, 10 Boston City Councilors Decry 'Chilling Effect' Of Boston Calling Decision

Download Audio
Boston City Hall. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Boston City Hall. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Ten Boston city councilors say nonprofits and unions have been hesitant to work with their offices since two former mayoral aides were found guilty of federal extortion charges.

Earlier this month, a jury convicted Kenneth Brissette and Timothy Sullivan for pressuring Boston Calling organizers into hiring union labor.

In a public letter released Wednesday, the 10 councilors said the conviction has effectively criminalized elected officials who advocate for constituents.

"This case sets a terrible precedent where government officials who personally received nothing of value can nonetheless face criminal penalties for advocacy that federal prosecutors deem too aggressive," wrote the councilors in the letter. "Attempts to criminalize advocacy can only serve to advance the interests of those seeking a society that is less equal and less fair."

City Councilor Lydia Edwards — who signed the public letter — said the verdict had a chilling effect on her ability to do her job.

"When I want to ask, 'How many women you have working for your company? How many people of color do you have in your company,' those are questions we ask on a regular basis," Edwards said. "And now those questions are called into question and could be considered extortion."

Edwards and other councilors accused U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling's office of pursuing the charges to fulfill a political agenda. And several councilors said they plan to advance legislation to restore their ability to advocate.

The names of three city councilors were missing from the letter: Matt O'Malley, Mark Ciommo and Althea Garrison all declined to sign.

O'Malley said he didn't sign the letter because he felt elected officials should operate in a way that should never come under the scrutiny of the law.

"I was uncomfortable signing the letter from my colleagues because I disagree with their assertion that somehow good advocacy cannot live up to the letter of the law but the spirit of the law as well," he said.

O'Malley said he plans to work with other city councilors on any upcoming legislation.

This segment aired on August 21, 2019.


Jerome Campbell Reporter
Jerome Campbell was a WBUR Poverty and Justice Fellow whose reporting was supported by the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.



More from WBUR

Listen Live