Chuck Turner has the bluster and belly. Mike Ross has the other kind of guts.
Boston City Councilor Turner is already whipping out what he say is his super-sized integrity. In advance of his expulsion hearing Wednesday afternoon, he said, “I think it’s funny when they say they are going to vote me off to protect the integrity of the Council. I think I have the best a record of moral and fiscal integrity on this council. For the council to vote me off because of integrity is absurd.”
The Globe carries the tale of Council President Ross’ letter to the body calling for Turner’s ouster…by Friday. Universal Hub serves up the 13-page document, replete with opinion from the city attorney that Turner can speak at the hearing but not vote.
Back in more mannered places and centuries, Turner would likely have resigned when he was charged with corruption in talking a bribe and lying to the FBI about it. He seemed buoyed by charges though, as he did when he was convicted, and now that he faces being voted out of office.
Ross lacks the noise, but is not entirely without quiet drama of his own. He is in the unenviable position of chairing a board at a tough time. He has been a solid leader during this entire prolonged episode. It is a bit of a shame that presidents there can serve only two years and he is finishing his second next month.
For the rules-are-rules crowd, several come into play. One is that the Council’s unanimously agreed to rules require an expulsion hearing whenever a member receives a felony conviction. Another at the state level requires removal of any public official sentenced to jail or prison for a felony. For Wednesday’s hearing, the Council requires a two-thirds vote to toss a member, which would be eight of 13 in this case, even without Turner voting.
Turner continues to negotiate and will likely try again in two days. His final ploy as been to ask for a postponement of action by the Council pending his January 25th sentencing in federal court. Just maybe, he reasons, he’ll get probation, thus technically avoiding the mandatory loss of his seat under state law.
That seems highly unlikely, as it involves a guilty verdict of four counts — $1,000 bribe and three lying to the FBI. While summed, those could equal 35 years or so, the Globe quotes an ex-federal prosecutor as saying the guidelines are for 15 to 21 months.
This mess could have dribbled off into prolonged ignominy…had Ross not taken charge in City Hall. Turner had already repeatedly played racial victim. He noted that he and convicted State Sen. Dianne Wilkerson were the only two current officials charged by the feds and both are black. Another Councilor, the other Charles, Yancey, agreed with this judgment at a Turner rally.
Thus, Ross was in the spotlight, with a passive or hostile audience. Councilors were avoiding talking about Turner, like the situation might just vanish. Even before today’s letter and packet, Ross had made it plain though they they had to have the hearing and had no reason to wait for the sentencing. It was Turner’s conviction that triggered the trial-like meeting.
Even before he won this month’s special election to replace Councilor John Tobin, who took a job at Northeastern, Matt O’Malley said that unless something really unexpected and convincing happened at the hearing, he’d have to vote for Turner’s removal. Likewise, several other Councilors have mumbled that they may well do the same.
For his part, we may have a preview of Turner’s script on Wednesday. He told the Herald that he was set up, as in, “The issue of my moral and fiscal integrity, I don’t think can be questioned. Obviously the FBI set up a situation to remove me from office.”
Ross’ package to his peers praised Turner mightily, but returned repeatedly to the rule of law, federal, state and city. He included, “We are not above he law and none of us is above the rules we have established as a body. If we act as if we are, t his body loses its credibility, its integrity and the trust of the people we serve. Many are cynical of government as it is, we cannot add to their mistrust.”
He followed that with the motion he will put before the body on Wednesday:
Ordered: That under the authority vested in the City Council by St. 1951 c. 376 § 17 and pursuant to the procedures set forth in City Council Rule 40A, the City Council, in consideration of his qualification to serve as a member of the Boston City Council, now moves that Councilor Chuck Turner vacate the office of City Councilor effective Friday, December 3, 2010.
Note that this order makes no mention of any crimes or convictions. Unlike U.S. Rep. Charlie Rangel, Turner’s punishment is not to include a public admonishment in front of the body. Rangel though will be unlikely to serve prison time despite seemingly much worse offenses. Turner may lose his pension, but not what he’s paid into it, plus interest.
Turner could have made it easy for everyone. That has never been his style. In his role, Ross could have been cowardly and even acquiesced to Turner’s call for no hearing until after sentencing. Yet the facts are now that Turner talks integrity and Ross lives it.