Globe Editorial

To save its own credibility, council must expel Turner

(David L. Ryan/Globe Staff)
November 11, 2010

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NO QUESTION before the Boston City Council is more serious than how to respond to Roxbury district councilor Chuck Turner’s recent conviction on a federal bribery charge. After a Dec. 1 hearing, the council could choose to censure Turner, or to postpone any resolution of the issue. But the need to protect the integrity of the council is urgent, and half measures will not do. If Turner does not resign, his colleagues must vote to oust him.

As City Council President Michael Ross puts it, “This vote is more important than any one member.’’ This is not a referendum on Turner’s habit of working hard and late into the night, going to the wall for constituents, or speaking out each time he perceived an injustice. If it were, he might deserve some face-saving consideration. But Turner has been convicted of corruption charges directly related to his public duties. He accepted a $1,000 bribe meant to grease the way for a nightclub operator’s liquor license. Then Turner lied to the FBI about accepting the money.

Turner has urged Ross to postpone any vote until after sentencing, which is set for Jan. 25. The Roxbury councilor hopes to remain on the council if he is sentenced only to probation. But Turner’s continued presence on the council taints its every decision. The only acceptable path is to send Turner back to private life while a judge mulls his future.

Removing Turner could prove divisive for a council that, like the city it represents, has tried to transcend identity politics. Turner’s longtime council ally Charles Yancey has criticized the FBI investigation and recently attended a rally on Turner’s behalf. Turner and Yancey are both black, and Turner’s supporters are pressuring the council’s two other minority members — first-term at-large councilors Ayanna Pressley and Felix G. Arroyo — to vote against expulsion. Arroyo once worked for Turner, and he and Pressley both are wary of offending voters who still swear by Turner’s confrontational style of politics.

Yet the vote on Turner’s future should not be seen as an opportunity to re-litigate the bribery claim. The jury has spoken, and Turner has been convicted. Nothing Yancey or any other councilor says will change that fact. And the council’s credibility would be greatly undermined by seating a member convicted of accepting a bribe. That’s why even some civil-rights leaders who respect Turner’s passion for social justice are still urging councilors to look at the big picture.

“They need to make a decision based on the overarching needs of the council as a body,’’ said Darnell Williams, president of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts.

That body will be healthier when Turner is gone.