Adrian Walker

Spin cycle to wind down

By Adrian Walker
Globe Columnist / December 5, 2008
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Chuck Turner has been involved in his share of campaigns, but the Support Chuck Turner blitz leaves them all in the dust.

Many defendants withdraw from sight while they plan for their day in court. However, the Boston city councilor has taken a different approach, passionately pleading his case in the court of public opinion.

The day Turner was charged with attempted extortion, the feds released pictures of him purportedly taking $1,000 in cash from an FBI informant.

Plenty of people believed then that Turner - like Dianne Wilkerson, the former state senator charged in the same investigation - had little defense. That prospect hasn't slowed him down one bit. The man is either full of righteous anger or just plain delusional.

For someone who has had a contentious relationship with the press, Turner has suddenly proved to be remarkably adept at getting his message out. He has managed to play the media and blame them for his troubles, all at once. This he has managed without ever explaining who the man is in those grainy pictures with a wad of cash in his fist.

Not that the man has been at a loss for explanations. Here are some:

The money might have been a gift (which would be illegal).

The money might have been a campaign donation (which would be illegal).

He may have been set up.

According to Turner, the FBI has a long history of racism and oppression. So does the media, which committed the additional sin, apparently, of filming him with his fly open.

Interestingly, one thing he has yet to say explicitly is that he didn't take the cash, because he can rip the government, he can attack the media, he can impugn the informant, but he can't, you understand, discuss what actually happened.

Turner has passionate defenders, and that comes as no surprise to those who have followed his career. Hugely popular in his Roxbury-based district, with an intensely loyal following among unions and lefties, he has a real base of support. Moreover, even those who don't admire his left-wing politics readily concede that the man has never appeared to be driven by money.

To his supporters, this case is almost the culmination of a long career of fighting "the man."

"Chuck came out of the civil rights movement," notes his friend Horace Small of the Union of Minority Neighborhoods. "A lot of us came out of movements. The government lies all the time. Who we going to believe, Chuck or the FBI? I believe Chuck."

But what about the pictures that show someone who looks a whole lot like Chuck taking cash? "If I have to eat my words, I'm still going to love him because I know his heart," Small said.

Turner went to see the Black Ministerial Alliance yesterday, hoping the ministers will stand behind him. They emerged deeply skeptical, just the way they went in, and have no plans to support him publicly. Still, he got a better reception than Wilkerson, whom they helped to run out of office.

"He is presumed innocent until proven guilty, and that process needs to be played out in the courts," said the Rev. Jeffrey Brown. "Not the court of public opinion, the plain old, regular judicial courts."

Probably we shouldn't be surprised that a politician would react to indictment by mounting a campaign. But it's hard to see what the endgame is. It isn't as though his case is about to be put to a popular vote.

The feds are not going to dissolve the grand jury he says is poised to indict him. Eventually, he's going to have to answer the questions he's now ducking, before a far less forgiving group than his constituents and supporters.

Horace Small is right: This case probably will come down to believing Turner or the FBI. The court of public opinion is nothing if not easily manipulated. The real courts may prove a lot harder to spin.

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at

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