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ROXBURY

Rallying around their man

City Councilor Chuck Turner addressed supporters Tuesday. City Councilor Chuck Turner addressed supporters Tuesday. (John Bohn/Globe Staff)
By Meghan Irons
Globe Staff / March 1, 2009
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Calvin Feliciano used to be a street thug - selling drugs, shooting and stabbing rivals in his South End neighborhood - just doing "some things that were normal for us in the Villa."

The Villa Victoria that is.

But that was before he met Chuck Turner, who turned him upright when no one else would.

Knowing Feliciano's gang-banging ways, the city councilor gave the teenager an internship in his district office in Roxbury. And when Feliciano proved he had potential, Turner hired him to help residents organize and fight what they see as injustice.

"I couldn't go back," Feliciano, now 23 and a political organizer for a large healthcare union, said of his former life. "This was way too rewarding. It was way too amazing. . . . I was a hustler. When you put me in a position advocating for people, organizing for people, I could do it. I was really working."

So when Turner was arrested on a federal bribery charge last year, Feliciano and scores of other Turner supporters took it personally. They have been passionately defending their man, showing up in droves at his rallies and posting testimonials on his website.

Supporters say they are simply returning the love and support that Turner has shown them throughout his 40 years in community activism. To them, that love and support remain strong.

"When they went after Chuck, it's an attack on us," Feliciano said last week, "because Chuck is like my father. Chuck represents me. He represents those on the ground. He's the advocate . . . for all the kids out there . . . that no one wants to work with."

Robert Marshall, a retired teacher, said the issue surrounding Turner's arrest is bigger than the councilor himself because it is "an attack on our leadership."

"When you go after Chuck, you go after us," he said.

At Roxbury Community College on Tuesday evening, former street toughs, students, activists, union workers, and average folks - of different races - piled into the cafeteria as Turner, dressed in olive suit and white shirt, presided over his own rally.

Elderly women, bent with age, took the bus and hobbled through the cold to the cafeteria, using their canes for support, just to be there. A gospel group and rap duo performed, as did an ensemble called the Raging Grannies, wearing granny hats and granny glasses, who sang: "Let's roll out a chair for Chuck."

"Talk about a man we should be proud of - Chuck Turner," one man told the crowd before the gospel group sang.

When Turner again took the floor, he railed against US Attorney Michael Sullivan, whose office brought charges against him. He also said he'd sent e-mails of a nationwide petition to President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder that demands the government drop charges against him and investigate US attorneys - including Sullivan - who Turner said have established "racially and politically motivated" prosecutions, and initiate legislation to end "the collusion between prosecutors and the media."

"Chuck ain't no joke," said 70-year-old Duke Robinson, who was at the rally.

Robinson said that several years ago he and local workers were fighting to keep out-of-state workers from getting street repair jobs in Boston. Turner joined their protest, doing almost anything to stop the out-of-staters from working.

"I saw him jump in front of a forklift . . . in a hole because he wanted to stop them," recalled Robinson. "He wouldn't move."

To those who know him or have worked with him over the years, the charges that he pocketed a $1,000 payment from a nightclub operator and lied to federal agents about it are not believable.

Turner supporters say they feel the city councilor and former state senator Diane Wilkerson - who was also charged in federal corruption sting - were targeted because they are outspoken black politicians.

As proof, they highlight the about-face by government informant Ronald Wilburn, who told the Globe recently that he is no longer cooperating in the case because he felt he had been used by the FBI to topple a pair of prominent black politicians.

"There's a guy in the middle of it who is coming clean," Marshall said of Wilburn. "This shows that it was nonsense to begin with. This was a fishing expedition for black leadership."

Mel King, a longtime Boston activist and educator, said supporters are standing by Turner because he has practiced what he preaches in his decades of community service in District 7 - comprising Roxbury and parts of Dorchester, the Fenway, and the South End.

"When it's been something that affects people that need support, he's been there," King said. "You can't find another person with the record of supporting folks like this."

Just ask Maggie Brown of Mattapan. The 40-year-old mother of three said she turned to Turner when her criminal record came back to haunt her. Brown, who said she was charged with drug possession in 1996, said she'd been moving up the ranks at a Medford call center, when after four years there she was called into the office and told she was being demoted because of her record in the state's CORI - Criminal Offenders Record Information - system.

Brown said her children's father was the one actually dealing drugs - but in her apartment. Instead of taking the demotion, Brown said she left the job.

But without work, she fell into a deep depression. "I was tearing up my family."

What saved her, she said, was a notice she saw on the bus one day for workshops at a Roxbury church for people in her situation. The workshops were taught by Turner and after attending, Brown said, she felt empowered.

"He makes you feel that if you are trying to be better, that you don't have to be hindered by the past," said Brown, who is now an organizer for a teachers' union. "He gave me a voice."

The stories go on and on - a roomful of them.

Marshall, the retired teacher from Roxbury, said when his son was arrested on a gun possession charge years ago, Turner not only directed him to the people who could help, but turned up in court willing to testify for his son.

"We know Chuck," said Marshall in a phone interview. "Chuck is in our neighborhood. We know Chuck like a book. And for somebody to come out and accuse him for something like this - something is definitely wrong with this picture."

Meghan Irons can be reached at mirons@globe.com.

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