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Boston Licensing Board chairman to retire

Hailed for balance in his decisions

Leaving 'I have more than 40 years working for the city and state. It's time to give someone else a chance.' -- Daniel F. Pokaski

Leaving
"I have more than 40 years working for the city and state. It's time to give someone else a chance." -- Daniel F. Pokaski (Bill Greene/ Globe Staff/ File 2009)
By David Abel
Globe Staff / June 19, 2010

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Three years after state lawmakers awarded him a controversial raise, Daniel F. Pokaski, the longtime chairman of the Boston Licensing Board, announced yesterday that he would step down at the end of the month, when his pension vests at nearly $80,000 a year.

“It’s just time to leave,’’ said Pokaski, who has served in the powerful position as one of three arbiters of the city’s lucrative liquor licenses since 1995. “I’m turning 61, and I have more than 40 years working for the city and state. It’s time to give someone else a chance.’’

Local officials and neighborhood groups praised Pokaski, a former state representative and criminal court clerk, for his fairness.

“I think he was a diligent steward of his job, which was to try to keep control over an industry that needs control,’’ said Councilor at Large Stephen J. Murphy. “He was steadfast in his commitment to the quality of life of the neighborhoods of Boston. He was always willing to listen, but he didn’t equivocate in his own mind when he thought something was unfair.’’

Councilor Charles C. Yancey, who represents Mattapan and Dorchester, recalled how a decade ago Pokaski voted to suspend the license of a South Boston bar after it posted pictures of monkeys and said it was their celebration of Black History Month.

“I’ve had the opportunity to work with him for the entirety of his tenure, and . . . I’ve always found him to be fair and professional.’’

Two years ago, Pokaski came under scrutiny for allegedly taking part in a back-room deal that linked the awarding of a liquor license to his raises. An investigation led to the arrest of state Senator Dianne Wilkerson, who this year pleaded guilty to charges she accepted bribes in exchange for seeking a liquor license for a Roxbury nightclub.

For more than a century, the Boston Licensing Board has regulated the city’s pool halls, bowling allies, fortune tellers, dormitories, and all business licenses for the sale of food and alcohol. The city has a limited number of liquor licenses, under 1,100, and they can cost from $30,000 for a license to serve beer and wine to as much as $300,000 for a licenses to sell all types of alcohol.

The plum jobs are well paid and often held for years. State lawmakers raised the salary of the board chairman to $100,000 per year in 2008, with a retroactive raise to 2007, allowing Pokaski to cash in this year as his pension vests at his highest salary for a three-year period.

According to the FBI affidavit, Pokaski and Wilkerson met at the State House in August 2007; and Wilkerson used Pokaski’s pay increase and other measures as leverage to extract the liquor license she wanted for the business operator who paid her cash bribes. A week after Pokaski and Wilkerson met, the Senate passed the board’s salary bill.

The FBI never charged Pokaski. He says he was unfairly tarred by meeting Wilkerson.

“My biggest regret was going to that meeting,’’ he said. “I was just trying to do my job.’’

He called the allegations he had engaged in back-room dealing “crap and speculation.’’

“They are just not true,’’ he said. “We never violated any open meeting laws. All the investigations have proved that this board has always been aboveboard.’’

Michael Connolly, a fellow board member, said Pokaski’s departure could alter the balance of the panel. He said Pokaski often sided with neighborhood groups — for example, he helped clean up the old Combat Zone by limiting the number of strip clubs and other seedy businesses from the area — while Commissioner Suzanne Iannella more frequently sides with applicants for licenses.

“He calls them as he sees them, and it’s often in support for neighborhood groups,’’ Connolly said. “Whether it’s a blocked egress, underage drinking, a barroom brawl, he gets the background information and always acts in an objective fashion. We will miss him sorely.’’

Pokaski, who grew up in Dorchester, taught in Boston public schools for three years before being elected state representative, a job he held for eight years. He served as a clerk in Suffolk Superior Court for 12 years before Governor William F. Weld appointed him to the Licensing Board in 1995.

State Representative Martha M. Walz, a Back Bay Democrat who has often raised issues with the board, called Pokaski “very fair and reasonable.’’

“His retirement is not happy news from my perspective,’’ she said. “There were lots of questions raised about someone who, to my mind, was a completely ethical public servant. There was never a question about his integrity.’’

David Abel can be reached at dabel@globe.com.

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