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Governor proposes giving Menino control over city Licensing Board

By Andrew Ryan and Travis Andersen
Globe Staff / February 19, 2011

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Governor Deval Patrick proposed wholesale changes to the Boston Licensing Board yesterday to give the mayor control over the body that was at the center of a bribery scandal that brought down two prominent politicians.

The governor filed legislation to return the board to the mayor for the first time in more than a century, a change that would require approval by the Legislature and the city. He also announced two new appointments to the board, a Latino lawyer and the first African-American in nearly 50 years.

Nicole Murati Ferrer, who works in the city’s law department, will take over immediately as chairwoman, filling the seat vacated last June when Daniel F. Pokaski stepped down. It could not be immediately determined if a person of Latino descent had previously served on the board.

The governor’s office also announced that Michael Connolly will step down in June after 11 1/2 years on the board. Connolly’s seat will be filled by Milton Wright, a retired district court judge who sat for many years in Roxbury Municipal Court. Wright would be the first African-American on the board since Clarence Elam, who was appointed by Governor Christian Herter in the 1950s.

Pokaski, the longtime chairman of the board, was praised by local officials and neighborhood groups as he stepped down last year. But he also came under scrutiny during a scandal that ultimately led to bribery convictions against former state senator Dianne Wilkerson and former city councilor Chuck Turner.

Pokaski, who was never charged with any crime, called the allegations that he engaged in back-room dealing “crap and speculation.’’

A spokesman for Patrick, Brendan Ryan, said the corruption investigation leading to the convictions of Turner and Wilkerson was not the driving force behind the governor’s decision to file the bill.

“If the question is, was this in response to any of that, the answer is no,’’ Ryan said.

He said the move to return control of the board to the city of Boston is in line with other administration initiatives, such as letting cities and towns decide whether to raise restaurant and hotel taxes, designed to give communities more control over local government functions.

Meanwhile, Connolly said he is stepping down because his son, John R. Connolly, is an at-large member of the City Council.

“It would be best for both of us if I stepped aside, given the fact that he is the one with the political future,’’ he said.

Connolly, 63, a lawyer, said he is not retiring. “My retirement party and my funeral will be one and the same event,’’ he said.

Patrick’s legislation must be approved by the Legislature, the City Council, and Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who said yesterday that he welcomed the change.

“It should be an appointment of the mayor’s,’’ Menino said, saying the current system is outdated.

“It’s a vestige of 100-year-old discrimination against the Irish,’’ said City Council President Stephen J. Murphy, who also supports transferring power to the mayor. “When the Yankees lost control of the ballot box, they took the police commissioner and the licensing board.’’

Governors appointed Boston’s police commissioner until 1962, Murphy said, when Mayor John F. Collins won the right to name the commissioner.

For more than a century, the 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 about 1,100 liquor licenses.

Martin Finucane of the Globe staff contributed to this report.