Brian McGrory

A lying shame

By Brian McGrory
Globe Columnist / January 26, 2011

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The entire community, whether Roxbury or West Roxbury, Boston or the Berkshires, should stand in unison and offer US District Court Judge Douglas P. Woodlock its most heartfelt thanks.

You see, Woodlock did what too few people are willing to do these days. He stood up for truth. He drew a line in the mud that is too often modern-day politics and public discourse and he clearly and emphatically pointed out that disgraced former Boston city councilor Chuck Turner was caught on the wrong side of the pit.

Woodlock paid no apparent heed to all the silly arguments that were made about Turner being an icon in the minority community, a major figure in civil rights. “Ludicrous and surreal,’’ was how Woodlock described Turner’s babbling testimony.

Woodlock cared about two things: that Turner was shown on video accepting a bribe from a Boston businessman, and that he lied — again and again — about it in open court.

When all was said and done in this case, when the smoke gave way to the dismal view of yet another politician taking yet another envelope of cash, Turner wasn’t a victim, as he portrayed himself to be. He wasn’t the subject of the witch hunt that he so often shouted about in the ridiculous rallies.

He was nothing more than a painfully ordinary pol who saw $1,000 coming his way and put it in his pocket without the benefit of a second thought.

What would have happened if Turner pleaded guilty as charged, if he stood in court and said that he experienced a moment of profound weakness in a career otherwise dedicated to the common cause? The bet here is that Turner would be walking free. All he had to do was admit he was wrong.

But that would have required honesty, integrity, and other such characteristics that Turner, all said and done, did not display. So he did what politicians do all too often these days. He lied.

Some of those lies were breathtaking in their hubris, beautiful in their imagination. He compared himself to the great civil rights leaders in this nation’s history, said he was being persecuted for fighting for civil rights, and claimed the government had targeted his community of color.

In truth, this was a penny-ante crime committed by a minor league politician, and no right-thinking FBI agent or federal prosecutor involved from the beginning would have or should have hoped that this is how it would end, with Turner going to prison for several years.

Nobody walks out of this case with glory. Turner was a peripheral player in an investigation that is most notable for how low it reached, not how high. Questions abound about the high-priced lawyers and high-powered businessmen seeking favor before a little-known board, the Boston Licensing Commission, which had outsized authority over the distribution of absurdly valuable liquor licenses.

And what the public got was a pair of parochial politicians: Dianne Wilkerson, a previous convict, and Turner, a well-known crank. Everybody else — and yes, everybody white — walked away free.

But just because the feds failed to get a big name doesn’t mean that Turner should succeed in his screeching defense. Just because it was only $1,000 and only one time didn’t make it right.

Back to Woodlock. Politicians lie everywhere, but it seems they lie here more than anywhere else. Three consecutive House speakers have been either convicted or indicted. We have entire state agencies — law enforcement agencies — that seem to run like a criminal enterprise.

Woodlock had the good sense to say no more. Lying is not the crime of the century, but it is a crime that characterizes too much of the day.

Brian McGrory is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at