City Councilor Chuck Turner (left) speaks to constituents during a recent stop on the campaign trail. Despite a difficult year that saw him arrested and indicted on a federal bribery charge, the five-term councilor remains confident he’ll win re-election to a sixth term as the representative of District 7 on Boston’s City Council. (Yawu Miller photo)
In the last year, Chuck Turner has been arrested at his City Hall office and become embroiled in a very public battle with the U.S. Attorney’s Office over charges that he took a bribe.
Even so, and even as he faces three challengers for his seat, Turner is confident he’ll win re-election to a sixth term as the representative of District 7 on Boston’s City Council.
“It’s ours to win, but we do have to do the work to convince people to vote for me,” he said during an interview at his Dudley Square district office.
Few who know Turner doubt his ability to do the work. He is known as a tireless campaigner who uses his district office to run get-out-the-vote operations, even in years when his name does not appear on the ballot.
“The question is, how much is Chuck going to win by,” said longtime supporter and political activist Bob Marshall.
In the 2007 election, Turner won with 81 percent of the vote, beating challenger Carlos Henriquez in every precinct in District 7, which includes Roxbury, parts of the South End, Dorchester and Jamaica Plain.
Henriquez, who garnered 18 percent of the vote in that race, is making another run at the seat, along with perennial candidates Althea Garrison and Roy Owens. This time around, Henriquez is using Turner’s federal bribery charges as fodder in his bid to unseat the councilor.
Early in the race, Henriquez contended that Turner is distracted from the job of councilor, caught up in the work of defending himself against the charges. More recently, Henriquez accused Turner of violating campaign finance laws by soliciting contributions for his legal bills.
A spokesman for the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OCPF) last month told the Jamaica Plain Gazette, however, that Turner was within his rights to raise funds for his legal defense.
“I think we have the responsibility not to make accusations of a criminal nature without the facts to support it,” Turner said. “To accuse me of doing something when one call to the OCPF could have set him straight is troubling to see in a young man who’s just beginning his political career.”
Turner’s troubles with the law began in 2008, when he called a City Council hearing to look into the dearth of liquor licenses being made available to restaurants and clubs in the black community. Not long after, he received a visit from Ron Wilburn, an entrepreneur hoping to open a nightclub in Roxbury who was at the time working as an informant for the FBI.
According to the FBI affidavit, Wilburn offered to host a fundraiser for the councilor, then met with Turner in his district office. According to the affidavit, Wilburn handed Turner a wad of bills and told him to take his wife out to dinner.
Turner’s supporters say that there’s no evidence he was given funds in exchange for political favors, and therefore, no truth to the bribery charges.
Not long after Turner was indicted last November, Wilburn told the Boston Globe he would not take the stand against Turner and angrily denounced the U.S. attorney’s case against him.
Marshall said the FBI allegations won’t deter Turner’s supporters from casting their ballots for the councilor.
“People know Chuck is a man of integrity,” he said. “They’re not about to believe the FBI.”
While Turner has spent much of this year defending himself against the U.S. attorney’s allegations of corruption, he said he has not been distracted from his responsibilities, pointing to 35 legislative initiatives he has proposed in the council.
In the end, it’s his record in office that voters care about most, according to political consultant and District 7 resident Luis Elisa.
“It really is about what you’ve done,” Elisa said.
Elisa pointed to Turner’s work on the CORI issue, advocating for change to the state’s Criminal Offender Record Information laws and helping ex-offenders find jobs. He also referred to the councilor’s efforts in support of equity and reform in the city’s schools and his work in helping community groups battle politically-connected developers who flout zoning laws in Roxbury.
“In responding to the concerns and needs of the community, he’s done a great job,” Elisa said.
Incumbent Chuck Turner and challenger Carlos Henriquez, the two men widely seen as the leading candidates to represent District 7 on Boston’s City Council, squared off in an hour-long radio debate on Grove Hall community radio station TOUCH 106.1 FM. The key question was which trait voters will value more: experience or energy. More »
The four-term incumbent and longtime community organizer touts his record of service on his Web site, also going into detail about the circumstances surrounding what he says was an unfounded and unjust arrest last November on federal corruption charges. More »
At Henriquez's campaign site, readers can learn a bit more about his vision for the City Council district, how to stay in touch with him through a variety of social networking sites, how to donate to his campaign and more. More »
“[Carlos Henriquez is] committed to being a catalyst for change,” said Alicia Canady, a program director for a Boston charity. “I think Chuck Turner has done a great service to the community for the last 10 years, but it’s time to pass the torch.” More »