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Days after arrest, defiant Turner back on the job

St. John Barned-Smith

She also stood by her decision to strip Turner of his chairmanships, saying, “We need to have chairmen acting without any shadow cast upon them on why they’re doing what they’re doing.”

At Monday’s raucous rally, Turner defended himself and castigated Feeney in front of a throng of supporters, many carrying signs bearing pro-Chuck slogans.

Turner asked his backers to stick by him and to allow the court system to try him rather than the media. In a statement released shortly before his rally, Turner wrote, “Once you become the target of a media witch hunt, you either fight back by presenting the essence of your legal defense, or allow the media wolves to destroy your reputation.”

Fists shook as people roared in defense of Turner outside City Hall, yelling, “We’ll keep Chuck” and “We stand with Chuck,” as the councilor addressed his supporters and the media.

“I intended to talk specifically about my defense, because I’ve never been someone to hide from the truth,” he told the crowd, but said that he’d changed his mind after his legal team persuaded him to let them use their skills to resolve the case.

Instead, Turner used the rally to respond to Feeney’s decision to remove him from his committee leadership positions, and affirm his commitment to serving his constituents.

“Ironical­ly, spending 25 years in jail — if I live that long — is not my paramount concern,” said Turner, 68. “My only objective in life is the liberation of my people.”

Tur­ner also scolded the media for their coverage of the affair.

“I am not being judged by a jury of my peers, I am being judged by the Boston Globe, Boston Herald, Fox News, Channel 5,” he said. “News outlets that would not cover my work as a city councilor are now demanding I speak to them.”

The councilor, who choked up several times during the rally, described reporters’ actions as “behavior that is so obtrusive, and so offensive,” adding that he’d had to call the cops to get protection from members of the press who had camped out outside of his house, refusing to leave his porch or his property.

“Shame on the papers,” many in the crowd yelled.

“Obviously, the press is working to destroy my reputation … but I won’t allow my reputation, built over 45 years, to be ripped to shreds,” he said, before calling for Feeney to reinstate his chairmanships.

“How does she know I’m guilty?” he asked.

The rally drew supporters from Roxbury to Randolph, and the mood in the crowd ranged across the spectrum.

“I’m glad [Turner] was able to speak his piece,” said supporter William Young. He said he felt politics was dirty “across the board,” and that while investigators say there may be more corruption-related arrests to come, he doubted there would be any more.

“There’s a media presentation of Chuck as someone who’s guilty, and I’m not sure that he is,” said Berta Rosa Berriz, a teacher in the Boston Public Schools (BPS) who praised Turner’s work in support of bilingual education.

Berriz also expressed a popular refrain of Turner supporters — that taking a bribe doesn’t seem to fit his man-of-the-people persona.

“I know he is not a person who lives extravagantly,” she said.

Fellow supporter Mike Heichman, a retired teacher and parent of a BPS student, said, “Whether or not he’s the official chair [of the education committee], he’s our chair.”

Education was a key concern for many of Turner’s supporters.

“Chuck’s given his life to education and students,” said Steve Gillis of Roslindale. He said he worries that Turner’s potential replacement, acting chair Connolly, had “no connection” to Boston Public Schools and said he had “no faith that Connolly can do this job.”

Connolly was quick to counter that claim.

 “I think I’ve got enough experience to do the job well,” said Connolly during a later interview. The former public school teacher, who has taught in both Boston and New York, also noted that the council had no more scheduled hearings on matters concerning education, and that he already heads up the council’s Committee on Environment and Health.

Political moves aside, for many Massachusetts residents, what matters most is Turner’s devotion to his work.

“I can’t even vote for him, and he still helps me,” said supporter Maggie Brown of Mattapan, who came with her mother, Mattie Brown, who lives in Randolph. “I can depend on him.”