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Turner’s ouster justified, Gov. Patrick says

Turner’s ouster justified, Gov. Patrick says
Chuck Turner addresses members of the City Council during a hearing in which he was voted off the Council by a 11-1 unanimous vote. (Photo: Ernesto Arroyo)

(AP) Gov. Deval Patrick said last week that he supports the Boston City Council’s decision to oust Chuck Turner.

“I have, for a long time, respected much of the work that Chuck Turner has done in communities and for communities,” Patrick told reporters after addressing the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association. “There is a very strong feeling among people in his district that he is responsive to them, but he is convicted of a very serious crime and, I think, there are a lot of consequences that ought to come from that — and this is one.”

Patrick is the state’s first black governor, and Turner, who is black, alleged racism in his prosecution and removal from the council. The governor also once headed the U.S. Justice Department’s civil rights division.

Before the council voted last Wednesday to make Turner the first councilor booted from the body, Patrick demurred, saying he did not have to have an opinion on all subjects.

Turner was convicted Oct. 29 of taking a $1,000 bribe from a businessman seeking a city liquor license, then lying about it to FBI agents. He is scheduled for sentencing Jan. 25 and could get prison time.

The Boston City Council voted 11-1 last Wednesday to expel councilor Turner, who remained defiant even as his long political career neared an end.

It marked the first time in the 100-year history of the modern city council that members voted to remove one of their own.

Turner, 70, abstained from the vote because he had a financial stake in the outcome — the loss of his $87,500 annual salary. The only no vote on the 13-member council was cast by Turner supporter Charles Yancey, who questioned whether the body had the legal authority to expel a member.

Prior to the vote, Turner lashed out at prosecutors.

“The reality is that the conviction that is being used as the reason for my removal … was a setup,” he said. “That conviction was rotten.”

Following the vote, Turner urged angry supporters who had packed the chamber to respect the feelings of other councilors, adding, “They have judged me today, we will judge them tomorrow.”

Turner, a longtime community activist and one of the city’s most visible African American politicians, was first elected in 1999 to represent a district including the neighborhoods of Roxbury, Dorchester, Fenway and the South End. Already under indictment, he was re-elected with nearly 60 percent of the vote in November 2009.

In his motion calling for Turner’s ouster, City Council President Michael Ross praised Turner for working tirelessly on behalf of constituents. But he said councilors must act in accordance with their own rules.

“We are not above the law and none of us is above the rules we have established as a body. If we act as if we are, this body loses its credibility, its integrity and the trust of the people we serve,” wrote Ross.

The council acted under a rule adopted in January 2009, allowing it to determine if a member is unqualified to serve as a result of his or her conduct, including a felony conviction. But Yancey questioned whether the rule explicitly gave the council authority to expel a member.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino was among those who urged Turner to resign following his conviction. Turner declined, saying resignation would be viewed as an admission of guilt.

In a statement after the vote, Menino called Wednesday a “difficult day” for the city and said Turner had represented his district well. But he said the vote “upholds the integrity of the Boston City Council.”