The conviction of longtime civil rights activist and Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner may add another sour chapter to the history of racial animus and discrimination in the aging New England gotham.
Turner was recently convicted for receiving a $1,000 bribe from a federal witness for help to secure a liquor license, yet he has refused to resign from his seat as Councilor. The Council is bracing for a tense vote on December 1, as they must vote on whether or not to oust Turner, a move that could draw the ire of loyal, predominantly Black Roxbury district constituents.
Support remains strong for Turner in his district, which includes Roxbury and the heart of the black community. He had been omnipresent there as an activist and organizer for decades before his 1999 election to the council.
“I think people in Chuck’s district will be angry’’ if the council kicks him out of office, said Sarah-Ann Shaw, a longtime Roxbury resident who does not believe Turner took a bribe, despite the verdict. “I have voted for him in every election, and I would vote for him again if he were running tomorrow.’’
Shaw and others point to the underlying issue about minority communities receiving liquor licenses, key economic tools needed for restaurants and nightclubs. The FBI has, in its history, targeted black leaders. In this case, the cooperating witness was a black businessman who was paid $30,000 by the government.
And while Boston Mayor Thomas Menino wants Turner to either step down or be ousted, the Councilor is publicly defiant as he awaits sentencing in January. “The mayor knows that during my 11 years as councilor there has never been even a hint of financial impropriety,” said Turner in a recent Boston Herald interview. “He knows in his heart of hearts there’s no reason why I can’t serve out my term. I voted against all the fat-cat projects. There is nothing he or anyone else could cite.”
The vote could be especially challenging for the two minority Members of the Council, Felix G. Arroyo and Ayanna Presley, who both represent districts where Turners reputation as a civil rights advocate stirs passion.
Turner and another prominent Black politician, Massachusetts State Senator Dianne Wilkerson (D-Suffolk), were both caught accepting bribes in the FBI sting. Wilkerson admitted before a federal judge in June to accepting nearly $24,000 in bribes.