Monday, November 24, 2008

Chuck Turner as Abe Simpson

Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner is only 68, but today on the plaza, he seemed much, much older. He had an embarrassing Abe Simpson moment, lots of contradictions, and a single, massive failing.

You wouldn't know any of that from the crowd. He had them an hour before he shuffled onto City Hall Plaza. When he did show and speak, all he had to say were keywords to feel the bricks quake. Oppression ... media ... rights ... constitution ... Feeney ...

His game of hating-the-media was just that. He stood before a rack of over a dozen mics, with a comparable number of news video cameras on tripods in a semicircle. His nearly an hour today was for and about the media, disguised as an address to his supporters.

My takeaways include:
  • His huge blunder was never saying directly or indirectly that he was innocent.
  • His clown skit was blaming the media when he paraded around in the pre-dawn with his fly open.
  • His stupidity was in speaking to the unfairness of losing his committee roles, only to come around 20 minutes later saying Council President Maureen Feeney had the power to take them and he accepted that, which he clearly did not.
  • His foolishness was repeatedly blaming the MSM for everything evil.
You needn't take my word for anything. He lured enough media into his sideshow that you can see and hear it yourself. Pick your favorite paper or broadcast outlet. For detail, head to, say, WBZ Radio, which has his whole rambling speech as well as Feeney's rejoinder.

Turner may drag out the process beyond the ability of others. I can imagine the progression of presumed innocent to innocent until charged to innocent until indicted to innocent until put on trial to innocent until found guilty to innocent until all appeals are exhausted to innocent until sentence served to innocent until all requests for pardon are exhausted. Turner started with the reasonable request not to be condemned as guilty in the MSM when he hasn't even been indicted. Yet, he quickly turned today's scheduled Council session into a witch hunt and trial. He had asked his supporters to meet on then plaza and go with him to the chambers and demand a public hearing instead of a closed session.

In light of all that, Feeney's postponement of the session seemed sensible. However, Turner characterized it as nefarious. Her statement started, "It has been clear to me that Councilor Turner and his supporters are prepared to turn this session into something it is not. This body is not and will not become a stage for political theater."

Those of us who recall such clown princes as Dapper O'Neil, Jim Kelley and Fred Langone, and know of such legends as James Michael Curley and others may quibble with Feeney's recollection if not her intent. The Council has long been the stage for hams and their histrionics. In fact, Turner is not that good at it. He is prone to polemic. Today, I lost count of the number of times he used oppression, oppressed and oppressor.

Feeney claimed credibly that the Council was on new turf. They hadn't had Councilors headed for indictment and certain trial for felonies. Their vague rules and the spongy city charter aren't much help, which is where Feeney wanted to head today. The rules don't cover such cases, pointing instead to the latest version of Robert's Rules for things they don't cover; those say a body can punish members, including expelling them. The charter has a section (17), which is queerly broad:
The city council shall be the judge of the election and qualification of its members; shall elect from its members by a vote of a majority of all the members a president who when present shall preside at the meetings thereof; and shall from time to time establish rules for its proceedings. The member eldest in years shall preside until the president is chosen, and in case of the absence of the president, until a presiding officer is chosen.
Either way, what is stated is that Feeney is the boss of committees. She can appoint, reassign or remove folk for any or no reason.

The Council has long been the stage for hams and their histrionics.

Unfortunately, Turner made an ass of himself on the bricks on that today. Earlier he had claimed without basis that his office had lost its computers and phones. Some media and blogs picked up on that. He hasn't made an apology for that accusation (trial in the media, as the expression goes). He was right though that he had lost his committee chairs (Education, and Human Rights) and seats.

Even on this, Feeney explained what was behind his hyperbole.
  • She had temporarily suspended his committee roles because he has been arrested on several felonies.
  • She asked the city lawyers what to do and what they could do.
  • She scheduled the session for the Council to discuss how it should act in any such case.
  • She said that if Turner is indicted, which I think he almost certainly will be, she'll appoint a fact finder to make a recommendation to the whole Council.
She added that she "appreciates(s) his concern about due process" and that there would have been "no discussion, debate or vote on his fitness to serve." Moreover, she said, "Today, I will empower the City Council Committee on Rules and Administration, of which I am chair person, to investigate these questions of qualification and report back to the full body."

All of that is far less crowd pleasing than claims he was locked out of his office or found guilty by Feeney and punished by being made committee-less. His folk were there for just such claims, to judge by what made them cheer or chant.

To the Abe Simpson moment — and it was a long one — Turner took what could have been a humanizing and sympathetic experience and twisted it into another rant, to ill effect. According to him, a TV station was outside his house with its truck at 4:30 a.m. It filmed him with an open fly and reported that he should be ashamed. He used that as yet another chance to vilify the media. Instead of making light of the stress that led him to leave the house a spot indecently, he blamed the TV crew for his inability to zip himself. For someone whose arrest charges include several counts of not taking responsibility for his actions in lying to the FBI, that was probably not the best tack. He sounded more like 98 instead of 68 years old.

For the serious stuff, the crowd that grew from a few dozen to probably over 200, without including media, Turner was all victim, all oppressed, all wronged. To those of us who'd like to reserve judgment, he didn't help.

He claimed that the judge in his Worcester arraignment forbade his speaking of details of his case. He claimed that his defense attorneys said he was not the lawyer and should not present his defense to the public or media.

He either extrapolated those far too broadly or he's in a lot more trouble than it looks from the outside. He never once said what you'd expect and what is certainly allowable under the requests of the judge and his lawyers. How about, "I am innocent. I have never taken a bribe or extorted money from anyone"?

The innocent, the guilty who want others to consider that they might be innocent, and even those who are unsure whether their actions or words constitute crimes are wont to claim innocence. I was left wondering what it means that he did not and would not do so. That was not very reassuring to constituents or other city voters.

He had an odd audience, but then again, it was 2:30 p.m. on a Monday. He had a contingent of what appeared to be older, unemployed black supporters. They were obvious by their large posterboard signs all with slogans in the same large green marker block lettering. There was a larger contingent of 30 to 60 something lefty-looking sorts. Some handed out fliers for the Green Rainbow Party (Turner's registration). Others had one with info.

The latter included a URL for That is a real and new (as of Saturday) site. The registrant is secret. It has the look of a legal-defense shell site. That doesn't even whisper plea bargain.

On the plaza, the media dominated hours before the scheduled 2:30 show. Down at the Congress Street level, a battery of jolly coppers stood near their choppers...just in case. They weren't needed.

Amusingly enough, after stoking the folk to assemble them, and then repeatedly calling out the media, the investigators, Feeney and others, Turner talked the group down. He alluded to his Creator, cited the Golden Rule, and said his chanting minions shouldn't act the mob. They should show respect and decorum.

They seemed to as they tagged along with him to the door of City Hall, where he entered and only a handful of them did. There'd be no storming the Bastille today.

The next shot is three or four miles south, at his district office at 51 Roxbury Street, Wednesday at 10 a.m. He made it sound like it would be a review of the glories of his 10 years in office. The new site bills it as a rally as well as a press conference though.

I hope by then that someone makes it plain to him that if he wants deniability and believability that he'd better start asserting innocence.

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