Boston voters dropkick Murphy, oust Yancey

Council's longest serving members sent on their way

BOSTON VOTERS HEWED to the old adage that the only constant is change, voting out of office the two longest-serving members of the City Council.

Longtime at-large councilor Steve Murphy is out, to be replaced by Annissa Essaibi George, a Dorchester high school teacher who also operates a yarn and knitting shop. Meanwhile, 32-year incumbent district councilor Charles Yancey was also sent packing, defeated by Andrea Campbell, an attorney who was just 1-year-old when he was first elected in 1983.

Photo via fllckr/Creative Commons

Steve Murphy: Dropkicked off the council. Photo via fllckr/Creative Commons

Murphy was, in some ways, living on borrowed time. A throwback to the generation of Boston pols that preceded him, he learned at their knee, starting out as a driver for then-city councilor Albert “Dapper” O’Neil, who trafficked in the bile-based politics of racial division and resentment of “outsiders” that helped give Boston a tarnished reputation nationally that the city is still working to overcome.

Murphy was a 1980s conservative — with a strong survival instinct. He saw the writing on the wall as the city’s political bearings and demographics changed. By 2006, he had reinvented himself by jumping out early behind Deval Patrick in the Democratic primary for governor, passing over pols like law-and-order attorney general Tom Reilly, who seemed like a more natural fit.

Such swerves to his left put enough gas in Murphy’s tank to help him squeeze in a few more terms, but he became the perennial fourth-place finisher in the race for four at-large seats.

It was hard, though, for Murphy to entirely shed his old-school ways, and they seemed to finally catch up with him last night.

The Globe reported in June that Murphy gave a $75,000 job on his council staff to a Hyde Park pal who had been removed by the Supreme Judicial Court from a court clerk’s position — an exceeding rare move — because of “demeaning,” “bigoted,” and “abusive” conduct. Murphy struck a defiant posture. “I’m hiring my friends,” he told the paper when asked what conclusion should be drawn.

Meanwhile, the paper recently reported on the less than full days some councilors appeared to put in at City Hall, with Murphy served up as Exhibit A.

Longtime PR flak George Regan, whom Murphy apparently retained to help his cause, did quite the opposite, trotting out a most risible reason for the frequent absence of the councilor’s car in the City Hall garage: Murphy sometimes parks in an undisclosed location, Regan told the Globe’s Andrew Ryan, because of security worries as chairman of the council’s public safety committee.

It turns out the only one targeting Murphy was Essaibi George, whose upbeat message about improving the Boston public schools — and vocal opposition to a council pay raise that Murphy voted for less a week before the election — helped propel her past him.

For Yancey, the end came at the hands of a 32-year-old challenger who rode a wave of generational change that has seen the 13-member council tilt heavily in recent years toward new, younger faces.

Campbell offered an inspiring story of overcoming a troubled family life and going on to graduate from Princeton and UCLA law school. Campbell ran away with the contest in the largely minority district that includes big chunks of Dorchester and Mattapan, along with small slices of Roslindale and Jamaica Plain.

Yancey, a veteran black pol, was a feisty advocate over the years for a range of causes, including a new police station, library, high school in his district. On two of the three, he could claim victory (his long push for a new Mattapan high school remains a dream thus far deferred).

Charles Yancey

Charles Yancey: Asleep at switch, he’s out of office after 32 years.

At a time when some complain that the City Council is far more feckless than fearless, Yancey deserves credit for his frequent willingness to go up against the administration. It’s a healthy check on mayoral power that is too often in short supply.

But he had a penchant for showmanship that many found grating. He had no qualms about wriggling his way into a prime spot in a photo op with Gov. Charlie Baker and Mayor Marty Walsh at the recent ribbon cutting for a new Dorchester charter school — despite vigorously opposing any efforts to raise the cap on charters.

Like Murphy, who waged several unsuccessful campaigns for higher office, Yancey also showed a wandering eye for higher office, making failed bids over the years for a range of offices, including a quixotic run for mayor two years ago.

Some complained that the nuts-and-bolts of constituent service matters in the district got short shrift. He clearly took his eye off the ball when it came to the campaign basics of securing the council perch from which he’s operated for more than three decades.

Campbell, Andrea crop

Andrea Campbell: An inspiring story — and months of door-knocking — carried her to victory.

Yancey conceded that he didn’t even begin campaigning in earnest until after the September preliminary, when Campbell shocked him with a strong first-place win. It was a wake-up call that a pol with a better ear to the ground would have seen coming.

Yancey’s loss was lamented last night at his post-election party by the old guard of the city’s black leadership. State Rep. Gloria Fox and former senator Dianne Wilkerson both questioned the wisdom of voters’ choice (rarely a good move).

The race wasn’t close, with Campbell trouncing Yancey by a nearly 2-to-1 margin. The results show there was clear appeal to her vow to bring fresh leadership to the range of challenges the district faces — from public safety to economic opportunity that badly lags the rest of the city.

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

Yancey’s combative style has often alienated the city administration in charge, and some say that limited his effectiveness. At his his party last night, Wilkerson said being persistent and standing your ground is how you get things done. The knock on Campbell from some is that she’ll be too conciliatory to deliver on important things needed in the district.

She now has a chance to prove them wrong.