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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.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.