Local Media Silence is Deafening as Cooperating Witness Changes Tune on Chuck Turner
Well, well. We don't want to say we told you so, but it seems the media stampede to pin corruption charges on Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner (G/R - District 7) in advance of his trial hit a bit of a snag today when the FBI's "cooperating witness" Ron Wilburn announced that he isn't going to cooperate anymore. Not only that but he's singing a new tune about Turner that sounds a whole lot like he's saying Turner's innocent.
The Boston Globe wrote the following:
"'Chuck is naive,' Wilburn said in an interview at the Globe. 'The only thing I said to him was, 'Take your wife out to dinner.' It's conceivable that it could have been a gift or a campaign contribution.'
"He went on to further distinguish between the two cases, saying: 'Dianne [Wilkerson] is a thief. Chuck isn't. Dianne knew better. Chuck is a victim of circumstance.'"
Chuck isn't a thief. Chuck is a victim of circumstance. How about that? Now at Open Media Boston we understand that this sad little legal circus hasn't seen its final act yet, but without their sole witness, the feds are going to have a hell of a hard time bringing Turner down. And as the only Boston news publication that decried the rush to judgment against Turner by the entire local press corps, we can't help but feel a little smug now.
For those of you who were touring the Outer Hebrides while last fall's scandal unfolded, the moment the FBI released grainy photos purporting to show Turner taking a $1000 from Wilburn at his district office, local media declared him unequivocally guilty and howled for him to step down from office.
Local media that, the Globe excepted, is now oddly silent about the whole affair. Aside from the lone story today, no other news publication has yet uttered a peep.
This is of course the same media that mocked Turner at every turn for the last few months. When he maintained his innocence, they scoffed. When he said that the FBI and Republican former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan had concocted the whole thing as part of a move to pick off black politicians and make themselves look busy and tough, they said he was a conspiracist.
Yet now we have Wilburn - who is black - saying the primary reason he's refusing to cooperate any more is that the feds convinced him to help entrap Wilkerson and Turner with the apparent understanding that a number of white politicians - some likely powerful - would be brought to justice, too. But months after Wilkerson and Turner were charged, not a single white politician - powerful or otherwise - has been charged with anything at all.
So it looks like Turner was not far off the mark when he raised the specter of the long list of black officials hounded out of office in many other cities since the Civil Rights Movement desegregated government at all levels in the 1960s.
Naturally we realize that local media pundits, once they get their gumption up again, will focus on Wilburn's mention of his daughter being afraid of violence against his family as a result of his acts, and say that he's changing his tune because of real or imagined threats against his kin. But that's a red herring. If that were true, he'd likely proclaim everyone involved completely innocent, and head for the hills. Yet this is a guy who maintains he originally started working with the FBI to get at the chairman of the Licensing Board - who is white and whom he apparently believed to be racist. He knew he risked bad blood in Roxbury and with powerful officials and did it anyway. He's stayed put through the whole thing.
We wouldn't call Wilburn a hero or anything. But his reasons for ceasing cooperation with the FBI sound eminently reasonable - especially given the sordid history of powerful bigots doing their level best to keep government white wherever they can. And most especially in "majority minority" cities like Boston.
For now, we're going to have to sit back and let the chips fall where they may. But if the government's case against Turner collapses, and the corruption charges against him are dropped, we'll be among the first to congratulate him in public.
After all, Turner is one of the very few local politicians who does a good job with local politics, national politics and international politics - and understands how these different levels of politics are intimately connected with each other. In these difficult economic times, we need more politicians like him, not less. And we certainly need him back at his committee posts in City Council, fully empowered to do work that desperately needs doing - like fighting for large amounts of public money to be poured into the city's educational system and against raising taxes on working families to do it.
We realize that the Globe, the Boston Foundation, and other institutions with ties to the traditional white power structure have been all fired up to unilaterally appoint "new black leadership" that is willing to claim race and class politics are things of the past. But we think that's all just stuff and nonsense. In Boston's District 7 at least, the largely African-American voting base has spoken quite clearly about who one of their leaders is.
That leader is Chuck Turner.
He may not be young. He may not be especially willing to spout communitarian pleasantries to genteel aristocrats in return for foundation grants. He may not march lockstep with the local Democratic political machine. But he's authentic. He's tough. He knows where his community has been. And he has some good ideas about where his community should go. Most importantly of all, we've seen every indication that he truly believes in democracy.
And that last, when all is said and done, is more than enough reason for Open Media Boston to continue to maintain that people should not rush to judge him in advance of a full and fair hearing of his case. And now further - with the today's new twists fresh in our minds - to say that we think Turner's going to emerge from this crisis with honor intact in the not-too-distant future.
And no news organization will be more pleased to see him back in the game than this one.
Full Disclosure: Open Media Boston Editor/Publisher Jason Pramas has maintained friendly working relations with Councilor Chuck Turner for a few years - first as Director of the labor-community non-profit Massachusetts Global Action (formerly Campaign on Contingent Work), then as a graduate student at UMass Boston. Pramas remains on the Board of Directors of Massachusetts Global Action - which does project work with Turner. Pramas also met with Turner at his City Hall office to discuss Open Media Boston last year.