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Brian McGrory

A model city councilor

It’s not every day that a member of that august legislative body known as the Boston City Council does something so extraordinary, so outside the limits of perceived possibility, that it must be publicly acknowledged. But today is one of those days.

Consider Charles Yancey, the representative from Mattapan and parts of Dorchester who is now serving his 15th term. He is uniformly described as a good and capable man who takes his family and his position seriously, but that’s not really the point.

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No, the point is his monthly newsletter, a city-funded publication blasted by e-mail to some 13,000 constituents and other assorted recipients. These political newsletters are always dicey affairs - elected officials, unfiltered, leading with their ego to the world.

State Treasurer Steve Grossman, for example, recently sent an e-mail blast (“A message from Treasurer Grossman’’) with a document titled “The Grossman Agenda,’’ which began with a photograph of his smiling face and a quote from what was described as his “Inaugural Address, January 19, 2011.’’ Every reader had the same thought at the same time: The state treasurer delivers an inaugural address?

But all this is child’s play compared with Yancey. You want pictures of the councilor? Step right into the January newsletter, where there are two photographs of Yancey on the front page, one with several state legislators, the other in a summer shirt on a warm day. “Dean of the Boston City Council,’’ the banner declares.

Then he gets serious. Page Two features a quarter-page photograph of Yancey with Santa Claus and some musicians. By Page Three, we have Yancey flanked by board members from a local nonprofit, Yancey with more state representatives, Yancey with City Council president Steve Murphy. The supporting cast changes but the look never does - teeth showing, cheeks flaring, eyes slightly crinkled.

Page Four shows Yancey with a former mayor of Denver, Yancey with a former prime minister of Cape Verde, Yancey with the president of Malawi, Yancey with a minister from Dallas. Does he ever find the time to say anything beyond “Cheese!’’ ?

A brief review of a year’s worth of e-mailed newsletters found Yancey with Barney Frank, Yancey with the Nutcracker dancing bear, Yancey with multiple Santas, Yancey with his wife marking their 42d anniversary, Yancey laying a wreath for veterans with an inset of him talking at a podium, presumably at the same event. His image fills each newsletter from 18 to 25 times.

Then there’s the famous December 2010 issue. It started innocently with a pair of Yancey pictures on the cover (One takes up the entire top half of the page), three on Page Two, and four on Page Three. Page Four breaks dramatic new ground: Five - count ’em, 5 - Yancey pictures on the page, a quinfecta if there is such a thing.

In the chamber, Yancey’s colleagues have quietly taken note of the video camera that whirs every time the councilor from Mattapan rises to speak. They’ve seen his loyal staffer shadowing him across the district with a digital camera. They watch as he’s drawn to even their flashbulbs like the proverbial moth to a flame, his face often appearing in the background at the exact right time.

The grand slam of all political newsletters, the one City Hall wags are still talking about, arrived in December. It featured not just one five-Yancey page, but two, part of an issue that carried 32 Yancey images, a personal record to be sure and perhaps a world record. First-born children in Wellesley aren’t photographed this much.

Of course, some councilors inevitably question Yancey’s effectiveness as they suggest that the photo ops come at the expense of the rough-and-tumble work of city governance.

Don’t be so sure. After spending time with his newsletter, it’s hard to not think of Yancey as a model city councilor. Or maybe that’s a councilor who thinks he’s a model.

McGrory is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at mcgrory@globe.com.
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