Progressive activists continued to reel Thursday at incoming councilor Michelle Wu’s decision to back Bill Linehan’s bid for the council presidency, a move that has turned some once-vocal supporters of Wu into ardent detractors.
Wu does not become a councilor for another month, but her pledged support of Linehan — who is seen as one of the council’s most conservative members — for the body’s presidency has prompted vows by some former supporters to oppose her if she seeks reelection in 2015.
“This is a betrayal of progressive values,” said Annie Rousseau, a community activist in Jamacia Plain and cochairwoman of the Ward 11 Democratic Committee, who supported Wu’s council candidacy. “If she doesn’t change her mind, moving forward, we will find a true progressive who can run and represent the city.”
The council presidency was actively sought by Linehan as well as Councilors Matt O’Malley of Jamaica Plain and Tito Jackson of Roxbury, who are both viewed as more liberal options.
According to several city officials, Linehan had lined up five votes, and either O’Malley or Jackson — who each agreed to support the other in the event he could not amass enough votes — could have a five-vote coalition, leaving all three men vying for the support of council newcomers Wu and Timothy McCarthy to hit the seven-vote threshold needed to be elected council president.
City council presidency at issue
Earlier this week, Linehan announced that he believed he had secured seven votes, including the support of both McCarthy and Wu, who was seen by many as the final deciding vote.
That announcement enraged some progressives who actively supported Wu’s council bid, prompting her to issue a lengthy statement Wednesday defending the decision. She has argued Linehan’s experience uniquely qualifies him to “guide the council procedurally.”
“I believe Bill is the best person for the job,” Wu wrote.
That did not soften the criticism, with some progressive activists vowing Thursday to oppose any potential reelection bid by her in 2015 if she backs Linehan for council president.
“I personally am holding out hope that she’ll change her mind,” said Katie Forde of Roslindale, who volunteered for Wu during the campaign .
“[Progressives] want her to be the Michelle that they voted for,” she said.
Linehan has represented South Boston, Chinatown, and the South End since 2007 and is considered by some to represent an old guard of Boston politics. He has come under fire for his support of excluding gay and lesbian groups from marching in South Boston’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade, as well as his initial opposition to allowing state Senator Linda Dorcena Forry, a Haitian-
American, to host next year’s traditionally Irish-themed political breakfast held the same day.
“Councilor Linehan’s regressive attitude and track record of antiquated ideas speaks for itself,” Keri Lorenzo, vice president of Mass NOW, the state chapter of the national feminist activist organization, said in a statement Thursday.
Wu’s husband, Ward 4 Democratic Committee chairman Conor Pewarski, poured salt in the wound Thursday when he took to Twitter in an attempt to defend his wife, seemingly arguing that she does not need progressive support.
The tweet prompted further backlash from progressives, many of whom threatened to withhold their support for Wu in the next election.
Pewarski, who could not be reached for comment, later deactivated his Twitter account.
Meanwhile, Wu continued to reiterate to both supporters and reporters Thursday that she has no plans to withdraw her support for Linehan's bid for the presidency.
With many liberal voters vehemently opposed to a Linehan council presidency, Jackson has renewed efforts to get the seven votes needed to win the post, according to some city officials.
Those efforts by Jackson, who is one of council’s three black members, could reframe the debate by setting up a Jackson v. Linehan dynamic rather than a showdown between Linehan and O'Malley, who are both Irish-American.
“If she ends up being the deciding factor that makes it so Tito does not become the City Council president, it definitely demonstrates that she is more Old Boston than she is New Boston,” said the Rev. James Hills, a Jamaica Plain pastor and former adviser to Mayor Thomas M. Menino.
“Unless [Wu] changes her mind around this vote, she’s done.” Hills said. “She’s a one-term city councilor.”