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City Council session opens in tiff over office assignments

Council president election played role, observers say

A STELLAR VISTA: City Councilor Michelle Wu worked in her office that overlooks Faneuil Hall. Wu backed Bill Linehan for council president.

Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

A STELLAR VISTA: City Councilor Michelle Wu worked in her office that overlooks Faneuil Hall. Wu backed Bill Linehan for council president.

Josh Zakim’s new fifth-floor office is in a dark, dingy section of City Hall. It has barren cement walls and a window with a view of an unsightly heating and air conditioning system.

Still, Zakim, a freshman district councilman from Mission Hill, prefers to focus on the bright side.

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“I’m happy with this office,’’ he said, looking at the desolate floor. “We bought carpet and will put it down.”

Across the hallway on the opposite side of the building, another new councilman Timothy McCarthy has reasons to cheer. His office is bigger, and the wall was painted stark blue by his predecessor Rob Consalvo. Along the wall is a wooden shelf that McCarthy adorned with framed photographs of his family. The view of Faneuil Hall is spectacular.

A CRAMPED VIEW: Councilor Josh Zakim’s office overlooks cement walls. Zakim backed Ayanna Pressley.

Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

A CRAMPED VIEW: Councilor Josh Zakim’s office overlooks cement walls. Zakim backed Ayanna Pressley.

“It actually worked out for me,’’ said McCarthy, district councilor from Hyde Park.

It’s a new term on the Boston City Council, and some political observers say this year’s office assignments can be construed as reward or payback for the vote for council president, whose duties include assigning office spaces, parking spots, and committee chairmanships.

McCarthy voted for controversial South Boston district councilman Bill Linehan, who many regard as an old-guard politician.

Zakim voted for councilor Ayanna Pressley, a progressive candidate who mounted a last-minute challenge to Linehan.

“It’s the president’s choice,’’ said a former councilor who asked not to be named. “The practice has been that if you were a freshman you were lucky you got in the building.”

Linehan said this year’s office assignments had nothing to do with councilors’ preference for president and that he didn’t even make them. Still, three of the four incoming council members who backed Linehan got plum office space with bright views of Faneuil Hall.

Besides McCarthy, the others with the choice views are at-large Councilor Michael Flaherty, who left the council and returned, and at-large Councilor Michelle Wu, who withstood mounting political pressure to change her pledged vote to Linehan.

Frank Baker, Dorchester district councilor, also got swanky office digs. He had initially pledged his vote to Pressley or two other council progressives for the presidency, but then backed Linehan.

By contrast, Zakim was assigned an office in the dim belly of the fifth floor. He sits nearest to Mission Hill District Councilor Matt O’Malley, Roxbury District Councilor Tito Jackson, and Pressley, an at-large councilor from Dorchester.

All voted for Pressley as council president. O’Malley and Jackson also mounted unsuccessful challenges for the council’s top job.

Linehan said the task of assigning offices belonged to former City Council president Stephen J. Murphy, an at-large councilor from Hyde Park.

Linehan acknowledged that, as president, he could have chosen to reassign the offices, but he said that except for Baker, none of the other councilors expressed an interest in a new office.

Councilor Timothy McCarthy landed a City Hall office with a peachy view of Faneuil Hall.

Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

Councilor Timothy McCarthy landed a City Hall office with a peachy view of Faneuil Hall.

“This is not punitive,’’ Linehan said. “How can it be punitive when no one came forward? I have not had a direct request for an office other than Frank Baker and that was resolved by the previous president.”

Murphy, who had committed to voting for Linehan long before the vote, said the mystery over the office assignments can be easily solved.

“It’s very simple,’’ he said. “The ones who asked for offices received them.”

Murphy said that as of Dec. 25, the offices held by former councilors and mayoral candidates Felix G. Arroyo, Consalvo, Michael P. Ross, and John R. Connolly were available for new occupants. As president, Murphy said it was his job to fill the vacancies.

He said McCarthy expressed an interest in Consalvo’s old office on the east side of the building facing Faneuil Hall. McCarthy and Wu wanted offices next to each other, Murphy said.

Flaherty asked for his old office back, and Baker was given Linehan’s former space.

Council offices are located on the fifth floor of City Hall. Nine of the offices are on the side of the building where the council chamber is located. Each has its own bathroom.

Four of those offices face City Hall Plaza on Tremont Street. The veteran councilors occupy those spots: Charles Yancey of Mattapan, Sal LaMattina of East Boston, Mark Ciommo of Allston, and Murphy, who moved into Ross’s old office.

The other four offices — occupied by Zakim, Pressley, Jackson, and O’Malley — are in the interior of the building and have windows facing a bleak side of City Hall.

The council president’s office is also in that area.

On the opposite side of the fifth floor, down a massive hallway and through a set of glass doors, are where Wu, McCarthy, Flaherty, and Baker have bright offices. While those offices lack personal bathrooms, the view is noteworthy.

“We’re still settling in and getting our own bulletin boards and maps,’’ said Wu. “It’s great to have a space here. It’s a great view, but I didn’t come to City hall to look out the window.”

Controversy over who gets the lofty office spaces is not new on the fifth floor. In fact for years, a good office has been a useful bargaining tool for candidates vying for council presidency.

Consalvo, a district councilor 12 years, said that he had been eyeing Maura Hennigan’s council office after her failed bid for mayor in 2005. At the time, Flaherty had been wooing Consalvo in his presidency bid.

Consalvo said that he had wanted to free himself and his staff from the “dark, dingy” interior of the building, and Flaherty was his way into the lighter side of the building.

“He asked me what I wanted. He said ‘do you want chair a special committee — the House and Ways — and I said ‘No. I just want Maura’s old office,’ ’’ recalled Consalvo.

That year, newcomer Sam Yoon assumed he would get the vacant office and began moving in.

“I had to talk to him about it a little bit,’’ Consalvo recalled jokingly. “So, I had to kick him out.”

Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.
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