There were no disruptions like last time they met, but tensions still simmered at Wednesday’s Boston City Council meeting, with a collection of councilors calling for Ricardo Arroyo to be reinstated as chairman of two significant council committees.
Council President Ed Flynn stripped Arroyo of his vice presidency of the council and the chairmanships of the committees for government operations and redistricting after years-old sexual assault allegations against Arroyo surfaced in the closing weeks of his campaign for Suffolk district attorney.
Arroyo has vehemently denied any wrongdoing. He lost the Democratic primary for Suffolk DA last week to Kevin Hayden.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Arroyo, along with five of his council colleagues, rose to call for him to be returned to his leadership posts. The decision ultimately rests with Flynn, who did not directly address whether he planned to reinstate Arroyo’s chairmanships.
Arroyo said the move to take away his committee posts was unprecedented in the city’s modern history, that it was done in an arbitrary manner, and that he did not break any laws or council rules.
“There was a rush to judgment,” said Arroyo, a 34-year-old former public defender from Hyde Park.
He said he never received a call or text explaining the decision to take his chairmanships away. Flynn responded by saying he has an open door policy in his office and that he would welcome the opportunity to speak with Arroyo.
The discussion of Arroyo’s chairmanships came during talk of a hearing order to review council rules and protocols that Flynn had pushed after a previous council meeting earlier this month devolved into chaos. Hecklers disrupted proceedings with shouts and taunts, councilors traded verbal barbs, and a literal brawl erupted outside the council chamber after the public was ejected from the meeting because of the interruptions. That meeting revealed a very raw divide on the council, with some councilors of color directly or indirectly accusing their white colleagues of racism.
In a late August letter to the city clerk, Flynn said his decision to remove Arroyo from his leadership positions is “what I believe to be in the best interest of the Boston City Council as a legislative body.” Flynn said he has “decided to temporarily readjust committee assignments” and would “reassess” the decision at the end of 60 days.
The committee on government operations examines proposed laws that affect city departments, commissions, and agencies. The redistricting committee is currently charged with drawing new council district lines in a once-in-a-decade process, and maps are due in November. Arroyo has charged that stripping him of that chairmanship was an attempt to meddle in that redistricting process.
Flynn’s decision came after a Boston Globe report revealed Arroyo was twice investigated — though never charged — for possible sexual assault as a teenager.
Wednesday’s meeting was much more subdued than the previous meeting earlier this month, but the body was still clearly divided.
Councilor Kendra Lara said the removal of Arroyo, who is Latino, from his council posts “is another embodiment of unfair and unequal treatment of councilors of color.” She said it was going to be difficult for the council to work together “if there isn’t some action to restore faith and trust.”
“With all the information that is available to us now there is no reason to wait 60 days for consideration,” said Lara.
Councilor Ruthzee Louijeune, who also supported giving Arroyo back his chairmanships, spoke of the importance of having a frank dialogue about the fact that councilors are not always going to agree politically but that voters sent them to the city’s legislative body to do work.
“The bickering, the back and forth, the political attacks, are not what they sent us here to do,” she said. “They sent us here to do the work.”
Councilor Kenzie Bok was not among those to explicitly call for Arroyo to return to his committee posts. She said while she was horrified by the racial abuse some of her colleagues are subjected to, she was hurt by the implication that the white councilors on the body were not interested in having “deeply equitable” redistricting maps for Boston.
The city has less than two months to complete the new maps, she said.
“I think there’s a super majority on this council for a strongly equitable redistricting map,” she said. “I think that is true regardless of who is holding the gavel of the redistricting committee.”
Ultimately, Flynn’s hearing order was referred to the council’s committee on rules and administration.