Months of friction among Boston city councilors continued to spill out publicly Wednesday, as the body’s president criticized two of his colleagues for bringing “negative attention to the institution” after one was allegedly driving with a revoked license and the other admitted to an ethics violation.
It was the latest broadside in an ongoing conflict on the legislative body that has pitted some progressive councilors of color against some of their more conservative white colleagues. Recently, that dynamic has seen accusations of transphobia, one councilor comparing his colleagues to pigs, and allegations that some have incited violent threats to the city’s first Muslim councilor.
Joyce Ferriabough Bolling, a longtime local political strategist and City Hall observer, lamented the animus on display in the council, saying she is concerned it is getting in the way of serving Boston.
“I think everybody needs to put aside some of the negativity that’s personal and get to the business of serving the people in the city,” Ferriabough Bolling said. “Because that’s the job.”
Council President Ed Flynn’s Wednesday press release admonishing two of his colleagues comes days after Councilor Kendra Lara crashed into a Jamaica Plain yard while allegedly driving an uninsured car with a revoked license and with her 7-year-old son not in a booster seat. It also comes a week after Councilor Ricardo Arroyo paid a $3,000 fine for representing his brother in a sexual harassment lawsuit involving the city while serving on the council.
“The people of Boston deserve the highest standards of strong and ethical leadership,” Flynn said in his statement. “Moreover, they want elected officials who show maturity, take responsibility as adults, and demonstrate the ability to follow the same basic rules and norms as the people they serve when placing us in positions of public trust.”
Arroyo and Lara did not respond to inquiries about Flynn’s statements Wednesday.
Flynn, a white South Boston native and the son of a former mayor, is known as a centrist, pro-police councilor. Lara, a Black Dominican American, and Arroyo, a scion of a politically influential Latino family in Boston, are both unabashed progressives on a council that has tilted leftward in recent years.
Flynn has previously had spats with Arroyo. Most notably last year, when Flynn stripped Arroyo of his council chairmanships in the wake of the surfacing of years-old sexual misconduct allegations against Arroyo. Arroyo vehemently denied those allegations and was never charged with a crime. That clash would eventually hang over a bumpy redistricting process that saw a federal court reject a new map the council had approved. At least three councilors helped fund that lawsuit against the city to strike down the map.
Flynn’s comments came a week to the day after intra-council tensions were laid bare during a marathon meeting where the council tackled the annual operating budget just days before the start of the new fiscal year.
During that meeting, Councilor Tania Fernandes Anderson, the first Muslim elected to the City Council, said she had received death threats, as well as Islamophobic and xenophobic messages amid this year’s budget planning. Fernandes Anderson is the chair of the council’s ways and means committee, which serves a central role in overseeing the budget process. She had supported overrides to Mayor Michelle Wu’s proposed spending plan.
“Some people in this building, my colleagues, incite some of [these] violent threats,” Fernandes Anderson said.
In that same meeting, a frustrated Councilor Frank Baker said councilors acted like pigs during the budgetary process, comparing the proceedings to “dirty pool” and calling the actions of the city’s legislative body “dangerous.”
The meeting also featured Lara criticizing the comments some of her colleagues made after a woman was found dead in a South Boston public housing complex and four children were taken into state custody. She said at least three of her colleagues behaved in a way that lacked empathy and respect for the deceased, adding that some officials misgendered the transgender women involved and mischaracterized the conditions of the apartment.
Specifically, Lara referenced councilors’ comments regarding allegations of sex toys found in the apartment. Councilor Michael Flaherty told The Boston Herald, “there were drugs, alcohol, sex toys all around the apartment as well as a dead body on the floor.” Councilor Erin Murphy made similar comments to NBC10.
Flaherty, a former prosecutor who announced Wednesday that he’s not running for reelection, also told the paper that the dead body in the apartment was “from an apparent overdose” and that “a man wearing a wig claiming to be the father” of the children was found in a bedroom.
Lara said the stories of sex toys were “unsubstantiated to date,” adding that such rhetoric furthers “the false narrative that our trans siblings are sexual deviants who our children need to be protected from.”
The death at the Mary Ellen McCormack development prompted the council to consider holding a hearing to discuss reviewing the procedures of the Boston Housing Authority, which manages the property.
But even that sparked controversy on the council, as members argued over which council committee should host such a hearing. Flynn wanted to send the matter to Flaherty’s public safety committee, while Lara tried to deploy parliamentary moves to ensure it landed in her housing committee. Ultimately, the hearing was referred to both committees.
During a recent walking tour of the Mary Ellen McCormack development, Flaherty told the Globe he stood by what he said and had no regrets about his comments.