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Yvonne Abraham

Nepotism? It’s alive and well in Boston politics

Councilor Stephen J. Murphy.Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff

Lordy, that Steve Murphy is so adorable!

Other elected officials might be sheepish about the fact that they’d used precious taxpayer dollars to hand a $75,000 salary to a buddy and neighbor with a supremely checkered history.

Not the at-large Boston councilor.

“Who would the Globe have me hire? My enemies?” he told our Andrew Ryan, giving the kind of unexpectedly candid interview one dreams of in journalism school. “I’m hiring my friends.”

Bless! As if those were his only two choices.

You’ve got to hand it to Murphy. His bespoke brand of nepotism is so pure, so steeped in Boston tradition, it is positively artisanal.


One of those friends is Robert E. Powers, a former clerk magistrate who was canned by the state’s highest court for despicable behavior including, but not limited to, being bigoted and abusive towards litigants, staff, and attorneys; falling behind in his work; and ordering staff to change the dates on his decisions to conceal the backlog.

What a peach. After a blockwide search (Powers lives four doors away in Hyde Park), Murphy settled on this guy to work in his office, which deals every day with constituents, aka people.

Murphy’s spokesman George Regan (the inescapable throwback among the city’s spinners), said in a statement that Powers deserved a second chance and “has proven to be a great fit.”

Let’s hope so: The former clerk magistrate is taking up a whopping one-third of Murphy’s staff budget (another Hyde Park crony, Pat Harrington, is also on the payroll). That doesn’t leave much for others, who ideally would reflect the geography and diversity of the city (a Regan staffer had a gender breakdown of Murphy’s five staffers but, oddly enough, could not provide one by race).

The Powers brouhaha is just the latest of many classic, and gorgeous, old-school moves in Murphy’s 19 years on the council. For example, he pushed for his political ally and friend, former councilor Maureen Feeney, to become city clerk after an anemic search process. When he was council president, he tried to grab more power by commandeering the council’s central staff, a group meant to assist all 13 councilors with research and budget issues. Shortly thereafter, he supported his supremely underqualified chief of staff, who just happens to be the sister of state Representative Michael Moran, to lead them.


This self-styled fiscal watchdog helped lead the fight for a council pay raise, delivering some high drama in the chamber as he called out the “out-of-town editorialists” who would question the need for a $25,000 bump in salary. (Murphy is good at drama — remember last year, when he demanded police Commissioner William Evans rush over to a hearing on horses, and a fuming Evans made Murphy look like a ninny, saying he’d been busy “trying to prevent kids getting shot on the streets”? Good times.)

Then there was the time Murphy pushed a measure to raise the number of signatures an at-large candidate needs to get on the ballot to 1,500 — a bar that favors incumbents like him.

Murphy, a protege of late, great dinosaur Dapper O’Neil, spent an awful long time trying to get on the council. Since then, he’s spent an awful long time trying to get off it, making runs at other jobs, including sheriff and treasurer.


But this year, he’s going to be at senior centers and VFW halls, asking Boston to send him back to City Hall yet again.

You should do it, people. Sure, it’s your money paying for his friends’ second careers. And yes, guys like him lend every councilor— some of whom are innovative and hard-working — a hackish hue.

But Murphy is one of our few remaining links to a glorious, more Curley-esque time, a time when tailors and scoundrels were king.

Sure, he’ll cost you. But as any devotee of handmade chocolate knows — you’ll be the ruin of me, L.A. Burdick! — tradition is pricey.

Two more years!

For old times’ sake, if for nobody else’s.

Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at yvonne.