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Yvonne Abraham

Bill Linehan is priceless

Bill Linehan sang during a St. Patrick’s Day breakfast in South Boston last March.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

To: John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, Columbia Point, Boston

Dear members of the committee:

Though mine cannot be the first such letter you have received in recent days, I would like add my voice to those of the many who have nominated City Council President Bill Linehan for a Profile in Courage Award.

Rarely have we seen a public figure so determined to do what he believes is right in the face of near-unanimous public disapproval, to press a cause with unabated passion, even though doing so makes him seem the quintessential tone-deaf throwback.

Any public servant can push for a giant pay raise for himself in January. It takes a man of true conviction, and yes, courage, to do it during election season.

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Linehan and some of his fellow councilors believe their $87,500 salary is a sorry under-valuation of their immense worth to the city. Councilor and Olympics fiscal watchdog Tito Jackson put it best last October.

“In my mind, public service should not be a subscription to poverty,” said Jackson, who represents actual poor people.

Hear, hear! Jackson spoke those words as nine of these 13 impoverished councilors voted to bump up their pay to $107,500. That’s higher than the salaries of the House speaker and the Senate president, who have, some point out unkindly, actual power and purpose.

In an act of towering arrogance, Mayor Marty Walsh vetoed that raise, citing “fiscal responsibility” and “transparency.” He convened a panel to determine what salary might be appropriate for the council crusaders. After comparing that august body with those in other cities, the panel came back with a measly $97,000. Not even six figures! Linehan convened a hearing to make his oppressors answer for that affront to human dignity.

Ladies and gentlemen, I defy you to view footage of that hearing Thursday without weeping. How moving it is to see a man fight for a cause no greater than himself.

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“Someone has to stand up,” said Linehan, summoning the fury of the just. “We’re doing it right in the middle of our election, nobody else’s. But we’re not going to back down!”

Linehan left a $103,000-a-year job in City Hall to run for City Council, he said. He’d made sacrifices. They all had.

Now, you could argue they knew what they were getting into when they sought office. And true, many would kill to be in their shoes, even at a paltry $87,500, let alone $97,000.

But is that any reason they should suffer so — and be insulted too? Councilor Frank Baker was outraged that the report had dared to compare Boston’s City Council to those in lesser locales, like — Ew! — Virginia Beach.

“You’re gonna tell us we’re anything like Virginia Beach?” he sputtered. “I find that disrespectful.”

Only the brave say such things out loud, with the preliminary election less than three weeks away.

“We’re in the most difficult position,” lamented Councilor Stephen Murphy, a man recently persecuted for handing jobs to buddies. “We have to vote on our own salary, and the voters don’t like that.”

No, they don’t. Now, ungenerous souls might advise the good councilors to take the money and run, before people start to notice how little some of them do. But that would be the coward’s way out. And Linehan is no coward. He fears no foe and in fact has none to fear, being unopposed in this fall’s election (like some of his colleagues).

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To be fair, Linehan has never been afraid to press his own interests, no matter how bad it looks. Who could forget his valiant effort — even in the face of victimization by the tyrants at the NAACP — to gerrymander his own district, splitting the vote in Chinatown to strengthen his own incumbency?

What a leader. What a Profile in Courage.

More than underpaid, Bill Linehan is priceless.


Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at yvonne.abraham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeAbraham.