^ then candidate Walsh, with State Representative Liz Malia and (r) Ken Brissette, at a Club Cafe fundraiser on September 12, 2013 (photo by this writer)
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It was hardly unexpected; yet the indictment of Ken Brissette, by the Feds in Massachusetts, stunned me nonetheless. It had been twenty years since a top City of Boston official was indicted and almost forty since corruption was challenged throughout a Mayor’s administration.
The indictment not only accused; it implied. Much can be read into its simple but suggestible sentences. (Read the indictment itself here : https://www.scribd.com/doc/313153213/Brissette-Kenneth-Indictment )
Who were the “more than one other City official” who made the demands, upon arts companies — so the indictment seems to say — that Brissette is charged with ? If these others did the same, why were they not also indicted ?
Did Brissette demand, on his own hook, that Boston Calling hire union workers or else get no permits ? It seems unlikely that a department head, as Brissette was, would make such a risky — illegal, according to two officials who are said to have warned him –demand on his own whim. Especially after being warned of its illegality — as the indictment states took place — Brissette had to know that to continue doing what he is said to have done would put the Mayor at risk. After all, wasn’t the purpose of the warning, from the City’s then Director of Operations, to make sure that Brissette didn’t dirty the Mayor ?
At this point I wish to engage in some speculation about what probably took place. I state right here that nothing I am about to speculate arises from evidence; but I am not looking to put the law on anyone. All I want to do is to emphasize the drama of it all, because when power is on the move, the motives and relationships of those who move it speak vividly, as Shakespeare, for one, knew so very well. So let me begin :
1.Ken Brissette is not simply a City department head (Office of Tourism and Entertainment). During the 2013 Mayor campaign he hosted a significant fundraiser for Mayor Walsh, one that I attended (see my photograph above). At the time, Walsh’s rival., John Connolly, was close to gathering the support of almost all of Boston’s gay activists — a significant voting block. Walsh had only State Representative Liz Malia; Connolly had much more support. Then came Brissette’s fundraiser, at Club Cafe, with Malia delivering a passionate speech about how Walsh, as a legislator, had made the difference in securing marriage equality from a ballot challenge. Walsh then spoke, to a gathering of more than 50 gay community leaders. Walsh did not win a majority of gay voters on election day, but he halved Connolly’s expected lead.
2.The “Director of Operations” referred to in the Brissette indictment is Joe Rull, who field-directed Walsh’s election team. (disclosure : Rull is a friend of mine whose friendship I treasure. I know no person more effective or honorable than he.) No one who worked the 2013 Walsh campaign had any doubt of Rull’s authority. None could possibly doubt his authority once Walsh became Mayor. A warning call from Rull to Brissette, as the indictment states was made, would have been suicidal for Brissette to not heed. Yet according to the indictment, he went ahead anyway. And was not disciplined. Whence arises two questions : ( a ) did Rull make that call to dissuade Brissette or simply to give Mayor Walsh cover ? ( b ) if Rull meant the call to be a warning, not cover, did Brissette read it wrong ? Did he read it as a “cover call “?
3.That’s not the end of it. Rull eventually left his powerful position at City hall to join the action team at Boston 2024. Some speculated that he had lost a “power battle” with Walsh’s Chief of Staff, Daniel Arrigh Koh; that Rull’s traditional politics style did not fit Koh’s technocratic methods. This seemed a reasonable explanation. Rull is old school, as am I. But now I wonder. Rull was a Menino man; and I am wondering if the call he is said to have made to Brissette was a Menino kind of call, in short, a warning in fact and not a “cover call” : because Menino always did things the right way, and integrity is Rull’s reputation as well. And if it was a warning, did that not sit well with the Mayor, because ?
To repeat : who were the other City officials referred to in the indictment (“at least one other official…”) ? How come Brissette was charged and not they ? Are they co-operating with the investigation as it pursues yet other officials not named or even alluded to ?
No one will say or probably will ever say. These are the sorts of secrets, if they are true, that people in politics take to their grave. Yet the questions that I have asked are being asked right now by everyone in city politics, because everyone in it has been faced with similar situations, and all of us have had to figure out just how we would respond when the facing faces us.
Beyond the personal, I ask these questions because as long as they hang in the air, the entire careful arrangement of Massachusetts governance is at risk. Walsh and Governor Baker are basically a team, and their togetherness has allowed both men to effect major reforms and to advance a strongly pro-business agenda on every front. Walsh’s firm support assures Baker of a big vote in Boston come 2018, just as it assures Walsh of a strong taxpayer and business vote in his own upcoming re-election. Were Walsh now to be weakened — or to no longer be Mayor — much of this would change radically, for Baker too. The most likely alternative Mayor, Michelle Wu, disagrees profoundly with Baker’s charter schools program and with his pro-business, no-new-tax principles. And a weakened Walsh faces a likely re-election opponent even more radically anti-Baker than Wu would probably be.
Will there be other City official indictments ? Will Walsh’s conduct as a major Labor leader in 2012 — which is also being investigated by the Feds — be his downfall ? I have no idea, but until these questions are resolved, Walsh will have to push his re-election campaign against the tide of a passionately uncompromising minority. So far, Walsh has by far the upper hand, because City taxpayers want no part of the teacher’s union’s contract tactics and because the City’s strong charter schools constituency stands solidly behind him. Walsh has enjoyed favorability numbers as high as Baker’s despite major defeats ( Boston 2024, Indy Car Race, several political endorsements ). His potential opponent, however, has his own strong following, and a big issue : the Boston Public Schools budget. Still most of the public gives Walsh A for effort — and an A for results. He will need its life-giving self-confidence, and more of it, but also some luck, and better newsdays, if he hopes to prevail against the various swarms now gathering against him.
—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere