The Reverend Eugene F. Rivers III, the iconoclastic Dorchester minister, is the kind of public figure a lot of journalists frankly have a soft spot for. An anticrime crusader prone to scrapping with opponents, a political operator who plays both sides of the aisle, an intellectual clergyman with a huckster’s flair for bombast, he’s given local and national reporters plenty to chew over during the years he’s spent working with at-risk youth as head of the Ella J. Baker House and founding member of the Ten Point Coalition. And Boston magazine has certainly played a role in his renown. We covered Rivers in a definitive 1996 profile, and, eight years later, in a lengthy feature about his reconciliation with former adversary Charles Stith, to cite two examples. Rivers defended the magazine during the uproar over our infamous “Head Negro in Charge” profile of Henry Louis Gates Jr. in 1998, and figured in another controversy when he was the only minority included in our May 2005 list of the 100 most powerful Bostonians.
This summer, Rivers was back in the news, this time in connection with a disquieting incident: A 17-year-old girl said she’d been raped in a Baker House bathroom by one of the ex-prisoners employed at the center, and she accused Rivers of trying to dissuade her from contacting the authorities. Rivers maintained he had handled the situation appropriately, and the grand jury investigating the case has since cleared him of wrongdoing. (The alleged rapist has been arraigned.) But now there are unrelated but no less troubling charges about how the minister has dealt with those who’ve crossed him [“Divine Wrath”]—and new doubts about how much longer he’ll stay on as president of the Baker House, which has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in public funding in the wake of the scandal. Whether or not Rivers will walk away this month, as some insiders claim—this being Rivers, there’s no guarantee he’ll do the expected—the article raises important questions about how a singular Boston leader has used his considerable influence.
The Rivers piece, I should note, was written by Herald police bureau chief Michele McPhee, who was first to report the Baker House rape allegations. Along with our Winter Escapes package [“Inn with the New”] and articles by our talented staffers, this issue also features stories brought to us by standout Globe alumni Tina Cassidy and Gerard O’Neill. That’s a helluva cast of guest stars, and I think you’ll enjoy what they bring to the mix this month.