Three Glaring ‘Present’ Votes On Boston City Council

Councilors opt out of resolution commemorating Brown v. Board of Education, citing busing history.

The past is never dead, as William Faulkner famously wrote; it’s not even past. Boston demonstrated that truism once again Wednesday as an attempt to commemorate a historic event of the 1950s ran up against scars from the busing crisis of the 1970s.

Three Boston City Councilors, including council president Bill Linehan of South Boston, voted “present” rather than expressing approval of a resolution honoring the 60th anniversary of the landmark Brown v Board of Education Supreme Court decision desegregating schools.

The resolution was offered by councilors Ayanna Pressley and Charles Yancey. After a series of introductory clauses describing the case, the resolution proclaimed that the Council “honors this historic achievement and recommits to upholding the philosophical goals of Brown v. the Board of Education”; and that the Council “pledges to uphold the same principles in making sure that the City of Boston provides equal opportunities for all students to succeed in Boston Public Schools.”

Sal LaMattina of East Boston, and at-large councilor Stephen Murphy, were the other two who voted present. The resolution passed with votes from the other 10 councilors.

LaMattina suggests that Yancey, knowing the contentious issue of busing in Boston, “set me up” by calling for a roll call rather than voice vote.

“I didn’t want to get into a debate regarding forced busing in Boston,” LaMattina says. He would have supported a resolution that spoke only about the Brown decision, he says. “The intent of the law I agree with, but the way it was implemented in Boston, I don’t,” La Mattina says. “If you look at the past 40 years, they did it wrong; so that’s why I voted present.”

Murphy said much the same—that Yancey unfairly “sprang it on us,” and that “no one opposes Brown v. Board of Education, but the implementation here in Boston was forced busing. That’s what I was voting against.”

Neither Linehan or Yancey returned calls for comment.

  • matthew731

    David, do you have the text of the resolution? From what you quote, it sounds like they were objecting to language that wasn’t in there! Especially disappointing from Murphy.

  • johnakeith

    Matt, I don’t see it mentioned in the city clerk’s “official” agenda & minutes reports:

  • theszak

    Review the Stenograph Record of this Public Meeting of Boston City Council recorded by City Stenographer Ellen Fritch

  • FrancisMcManus

    The three councilors who backed away from their ‘present’ vote are stating their reservation for voting ‘yes’ lies in “the way integrating schools was implemented in Boston.”

    I’m not sure the language of the resolution implied any approval of how Brown v BOE was implemented just it’s philosophical goal of not separate equal opportunity.

    It also seems to me it would have been easy enough to amend the resolution to note their objection and get unanimous approval unless what they’re shoveling now is a snow job.

    This city council vote begs a question, if forced busing was the last resort of politics that would find no other way to integrate, what would we do today to resolve the issue of segregation in our public schools? The vote of this resolution leeds me to believe this city council could not come to a consensus on how to desegregate Boston Pubilc Schools.

  • theszak

    Coverage of Boston City Council is lacking because metro journalists fail the lesson of I.F. Stone. See also

    >”scour and devour public documents… debates and reports, all the time prospecting for news nuggets…” >>””I tried to give information which could be documented, so the reader could check it for himself…Reporters tend to be absorbed by the bureaucracies they cover; they take on the habits, attitudes, and even accents…””

    At one time journalists were stenographic reporters. Now so called journalists fail even to ask for, retrieve, review the Stenograph Record available from Boston City Council. It’s notable that training in journalism schools fail instructing how to discover and interpret evidence recorded in available documentation as well as verbal sources.

    Ironic also when campaign time rolls around Councilors themselves could use the Stenograph Record to foster discussion drawing more attention to important issues for which they want their campaign to be known more widely. For example, Councilor Yancey could post the Stenograph Record of what was said, gather some response and reply to the responses. Mayor Walsh beginning to set such an example with a variety of media could be used as a model.

  • ProPeople

    As you remind us “The past is never dead, as William Faulkner famously wrote; it’s not even past.” When I read that the president of the Boston City Council wouldn’t support the resolution and hasn’t responded to questions about his vote, I remember that Michelle Wu’s decision to support Linehan for CC president is not past or dead.

  • Matt

    If the goal was to celebrate the Brown decision, then they handled it badly. There were plenty of other ways to do this.
    If the goal was to embarrass the other councilors, then they handled it perfectly.
    Clearly, they did what they did.
    When thinking about the ineffectiveness of a certain long-standing city councilor, people should first look to a long history of this kind of behavior before jumping to other conclusions.