Bill Linehan Elected As New City Council President

In an 8 to 5 vote, the South Boston representative was selected to take over the cherished seat.

It didn’t happen without a fight—and some hissing from the crowd—but following an 8 to 5 vote during the first meeting of 2014, Bill Linehan was selected to a two-year term as City Council President.

“I am forever grateful and will not let you, or Boston down,” Linehan said on Monday, just hours after Mayor Marty Walsh took over for Tom Menino.

Elected to office in 2007, Linehan, a South Boston resident, trumped Councilor at-large Ayanna Pressley, who scooped just five of the 13 votes, including her own, in a bid to take the seat in what’s considered a badge of honor within City Hall.

Linehan, who has voted against measures such as expanding the liquor license laws in Boston by relinquishing state control, a proposal floated by Pressley and signed off by former mayor Menino, is viewed as one of the more conservative members of the Council.

Before the vote was made official, and Linehan addressed the Council as its new president, Pressley outlined reasons why she felt she would be a better fit for the designation.

“Several days ago Mayor Menino signed my home rule petition to restore the antiquated liquor license laws. He recognized the importance of such an endeavor…in fostering economic development and building wealth and community,” Pressley said, pointing to her own progressive legislation. “The person who leads this body should not just have a citywide vision, but a proven commitment to residents throughout the city. I am answerable to residents in all 12 neighborhoods, and my works has reflected that.”

Pressley holds an at-large seat, which means she represents all of the city’s districts, whereas Linehan holds the District 5 seat, representing South Boston.

While Pressley garnered a screaming applause from constituents packed into City Hall during the vote, she was unable to sway Linehan supporters—specifically, newcomer Michelle Wu, an at-large councilor who drew criticism from her own supporters when she announced she would vote for Linehan back in December.

When it was Wu’s turn to cast her vote, people in the crowd started to make hissing sounds.

While some may view Linehan’s role as a step backward for Boston, citing his voting record and certain views he has had on issues that have divided the city, professor Peter Ubertaccio, Director of the Joseph Martin Institute for Law and Society at Stonehill College, said being Council President puts an elected official “close to a position of power,” but ultimately it’s just symbolic.

“It’s not likely going to change politics in the city, and I think that were it not for Michelle Wu’s decision to back him early, it probably wouldn’t have generated so much attention,” he said. “Her decision to back him so early made this a much bigger story.”

Ubertaccio said it’s the mayor that really sets the tone of the city, and while the Council president can set the agenda and select members of subcommittees, it’s Walsh that will need to move Boston forward. “If Boston is going to have a more progressive future, then it’s going to be because of the mayor, and what the mayor has put into place,” he said.

The other caveat, however, is that if Walsh were to seek higher office during his four-year term, or for some reason gave up his seat, Linehan would assume the role of mayor of Boston—something that has only ever happened once before when Menino took the reins from former Mayor Ray Flynn in 1993.

As for Wu’s vote, Ubertaccio said the newly elected Councilor has time to show her commitment to a progressive Boston. “I think she will have plenty of opportunities to demonstrate that,” said Ubertaccio.

At the conclusion of the tense vote on Monday, Linehan’s remarks were followed by an introduction, and words of insight from Boston’s newest mayor.

Walsh said he looked forward to working with Linehan over the next two years, and addressed the newcomers. “It’s an exciting time,” he said. “It’s such a rewarding job.”

Walsh told the Council there would be times that they don’t always see eye-to-eye on city issues, but that’s to be expected. “Leave the fight on the floor,” he said.