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.