Two Councilors Criticize Mayor Walsh Over Probation Verdict Comments

It's Ayanna Pressley and Michelle Wu on one side, and Stephen Murphy along with Walsh on the other.

Mayor Marty Walsh’s recent comments about the John O’Brien probation patronage verdict have now drawn criticism from two City Councilors, while a third defended Walsh. The divide, with Ayanna Pressley and Michelle Wu on one side and Stephen Murphy on the other, appears to reflect an old/new Boston divide in city politics.

“Marty and I see this differently,” Pressley said. “What was happening around the Probation Department was wrong. I support the court’s decision.”

Last week, Walsh said on WGBH radio that he thought O’Brien was not guilty of a crime, and that the department’s hiring system was not rigged.

The probation verdict “shines a light” on “the issue of hiring in a way that is transparent, and equitable, and hires the most qualified applications reflecting the diversity of the city and the state,” Pressley said.

Wu stressed the difficulty faced by city government in recruiting and retaining good workers, “fighting against the perception that government is slow, or rigged. When there are mechanisms for accountability in place for hiring, if they’re being ignored or manipulated, that is not helpful.”

“I have faith in the jury system, and they found these misbehaviors to be going on,” Wu said.

But Murphy said that Walsh is correct to point to overreach of federal prosecutors. “People have been too hard on the mayor,” Murphy said. “The fact that the US Attorney’s office is criminalizing day-to-day expectations of the citizens is outrageous.”

Murphy said that constituents expect elected officials to advocate for them in many ways. “That includes getting a job,” he said. The real harm, he said, is “for the US Government to say that is racketeering.”

Wu, however, said that “I don’t think it’s the job of elected officials to secure employment for every constituent,” but to work toward broadening employment, training, and placement opportunities.

Pressley didn’t go that far. “I don’t want my office to function as a human resources department,” she said, “but given the unemployment crisis, I am not going to say no to doing whatever I can to connect [constituents] with resources that will increase their opportunity for employment.”

Pressley said a broader conversation is needed to ensure that public officials can help constituents, without people in hiring positions rigging the outcomes as happened at the Probation Department.

Other Councilors did not respond to my request for a response to Walsh’s comments. Walsh declined my request for an interview on the topic.