Chuck Turner & Federal Authority

Message from Chuck Turner, Roxbury, Boston

March 23, 2011

Dear Supporters,

In this email, I am going to comment on the next steps for District 7 residents given the election of Tito Jackson to follow me as the District 7 City Councilor. I will then outline three major challenges/opportunities regarding the Boston Redevelopment Authority that Councilor Jackson will have to grapple with over the next year.

A)    Transition in District 7:

Congratulations to both Tito Jackson and Cornell Mills. They both ran spirited campaigns in the final election and vigorously debated the issues.  I hope that they are setting the standard for future races where the discussion focuses on issues and approaches to those issues so that the voters will be able to understand the choices that confront them.

Of course, special congratulations to Councilor Jackson for his resounding victory. I had endorsed him in his race in 2009 for At Large City Councilor and I endorsed him in this race. I believe that his energy and vision are assets that he brings to the District, in addition to his being born and raised in Roxbury by Herb (Kwaku) and Rosa Jackson, whose dedication to our community cannot be questioned.

However, as I said many times, I think that Councilor Jackson’s greatest asset is his relationship with the Governor. Given the tightness of the resources at City, State, and Federal level, we need a state administration that is concerned about our needs and is ready to work with our city councilor on fulfilling those needs. Councilor Jackson, I believe, can create that working relationship between D7 and the state administration.

The most important question for us in District 7 is Not what is Councilor Jackson going to do but what are we going to do. As I said many times during my eleven years in office, it is essential that the organizations and residents of District 7 recognize our collective responsibility to work closely with the
D7 Councilor if we are to accomplish our goals.

There are four steps that we must take during the coming year to help Councilor Jackson build the base of power and resources that we need in this District.:

1) The district needs to have our civic engagement organizations set up quarterly if not more frequent accountability sessions where our City Councilor, State Rep, and State Senator can come to the community to share what they have been working on and respond to the questions and concerns of our residents.

2) We must have patience. That is, Councilor Jackson is in a very difficult position moving into a position from which I was so abruptly removed. We have to understand that there will have to be a learning curve where the Councilor can calibrate his general skills to the needs of the District. That does not happen over night and we have to recognize that reality and give him the time necessary to organize his plan.

3) We need to respond to his call and the call of other elected officials to get involved in hearings as well as organizing ventures that are initiated at the City and State level. Elected officials of color are clearly in a minority position so our residents have to add to our elected leaders’ powers by working closely with them and coming to City Hall and the State House to make our voices heard and let the other Councilors, Representatives, and Senators know that our elected officials have a base inside and outside the community that can be mobilized to take action.

4) We must recognize that we stand at a moment when the power of Black, Latino, Cape Verdean, and Asian residents in the City is growing. Everything moves in cycles and a brief look at the last 200 years of Boston history shows clearly to me that this is the time for African-Americans and people of color in general to play an enhanced political role in this City. However, the speed of the cycle will be determined by the energy and creativity that we bring to support our elected leaders and our vision.

 As a community, we must remember that the objective of former MA US Atty  Sullivan was to set up a sting using a Black man in order to take down Senator Wilkerson and I.  While his plan succeeded in removing us from Boston for the next couple of years, you have the power to show that our community has  resilience and potential depth of leadership that enables us to grow in strength     despite the attacks.

B) The Challenge of the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA): 

1) Background: The BRA was established  in 1957 through state legislation forwarded by the Mayor and City Council. It was structured to have four of its members appointed by the Mayor and one by the Governor. Its purpose was to create a tool, controlled by the Mayor, that could move initiate an urban renewal process where existing city dwellings could be taken “in the public interest” and given to favored developers. Obviously, this set up a gentrification process that made it difficult for lower income people to stay in the City. In fact, 45% of the apartments in Roxbury are subsidized by federal resources.

2) The BRA and Dudley Development: At the moment the major role of the BRA in District 7 is organizing the development of a number of publicly owned parcels in the Dudley area. These are Parcel 3 (across from Police Headquarters), the Bartlett Yards Project (the old MBTA yard on Washington Street), Parcels 8,9, and 10 on the corners of Washington and Melnea Cass, the Blair’s lot, the former location of the Blairs’ Supermarket on Washington Street in Dudley.

3) Challenges in the Coming Year:

a) Lease Fees:  Seven years ago, frustrated with the minimal community benefits provided by Northeastern University as mitigation for their  development of Parcel 18, running along Tremont Street, I began a lobbying effort to persuade the BRA and Oversight Committee to lease the land rather than sell it to the developers. This would enable the City and community to retain the value of the land over time as well as give the community resources through its share of the lease fees. By 2007, the BRA wrote into the request for proposals for Parcel 3 that the land would be leased to the developer for sixty five years. The issue of what the community’s share of the lease fees would be was not resolved since the P3 developers were struggling to put their financing in place.

The financing has been secured and the developers of the parcel, Elma Lewis Associates and Feldco (retailers from N.Y.C.), are now going through the final approval process with the community and BRA. The Executive Committee of the Roxbury Master Plan Oversight Committee has begun negotiations with the BRA regarding the community’s share of the lease fees. There position as stated by the chair, Darnell Williams, was that the community should receive 75%.

Given the fact that I believe that the Mayor will be resistant to a significant share of the fees, it is important that Councilor Jackson, the Oversight Committee, and the community stand strong to secure a fair share of the resources. As we can see, the budget crunches are lessening the resources available to us so it is critically important to secure a significant share of the resources from the development.

The thinking regarding distribution of the fund is that there would be an elected body from the Roxbury area with members from the Oversight Committee that would develop the criteria with community input and disperse the funds on a bi annual basis. Funds would also be used to provide a staff member for the Oversight Committee as well as resources for the operation of the Roxbury Neighborhood Council.

b) Roxbury Neighborhood Council (RNC): The RNC initially organized by the community to be the Community’s voice re land development eventually was ratified by the Mayor and then included in the Zoning Code as the voice of the community of zoning and land development issues.

Unfortunately, a by law was added by the leadership of the RNC that gave to the Board of the RNC the right to determine membership. That is a clear violation of the intention of the inclusion of the RNC in the Zoning Code as the community’s voice. By giving the authority to the Board to determine members, the RNC has destroyed the public character of the body.

I raised this issue with the previous administration with no action. I raised it with The new administration. However, before we were able to move the discussion forward, I was removed. From my perspective, it is up to Councilor Jackson to play a leadership role in securing the change necessary to have the RNC structured to serve as the community’s voice rather than a private organization.

c) Parcel 8: This parcel was the used by the FBI and former US Attorney Michael Sullivan as the central element in the sting they initiated with Senator Wilkerson.  Last year at the request of Rep. Rushing and Rep. Fox I tried to get the BRA to set up a meeting with the state administration and our elected state officials to enact the transfer of the land to the City so that the development could move forwards under the oversight of the BRA and the Oversight Committee.  Unfortunately, despite raising the issue regularly and asking for action, no action has been taken.  It has been rumored that there are people in the City who are sitting on the process. However, whatever the reality is Councilor Jackson needs to work with Rep. Rushing, Rep. Fox, and Senator Diaz to move the roadblocks to development out of the way.

My next posting will be the speech I am giving at the Northeaster University Law School tomorrow night on the Crimes of FBI and MA US Atty’s office. Since I will report for incarceration at Hazelwood Penitentiary in Bruceton Mills, West Virginia on Friday, I will send my reflections on our situation as African-Americans from prison.

Ed. NoteChuck Turner is the 70-year-old, Harvard-educated, former Boston City Councilor targeted in a sting operation by US district attorney Michael Sullivan and sentenced to three years in federal prison for “extortion”.  He denies any guilt, and federal Judge Douglas Woodlock narrowed the testimony and instructions to the jury to give the jury little context for acquittal.  A life-long, critical system-thinking activist, and black, Chuck has been a hero of the progressive community in Boston, and vows to continue the struggle, writing from prison.  The Hazelwood Penitentiary is a ten-hour drive from Boston.

 Other articles concerning Chuck and the trial can be found by inserting Chuck in the search box of this site.