By: Phillip Martin
Feb. 9, 2011
ROXBURY — Chuck Turner can’t run for the District 7 City Council seat he held for more than a decade. After Turner’s conviction on federal corruption charges, his colleagues voted to remove him from the council. Last month, he was sentenced to serve three years in prison.
Still, Turner’s presence was felt at a forum held Tuesday night in Roxbury for the candidates vying for Turner’s old seat.
But the night began with the new candidates, not with Turner.
Even before the doors opened at Hibernian Hall, supporters of frontrunner Tito Jackson chanted his first name outside. They engaged in a noisy but friendly battle of words with supporters of candidates Danielle Renee Williams.
Cathy Gabriel, herself a former political candidate, stood in the entrance to the Madison Park Community Center.
“I am supporting Danielle Williams because I've known her for a long time and know what she can do and her capabilities and I have faith in her,” Gabriel said.
But, Tito Jackson has visibility. And like his famous musical namesake -- you know, the one of five brothers from Gary – his fans turned out in droves.
“We’re looking for jobs and he’s committed himself to jobs. He has a vision for the community,” said David Easter, an ironworker.
Chuck Turner’s political shadow loomed large in the view of both Easter and Gabriel.
“Chuck Turner has a lot of accomplishments. The folks that are running now will have to see if they can pick up the slack where Chuck Turner left off,” Gabriel said.
Easter agreed. “It’s sad what happened for Chuck cause the community loves Chuck. He did a lot for the community. But the issue here is how we move on,” he said.
How to move on: That was exactly the issue on the minds of the 200 or so people who braved chilly temperatures to attend the political forum. Many said they had not made up their minds which of seven candidates they would support in the special election on February 15.
Former TV reporter Sarah Ann Shaw, a Roxbury native, moderated the night’s event:.
“I think it’s very important that we get someone to represent District 7,” Shaw said. “District 7 has been without representation since Chuck and I think people want to hear from the candidates about issues that continue to impact this community year after year after year.”
On the political menu was the familiar fare: Roy Owens, a perennial candidate and anti-abortion activist, took his turn at the microphone to make his case:
“I believe in my community. I believe in my family and I believe in you,” Owens said.
And then there were the new faces, like Cornell Mills.
Mills is the son of former state Senator Dianne Wilkerson, who pleaded guilty last year to accepting five bribes in exchange for assisting a commercial development in Roxbury. But Mills made clear his pride in her political accomplishments.
“I’m standing on the shoulders of those who came before me. From Harriet Tubman to Martin Luther King to Malcolm X, and even our present day leaders like Councilor Turner, Senator Wilkerson,” Mills said.
The crowded field of City Council candidates for the coveted Roxbury/South End seat included others, too.
“I’m Natalie Carithers and I am a candidate.”
“My name is Henry Fennell and I’m a write in candidate for the District 7 seat.”
After the applause died down, the candidates then went from table to table in what looked like a game of musical chairs, introducing themselves up-close and personal to a multi-racial crowd of the curious and the committed.
Roy Owens, dressed confidently in a bright red suit, sat at table three. The first question was about his commitment to a cornerstone of this community, Franklin Park.
“What is your vision for the park? How would you advocate for the park and how would you support the playhouse in the park?” asked one community member.
“Only thing you can do is referendum. It has to go up to the city of Boston because the governor is really the mayor of the city of Boston,” Owens answered.
Over at table four, Tito Jackson, who’s now a political aide to Gov. Patrick, was asked about his commitment to Boston’s South End.
“I look at the South End as an integral part of our community. There are some major issues, particularly around the snow removal. Which I’ve spoken to many folks about. I will treat the South End the way I treat the rest of my district,” Jackson said.
At table five, Mills was asked why he thought he was qualified to be the next councilor to represent this area.
“I’m a father of four. I’m also a homeowner. I won a small business in the city. I own a real estate company that specializes in foreclosure prevention – “
A listener cut Mills off. “Experience, not background!”
“That’s part of my experience, to be able to walk people though the process who are dealing with foreclosures.”
Natalie Carithers was also holding court at table five.
“You have to think about neighbors, because some of the problem is neighbors throw the snow in the streets,” she said.
The candidates’ forum went on for a full three hours with a spirited exchange between the would-be councilors and the people whom they want to represent.
But there was one thing the aspiring politicians seemed to agree on last night: After months of intrigue focused on Chuck Turner and Dianne Wilkerson, it’s now important to move on.