Michelle Wu, Boston City Councillor-Elect and political story of the moment, calls her Twitter account “@wutrain.” I’m not sure why, exactly, but it does give bloggers the opportunity to write headlines like the one directly above.
In any event, the fallout from Michelle Wu’s ill-advised (IMHO) decision to support Bill Linehan for City Council President continues. Today, Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham weighs in with some no-holds-barred commentary.
If it’s a rookie mistake, it’s a doozy.
And if it isn’t? Well, that’s more troubling…. Wu supporters all over the city are freaking out, with good cause. Linehan has made an art of fulfilling the worst stereotypes of Boston politics.
That’s for starters. Abraham then goes on to demolish the three basic arguments that Wu has advanced for her decision: that the job is only procedural; that Linehan has great ideas about decentralizing power and empowering committees; and that this will advance “inclusion” in the city.
OK, let’s take these one by one. First, anybody who has watched Linehan on the council knows he is not a decentralizing power kind of guy.
Second, the presidency is about way, way more than procedure. A council president takes over if the mayor departs — that’s how Tom Menino became mayor. That president decides who chairs each committee, and those chairs set the agenda for the whole body. The president can bury initiatives he doesn’t like, in committees that won’t move them. He also decides which councilors’ offices get the most resources. He shapes, and sets the tone for, the entire body.
Third, you have to do some pretty fancy somersaults to see voting for Linehan as a giant leap for inclusion. Sure, Wu should keep talking with the guy who plays to the cheap seats and offends those who carried her to victory. That’s inclusive. But voting to give this king of divisiveness the gavel? That’s crazy.
Read this bit again: “that’s how Tom Menino became mayor.” That alone should be enough to convince you that this is a bad idea.
And then there’s the harm that Wu may have already done to her own political future.
On Wednesday afternoon, it looked as if Councilor Tito Jackson, backed by other minority and progressive councilors, was getting close to six votes of his own for president. That would make Wu, the only councilor of color on Linehan’s team, the crucial seventh vote. If she ends up tipping the presidency away from Jackson, who is black, communities of color — also crucial to Wu’s electoral strength — will find it hard to forgive her.
On top of that, every time a president Linehan says something offensive — and rest assured, he will — Wu will wear that, too.
It’s tough to see how she recovers if she goes through with this.
To judge from her Twitter feed, her Facebook page, and comments here, all of those risks are real. Wu surely did not want to spend the last couple of weeks before she takes office doing damage control. So I’m guessing she badly miscalculated how upset her backers would be at this decision.
Here’s what I think is happening. I don’t really believe Wu’s line about Linehan having the most awesome ideas about how to re-imagine the Council presidency. I mean, does Linehan strike anyone as a big-time ideas guy, or as a deep and thoughtful structural reformer? I think Wu is trying an Obama-esque 11-dimensional chess stratagem. She is gambling that her base will stick with her despite their intense dislike of Linehan, and that over the longer term Linehan will owe her for siding with him and will therefore give her, say, a nice committee chair with which she can do something she otherwise might not be able to do.
I mean, it could work. But the risks are enormous. First, people disappointed with Obama’s compromises could try to make noise, but ultimately they had nowhere else to go. There is only one president, and Obama is in his second term. (And even in his first, nobody was going to primary him or vote for Mitt Romney.) Wu is in a far weaker position: there are several other progressive city councillors, including some in at-large seats. Disappointed Wu supporters can simply shift their support to them, or to someone not currently on the Council (I hear John Connolly is looking for a new job). Second, Wu has no track record beyond campaign rhetoric to which she can point to convince skeptical backers that she’s what they thought she was. She hasn’t even been sworn in yet. And third, Linehan knows his way around City Hall far, far better than does the neophyte Wu. As I said before, 11-dimensional chess is a tricky game, and it’s easy to get checkmated.
Wu is in a bad spot now. Linehan surely never expected that she would back his bid for the presidency, so if she had simply said “no” to him in the first instance, it wouldn’t have mattered much. But now, she can’t back away from him without making him her enemy for life. Yet, if she sticks with it, she will be dealing with a very angry base of supporters for months – and, as Abraham says, it will flare up again every time Linehan “says something offensive – and rest assured, he will.” Moreover, if a Council President Linehan makes life difficult for the other progressives on the Council, they’ll have Wu to thank for that. It’s all very unfortunate, and it could so easily have been avoided.