“Wu train” in danger of derailing before it leaves the station

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.


37 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. Agree 100%

    No offense to striker57, who posted glowingly on the other thread about Wu’s statement, but I thought it was evasive and that she’d have to do better to appease those upset by this decision.

    Abraham makes the point I made on the other thread: there’s a world of difference between continuing to engage the right-most councillor on particular issues and casting the (potentially) deciding vote to make him head of the body.

    • No need for three threads and over 50 posts

      Your quote here sums it up fenway

      there’s a world of difference between continuing to engage the right-most councillor on particular issues and casting the (potentially) deciding vote to make him head of the body.

      If Warren could’ve made Tammy Baldwin majority leader and cast the decisive vote for Mark Pryor would we forgive her?

      • Might be worse

        If Warren could’ve made Tammy Baldwin majority leader and cast the decisive vote for Mark Pryor would we forgive her?

        The City Council not being divided into two party caucuses like the U.S. Senate, maybe the better comparison is voting for the most conservative member of the entire body: voting Ted Cruz majority leader. Obviously in absolute terms it’s not that bad – Bill Linehan is no way like Ted Cruz – but in relative terms it is that bad because pretty much every other choice would have been preferable.

        While I’m musing, I’m trying to imagine a dynamic young candidate putting together a diverse and mostly conservative coalition to win, say, a seat in the state Senate then casting the deciding vote to make Jamie Eldridge the Senate President. Not succeeding.

  2. Well stated, David...

    …with one quibble. I think we’re being naïve to think that Linehan was somehow surprised by Wu’s support. I suspect this has been in the works for months, and the committee chair Wu wants has already been promised. I guarantee you, it’s not arts and tourism, with all due respect to my friends in the arts community.

  3. One more thing

    As much as we love Globe bashing around here-Abraham has been on a roll

  4. wutrain

    Someone should ask her what that means.

  5. Can't Help myself

    As Fenway49 points out – on another Wu thread – I am very comfortable with Wu’s statement on her support for Councilor Linehan. And I’m clearly in the minority opinion category on BMG on this.

    So a very limited comment (rehash would be another word): Wu’ is coalition building in what is essentially an inside baseball process. As a supporter of Michelle I have no problem with her on this decision. And given that her support in Boston was broad-based I suggest that the majority of those who cast one of their four votes for her are at best ok with her decison or at least couldn’t care less who becomes Council President.

    How she works with Councilor Linehan over the next three years will be interesting to watch. I believe voters will judge her three year record and not a single vote (if they disagree with that vote at all).

    Finally good for Councilor-elect Wu for standing her ground. I have more respect for elected officials who stand by a vote than those that walkback after a taste of flack. Agree or disagree with her on this one vote but know she has the backbone to stand up for herself and her positions.

    • Ted Cruz stands up for his positions too

      Do you admire his adherence to principle also?

      • Actually Yes

        While I disagree with him on basically everything I respect commitment, passion and tactics. Senator Cruz comes at you directly and stands by his positions. If I lived in Texas I’d be working my ass off to beat him not because he believes in what he says but because he’s scary close to implementing what he supports.

        • And if you are comparing Councilor-elect Wu

          to Ted Cruz – and I sincerely hope you weren’t going there – your not scoring points with that line of reasoning.

          • They are fellow graduates of Harvard Law School

            But of course not. Michelle has made a defining mistake while Ted Cruz is demagogue. Not very comparable. I have this argument with my Republican mother over whether the profound conviction of religious extremists to their dogmas is an admirable quality. I personally believe the world would be a better place if potential suicide bombers embraced secular humanism.

    • Council Prez

      Frankly, I am disappointed in this vote. Tito Jackson would have been a more progressive choice for Council President, certainly better than Bill Linehan.

      The problem I have most with it happens to be that we are talking about a vote. Voting is the most powerful thing a public official has that can shape our very city, in the same context that voting for really good candidates can also shape our city as citizens. I don’t have a problem with her working with Bill Linehan, but I do have a problem with her voting for Bill Linehan.

      Is she going to start voting with Bill Linehan next? Regardless of who is on the City Council, Wu wasn’t elected by Linehan, she was elected by the people of Boston. I’m not against those of us who are unhappy with this decision should remain quiet, esp. if those who have a problem with it voted for her. We can’t say she got on the council to work for Bill Linehan.

      One could say she already has turned back against her own statements when there was indication she was to vote for Tito, and then after winning the seat, changing her mind. That’s not good politics on voting.

    • Seems like standing up for her principles would lead to her voting for Jackson no? What is more principled than backing someone who campaigned for you and who you agree with on the issues? I am a tremendous Tito Jackson fan and know a few of his staffers and can attest to the fact that he would be a hard working Council President capable of being progressive and reaching across the aisle. She was the swing vote and she helped put a bigoted individual in the Council Chair, one who isn’t nearly as good on the bread and butter issues as Tito is either I might add.

      I’m an Irish Catholic too, and Marty Walsh is the kind of Irish Catholic who recognizes that what divides us is class and truly has built bridges and a diverse coalition. Linehan is the last of an old breed that will soon die out, extending it an olive branch makes sense, giving it a seat at the table makes sense, making it head of the table makes no sense. Not when you could’ve put a proud progressive amenable to all sides and a key supporter in the chair.

  6. Bitterly disappointed

    As a South Ender, I have been following Bill Linehan’s uninspiring career on the Boston City Council since he was first elected. I have consistently supported his opponents, Susan Passoni and Suzanne Lee being the most prominent. Linehan betrays his constituents when he marches in the discriminatory St.Patrick’s Day parade. The notion that Michelle Wu would elect him City Council President to march in that parade is disgusting. She has alienated supporters in the LGBT community.

    Michelle Wu’s victory was a bright spot for the South End on Election Day. She betrays that support. I feel deceived and used, shut out of city government at all levels.

    • Can't beat him . . .work to change him

      So Wu is building a bridge (omg I said it again) with more traditional Council members while I suspect the progressive Council members will welcome her support and vote on issues going forward. Being able to talk with both camps is a plus.

      Councilor Linehan isn’t going to make a sea-change based on Wu’s vote but my expectation is Wu bringing him over a a few key issues over a three year period. Linehan won by 1,100. Waiting out Linehan after he won by less than 70 votes last cycle didn’t work out so well. Perhaps working with him might have a better result.

      tudor585 we have disagreed in the past but I respect your passion and commitment. Rather than feeling shutout now is the time to ask Councilor-elect Wu to help bring Councilor Linehan into a discussion about not marching in this year’s parade. Seek an opportunity to advance your cause rather than throw up your hands.

      • Placing a bet right now

        that this:

        now is the time to ask Councilor-elect Wu to help bring Councilor Linehan into a discussion about not marching in this year’s parade

        will not succeed anytime soon. The guy is not going to thumb his nose at his own base just because Wu seems willing to do it to hers.

        • The ask costs you nothing

          And there may be a creative way for Linehan to handle the issue. He’s in a larger role now as Council President. Me – I’d take the opportunity to try. You haven’t been able to defeat him. Given the choice between trying for change and complaining, I’ll take Trying for 200 Alex.

          • Great tradeoff

            Let’s make the guy city council president so the chance he’ll ditch the parade goes from 0% to 0.2%. Maybe now he waits for you to leave the room before laughing at your “ask.”

            Getting Bill Linehan not to march in the parade is just not that high on my list of wish list. Keeping him out of the Council presidency is. The “can’t beat him” doesn’t really go that far. So what if he was re-elected? That makes him 1 of 13…unless you make him more than that by something like…voting him president.

            • Ah the straw man approach

              Sorry but not playing. Never argued that we make Linehan the Council President so he wouldn’t march in the parade but nice attempt at turning the conversation. Simply addressed tudor’s issue about Linehan marching in the past and suggested that as President, Linehan might be open to options.

              Nor did I suggest your list included him not marching.

              I don’t believe Wu is changing her vote so I’d look for leverage going forward because of her vote.

              Finally having dealt with Councilor Linehan on worker and development issues since he was elected, IMO he’s not the kind to laugh after you leave the room.

              • So why

                do we make Linehan the council president? That’s the part I’m still not getting. “Inclusion” and “bridge” aren’t really compelling.

                Your point is well-taken: she’s not changing the vote, so use it as leverage. That and expressing displeasure are not mutually exlusive. If anything, a big brouhaha strengthens the hand of those upset.

                • "She's not changing her vote"

                  Because … ?
                  I know that apologists for this Linehan choice WANT this to be over, and “She’s not changing her mind” seems like a nice way to say, “Haters, shut up! Stop attacking Wu! She’s not changing her mind so stop it!”

                  But, who says she’s not changing her mind? How does anyone but Wu know that?

                  I do know ONE thing — if people just resign themselves to “Oh well, she’s really disappointed me but what can I do?” and sigh with a feeble shrug and say no more… Well yes, for sure, Wu will not be changing her mind at all.

                  The only way she MIGHT change her mind is if the decision she’s made becomes uncomfortable to maintain.

                  Not speaking up = guaranteeing that she won’t.

                  Nothing’s over til Jeff Probst calls the vote in January.

      • Advising my clients with issues before City Council to organize ....

        Organize your Boston members to sit right down with Councilor Elect Wu and share with her your specific issues and recommended solutions and ask her to be your champion with her colleagues to be.

        It’s perfectly ok to tell her you are disappointed in her support of Counselor Linehan for President but you hope she will be able to facilitate a meeting with him and some folks from his district to ask for his support on your issue. It would be wise to avoid character assassination of her or Counselor Linehan. Disappointment is very tough.

        Of course they should have the same constituent meetings and take the same requests to other Councilors sooner better than later.

  7. Attention Councillor Wu!

    See all the whores are? You are lucky. You learned before you started that they are not your friends and you are disposable to them.

    Keep that left hand up and remember all you have is your reputation. Don’t worry about the Linnahan vote.
    Agree to disagree and move on.

    eb3-fka-ernie-boch-iii   @   Thu 12 Dec 1:22 PM
    • Cheap, Ernie

      I can’t imagine you actually think this is good strategy by Wu. “Agree to disagree and move on” is sound advice, but don’t slam us for calling foul when we see it. Nobody claimed to be her friend, either (nobody here anyway).

      • Why's That Jim

        This issue is two fold.

        1. To make Linnehan an outcast and threaten people who don’t fall in line. That is what the Globe is doing to Wu.

        2.Because she is new they see her as vulnerable and easy to control. So she is the right now the face of the “let’s shun Linnehan” brigade.

        Wu is looking at the big picture and taking some advice from colleagues. Why get into a fight she can’t win? Especially when we are all about getting along.

        BTW Because the council is so weak it is a ceremonial position at best.

        BTW2 , The Globe has little say over how Boston votes.
        Don’t worry about it Michelle.
        They are whores and will use you for own gain. Don’t be a pawn in their personal fights.

        Talkin about the Globe and other powers that be here Jim. Not you.

        eb3-fka-ernie-boch-iii   @   Thu 12 Dec 5:25 PM
    • Funny

      Someone not charitably inclined might, theoretically, say this

      See all the whores are? You are lucky. You learned before you started that they are not your friends and you are disposable to them.

      is a two-way street. Who exactly is disposable?

      • Citizenship doesn't stop at the voting booth

        Exactly what I was thinking.

        I definitely understand supporters and voters wanting to cover for Wu and make it all seem like this is a fine idea and don’t worry, don’t ruffle feathers.

        But the people who are suggesting that speaking up/out is NOT OK (“Teaparty-like demagoguery!” “Don’t alienate electeds — you want them to like you later when you want something from them, so don’t ask for something that you want from them TODAY!” (what??))… It’s just wackadoodle.

        Citizenship doesn’t stop at the voting booth, and the day is long past when electeds should think that they can rely on voters and volunteers to pour out to vote and knock on doors and harass their friends and give money and make phone calls on their behalf… But then when it’s time to deliver on the promise of your candidacy… SHUT UP EVERYBODY AND LET THE PEOPLE MAKE THEIR DECISIONS IN PEACE. SHHHHH.


        Michelle Wu is a very appealing political figure and seems very likeable personally. As another Wu, I am irrationally drawn to wanting to see her succeed, For the Good Of Our Name. As a Taiwanese American woman, I’m delighted to see her elected. And I want her to do me and my progressive hopes for her proud.

        Wanting to her succeed = joining in with those who are pushing her (and any elected) to Do The Right thing. Because if your supporters start making excuses for you when you do the WRONG thing, then we’re right back where we started, with an anachronistic, out of touch, political machine that operates by its own rules, patronage and logic, untouchable by citizens’ voices.

        I don’t want that and, even though I don’t know MWu personally, I’m willing to bet she doesn’t either.

        I’m hoping for her success, and I’m hopeful for it. I think this is a decision point (h/t GWB) that can hurt her in the long run, or put her on the right track.

        And another thing… Elizabeth Warren isn’t powerful because she “builds bridges.” She is powerful — and we LOVE HER — because she says “NO” to the perceived wisdom of the conventional thought — whether the opponent is Barack Obama (social security) or Ted Cruz (everything else). She kicks ass because she calls out BS, not because she helps us learn to love the Chuck Schumers and the Joe Manchins. C’mon.

        Didn’t anyone else get the keychain at the MassDems? It’s not a bridge.

  8. My favorite Theory of Change -- Make a winning plan and make it happen

    Peter Kadzis last few paragraphs sum it up perfectly. Read the whole thing here.

    Linehan’s opportunity to grab the council’s presidency is a result of the inability of progressive councilors Tito Jackson of Roxbury and Matt O’Malley of Roslindale to get out of each other’s way.

    Each wanted to the presidency, but Linehan put together what appears to be a winning coalition before O’Malley and Jackson could sort things out. As of this writing, Jackson is still pursuing the job.

    Will Wu be bullied into switching her vote? Hard to say, but my bet is no.


    • Two more quotes from the Kadzis piece:

      In terms of programs and policy, Linehan is a classic lunch-bucket Democrat out of the FDR, HST, JFK, and LBJ mold.


      Linehan is Old Boston because – despite being generally supportive of gay rights [emphasis added] – he continues to march in the shamelessly retrograde South Boston Saint Patrick’s Day Parade.

      If, as I hope, Michelle Wu’s support for Bill Linehan creates opportunities for alliances between progressives and economic populists at the grassroots level, this might be a new beginning for the City.

  9. TRULY a question I'm seeking an answer to and NOT an opinion disguised as a question

    What is the deal with Bill Linehan? I know next to nothing about him and don’t think I’ve ever met him.

    So far I have as potential negatives:
    1. Appears to have supported Scott Brown.
    2. Continues to march and support the parade despite the exclusion of LGBT groups.
    3. Opposed turning the St. Patrick’s Day breakfast over to a black State Senator, despite tradition, with the stated reason of it being a Southie thing.
    4. Made a bad joke that could be conveyed as racist.

    3 of these 4 have to do with St. Patrick’s Day. I’m wondering what his record is aside from those things that I have listed. Again, not defending Linehan, just feel that I’d like to know more. And before someone asks “what more do you need to know” (though obviously now someone will), I’m not even saying that those 4 items aren’t enough to not like him. However, if he has a solid record otherwise, that would make me feel differently than if he’s a jerk at all levels or on the wrong side of many issues.

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