If I wanted to be glib and a bit rude, I could joke that, while the Registry of Deeds was very important in 1825, much of the Registry’s role of “keeping the residents of Suffolk County’s real estate records safe and accessible” could today be largely replaced by a secure file cabinet and a Google doc. But I don’t want to be glib and minimize/oversimplify the role of the county office (even if I’m willing to be a bit rude), so I will refrain from making that joke.
Instead, I will let the current Suffolk County Register of Deeds, Stephen J. Murphy, provide us with the cringe-worthy lines. Some might recall that Register Murphy spent nearly twenty years on the Boston City Council, including three years as Council President (as well as a 2002 run for Massachusetts state treasurer), before losing his at-large seat in the 2015 election and turning to the Register’s office for his sinecure**. It appears that Register Murphy’s ability to handle social media interactions pre-dates the year 2000 (and better befits a middle school-aged troll than a county-wide elected official), and his grasp of concepts like privilege pre-dates the year 1955. (**I also recognize that “sinecure” is very much a Howie Carr type of word and I already hate myself for using it.)
Yvonne Abraham chronicled Register Murphy’s recent, quite revelatory interaction on Facebook, along with his sexist, vulgar tirade:
Last week’s mess began with a Facebook post by women’s activist Judy Pineda Neufeld decrying the abortion ban [in Alabama, as well as similar actions emerging in other states] as “unforgivable. This is why we need more women in office,” she wrote.
This is an uncontroversial view in these parts: Obviously, a legislature that includes more women will better reflect their interests, and enact more enlightened policies for everyone.
But Murphy was offended. Though he is pro-choice, he called Neufeld’s post “emblematic of what’s wrong today,” going on to say, “This practice of voting for someone because of their sex is misguided!”
Several women then tried to calmly explain the importance of more equal representation, urging Murphy not to take it personally, but to use his privileged position to be a good ally. But he wasn’t having it. “I don’t have any privilege!” he shot back. “There are extremists on both sides.”
As Progressive Massachusetts’ Jonathan Cohn tweeted:
“I don’t have any privilege!” — old white Irish guy in Boston who holds an office that is stunningly overpaid
I say not to exonerate Murphy but to further condemn him that he clearly commits the anachronistic sin of conflating the concept of privilege with the -ism at play (be it sexism, racism, or any other form of bigotry). In the original exchange on Facebook, Murphy’s exclamation that he doesn’t “have any privilege” is followed by the statement that “I grew up in public housing.” Murphy simply doesn’t comprehend that, even if his origin includes the absence of one particularly type of privilege (for instance, wealth), he can still enjoy many other forms of privilege (for instance, white privilege, male privilege, and, eventually, power privilege that comes from his decades-long role as an elected official, as well as wealth privilege later in life). He also doesn’t comprehend that enjoying male privilege is not what inherently makes a sexist man sexist – rather, the privilege exists solely by way of being male, and that men can proactively use that privilege to be anti-sexist. He wrongly thinks that the acknowledgment of male privilege is the equivalent of an accusation of sexism. Alas.
Yvonne Abraham, Boston’s finest columnist for some time, chronicled more of the exchange from Murphy, redacted expletives and all. At one point, Murphy charges that those who think that better representation among our elected officials leads to better public policy are “part of a group of strident bullies who all need to shut their pie holes!” Yup, Suffolk County Register of Deeds Archie Bunker told the lady-folk (and the men who stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them) in the year of our Lord two-thousand nineteen that they “need to shut their pie holes,” exclamation point. [sigh.]
Abraham then relays the aftermath of the exchange – I strenuously encourage you to read her entire column and give it the clicks and shares it sincerely richly deserves. Abraham notes that, *after* she contacted Murphy for comment about his Facebook, um, dialogue, but before her column landed on our beloved worldwide web, he posted an apologia to his Facebook page.
However, even his apologia was misleading. As Abraham notes in her column, “‘The back and forth got out of hand for all involved,’ he claimed, even though it was Murphy alone who initiated hostilities, after which the women demonstrated saintly patience.” I have personally seen screencaps of the entire original Facebook exchange, and Yvonne Abraham is 100% correct. As I noted in my public Facebook comment to Murphy’s apologia:
For those who care about such things, Stephen J. Murphy’s post here is dishonest where he says “I was wrong to react, respond, and partake in the name-calling and profanity.” He didn’t merely react to, respond to, or partake in name-calling and profanity, as though there was a bunch of name-calling and profanity going on and he just got swept up in it and joined in. He initiated the name-calling and profanity, and was the one to elevate the tension in every exchange. Steve, if you’re going to apologize, apologize for what you actually did, instead of trying to minimize the offense and mislead people who are hearing about it second- and third-hand. For a county-wide official to behave in such a sexist, aggressive, and vulgar way – and then to misrepresent the situation after – you really ought to resign. You won’t, I’m sure. But you ought to.
So, in a nutshell, Suffolk County Register of Deeds Stephen J. Murphy went on someone else’s Facebook page to decry equal representation, diminishing it as nothing more than harmful “identity politics,” initiated vulgarities, attacked advocates of equal representation among our elected officials, elevated hostilities rather than using the opportunity to learn anything meaningful and engage in actual substantive dialogue, and bolted like a common social media troll, only to lie about the specifics of his behavior after the fact on his own Facebook page. It is a needlessly disgraceful display from someone who has served as an elected leader in our Commonwealth’s capital city for more than two decades in municipal and county office.
Murphy ought to resign in disgrace over this episode. I don’t imagine, however, that he will sacrifice his sinecure (ugh, there’s that word again!) out of something as fundamental as mere shame. Further (I have only learned/realized this very morning), that the Register of Deeds’ term is six years long, and the next election isn’t until 2024, with Murphy having won re-election just last year. I’d presume, given the length of time between now and his next opportunity for public accountability at the ballot box, that Murphy will choose to hunker down in his overpaid office and simply let the clock continue to tick away. I hope, however, that folks will remember this episode should Murphy deign to run again a half-decade from now, or that the shame of it all will amply twinge inside Murphy’s extremely privileged conscience and he will muster the decency to call it a career and resign his office, stepping away in favor of needed self-reflection.