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A failure to protect minority leadership

Melvin B. Miller | 3/15/2018, 6 a.m.
Community residents are responsible for backing those whom they elect to public office. The failure to “get their back” renders ...
“You can get fired from there without due process.”

Community residents are responsible for backing those whom they elect to public office. The failure to “get their back” renders them less effective. The lack of a public protest over the ouster of Carlos Henriquez has had unfortunate consequences. It was much easier for Mayor Marty Walsh to oust Felix Arroyo.

Henriquez was duly elected to represent the 5th Suffolk District in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, but he was expelled from office on Feb. 6, 2014 by a vote of the members of the House of 146 to 5. The Legislature essentially invalidated the vote of the Roxbury and Dorchester residents who elected him. The House took this action without any legal right to do so.

The alleged reason for the expulsion was that Henriquez had been convicted on Jan. 14 of two counts of assault and battery against a female acquaintance and he was sentenced to 2.5 years, with six months of confinement to the Middlesex House of Correction followed by two years of probation. The problem is that there is no provision in the House rules that authorizes the members to expel someone convicted of a misdemeanor.

Surprisingly, African Americans in Boston did not protest this abuse of legislative authority. Perhaps people had forgotten Adam Clayton Powell’s battle in 1967 to be seated in the 90th Congress. By a vote of 363 to 65, the members of Congress had denied Powell his seat because of alleged violations which he later proved to be false. Powell and his supporters fought and eventually won. The lesson from the Powell confrontation is that you never grant the opposition the right to deny your candidate the result of his election.

That message apparently did not get to Boston. There was no furor from the black leadership or the voters over the expulsion of Henriquez. Perhaps they had concluded that extreme measures were appropriate against men accused of misconduct with women. That certainly was not the moral motivation of state legislators. A report by Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham on Oct. 27, 2017 revealed a persistent “climate of harassment at Mass. State House.”

Now it appears that the political body that had ousted Henriquez was itself awash with sexual abuse. Perhaps the House merely wanted to misdirect public attention away from themselves, but blacks should not have tolerated this ploy. It subjects prominent blacks and Latinos to questionable attacks. Felix Arroyo, the former Boston chief of Health and Human Services, was charged with sexual harassment by Hilani Morales and was immediately released from his job, without pay, even before the truth of the complaint is determined in court.

Would Mayor Marty Walsh have thought his act was politically defensible if blacks had vigorously protested the expulsion of Henriquez? Now Morales has withdrawn her complaint before the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. Consequently, the charges against Arroyo might never be adjudicated.

Walsh’s treatment of two other members of his administration has been quite different. When Tim Sullivan, the head of Intergovernmental Affairs and Kenneth Brissette, the chief tourism officer, were charged with extortion for refusing to issue permits for the 2014 Boston Calling Festival, they were never taken off the payroll. Their trial is scheduled in federal court for March 26.

The failure of blacks and Latinos to protest Henriquez’s ouster has essentially licensed the summary ouster of officials with “at will” appointments.