A bad look for Marty Walsh

The knock on mayoral candidate Marty Walsh was that his union ties would compromise him as mayor. Not only was he a union member for virtually his entire adult life but he also served as the head of the Boston Building Trades until 2013.

He was one of them, and they had his back when he ran for mayor that same year. He got the job and cynics feared that the labor muscle who had stood by him through his election would come to City Hall to collect. Almost six years and two splashy trials later, the people of Boston are starting to see the ugly side of what that transaction looks like, and it doesn’t reflect well on our city.

On Wednesday, a jury found two top Walsh aides guilty of Hobbs Act conspiracy and one of them, city tourism chief Kenneth Brissette, was also found guilty of Hobbs Act extortion, due to the way the pair pressured organizers of the Boston Calling Festival, Crash Line Productions, to hire unnecessary union labor in 2014.

In a closing argument Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Kaplan recalled testimony by Crash Line organizers who said they were concerned they wouldn’t receive necessary permits for the concert and would hurt their chances at a lease extension if they didn’t satisfy Brissette and Timothy Sullivan’s ask in a meeting days before the show to hire union stagehands.

“An ask where you can’t say no is not an ask, it’s a demand,” Kaplan told jurors.

Two years ago, Walsh breathed a big sigh of relief when four Teamsters were acquitted of extortion charges for an altercation with Padma Lakshmi and the crew of “Top Chef” when the reality show was filming in Massachusetts in 2014. Documents from that trial alleged the defendants had hurled racist and homophobic slurs, slashed tires and physically intimidated Lakshmi and others on the set.

Their thuggish behavior was found not to have constituted a crime, but it’s not a very welcoming image to project to those who might want to come to our state for big events or film productions. A 2017 Herald report found that reality show filming had indeed dropped off after the “Top Chef” disaster in 2014.

Despite Walsh’s denials of any involvement by city officials in the ugly incident, prosecutors did identify an unindicted co-conspirator from his administration: the very same Kenneth Brissette, who “Top Chef”  producers testified withheld permits during the dispute.

The eerie similarities between the two incidents seem to suggest a pattern taking shape in Walsh’s City Hall. It’s no wonder that Boston is starting to have a reputation of being difficult to work with. Indeed, an IndyCar CEO described it as getting “out of an abusive relationship” when the group pulled out of a planned Grand Prix event in Boston in 2016.

In this case, there was a fire under all the smoke, and this week’s verdict seems to validate the less-than-flattering impression of the city under Walsh’s leadership. The people of Boston may never know how many events and film productions decided to simply steer clear.



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