January 11, 2007 — Vol. 42, No. 22
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Finneran to resign over alleged racial redistricting

Yawu Miller

Former House Speaker Thomas Finneran will resign from his $416,000-a-year job as president of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, a person close to the discussions told The Associated Press Tuesday on condition of anonymity because the announcement had not been made public.

The decision to resign comes less than a week after Finneran pleaded guilty to obstructing justice during a redistricting lawsuit in a plea deal that has already cost him a $25,000 fine, 18 months of unsupervised probation and the possible suspension or loss of his law license.

The state Retirement Board is also reviewing whether to strip him of his nearly $31,000 annual state pension.

Under a plea deal, prosecutors agreed to drop three perjury charges in exchange for Finneran’s guilty plea.

A call to a spokesman for the Biotechnology Council was not immediately returned Tuesday.

Finneran’s decision to resign underscores his self-inflicted downfall. When he learned last year that he was facing charges that he gave false testimony in a 2003 voting rights case, he confidently told reporters, “I’m not going to lose any sleep over it.”

Finneran’s testimony that he played a minimal role in the 2001 re-drawing of House legislative districts seemed so outrageous that voting rights activists had asked a federal prosecutor to investigate.

By last week, Finneran had changed his tune as he gave a tearful mea culpa, pleading guilty to obstruction of justice for offering misleading testimony. He faces an 18-month unsupervised probation and has agreed not to seek elected office for a period of five years.

Finneran, who now heads the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, will also pay a $25,000 fine and will likely lose his license to practice law in Massachusetts.

His admission of guilt was a far cry from the bravado he displayed when he testified in 2003 that he had not seen the House Redistricting Committee’s re-drawn maps prior to their public release — testimony even his attorney said was “obviously misleading.”

Finneran’s excuse for the false testimony underscored what appears to be an unwillingness to confront the underlying issue in the case: racial justice.

Finneran reportedly told the court last week that he gave false testimony because he wanted to distance himself from the “very troubling allegations of racism.”

While Finneran denies racist intent, plaintiffs in the civil rights case say the former Speaker and his hand-picked redistricting team redrew the voting districts in a manner that diluted minority voting strength in Boston and Chelsea.

“He put black voters in his district into other districts,” noted Giovanna Negretti, executive director of the Latino political organization ¿Oiste?, a plaintiff in the redistricting suit. “If that isn’t racially motivated, then I don’t know what is.”

This was particularly evident in Finneran’s own district, where the percentage of people of color dropped from 70 percent to 57 percent as he picked up white precincts in Neponset and Milton while dropping precincts in Dorchester and Mattapan.

At the same time, people of color were packed into the adjacent districts represented by people of color. Voting rights activists argued that the Legislature’s map limited the chances for people of color to expand their political power.

A federal court agreed in 2003, ordering the Legislature to re-draw Finneran’s district.

Finneran left the State House in 2004, after it became public that U.S. attorneys were investigating his testimony in the redistricting case. Linda Dorcena Forry, a Haitian-American, now represents the 12th Suffolk District seat that Finneran vacated.

Finneran’s departure from the State House and his guilty plea represent a victory for the voting rights activists, according to Negretti.

“I think this sends a clear message to the Legislature that you have to think twice about messing with the voting rights of people of color,” she said. “The best way to go about this would have been to do things right from the beginning.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Former Massachusetts House Speaker Thomas Finneran exits the U.S. District Court in Boston on Friday, Jan. 5, 2007. Once considered the most powerful man on Beacon Hill, Finneran pleaded guilty Friday to obstruction of justice in a deal that spared him prison time for lying about his role in a redistricting plan that diluted the clout of minority voters. (AP photo/Robert Spencer)

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