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Koch retaliates against mayor’s ‘innuendo’ campaign

By JOHN P. KELLY
The Patriot Ledger

QUINCY - Thomas Koch is firing back at Mayor William Phelan for saying some of his supporters are crooked.

Koch accused the mayor of waging a smear campaign designed to allow him to avoid having to talk about his own record in office.

Phelan has repeatedly insisted in public that Koch’s supporters include convicts and other “wrongdoers” tied to a federal corruption probe on the heels of Mayor James Sheets’ departure from office in 2001.

Pressed for specifics about the allegations, Phelan has refused to name names. But his remarks leave little to guesswork.

At the first mayoral debate in August, and at several public forums since, Phelan has listed his rival’s supporters to include: a man convicted of breaking into city hall; a paving company he said billed the city for work it didn’t do; a heating and air-conditioning company that reaped hundreds of thousands of dollars from what he calls “illegal” contracts with the city; and a city employee responsible for purging computer hard drives of Sheets’ personal diary and other electronic records.

Phelan is alluding to former city plumbing inspector Ralph Maher; P.J. Kennedy & Sons Inc.; Derbes Bros. Inc.; and the former chief information officer for the city, Chuck Phelan (no relation to Mayor Phelan).

“The mayor is running a campaign of complete distortion,” said Paul Kennedy Sr., president of P.J. Kennedy & Sons.

Phelan declined through a spokesman to be interviewed for this story.

Kennedy’s company was paid more than $500,000 by the city between 2000 and 2002 under an expired contract, at times for work that should have been awarded through public bidding, an audit by the Phelan administration found.

Kennedy said the mayor has failed to point out “the city later paid every single dime they owed” after settling a lawsuit the company filed to recoup payment that was withheld.

“It was all false; he created an image that wasn’t correct,” Kennedy said.

Koch campaign signs are planted in Kennedy’s front yard in Squantum; he has a Koch sticker on his truck and he has provided space in a building he owns for Koch to store campaign signs.

Koch said he is proud to have Kennedy’s support. Kennedy, 62, said if Phelan accuses him by name of conducting business illegally, “I would sue him personally.”

Charles Phelan also indicated he would sue the mayor for defamation if accused by name of erasing computer files illegally.

The former city council president was in charge of Quincy’s information technology department when Sheets ordered one of his staff to erase computer files during the waning days of his administration. The state Inspector General’s Office later recovered more than 5,000 files it deemed improperly erased.

In a recent interview, Charles Phelan acknowledged “bad judgment” but denied any wrongdoing, saying no internal policy existed on how to handle computer records. He pointed out that the Phelan administration has yet to adopt such a policy despite the inspector general’s recommendation.

While Koch embraces the support from Kennedy and Phelan, he distanced himself from Maher and Derbes Bros.

Maher, who pleaded guilty to breaking into city hall and is now in a legal battle to recoup his seized city pension, said he intends to vote for Koch. But that is the extent of his support, he said.

“Tommy’s religious, hard-working, honest and a good family man,” Maher said.

Authorities accused Maher of masterminding the break-in to steal documents from his personnel file. Court documents later showed the FBI suspected Maher of loan-sharking, tax evasion and taking kickbacks. No charges were ever filed.

In an interview on the front steps of his Gardiner Road home, Maher said he pleaded guilty to avoid “giving anyone up.”

As for Derbes Bros., it’s unclear to what extent the company supports Koch. A company truck parked late last week at the company lot in South Quincy had a Koch bumper sticker on it. The brothers could not be reached for comment.

Once the city’s primary road contractors, Frank and Robert Derbes pleaded guilty in 2002 to felony tax evasion of more than $500,000.

Last year, the company won a lawsuit against the city claiming it was owed $125,000. The settlement fell far short of the $1 million it had sought, and both sides claimed a partial victory.

Koch said neither the company nor Maher has contributed financially or otherwise to his election bid.

Koch said Phelan is guilty of “complete hypocrisy” since the mayor’s list of longtime supporters includes people with criminal records, including George Brewster of Milton, who, along with his wife, pleaded guilty in 1998 to failing to pay nearly $1 million in federal taxes.

Koch left his job as the city’s parks commissioner in January to run against the three-term incumbent.

John P. Kelly may be reached at jkelly@ledger.com.

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