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Michelle Wu defends her decision to support Bill Linehan for Boston City Council president

Responding to criticism from some supporters, Boston City Councilor-elect Michelle Wu today defended her decision to support Bill Linehan for the council presidency.

Wu said that after detailed talks with all of the councilors, she ultimately decided that Linehan, the district councilor from South Boston, has the experience and ideas to best lead the 12-member body.

Wu’s pick of Linehan over a younger, more progressive contender, Matt O’Malley, who represents West Roxbury, has stunned political observers. Wu’s own supporters argued that Linehan, who has weathered a string of controversies over the years, is among the least progressive voices on the Council.

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Wu acknowledge that her decision was not easy. She said she’s been hearing back from ardent supporters who feel betrayed by her decision to support Linehan.

“I do say to them that this does not change who I am, what I’ve been talking about, and what I campaigned for and why I campaigned,’’ she said in a phone interview. “I put my name out there and ran for public service because I want more inclusion, diversity and opportunity. … I will fight for those values around inclusion and access.’’

Linehan, O’Malley, and Tito Jackson of Roxbury had been vying for the presidency, which comes with more power, a bigger budget, and duties that include serving as the mayor if the mayor becomes unable. Councilor Charles Yancey also said he had been wooing support, but he did not have enough votes to win the post.

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Councilors will hold the vote on Jan. 6, when the newly elected council is sworn in. But councilors prefer to line up the necessary seven votes in advance.

Jackson eventually pulled out of the running and supported O’Malley.

O’Malley began the week believing he had secured six votes – including his own – from current Councilors Jackson, Ayanna Pressley, Frank Baker, and new-elected Councilors Josh Zakim and Timothy McCarthy.

O’Malley, a young, progressive member on the Council who had supported former mayoral candidate John Connolly, had hoped to sway Wu.

But on Monday, his plan fell apart after McCarthy changed his mind and supported Linehan. Wu also decided to back Linehan.

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Linehan had confirmed that he has the seven votes going forward, but cautioned that things are still fluid. He said he will continue to work to line up more support from his colleagues on the Council. Even so, he said he hopes to lead the Council.

“I see the presidency as an opportunity to be part of the transition of how the government affects people’’ of this city, he said.

Linehan, who has represented South Boston, Chinatown, and the South End since 2007, is considered an old guard in a new, culturally changing Boston. In the previous two elections, he fought off strong challenges by former school principal Suzanne Lee, a Chinatown resident, whose candidacy had revived hope for another liberal voice on the Council.

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Linehan came under fire after the 2011 election when a community activist accused him of proposing a redistricting map that divided Chinatown and shifted precincts where Lee badly beat Linehan. He was again in the middle of a media storm this year over his assertion that the host of the St. Patrick’s Day breakfast should remain an elected official from South Boston. The new state senator is a Linda Dorcena Forry, a black woman from Dorchester.

Linehan is Wu’s district councilman, and the two share mutual friends but are not close acquaintances, Wu said.

Wu said that she does not agree with every position Linehan has taken and has forcefully spoken her mind to him about areas where they disagree — something she said she will continue to do. Wu added that she was heartened by Linehan’s plan to decentralize power and engage individual committees to empower the council to be more effective advocate for Bostonians.

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“Over the last year, there has been a lot of talk about a “New Boston’’ and an “Old Boston,’’ but I reject the notion that Boston is a city hopelessly divided by neighborhood, income level or political outlook,’’ Wu wrote in a statement. “ A central theme of my campaign was inclusion, and the only way we can move the whole city forward is by working together – even if that means reaching beyond the confines of what’s easy or comfortable.’’

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