New councillors given chairs of census, women/health panels

The City Council’s two newest members were placed atop two new panels focusing on girls and women and the nationwide headcount known as the 2010 Census.

City Council President Michael Ross this week appointed City Councillor At-Large Felix Arroyo to head the Special Committee on the Census and fellow Councillor At-Large Ayanna Pressley to the Committee on Women and Healthy Communities.

Each of the thirteen councillors, earning a salary of $87,500 a year, chairs a committee. With the exception of the council president, who receives $225,000 a year to staff up, each councillor is allotted $187,500 a year to pay for staffing.

The census panel comes as state officials, fearing the loss of one of the commonwealth’s ten Congressional seats, ramp up efforts to ensure every head is counted. If the state is found to be losing residents, Congressional district lines will be redrawn, with one member of the delegation likely getting penciled out.

The special committee will focus on people in areas that are traditionally undercounted such as immigrants, college students, and the homeless.

“The Census committee is critical,” Ross said. “That could make the difference between a congressman, federal funds, and Boston’s ability to compete.”

“There’s a lot of factors that lead to a bad count,” including some people being afraid to speak with government officials attempting to obtain the number of people in a household, Arroyo said.

About 7,500 people are expected to fan out across the metropolitan Boston area to get responses out of households that don’t respond to a questionnaire slated to hit homes in March.

Arroyo, a labor union activist and a youth sports coach, will also chair the Committee on Labor, Youth Affairs, and Human Rights.
Pressley’s committee will focus on domestic and sexual violence, child abuse and neglect, bullying, substance abuse, mentoring, hunger and homelessness, with oversight on city programs that deal with community stabilization and reduction of violence and trauma.

“There’s been a lot of talk about the pioneering nature of my candidacy,” said Pressley, who is the council’s first African-American woman. The “pioneering” committee “speaks to what I said on the campaign trail,” she said.

The committee will also focus on women and girls. A lot of anti-violence efforts are targeted at at-risk youth who are boys, she said. “Girls are also bullying through MySpace and Facebook,” she added, pointing to the recent incident in South Hadley where a 15-year-old is suspected to have committed suicide because of bullying.

Pressley is also serving as vice chair of the Public Safety Committee, which City Councillor At-Large Stephen Murphy is chairing again. She also will be serving as vice chair of the special committee overseeing how federal stimulus funds are spent.

As for Dorchester’s district councillors, Charles Yancey will take over the Committee on Post Audit and Oversight, a post previously held by former City Councillor At-Large Sam Yoon, while Maureen Feeney stays atop the Government Operations Committee. Feeney will also serve as vice chair of Pressley’s Women and Healthy Communities Committee.
District 7 Councillor Chuck Turner remains locked out of committee chairmanships because of his indictment on federal corruption charges. He is currently fighting the charges in U.S. District Court. However, he will be the second-in-command of the Census committee, the education committee, and the labor and youth committee.

West Roxbury District Councillor John Tobin heads up the previously announced charter reform committee, which will review the city’s operating document, which has gone largely unchanged for decades. Tobin is hoping to have proposals ready for voters in the 2011 municipal elections.

Most of the councillors, who all cruised to re-election last year, kept their previous committee assignments.

The new councillors at-large are also continuing to staff up.
In Pressley’s office, she is bringing on her top campaign aide, James Chisholm, as her chief of staff. He had also worked with her in U.S. Sen. John Kerry’s office, where he wrote speeches and was a deputy press secretary.

Jackney Prioly, a Dorchester native and special assistant in the mayor’s office and in the city’s human services office, will handle policy, communications, and outreach for Pressley. She is also the coordinator for the City of Boston Scholarship Fund. She is enrolled in Northeastern University’s public administration program.

Ana Gabbidon, an Emerson College graduate who lives in Jamaica Plain, will be Pressley’s special assistant. She served as Pressley’s finance director on the campaign. She also did advance work for the Obama presidential campaign in 2008.

Jessica Taubner, also a Jamaica Plain resident, is Pressley’s policy director. She is a former senior researcher at the state Legislature’s Joint Committee on Health Care Financing, having worked on an omnibus children’s mental health bill and an omnibus cost containment bill that were enacted in 2008. She is also former field director for both the Flaherty and Yoon mayoral campaigns from last year.

Along with chief of staff Stu Rosenberg and constituent services director Joy DePina, Arroyo has hired Ivette Luna as his organizing director and Heather Perez as his executive assistant. Luna previously worked as a lead organizer at social advocacy group Ocean State Action in Rhode Island. Perez previously served as a legislative aide to state Rep. Willie Mae Allen (D-Mattapan).