Top Menino aide starting UMass Boston center for 'community democracy'

A top aide to Mayor Thomas Menino is trading in City Hall for UMass Boston. Judith Kurland, who had previously served as Menino's chief of staff, is establishing the Center for Community Democracy and Democratic Literacy at UMass Boston's McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies.

Kurland served as Menino's chief of staff from September 2006 to December 2009, when she stepped down to take a job as Menino's chief of programs and partnerships.

"It has been meaningful and worthwhile to be part of this team for the past four years, a time that is among the hardest the city has ever had to face," Kurland wrote in an email to colleagues last week.

"The fact that we have fared so well despite the weight of national and international failings is because of [Menino's] understanding and perseverance and all the work you have done and continue to do. When I start work at the new center in three weeks' time, it is with an even greater belief in the importance of cities, in the great potential of communities, in the need for an expansion and strengthening of democracy in our own country, and in the critical role of government in leading progressive change."

The new center's first year of operation will be funded by the Barr Foundation.

According to the university, Kurland will work with other UMass centers and institutes, along with community groups such as the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative "to develop models for resident/citizen decision-making that can be replicated elsewhere." The new center will also seek to advance "democratic literacy."

“Judith brings a wealth of public-sector policy development and experience to UMass Boston, and we look forward to her joining us,” Steve Crosby, dean of the McCormack School, said in a statement. “Her voice and the new center will add a valuable new dimension to our work here.”

Kurland has worked as regional director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services during the Clinton administration; the vice president for strategic planning and corporate affairs at New England Medical Center; chief of staff to former U.S. Rep. Michael Harrington; and legislative director to then-Majority Whip (and future Speaker) Thomas P. O'Neill, Jr.

She graduated Mount Holyoke College with a political science degree and has taught at the Kennedy School of Government and the Harvard School of Public Health.