Youth infusion

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  February 19, 2009

"People don't know how to pin me down [ideologically,]" says DeLeo, who seems to want to be thought of as pragmatic. "I didn't pick people based on ideology. I just want you to work hard."

Of course, the decisions were also based on rewarding those who helped DeLeo rise to Speaker. Some picks, like Walz, suggest that women and young progressives were with DeLeo, at least in part, because they felt he would allow them to thrive. After all, if DeLeo is calling all the shots, it doesn't matter whose faces surround him.

Green concerns
Young Boston-area state senators also made out well, in the relatively limited reshuffling done by State Senate President Therese Murray. Jack Hart of South Boston moved up, and Anthony Petruccelli of East Boston and Anthony Galluccio of Cambridge, each with less than a full term in the chamber, were made chairs of the Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture and Higher Education committees, respectively.

Petruccelli's appointment took local environmental advocates by surprise — he has little track record on the issue, and Eastie is not normally thought of as one of the tree-hugging capitals of Massachusetts. And with less than two years in the Senate, Petruccelli doesn't seem to bring much clout to the committee, some say.

Petruccelli realizes that his selection might come as a surprise. "People look at it and scratch their heads out of curiosity," he says.

Adding to environmentalists' worries, DeLeo appointed a new House Environment chair, William Straus of Mattapoiset, who is also largely unknown on the issue.

This is a big shift. The Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture had been co-chaired by State Senator Pam Resor and Representative Frank Smizik, both considered friendly to eco-interests. Resor did not seek re-election in 2008, and Smizik will chair a new House global-warming committee.

Some environmental activists worry that the appointments of Petruccelli and Straus signal that their issues will be moved to the back burner on Beacon Hill, after an extraordinarily productive 2007–'08 session that saw the passage of laws on global warming, ocean management, renewable energy, and green jobs.

It would be easy for the legislature to pat itself on the back and move on. But activists say there's a lot more to be done. "We have a long way to go," says George Bachrach, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts.

This session's priorities include legislation to protect the state's water supply and to reduce the use of toxins in manufacturing. Bachrach is also hoping to see an increase in spending on environmental issues, which he says are being funded below their 2003 levels. In addition, strong advocates are needed to keep an eye on the implementation of this past session's complex environmental laws.

Petruccelli insists that his appointment is no indication that environment has been moved down the priority list. "To the contrary, I'm excited about the opportunity," he says. "I think this is a hot committee right now."

He also predicts that environmentalists will find him to be a strong ally. "People in East Boston are more interested in environmental issues than people realize," he says, citing as examples Logan Airport, automobile traffic, and beaches.

And Speaker DeLeo says that Straus also has a history of being "extremely interested in the environment."

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