Forry snares committee chair in State House shuffle under DeLeo

A Dorchester lawmaker is back atop a Beacon Hill committee for the first time in four years, as newly-crowned House Speaker Robert DeLeo announced the re-shuffling of committee assignments.

State Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry, a backer of DeLeo during his fight with former Majority Leader John Rogers for the speakership, gained the House chairmanship of the Joint Committee on Community Development and Small Business. Like other lawmakers with chairmanships, she will earn annually an extra $7,500 on top of a base pay of $61,440. In the last legislative session, she had been the vice chair of the Public Service Committee.

And as with any lawmaker who receives a chairmanship, she gains a bigger megaphone, a bigger office, a bigger staff and opportunities for increased fundraising.

She will be joined by two other Dorchester lawmakers on the committee, with Rep. Marty Walsh serving as vice chair and freshman Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz tapped as the vice chair on the Senate side by Senate President Therese Murray.

Chang-Diaz, starting her first term, was appointed the Senate chair of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development.

Forry, who has worked at Mayor Thomas Menino's Department of Neighborhood Development and is married to the Reporter's managing editor, said she will keep pushing for pension reform and changes to the state's criminal record system.

"That's still important for me," she said.

The last legislators from Dorchester to hold committee chairmanships were Rep. Marty Walsh, who chaired the Homeland Security Committee, and Rep. Marie St. Fleur, who chaired the Education Committee.

When House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi took over from Thomas Finneran, Walsh was sent packing to the Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government with a vice chairmanship, while St. Fleur was among the several women and minorities who DiMasi elevated to higher posts. She received a vice chairmanship on the budget-crafting House Ways and Means Committee.

This time around, Walsh, a top lieutenant for Rogers, will keep a vice chairmanship. He also kept his slot on the House Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse, while serving on the Committee on Children and Families instead of the Committee on the Environment.

"I'm happy with it," Walsh told the Reporter. "I'm grateful that the speaker had faith in my ability to continue as a chairman."

Keying on his new committee assignment, Walsh said he expects small businesses and community development to gain from the federal stimulus package approved this week. "Much of the stimulus money is geared toward small businesses and community development," he said.

St. Fleur, who was reportedly undecided in the fight for the speakership, was demoted to vice chair of the House Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure. She has also been named as a member to the Committees on Judiciary and Public Service.

Rep. Gloria Fox received the vice chairmanship of the Housing Committee and seats on the Ways and Means and Rules Committees. She had previously held the position of vice chair in the Rules Committee.

The rest of the Dorchester delegation remained among the rank-and-file: Rep. Brian Wallace kept his seat on the Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse, and snagged membership on the Committees on Revenue and the Environment.

Rep. Willie Mae Allen kept her slot on the Committees on Elder Affairs and Election Laws, while adding the Committee on Financial Services to her roster.

Rep. Charley Murphy, a Burlington Democrat with 12 years in the Legislature, was picked to be the chair of the Ways and Means Committee. He takes over as the state struggles with a billion dollar budget hole and an economy that shows no signs of stepping out of a recession.

DeLeo said he tried to focus on the full structure of committees, rather than individual appointments.

"Anything of this magnitude, when you have 144 Democrats, there are a lot of difficult choices that have to be made," DeLeo told the State House News Service. "There are a lot of folks that are qualified."

Little changed on the Senate side, though Senate President Therese Murray placed Sen. Jack Hart at the helm of the Committees on Steering and Policy and Bills in Third Reading, removing him from his post as chair of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies.

Chang-Diaz, on top of her Tourism Committee and Small Business assignments, also landed seats on the Education, Housing, and Elder Affairs Committees.

"It's a great roster of assignments," said Chang-Diaz, a former teacher from Jamaica Plain. "Honestly, when I looked at the list of committees, there were so many that had a very strong impact on the district. I would've been happy to serve on many of them."

State House News Service contributed to this report.