Beacon Hill Ends Session Tonight

BOSTON--As the State Legislature winds down its business tonight, Massachusetts lawmakers are scurrying to pass bills before the busy end tonight of the legislation session.

The death penalty riveted Bay State voters and their representatives on Beacon Hill this fall. The legislature reversed itself on Nov. 7, declining in a dramatic 80-80 vote to reintroduce the death penalty.

Cambridge's four legislators in the House of Representatives, meanwhile, struggled to push forward policy initiatives even as they defended their views on capital punishment before their constituents.

One of the four Democratic legislators--State Rep. Timothy J. Toomey Jr. (D-Cambridge), who is also a Cambridge city councillor--broke with party ranks and voted to reinstate the death penalty.

The issue sharply divided city residents. The memory of slain 10-year-old Jeffrey Curley was fresh on many of their minds. And the surprise reduction of an English au pair's murder conviction, following the death penalty vote, raised anew residents' doubts about the death penalty.

Now, Cambridge's lawmakers in the House are pushing a bill to preserve low-income housing and resist an effort by the government to put federally subsidized rental units on the open market. That bill currently sits in committee. Although it may not be considered by the end of the day, the bill may be resubmitted in January.

The Cambridge City Council in April forwarded a home-rule petition to Beacon Hill requesting a 1 percent tax on home sales over $300,000 in Cambridge, which would be used to bolster affordable housing. Like the affordable-housing bill, the so-called transfer-tax petition is in committee and is likely not to be voted on tonight.

In recent interviews with reporters from The Crimson, Cambridge's representatives in the House shared a variety of perspectives on their legislative priorities and policy achievements this term.

A Death Penalty Supporter

As both a city councillor and a third-term state representative for Cambridge, Toomey said he is familiar with what it means to be a grassroots politician.

"I believe both roles compliment each other," Toomey, a Democrat, said in an interview from his State House office yesterday.

"I try to get things done quicker [in the legislature], because I know they'll have an impact at home."

As the sole Cambridge representative advocating the death penalty, Toomey found himself defending his politics this session.

Attacks came not only on the House floor, but also at home from his constituency in the Lechmere and Inman Square areas of North Cambridge.

"It was an individual decision," said Toomey. "Certainly there are a lot of people [in Cambridge] who oppose it, but I was still reelected to City Council last week."