Katherine Adam, legislative aide to State Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz for immigration, public health, housing and revenue, waited patiently for constituents to arrive for "office hours" on Wednesday afternoon, May 2, with a copy of El Planeta featuring a cover story on the Senator’s father, retired NASA astronaut Franklin Chang-Díaz. Shortly after 4:00, Adam began meeting with her first visitor, Tennessee native and Boston transplant Robert Yarbrough. There were only two constituents waiting for Adam, which allowed for relaxed discussion with each.
Yarbrough, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, moved to the South End in 2009 with his fiancée, Jennifer, and returned from his most recent tour of duty in mid-January. Yarbrough came to the office hours to talk about revising Massachusetts gun control laws and, in broader terms, more decentralized government that would leave more policy decisions to individual communities. Yarbrough has contacted a number of government officials, including Boston Police Department officers; his State Representative, Aaron Michlewitz; and City Councilor Bill Linehan to suggest a "re-write" of the current gun control laws. Yarbrough expressed frustration at the response he received from Councilor Linehan, which he described as a one-line, non-committal statement. Yarbrough explained that Massachusetts is a "may issue" state, meaning that an applicant may complete all the paperwork and pass the firing test, but the state can still choose to issue a limited license to carry a firearm, below the level of license that the applicant requested. Speaking in more general terms, Yarbrough expressed his belief that many policy issues should be regulated at the lowest, most local level of government to reflect the differing needs of communities in different parts of the state.Adam thanked him for his input, but was not able to comment on Senator Chang-Díaz’s position on the spot. "We appreciate when you contact us because we need to hear what concerns the constituents. I think the Senator will be very interested in hearing your thoughts on gun control as well as your political philosophy," Adam said. Donald Edwards, a former South Ender who now lives in South Boston, was standing nearby and asked to join the conversation. He voiced great concern about drugs and violence in Southie. Edwards stated that there are meetings taking place in South Boston every month, with standing room only attendance, to discuss the crime problems there. Edwards did not have any specific solutions in mind, but feels the Mayor and the police department need to do more to crack down on violent crime and drugs, and expressed shock at the number of young teenagers he sees on the street in South Boston late at night. "It’s sad when people say, ’It’s not my neighborhood.’ People didn’t expect that a grandmother would get her throat slashed."
Dorothy Keeney, a Shawmut Avenue resident and member of the Blackstone/Franklin Square Neighborhood Association, sat down with Ms. Adam and announced, "I am here to protest the closing of the South End Fitness Center (SEFC) pool." Keeney and her husband, Jim, moved to the South End seven years ago, and have been members of the South End Fitness Center for two years. "I am glad to talk to you," Keeney began. "It’s unbelievable that the Mayor wants everyone to lose thousands of pounds and they are closing one of the oldest pools in the city. The Boston Public Health Commission is the oldest public health commission in the country, and they should have their hearts and minds on health, yet they are closing the pool," she continued. "[SEFC] has reasonable rates, and I think even if they raised rates, people would join," Keeney said. "Once you lose a community resource, I think we won’t be able to get another one," Keeney added, citing as an example the closing years ago of the Chinatown branch library. Keeney also suggested that the SEFC pool be opened up to McCormack Housing residents. When Keeney finished presenting her comments, Adam assured her that she would take the matter up with the Senator and that she herself would get back in touch with Keeney.
Last week was an extraordinary one for Senator Chang-Díaz and her distinguished family. On Monday, April 30, the Senator, a former schoolteacher and the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Education, received the Hilda Solis Award for Leadership, presented by her father, retired NASA astronaut Franklin Chang-Díaz, at the 2012 Latino Science and Engineering Award celebration. Franklin Chang-Díaz, a native of Costa Rica who came to the US in the early 1980s to study at MIT, was the first Latino and the first naturalized citizen to become a NASA astronaut, making his first voyage into space in 1986. On Saturday, May 5, Senator Chang-Díaz attended her father’s induction to the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
On receiving the Hilda Solis Award, Senator Chang-Díaz said in an e-mail, "I was so honored to receive the Hilda Solis Award for Leadership, and to have my dad with me at the ceremony. I believe there is no better investment we can make than in our schools and our students, and my dad’s accomplishments are an example of an incredible return on that continued investment. My hope is that the work so many of us are doing on education issues-whether in government, in our schools, at home, or through advocacy-will empower young people to transform their lives in the same way this country helped my dad achieve his dreams."
Senator Chang-Díaz’s staff holds office hours quarterly, with Katherine Adam holding the sessions in the South End. Chang-Díaz’s office can be reached through the State House switchboard at 617/722-2000 for information on upcoming office hours.