New Bedford Politicians Begin Maneuvers for Boat Line Seat

By JULIA WELLS

The slumbering campaign by the city of New Bedford to overhaul the Steamship Authority saw a bit of fresh activity this week when a state representative hastily added an amendment to the proposed state budget - and then just as quickly withdrew it.

Rep. William Strauss, a Democrat from Mattapoisett, introduced a rider to the state budget that would give to New Bedford a voting seat on the SSA board of governors and change the way the Vineyard boat line governor is appointed.

The amendment was one of 1,550 tacked on to the $23 billion state budget Tuesday.

But when the House began to debate the amendments on Wednesday, the Strauss amendment was withdrawn after House Speaker Thomas Finneran reiterated his promise to the five-member New Bedford delegation that he will allow a floor debate on a Steamship Authority bill that is now pending in the House Ways and Means Committee.

Approved by the joint committee on transportation two months ago, the pending bill would give a full voting seat on the SSA board to the town of Barnstable and a provisional nonvoting seat to New Bedford for two years.

The new bill, called an insult by members of the New Bedford delegation, bears almost no resemblance to the legislation proposed by the Kass commission last year. And it ignores altogether an amendment proposed late last year by a group of Island selectmen to change the way the Vineyard boat line governor is appointed.

Two county commissioners from the Vineyard showed up at the State House yesterday to lobby legislators in favor of New Bedford's preferred language. But Leonard Jason Jr. and Daniel Flynn were a day late, because Mr. Strauss's amendment had already been withdrawn.

Mr. Flynn and Mr. Jason reportedly claimed to be representing the All-Island Selectmen's Association in seeking support for a proposal that would dilute Island control on the boat line board. They also want the legislature to approve an amendment that is aimed at unseating Vineyard boat line governor Kathryn Roessel.

The two men were on the losing side of a 4-3 vote by the county commission last December to appoint Ms. Roessel over former Vineyard boat line governor J.B. Riggs Parker. Since the vote, Mr. Jason and Mr. Flynn have actively campaigned for legislation that would satisfy the interests of New Bedford.

The Kass bill was the product of a state task force charged by former governor Paul Cellucci with studying boat line issues. The central recommendation of the task force headed by the Hon. Rudolph Kass, a retired state appeals court judge, was a voting seat for New Bedford.

Mr. Flynn was the Vineyard resident appointed to the task force.

In March, the transportation committee approved a bill that was markedly changed and reshaped to put more distance between New Bedford and the public boat line that is the lifeline to the two Islands. That bill is now in the ways and means committee.

According to an Ottaway News Service story yesterday, Mr. Finneran promised that he would allow a floor debate on the pending bill by June 1. New Bedford representatives are expected to push for amendments.

"There will be a fight another day," said Cape and Islands Rep. Eric T. Turkington yesterday.