Mr. Turkington Lands a Chairmanship

By JAMES KINSELLA

Marking the first time in eight years that a Cape and Islands representative has taken a committee chairmanship, Rep. Eric T. Turkington on Monday was named House chairman of the newly formed Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development.

The appointment by House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi places the nine-term representative for the Island in a position of power to influence important Island endeavors such as tourism and the arts.

"The Vineyard will have one fearless advocate as the chairman of this committee," Representative Turkington said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

"The cultural development and the arts with the tourism is an interesting combination," Mr. Turkington said. "You look at that and say, what do they have to do with one another? You look at it again and see they have everything to do with each other. We don't have the Grand Canyon here. What we do have is culture and arts and history, especially history.

"There's been no committee like this before," Mr. Turkington continued. "Tourism was sort of an orphan. So were arts and culture. They used to be the second part of education, but something was always boiling there so they never got much attention."

The new committee is a product of the restructuring that took place last week when the House voted unanimously to modernize the House and Senate's internal operations.

Mr. Turkington has served in the House since he was first elected in November 1988. He last served as a committee chairman eight years ago, heading up the Committee on Counties. In addition to his annual salary of about $55,000, he will receive a chairmanship stipend of $7,500.

"I think this is very good news for the Vineyard and very good news for Eric," former Steamship Authority governor Ronald H. Rappaport said Tuesday. "He's a very capable legislator and a very bright person."

Renee Balter, executive director of the Oak Bluffs Association, said Mr. Turkington's appointment bodes well for the Island.

"We'll have good representation at this committee, which is very, very important because tourism is a very important business on the Vineyard," Ms. Balter said Tuesday. "We'll have somebody who understands the Vineyard and is sympathetic to our needs."

She said state funding provides a key boost to tourism promotion in Oak Bluffs. The Martha's Vineyard Chamber of Commerce steers $11,000 in annual state tourism grants to the association. Of that money, $7,000 funds half the cost of operating the information booth at the foot of Circuit avenue, and the remainder is put toward brochures promoting the town. Another $125,000 to $135,000 in revenue from rooms tax helps swell the town government's general fund.

Along those lines, Ms. Balter said, "We need to take a good look at the state level at reinvestment in the tourism industry."

Mr. Turkington agrees with the value of steering more money toward promoting tourism in Masschusetts, especially to lure European visitors in the off-season. Given tourism promotion cutbacks in Massachusetts in recent years, he said, "Places like Philadelphia are cleaning our clocks."

"It's great to have any focus on the arts," M.J. Munafo, producer and artistic director at the Vineyard Playhouse in Vineyard Haven, said Tuesday. "To have arts and tourism linked is a good thing as well."

"Tourism is still the number one factor for Cape Cod and the Islands' economy," Mr. Turkington said in a statement Monday, "and is important to the whole state's economy as well."

"It's good for any community to have their representative be the chairman of a committee," said Vineyard legislative liaison Russell Smith.

Mr. Smith anticipates no big change or direct impact on the Vineyard from the chairmanship.

"It's well deserved," Mr. Smith said of Mr. Turkington's appointment. "He has a lot of experience. He brings a lot to the table."