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City Council to study casinos

East Boston member to lead

David L. Ryan/Globe staff

New Boston City Council President Stephen J. Murphy smiled as he shook hands with Salvatore LaMattina, with other city council members looking on. The councilors took the oath of office and Murphy was elected president today.

Stephen J. Murphy, president of the Boston City Council, yesterday appointed a councilor who wants a casino built at Suffolk Downs to lead a new committee to study gambling.

Councilor Salvatore LaMattina lives in East Boston near the racetrack and has been forthright about his support for a casino there. LaMattina also believes that any vote for residents to approve or reject a casino should be limited to the immediate neighborhood - and not put to a citywide referendum.

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Several councilors, including one who wants a citywide referendum, dismissed any suggestion that LaMattina’s appointment could be a signal of how the council will handle expanded gambling.

“Sal has the utmost integrity and fairness,’’ said Councilor Matthew O’Malley of Jamaica Plain, who supports a casino but, unlike LaMattina, wants the issue put to a citywide referendum. “I know he’ll listen to all sides. I’m sure we’ll have a robust and healthy debate.’’

The state law passed last year that expanded gambling allows residents of most cities or towns a vote to approve or reject any casino. But in Boston, the vote would be limited to the ward where the casino would be located, which means only the residents of East Boston would get a say about a gambling resort in their neighborhood. However, the City Council can authorize a citywide referendum.

Gambling promises to be one of the most significant issues in the coming year for the 13 City Council members, who took the oath of office yesterday at a formal ceremony at Faneuil Hall, marking the start of a two-year term.

Murphy said he had not decided whether a casino vote should be limited to East Boston or put to a citywide referendum. But Murphy said that LaMattina was the clear choice to lead the committee, even if he has made his positions clear on the issue.

“It would be disrespectful not to have the local councilor chair it,’’ Murphy said, referring to the push for a casino at Suffolk Downs in East Boston. “It’s in his backyard.’’

In an interview, LaMattina said: “The council president knows this is an important issue for my neighborhood and the entire city.’’

Murphy announced the new committee yesterday, moments after he won a second year as City Council president with a vote of 13 to 0. The post is largely ceremonial and is limited to two consecutive terms, which means a new president will be elected in 2013, potentially giving a new councilor a platform heading into a mayoral election year.

But Mayor Thomas M. Menino does not appear to be going anywhere anytime soon. Menino was in a feisty mood yesterday as he administered the oaths of office to the councilors. As the mayor walked to the podium, the councilors rose from their seats, anticipating that it was time to take their oaths. But Menino had other ideas. “I didn’t tell you to stand up,’’ the mayor snapped, eliciting laughter from the audience. “Sit down.’’

After the ceremony, reporters asked Menino about an article written by Malcolm Rogers, Museum of Fine Arts director, criticizing the city’s push to increase the size of payments made by universities, hospitals, and cultural institutions in lieu of property taxes, from which nonprofits are exempt. Rogers’s column in The Art Newspaper was titled “Don’t kill the goose.’’

“That’s Malcolm Rogers’s opinion. Eighty-eight percent of the [institutions] are participating in the program,’’ Menino said. “It’s unfortunate that Malcolm doesn’t want to be part of the city and wants to have his own empire.’’

But yesterday’s focus was on the City Council. One new member joined the legislative body - Frank Baker, who won an open seat representing a district that includes most of Dorchester. Each time Baker’s name was mentioned, hoots and hollers erupted in the audience.

“That’s my family,’’ said Baker, who was one of 13 children.

Baker replaced Maureen E. Feeney, who left office after almost two decades to become city clerk. Yesterday marked Feeney’s first official duties in office. She served as emcee of the City Council inauguration and as parliamentarian later at City Hall, where the body held its first meeting of the year.

The Boston School Committee also held its annual organizational meeting yesterday, reelecting the Rev. Gregory Groover as its chairman and installing Michael O’Neill as vice chairman.

The board welcomed a new member, Meg Campbell, founder and executive director of Codman Academy Charter Public School in Dorchester. She was appointed to the committee on Saturday by Menino, filling a vacancy created by Marchelle Raynor, the committee’s former vice chairwoman, who decided to step down after many years on the committee.

James Vaznis of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Andrew Ryan can be reached at acryan@globe.com Follow him on Twitter @globeandrewryan.
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