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opinion | Noah Guiney

Tito Jackson tests City Council’s power

Councilor Tito Jackson is freer to push his own agenda.
Councilor Tito Jackson is freer to push his own agenda.(Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff)

When he campaigned for mayor, then-State Representative Marty Walsh said he welcomed the idea of working with the City Council. Whether he envisioned working with councilors as assertive as Tito Jackson is a different story.

Jackson, who represents the parts of Roxbury and Dorchester that make up the Seventh District, has arguably been in the news more in the past few months than in his previous four years on the council. Last month, as chairman of the council’s Education Committee, he issued a subpoena to Boston University’s president, Robert Brown, forcing him to attend a hearing about the diversity of the college’s staff. That was only the second time the council has issued a subpoena in recent memory.

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Jackson has also butted heads with Walsh over the creation of a commission to study issues facing black and Latino men in Boston. Jackson’s proposal for a 21-member advisory board won unanimous support from the City Council in October. But Walsh vetoed that plan, saying he has created a version of the federal “My Brother’s Keeper” program, which would do much of the same work.

In Jackson’s telling, the fight over the commission was about ensuring that Boston handle issues around race on its own terms, not the federal government’s. “In the city of Boston, we lead on this. We don’t follow national initiatives,” he said in an interview.

But there are local power plays at work here, too. The council is freer now than at any point in the last 20 years to push its own agenda. And Jackson has positioned himself as a go-to city official on issues surrounding men of color in Boston — much the same way Councilor Ayanna Pressley has advocated for women’s issues and Councilor Michelle Wu has taken up the mantle of licensing reform.

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Jackson doesn’t see his relationship with Walsh as adversarial. “We will at times disagree, but that doesn’t have to be in a disagreeable fashion,” he said. And by owning a key civic issue, he could become a real ally to Walsh, helping the mayor craft his policies and lending his initiatives credibility.

But frequent, high-profile clashes can have the opposite effect. And as Jackson and other councilors test their influence, the high-wire act could make for some interesting viewing.

Noah Guiney can be reached at noah.guiney@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @noahguiney.