Armini offically takes the reins of the 8th Essex

Jenny Armini stands outside the Massachusetts State House before being sworn in as 8th Essex District Representative on Wednesday. Photo by Libby O'Neill

After months of waiting, Jenny Armini is officially the state representative for the 8th Essex District after she was sworn in at the State House Wednesday afternoon.

Armini, a resident of Marblehead, wore a white pantsuit to mark the occasion Wednesday morning, an apparent allusion to the suffragette movement. The inaugural session of the 193rd general court was called to order around 11:15 a.m., with Gov.-elect Maura Healey, Lt. Gov.-elect Kim Driscoll. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, all joining the house for the swearing-in ceremony.

Gov. Charlie Baker, on his final day in office, administered the oaths to members-elect Wednesday. Armini spoke the words that marked the start of her tenure around 12:15 p.m.

“I, Jenny Armini, do solemnly swear that I will support the constitution of the United States.”

Armini will serve a two-year term after she emerged from a heavily contested Democratic primary in September as the top candidate, securing victory in the race to replace Lori Ehrlich. Ehrlich represented the district for 14 years before departing last January to serve as Region 1 administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Armini faced no Republican challenger in the November general election.

In an interview ahead of her swearing-in, Armini said she was excited to finally get to work and thanked her constituents.

“I’ve had a great sense of anticipation. Honestly, it’s like I can finally scratch the itch,” Armini said in a telephone interview. “But I’ve been extremely fortunate because all three communities have treated me as if I’ve already been sworn in. Whether it’s attending briefings or events or actually working on individual constituent problems. I’ve been working and learning. Obviously what’s going to be different now is that I’m finally going to be able to dive into the legislative process.”

Armini said she’s viewed the transition period between her September victory and Wednesday as an opportunity for a “crash course” in being a state representative.

She said she was able to lean on the experience of fellow members of the Lynn legislative delegation, including state Sen. Brendan Crighton, and state Reps. Peter Capano and Dan Cahill. Ehrlich has also reached out to offer advice, Armini said.

“Lori has been fabulous. She is full of wisdom and advice,” she said. “I feel especially fortunate to have the Lynn delegation as my colleagues … they’re a wealth of information and advice, and honestly they’ve just been so warm and welcoming. Same with Mayor Jared Nicholson and his team. They have brought me in and taught me so much about what’s going on in Lynn.”

While new representatives like Armini won’t receive their committee assignments until later this month, she said she was planning to work quickly to file legislation or co-sponsor bills ahead of the Jan. 20 legislative filing deadline.

Top priorities for Armini include climate change — with the entirety of the 8th Essex District sitting along the coast — and affordable housing, as well as working to find ways to make up the learning deficit students experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m going to be looking at opportunities to file and co-sponsor legislation in those areas,” she said, noting that her priorities were identified through conversations with people and organizations in the district.

Over the course of her nearly decade and a half in office, Ehrlich carved out a niche for herself on climate change — becoming a vocal advocate on the issue and making it a central piece of her legislative agenda.

Armini said she saw herself being an advocate in a variety of different areas, and as a result didn’t want to commit herself to a particular issue. But, she said, battling climate change has to be “job one.”

“There are many other issues that are vexing us, like housing, like education, and so I’m not willing to say yet that I’m going to drill down on just one issue — maybe three issues — and that’s also part of the learning process and figuring out what is going to be the most meaningful to my district,” she said. “Climate and coastal sustainability, there’s no getting around that.”

When evaluating the issues facing the town specifically, Armini pointed to housing, saying, “With housing, we’ve got to figure out a way to make our communities more affordable for every age and income bracket.”

“We’re seeing a situation where older people are having a very tough time staying in their homes. They want to grow old in these communities, but the communities have gotten so expensive that if they were to sell their homes, they wouldn’t have anywhere to go,” Armini said. “And then you have their kids or their grandchildren who want to come back to the community and raise their own families, and they can’t afford a home. And then you also have the problem of you want to have a diverse community again with all income brackets, but people cannot — particularly people of limited means, lower-income people —cannot afford to live here.”

Armini pointed specifically to first responders, nurses and teachers as people who “make up the fabric of our communities” but are priced out of living in them.

“We have to make building affordable housing easier,” she said, pointing to zoning as a way to make headway in the area. She cited Gov. Charlie Baker’s multifamily zoning requirement for MBTA communities, of which Marblehead is one, as a “terrific start.”

“That’s an example of forcing communities to make it easier to build multifamily housing, which is normally more affordable,” she said. “It’s looking at trying to create more of those opportunities to make it easier to build.”

As a new legislator, Armini was allowed to hire a staff member, and selected Liam Morehead as her legislative aide. Morehead, Armini said, served as Crighton’s transportation intern this fall and was a field organizer for Joseph Kennedy III’s senate campaign in 2020.

Armini said Morehead “knows the district.” She said she was “very fortunate” that Morehead’s internship in Crighton’s office was concluding as her term was set to begin.

The hiring process was “very word of mouth,” Armini said, explaining that she leaned on fellow members of the delegation, including Crighton, to see if they had recommendations for who she could hire to support her tenure.

In Massachusetts, state representatives earn a salary of $70,537, and legislators who live within 50 miles of the state house, like Armini, receive an office expense stipend of $17,043 that can be used for travel expenses.

Serving in the legislature is not technically a full-time job, but Armini said she had no plans to take on additional professional responsibilities other than serving her district.

A mother of two, Armini said her family had been very patient and supportive throughout the election and transition process.

“I’m lucky,” she said.