Sweeping up

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  May 30, 2007

Some also point to the addition by subtraction of respected but overmatched early appointees Joan Wallace-Benjamin and Nancy Fernandez Mills.

But some of the credit has to go to Patrick himself, who has proven capable of learning from mistakes and listening to outsiders — including a crew of Dukakis-era Democrats now serving as his kitchen cabinet.

That said, Patrick has reportedly not shed one bad trait: micromanaging. That tendency could derail his suddenly smooth ride.

Patrick is still doing too much personal vetting, say some of his supporters, rather than entrusting his cabinet secretaries and advisers with the bulk of that work. The governor may be understandably overcautious, thanks to the blasting he took for earlier mistakes, but his reluctance to delegate power is a big reason why long-needed appointments of second- and third-level secretaries and commissioners are being held up. These are the administration’s field commanders, says Democratic consultant Dan Payne, who asks: “Why is it taking so long to get these Republicans out of there?”

He’s not the only one asking. Many Democratic Party veterans expected Patrick to request across-the-board resignations on day one — a common practice when administrations change parties — not month five. But Patrick, too absorbed in the minutiae of the budget process, failed to realize the importance of the task, say Democratic observers.

Patrick is also making a mistake, according to some, in personally chairing both his economic-development cabinet and the new crime task force. That will tend to reduce honest and open exchange, say a number of government veterans.

Patrick’s over-involvement has left cabinet secretaries like JudyAnn Bigby in Health and Human Services and Suzanne Bump in Labor and Human Services in untenable situations: too closely directed from above while trying to prod a team of change-resistant Republican holdovers.

One veteran pol likens Patrick’s start to that of William Weld. When Weld replaced Michael Dukakis, in 1991, he initially left many Democrats in place to avoid ruffling feathers on Beacon Hill. But he soon found that his new transportation secretary, James J. Kerasiotes, was thwarted by uncooperative holdovers from Frank Salvucci’s days leading the department. “It took Weld a while to realize that Salvucci was still calling the shots,” this pol says.

“There’s an ability for the bureaucracy that’s been in place to wittingly or unwittingly frustrate the progress of the governor,” says Dukakis appointee James Aloisi. Patrick appears to have gotten that message from his cabinet, just as Weld did.

Bigger tests coming
Although press reports described the recent appointments as an “overhaul,” a “shakeup,” or an indication of “sweeping changes,” it was, in the end, made possible by low-hanging fruit: aside from Harry Spence’s berth at the Department of Social Services, the positions were almost all open or held by transitional figures. Patrick’s changes included naming new commissioners for social services, mental retardation, and conservation and recreation, as well as bringing four new faces to the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development. He also named an assistant commissioner for the newly critical Division of Health Care Finance and Policy, a new director of the State Office of Minority and Women Business Assistance, and two directors of his executive office.

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To Be Named Later

In addition to the appointments that will be announced by the end of this week, Governor Deval Patrick is looking to fill several more key open positions.

SUPREME COURT JUSTICE. This will be one of Patrick’s most important and far-reaching early decisions as governor, and observers say he needs to leak his nominee’s name before others’ get bandied about in the press.

DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION. Commissioner Kathleen Dennehy is gone, temporarily replaced by James Bender. Many observers believe an outsider should spearhead reforms, but it might take Patrick a while to find an experienced person willing to come to Massachusetts, where overcrowding and a belligerent union make the job unappealing.

COMMISSIONER, DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION. Since the department is currently run by acting commissioner Arlene O’Donnell, a Republican appointee, most observers expect to see a new face soon.

MASSPORT BOARD. “The real action, where it matters, is the authorities,” says Democratic consultant Dan Payne. MassPort, MBTA, MWRA, and others will have openings soon, beginning with one MassPort board member’s term ending in June.

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