Grading the cabinet

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  January 29, 2009


KEVIN BURKE | Public Safety and Security | B-

• Keeps a relatively low profile

• Hasn't stepped up to the big challenges

Some observers think the world of Burke. "I can't say enough good things about the secretary and his staff," says State Senator Jim Timilty, chair of the public-safety committee. "He totally understands the policy and the politics."

Timilty points to Burke's collaboration on bills upgrading the state's 9-1-1 emergency channels, reforming the criminal-records laws, and other anti-crime measures.

But critics say that those were watered-down or halfway measures, and that Burke has made little progress with a system in dire need of major overhauls, particularly in the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, the Criminal History Systems Board, and, most of all, the Department of Correction.

Meanwhile, Burke chose to put himself forward as an opponent of — of all issues — the ballot initiative decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana. Burke joined other stubborn law-enforcement figureheads in opposing the initiative, and later suggested that implementing it might flummox the state's police.

If he can't handle that, what chance does he have with reforming the state's bloated, entrenched correctional system, which is next on his plate?

To read the "Talking Politics" blog, go to David S. Bernstein can be reached at

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