Grading the cabinet

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  January 29, 2009


DAN O'CONNELL | Housing and Economic Development | B-

• Doesn't play well with others

• Extremely capable and sharp

• Adapting well to his new surroundings

Of all the cabinet appointments, O'Connell was perhaps greeted with the most unanimous praise two years ago. Many were stunned that Patrick had convinced such a top talent to even come work for the state.

While he is still held in high regard, little of that star quality has so far shone through.

O'Connell's tenure got off to a rocky start, even before he took office. During the transition period, Patrick announced a "development cabinet," to be led by Dan Bosley. O'Connell, according to sources close to the situation, refused to answer to Bosley. Patrick had to scotch the plan, and Bosley withdrew his name and stayed in the House of Representatives.

Whether as a result of that clash or other factors, O'Connell seems to have less sway with the governor than might be expected. His views have not been heeded on several issues, notably Patrick's push for increasing corporate taxes.

He is also described by some as a control freak and an egotist, though others dispute that characterization.

Under O'Connell, the department is universally described as pro-business — both by those who level it as criticism and those who offer it as a compliment.

He has also, however, brought in labor unions and given them a seat at the table.

As one result, the Commonwealth is now allowing trade unions to access their pension funds as leverage to finance investment of projects — something the unions had previously done in the private sector, but that can now help jump-start development being coordinated by public agencies.

Business developers, meanwhile, speak highly of O'Connell and his top business-development team: Gregory Bialecki, chief policy advisor, and Patrick Cloney, executive director of the Office of Business Development.

Housing was just added to this secretariat in the Patrick reorganization. Interestingly, that's where some are giving the department the most credit, for aid and assistance programs that are making some progress on the foreclosure battle. And, while it may not become evident for some time, observers say that O'Connell has worked hard to salvage plans to build needed new housing, which was in danger of stalling in the bad economy.

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