Grading the cabinet

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  January 29, 2009


BERNARD COHEN | Transportation and Public Works | C-

• Smart, serious New York transplant

• Unable to fit in with local cliques

• Pushed out; replaced with a familiar face

Cohen is the one cabinet secretary who has resigned during Patrick's first two years, replaced by veteran Beacon Hill insider Jim Aloisi, who just started the job this month.

Cohen ran into trouble with the governor's office when he began talking openly about the need to raise revenues — broaching, for example, the possibility of adding tolls to Route 93. "He was dressed down quickly," says one veteran State House watcher.

But the real problem, most agree, was that Cohen was brought in from New York, and lacked the political connections and skill to become an effective advocate, particularly when in combat with the legislature.

That might be an acceptable shortcoming at some junctures, but not when Patrick is planning to push a major restructuring of the state's transportation-related agencies and authorities.

"He's a policy wonk," says one State House observer. "He didn't understand the politics, and didn't understand the system."

"We're not friendly to outsiders [in Massachusetts]," says Kevin Phelan, president of Colliers Meredith & Grew and a long-time Boston insider. "It takes a while to get inside the tent."

In Cohen's case, it took too long, and he was shown the door.

When Patrick named Aloisi as his replacement, it led to some public uproar — Aloisi is, after all, not only a major Democratic fundraiser, but also a Big Dig veteran. But almost everybody the Phoenix spoke with says that Aloisi is the perfect person for the job.

"Aloisi is a brilliant, brilliant pick," says Baerlein. "At some point you want somebody with a great intellect and impeccable judgment in that role."

The aforementioned State House observer puts it differently: "He's from Eastie — he takes no shit." Expect this grade to improve.

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