As we watch President Barack Obama replace the federal government's old, unpopular, Republican department heads with fresh, bright talent, it's hard not to think back two years, to the start of Governor Deval Patrick's first term as governor of Massachusetts.
Patrick, like Obama, had a wealth of Democrats eager to join his cabinet — some more ambitious than talented; some with a coterie of politically powerful backers; some expecting appointments as reward for campaign support.
He ended up with a politically diverse group, largely comprising relative political outsiders, who as a whole were seen as smart, promising, but perhaps unprepared to immediately navigate the treacherous Beacon Hill corridors of power.
That conventional wisdom of the time has proven generally true, those in the know now say. To assess their performance two years later, the Phoenix spoke with close observers inside and outside the State House: legislators and aides, Democrats and Republicans, former cabinet secretaries and staff, lobbyists and interest-group representatives, and veteran Bay State political insiders.
Patrick's cabinet secretaries, they say, are capable, and in some cases even stellar, even if they have not yet emerged as stars.
This is in part, they contend, because Patrick and his core staff have preferred to keep a tight leash on the secretaries. More so than in many previous administrations, the governor's office controls the initiatives — and the public messages — of the departments.
Name recognition may be eluding them, but most receive high marks from those who have worked with their secretariats.
We offer report cards here on seven secretaries who were with the Patrick cabinet from the start — although one, Bernard Cohen, has just recently been replaced. And we will reserve judgment for now on the secretary of education, a cabinet position just created this past year.