Governor Deval L. Patrick has consolidated his grip on the University of Massachusetts board of trustees with the appointment today of seven new members, several of whom are trusted political aides and fundraisers, the Globe has learned.
As part of the move, he has also reappointed Fall River businessman James J. Karam -- a close political ally and fundraiser -- as board chairman, just weeks after the attorney general found the search Karam led for a new president was conducted illegally behind closed doors.
The other six appointees are: Jeffrey Mullan, Patrick’s recently resigned secretary of transportation; attorney Margaret D. Xifaras of Marion, a long time activist in Patrick’s campaigns; Larry Carpman, a Democratic political consultant who is often a spokesman for the state party; Alyce Lee of Milton, former chief of staff to Mayor Thomas Menino; Richard P. Campbell, a Boston lawyer; and Zoila Gomez, a Lawrence attorney.
All but Lee are graduates of one of the five University of Massachusetts campuses.
Patrick aides said Karam would only serve as chairman through the current academic year, although he would continue to sit on the board until 2013. They said the governor feels the board needs a chairman as it selects new chancellors for the Amherst and Dartmouth campuses. Karam, as a graduate from the Dartmouth campus, has been particularly protective of that UMass branch.
They also said Karam’s experience -- he is the longest-serving member of the 22-member board -- will help the new university president, Robert Caret, settle into his job.
A Patrick administration official who did not want to be quoted by name defended the governor‘s choices, acknowledging their political ties but citing their qualifications.
‘’The governor was looking for people who are energetic about and committed to UMass as he is,‘‘ said the official. ‘”They are public servants, civic leaders, and UMass alumns, and most importantly their commitment is the university.’’
Karam, the patriarch of a powerful political clan that dominates Southeastern Massachusetts and that has strongly supported Patrick, had chaired the presidential search committee process which last year created a storm after the governor stepped in and blocked the appointment of Martin T. Meehan, the former congressman and now UMass Lowell chancellor.
At the time, well-placed administration sources said Patrick, who was still smarting over his attempt to force a state authority to hire a state senator to a high-paying job a year earlier, was concerned that Meehan's appointment would appear to be an inside political maneuver and create a poor image for the university system.
Patrick has strong political ties to Karam. Since he was the Democratic nominee for governor in 2006, members of the Karam family have donated close to $38,000 to his campaign committee and the state Democratic Party, which he controls.
Just last month, Karam, along with his brother, Robert Karam, and other political figures in Southeast Massachusetts, helped to raise over $35, 000 in campaign funds for the governor at a New Bedford fundraiser, an event that he and other political powerbrokers and business interest in the area had thrown each year for Patrick since 2007.
Patrick had appointed him chairman earlier this year shortly after Robert Manning resigned the post in the wake of the governor’s move to block Meehan.
The stormy politics that flared up over the presidential search and the governor’s move to block Meehan was exacerbated by Coakley’ sharp criticism last month. Her office found the committee had committed “wide-ranging and serious’’ violations of the state’s open meeting law. She ordered the board to go through special training on the law.
‘’The board made a mistake which they have acknowledged and have taken steps to rectify,’’ said the Patrick official when asked why the governor would reappoint Karam in light of Coakley’s reprimand of the process she oversaw.