When Massachusetts lawmakers debated casinos in 2003, Stephen P. Crosby argued that the state could hardly do worse than the lottery system, which he said shortchanged communities to the point of “promoting gambling for the sake of gambling.’’
Casinos, he wrote in an op-ed for the Boston Globe, would funnel more gambling proceeds to public use than the lottery. Even better, it might cut back on gambling, and “that’s probably a public policy good,’’ he said.
In his effort to analyze gambling’s costs and benefits, Crosby relied on an analytical, open-minded approach that colleagues describe as a hallmark of his four-decade career in politics, business, and higher education, and say will be sharply tested in his new job as head of the state’s powerful gambling board.
“He’s able to take an issue and tilt it this way and that, to look at it in different ways,’’ said David Gordon, director of publishing at CAST, an education research group where Crosby has served as a director for 16 years.
That evenhanded approach, those who know Crosby said, has allowed him to work for both Democratic and Republican administrations and build a reputation for remaining above the political fray.
In the late 1970s, he was campaign manager for Mayor Kevin H. White of Boston, a Democrat, and in 2006 was cochairman of the Patrick administration’s budget and finance transition team.
Crosby, 66, was the state’s top budget official under Governor Paul Cellucci, then chief of staff and budget director under acting Governor Jane Swift, both Republicans.
But Christy Mihos, a member of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority at the time, said that Crosby scuttled the board’s negotiations with Bechtel Corp. as it tried to recover funds from cost overruns in the Big Dig project.
“He basically deep-sixed any negotiations we had,’’ Mihos said. “He let everybody down.’’
Mihos said the move undermined the board’s authority and ability to exert control over the project and said Crosby is a poor choice to handle high-stakes negotiations.
Before jumping back into politics, Crosby had a successful business career. In 1980, he founded magazine publishing company Crosby Vandenburgh Group. He later sold the company and started SmartRoute Systems, a Cambridge traffic information service.
More recently, he has been dean of the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston. The past two years, he has spearheaded the development of the university’s long-range plan, said J. Keith Motley, the university’s chancellor, who praised Crosby’s leadership style.
“He’s one of those guys who spends a lot of time listening,’’ Motley said, “but also understands when it’s time to get it done.’’ Even those who raised objections to various aspects of the plan, he said, acknowledged that the process was fair and transparent.
Friends and colleagues said Crosby’s intelligence and integrity make him a good fit for the position, which carries sweeping powers and substantial risk.
“This has all the potential for corruption, and you have to have someone who is absolutely beyond reproach, which he is,’’ said L. Sandy Maisel, a government professor at Colby College, who has been friends with Crosby since they roomed together their senior year at Harvard.
Crosby graduated in 1967, and began working on political campaigns, including congressional candidates Mike Peabody and Marty Linsky.
In between campaigns, he served in the National Guard; raised money for Boston’s Black United Front, an activist group; and “struggled through 2 1/2 years’’ at BU Law School, he wrote.
“One more semester and I’ll make it,’’ he said.
Five years later, he described working as the assistant to the publisher of the weekly “The Real Paper’’ and said that his life in Massachusetts Republican politics had come to an end, at least for now.
“In 10 years, I’ve never had a job for more than 11 months, and I wouldn’t exchange the experience and the challenge of politics, power, and people for anything else,’’ he wrote. “But it’s time now to find a more tangible career.’’
Years later, in 2002, however, Crosby wrote that he left the business world to return to his “first love,’’ politics.Peter Schworm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globepete.