Mayor-elect Martin J. Walsh, who has yet to make any appointments to his incoming administration, pledged Thursday night to fill key positions by Christmas.
“These are big decisions,” Walsh said in a telephone interview as he shuttled between meetings. “When I ran the campaign, I wasn’t focused on who my chief of staff was going to be. I want to make sure I get it right. That’s more important than the quickness of it.”
Walsh has launched 11 policy teams that include a diverse array of 250 people chosen to examine aspects of government and urban life, from basic city services to the arts. But at the midway point between election and inauguration, Boston’s first new chief executive in two decades has not decided how he will structure the mayor’s office or begun formally interviewing candidates for key positions.
This week in New York, incoming mayor Bill de Blasio named his top deputy and his police commissioner. Earlier this year in Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti named his chief of staff four weeks after Election Day.
But in Chicago in 2011, Mayor Rahm Emanuel waited until five days before taking office to announce his top aides, including chief of staff.
Walsh takes office Jan. 6 in Boston’s first full transition of power in 30 years. Mayor Thomas M. Menino served as acting mayor for four months and had a team in place before his first election in 1993. Menino moved quickly to make good on a campaign promise to shake up city government and within a month of his election fired eight city department heads.
Mayor Raymond L. Flynn moved at a more deliberate pace during his transition in 1983, but began making personnel decisions a month after his election. Flynn asked a few of the previous mayor’s aides to stay, but sent termination letters to dozens of city department heads, commissioners, and others.
Unlike Menino and Flynn, Walsh is coming to City Hall directly from the State House, where he has served 16 years in the Legislature. He said Thursday that he is having one-on-one conversations with dozens of “talented people” at City Hall and determining who would like to stay. At least one well-
regarded official — Bill Oates, the city’s chief information officer — accepted a position with the state before Walsh had a chance to speak with him. Walsh rejected any suggestion that the transition was moving slowly because he had not made appointments.
“I don’t think it’s slow,” Walsh said. “If you look at my schedule and my transition team’s schedule, it certainly doesn’t appear that anything is slow. I’ll have it done before Christmas. I should have a good grasp on who the people will be in the immediate office at that point.”
There have been no formal interviews because the transition team is still determining the process for vetting candidates. Roughly 1,100 job seekers have submitted resumes.
Many positions can wait until well after inauguration day, but Walsh’s choice for chief of staff is crucial, said Jeffrey M. Berry, a political science professor at Tufts University.
“That decision needs to be made relatively soon,” Berry said. “If it’s not, that slows everything down, all the other appointments.
“The chief of staff is critical because he is going to help Walsh create the organizational structure that Walsh will use to govern,” he said. “It’s the person that can pick up the phone and call anybody else in the administration and say, ‘The mayor wants this done.’ And the person on the other end understands that the caller is speaking for the mayor.”
Other key appointments include the city’s chief financial officer, a post currently held by Meredith Weenick, who has not said whether she wants to stay. The budget process is already under way, and Walsh’s new administration must submit a spending plan to the City Council for the next fiscal year by April 9.
In Boston, a new mayor also must be prepared for a snowstorm, but the city’s public works commissioner, Joanne Massaro, is leaving. Walsh is expected to participate in a snowstorm drill Monday at City Hall, with Menino and his aides showing how they mobilize resources for winter weather.
Walsh’s transition operation occupies a space on Franklin Street with three offices, two conference rooms, and a small kitchen. The staff includes about a dozen young researchers who were field directors in Walsh’s bid for mayor and remain on the campaign’s payroll.
Walsh aides put the cost of the transition at roughly $135,000 and said they plan to set up a nonprofit to solicit donations for the effort, which will include a large town hall meeting in the coming weeks. Walsh’s team has also established a separate Boston Inaugural 2014 Committee to raise money for festivities on Jan. 6.
The transition’s executive director is David Stone, a Democratic operative with a speciality in research who worked on Walsh’s campaign. In 2008, Stone built a website for the state Democratic Party called RomneyFacts.com that was a repository of information about Mitt Romney that could be used against the former governor in his first White House run.
The other key figure in the transition office most days is Joyce Linehan, a grass-roots organizer close to Walsh. Linehan helped draft more than 40 policy papers for Walsh’s campaign this summer, and she was named one of nine transition cochairs the week after the election.
“It’s much more important that we do this right than we do it fast,” Linehan said Thursday. “Looking at it from the outside is a very different perspective. There are a lot of moving parts. There is a lot of exciting work. And we’ve assembled a really good team who are going to meet the goal of making it so the mayor-elect can walk into City Hall on Jan. 6 and govern effectively.”
Linehan has helped build the 11 policy teams, which range in size from roughly 15 to 40. Each team will have several closed-door meetings and a public hearing, which start next week. The goal for each group is to produce a report by Feb. 1 identifying current city policies that work, propose innovations that could be accomplished in the early days of the administration, and outline long-term goals.
“People are going to come to the table with tons of ideas,” said Andrea Cabral, the state’s public safety secretary, who is a leader of the public safety team, which will have its first meeting next week. “We’ve gotten very good guidance on how to channel that focus.”