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Boston’s snow czar leaving post today

Elmo Baldassari has been public works deputy commissioner since 2008.

Bill Greene/Globe Staff/File 2011

Elmo Baldassari has been public works deputy commissioner since 2008.

A nor’easter is pounding Boston just days before a new mayor takes control of the city. But at least the city’s snow czar is still on the job, right?

Not so fast. At 3 p.m. Friday, hours after the last snow flakes are scheduled to fall, Elmo Baldassari will be leaving his post, creating one of the most critical vacancies that incoming mayor Martin J. Walsh will have to fill.

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By Thursday evening, the mayor-elect had not announced any appointments to his new administration, not even a chief of staff who might advise him in hiring. But when pressed for reassurance, a Walsh spokeswoman said there is a plan in place for snow management, one of the duties that can make or break a new mayor.

Mike Dennehy, a longtime city public works employee, will take over snow removal Monday, at least on an acting basis, said Walsh spokeswoman Kate Norton. Dennehy has been working with Walsh’s transition team in recent days and monitoring the snow operations, Norton said in a statement.

So, too, has Michael Brohel, who is currently the recycling coordinator for the city Public Works Department Waste Reduction Division, she said. Walsh’s transition team has been studying public works issues over the past two months, and Walsh himself attended a mock snow removal drill last month with outgoing Mayor Thomas M. Menino.

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“I’m not ready for it yet,” Walsh said at the time. “But the mayor’s on standby, and I’ll be able to call him and say, ‘Mr. Mayor, what do I do now?’ ”

But that won’t exactly be the case, at least not immediately. Menino is heading off on vacation Monday.

Menino’s spokeswoman, Dot Joyce, said that Baldassari, who had held his position since 2008, had filed his retirement papers long before the snowstorm was predicted.

By Friday afternoon, Joyce said in a statement, “the city’s emergency operations plans will hopefully be wrapping up for this storm and it will be on to the next. We will continue to work collaboratively with the mayor-elect and his team in making sure Boston residents have a seamless transition.”

Snow removal can be a perilous project for a newcomer in office. But in Boston, “it’s inevitable,” said Paul Watanabe, a cochairman of Walsh’s transition committee and an associate professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

“He's going to have to rely on the structure that he inherited more than on the one he wants to create,” Watanabe said of the imminent snowstorms.

Menino earned the nickname “urban mechanic” for his attention to the nuts and bolts of city management, such as snow removal. His successor will hope to claim similar success rates on the small stuff.

“In the end, he may be judged as much by issues like snow removal as he will by the condition of the schools,” said Watanabe.

The mayor-elect, who won election Nov. 5, has yet to name any appointees or a chief of staff who will be by his side guiding the appointments to the new administration.

Walsh is to be sworn in on Monday morning at Boston College.

The storm already threw a wrench into Friday’s inaugural plans, which were to be focused on community service. All events scheduled before 4 p.m. were postponed, his inaugural committee said Thursday. More information can be found on the inaugural website, bostoninaugural2014.org.

Walsh and volunteers still intend to help out at Generation Citizen in Jamaica Plain at 5 p.m. Friday and to serve dinner at Rosie’s Place in Roxbury at 6 p.m.

Walsh had planned to host a Recovery Awareness Event with former NBA player Chris Herren in the North End on Friday night, but it was cancelled.

In a statement, the mayor-elect seized on the weather as a unifying force in Boston and encouraged residents to help their neighbors shovel their walkways and to offer those without transportation rides to the grocery store.

“It is these small acts of kindness,” he said, “that bring Boston together and make our city great.”

Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at Stephanie.Ebbert@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @StephanieEbbert.
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