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Board chair Bruce Percelay eyes a more national role for EMK Institute

Law firm taps Collette Phillips connection; Want to shape the future of Boston?; A big question for soon-to-be-former Governor Baker; State Street shoots down Credit Suisse rumors

Bruce Percelay, board chair of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute.Chris Morris

It’s not every day that the folks at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute implore you to watch Fox News.

That’s exactly what happened before the first “Senate Project” debate on Monday, held in the Dorchester nonprofit’s famed replica of the US Senate chamber. Independent Senator Bernie Sanders squared off against Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. Bret Baier of Fox News moderated the debate, which aired on the Fox Nation video subscription service.

This showdown is part of a broader mission that EMK board chair Bruce Percelay envisions: expand the institute beyond school field trips; make it more of a political convener with national aspirations.


“Teaching civics education to area students is important, but our footprint should be a lot bigger and it will be,” said Percelay, founder of the Mount Vernon Co. real estate investment firm. “The Senate Project is just one of the initiatives that we are going to be embarking on that are going to have a national focus.”

The concept for a series of debates came about roughly a year ago when former Democratic senators Tom Daschle and Chris Dodd, both EMK board members, expressed how dejected they felt about divisiveness in the Senate. The hope is to show how politicians make the case for different points of view without partisan bickering and gridlock. Other cosponsors included the nonprofit Bipartisan Policy Center and the Orrin G. Hatch Foundation.

Percelay joined the EMK board about two years ago at the request of Vicki Kennedy, wife of the late Senator Ted Kennedy. They became friends after she was featured on the cover of N Magazine, the Nantucket publication led by Percelay. (She left the EMK board in December after President Joe Biden named her ambassador to Austria.)

Percelay sees it as a fortunate coincidence that the event took place after an accord was reached in the Senate on some modest gun control measures.


“As narrow an agreement as it was, it was a first step toward what we are trying to promote,” Percelay said. “It did demonstrate for us that compromise is possible. The Senate needs to start getting back into the habit of reaching toward the middle.”

Big Law aims to help small entrepreneurs

The Colette Phillips Network keeps getting bigger.

This time, about two dozen corporate lawyers at the Boston office of law firm Hinckley Allen have been drawn into marketing maven Phillips’s web of connections. These lawyers will be donating their time to a cohort of diverse entrepreneurs who received grants through the GK Fund, a nonprofit that Phillips launched with Andre Porter and Michael Benezra to foster startups owned by women and people of color.

Hinckley Allen partner Jay Gonzalez, who volunteers on the GK Fund board, leads this effort on behalf of his firm. It came about because grant winners said that, after money, legal help tops the list of things they need most. For startups, that could mean anything from reviewing vendor contracts to negotiating a lease to securing intellectual property rights. (The GK Fund got its name from Phillips’s “Get Konnected!” series of networking events.)

Gonzalez said fund organizers will start matching the grant recipients — 11 so far — with attorneys later this month. The work will dovetail with broader diversity efforts championed by the firm.

“We’ve got a ton of enthusiasm [at Hinckley Allen],” said Gonzalez, the Democratic nominee for Massachusetts governor in 2018. “We can leverage the expertise and experience that people have to have an impact and make a difference on something that’s meaningful and important.”


Now hiring: The BPDA

Abolish the BPDA? How about sending them a few resumes instead?

Boston Planning & Development Agency director Arthur Jemison talked about a staffing shortage in a Zoom conversation with development trade group NAIOP Massachusetts last week.

Jemison, who was tapped for the job by Mayor Michelle Wu in April, said the new mayor’s vision calls for a more “predictable development process” that focuses on transparency and climate resiliency. He expects the administration will roll out some BPDA reforms early next year.

What about before then? Jemison addressed the concern held by many on the Zoom call: that the agency has been too slow with development approvals lately. Staffing levels at the BPDA, which has 30-plus open positions, are one reason for that.

“We don’t have the current staff to drive the agenda the way we need to,” Jemison said.

He later added: “Business is going to continue [but] it’s going to be faster for everybody if we can identify the right team members to add to our staff.”

It all sounded reassuring to NAIOP chief executive Tamara Small. After all, Wu had crafted a plan to “abolish the BPDA” in 2019 when she was a city councilor. (Jemison urged people on the call to focus their attention “below that line.”)


“Hearing him speak helps with hiring,” Small said. “It’s hard to attract people to work in an agency when you hear an agency is going to be abolished. The fact he talked about preserving BPDA [and] hiring more people, that was important.”

What’s next, Charlie?

Charlie Baker came to the New England Council last week hoping to talk about what he wants to accomplish in his final year in office.

But the governor couldn’t escape the questions about what he’s going to do after he leaves.

The speculation seems to swirl almost every time the leader of a major local institution announces a departure. Last week, it was Harvard president Larry Bacow. MIT also needs a new president, with Rafael Reif stepping down at the end of 2022.

Paul Parravano, co-director of government and community relations at MIT, reminded Baker of the opportunities — in a lighthearted way — at the council meeting at Putnam Investments on Thursday.

“As you may know, there are a couple of openings for university presidents these days,” Parravano told Baker. “So if you’re interested, see me afterwards.”

Baker began shaking his head and looking downward, which prompted Parravano to add, “I’m glad I can’t see the look on your face.”

Marcy Reed, former Massachusetts president for National Grid, subsequently prompted a more serious response, with a similar question.

Baker, a former CEO of health insurer Harvard Pilgrim, indicated he’s not looking for another full-time executive job, saying he will probably do “a bunch of different things” — some related to government, and some in the private sector.


“I have not spent a lot of time thinking about it,” Baker said. “I’m not going to go away quietly. I’m not going to retire. My wife would never let me.”

State Street and Credit Suisse is NOT happening

One thing at a time, folks.

State Street chief executive Ron O’Hanley has made no secret that he’s interested in growing his company through acquisitions. But right now, he’s focused on the purchase of Brown Brothers Harriman’s investor services division — a $3.5 billion deal delayed by an ongoing regulatory review.

That’s one reason it was surprising a Swiss blog reported that State Street might buy the troubled Swiss bank Credit Suisse. (The other: Credit Suisse’s varied business lines make it an unlikely target for State Street, which is focused on asset custody and management.)

State Street issued a brief statement last Wednesday addressing the rumor, saying, essentially: We don’t comment on market speculation but we’re busy right now with Brown Brothers Harriman.

Well, not everyone took the hint — and the rumors persisted. So State Street issued a more definitive statement on Thursday, making it clear it has no Credit Suisse deal in the works of any kind.

Also, that day, Credit Suisse chief executive Thomas Gottstein tried to put the rumors to rest at a conference, saying, “My father once gave me advice: For really stupid questions, you better don’t comment at all.”

Jon Chesto can be reached at Follow him @jonchesto.