Governor-elect Maura Healey Tuesday announced her first three Cabinet hires — including two from her current attorney general office — as she begins to fill senior positions for the executive branch ahead of her January inauguration.
The news comes amid rumblings that the Healey transition team, which has been slow to announce appointments, has been meeting with members of outgoing governor Charlie Baker’s Cabinet to gauge their willingness to remain in their current roles in the new administration.
Nonetheless, the first three hires announced by Healey Tuesday, all veterans of state government, pull heavily from the last Democratic gubernatorial administration under Deval Patrick and from Healey’s own office.
The transition team said that University of Massachusetts finance administrator Matthew Gorzkowicz will serve as secretary of the Executive Office for Administration and Finance, making him the state’s top budget official.
Healey’s first assistant, Kate Cook, will be her chief of staff. Top Healey aide Gabrielle Viator will serve in a similar role as senior adviser to the incoming governor.
The picks are “practical, pragmatic” choices for an incoming administration that has emphasized bringing new voices into state government, said Mo Cowan, a former US senator who worked with both Gorzkowicz and Cook in the Patrick administration.
“These first hires, these first appointments send a clear signal that this is an administration that is focused on being ready day one,” Cowan said.
Healey spokeswoman Karissa Hand said the hiring process began shortly after the Nov. 8 election and Healey and Lieutenant Governor-elect Kim Driscoll have met with “all of the current Cabinet secretaries to discuss their offices’ work, as well as the challenges and opportunities they see ahead.”
Behind the scenes, Healey has been actively building the foundation of what will eventually become a fully-formed administration. People familiar with the conversations say the transition team has met with several Cabinet secretaries in the Baker administration, asking whether they would want to stay.
“It was described to me as a temperature-taking,” said one person familiar with the meetings.
Those familiar with the discussions said some Cabinet secretaries have indicated that they would consider staying on, while many others don’t have an interest in continuing their roles, citing already-formed exit plans.
Despite the three appointments announced Tuesday, Healey has many roles to fill. In addition to the existing offices of transportation, energy and environment, and education, she must also appoint people to new positions she pitched as part of her campaign platform. Those roles include a housing secretary and a Cabinet-level climate chief to help Healey meet her stated goals of 100-percent clean electricity by 2030.
The governor-elect has also called for a new transportation safety chief and the addition of a second deputy general manager for the MBTA.
Gorzkowicz, 50, is likely to take a high-profile role from the start of Healey’s tenure. One of Gorzkowicz’s first orders of business will be to help create the governor’s budget for the next fiscal year and begin realizing her vow to pursue tax relief, a promise that was a central part of her campaign and one she pegged as her first priority.
“He’s kind of an obvious choice of anyone who has been around state government,” said UMass president Marty Meehan. “He’s an outstanding policy wonk, he’s a budget leader. I guess that’s not always sexy to people. He’s not political, per se. But he understands how government works.”
Healey said it was essential to pick a secretary with “a proven record of maintaining economic stability” during a time of “record state revenues and economic stress for so many of our residents.”
For more than a decade, Gorzkowicz has served as the associate vice president for administration and finance at the university’s president’s office, playing a role in setting administrative and financial goals and managing a $3.8 billion budget.
A graduate of Northeastern University, Gorzkowicz will be making a return to the State House, where he once worked in the Senate as the chamber’s budget director and in the Office for Administration and Finance under Patrick, where he served as assistant secretary for budget and later as undersecretary.
In all, Gorzkowicz has worked in state government for more than 20 years.
“This is going to be a dynamic and effective administration, and I’m proud to contribute my experience in state finance and budgeting to serve the Commonwealth,” said Gorzkowicz, who lives in Winthrop with his wife and two children.
Doug Howgate, executive vice president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation and a member of Healey’s transition team, said the state’s budget office will be crucial to her early work.
“[Administration and Finance] sits at this center point of what the governor-elect wants to do and how you do it,” Howgate said. “She’s talked about providing meaningful tax relief to folks.”
Cook, 46, who will be Healey’s chief of staff, currently serves as the governor-elect and attorney general’s right hand as the first assistant attorney general.
Before her appointment in the attorney general’s office, she worked as a partner leading government and election law groups at Boston firm Sugarman Rogers and had an active pro bono practice focused on civil rights liberties matters. Cook also served as chief legal counsel to Patrick, general counsel to the state Senate Ways and Means Committee, and as an attorney for the City of Boston.
Cook lives in Marblehead with her husband and daughter.
Healey hired Cook late last year at the attorney general’s office. Her decision to now bring her to the State House as her “chief operating officer, if you will” suggests they’ve quickly grown comfortable and candid with each other, said Cowan.
“You have two very bright, empathic, warm but also firm individuals who don’t pull their punches,” said Cowan, who served as Patrick’s chief of staff. “It suggests to me that they have forged a real true partnership.”
Viator, who is Healey’s chief deputy attorney general, has served in various roles within the attorney general’s office. Before joining the public sector, she worked in commercial litigation as an associate at Ropes & Gray and worked as a staffer in the State House and Senate.
Healey called Viator, 44, “a close and trusted adviser to me for many years.”
Viator lives in Beverly with her husband and two daughters.
“She has outstanding legal and policy experience, a strong commitment to public service and a passion for teamwork, all of which will be invaluable for our team,” Healey wrote in a statement.
Healey told reporters at the State House last week that she and Driscoll have met with potential hires both inside and outside of state government as well as inside and outside of Massachusetts.
The pair is “all about identifying the right people for these jobs,” Healey said.
Samantha J. Gross can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @samanthajgross. Matt Stout can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout.