Governor Deval Patrick appointed a former aide to Andrea J. Cabral to succeed her as Suffolk County sheriff on Tuesday, saying he was not concerned that Steven Tompkins could be seen as a political hire.
“By the way, it’s a political job, so the folks that are criticizing it as a political hire, tell them: they’re right,” Patrick told reporters shortly after administering the oath of office to Tompkins, who will serve until the 2014 general election.
Patrick acknowledged that he had looked at candidates beyond Cabral’s inner circle, including some who had more experience in the operation of jails. But he defended Tompkins as “the right man at the right time.”
As sheriff, Tompkins will oversee the largest county correctional system in Massachusetts, which includes the Suffolk County House of Correction, the Nashua Street Jail, and the Civil Process Division. He will earn $124,000 a year.
Tompkins, 55, has been serving as Cabral’s chief of external relations, responsible for her media relations and connections with elected officials, businesses, and community and neighborhood groups. He also served as an adviser to Elizabeth Warren’s Senate campaign.
Patrick said Tompkins also created the Common Ground Institute, a vocational training program for inmates about to be released, and The Choice Program, which sends correctional officers into Boston public schools.
Patrick needed to fill the job of sheriff after choosing Cabral to be his secretary of public safety and security. On Tuesday, the governor administered the oath of office to her, as well. Cabral replaces Mary Beth Heffernan, whom Patrick has nominated for a judgeship.
Tompkins, who has worked in Cabral’s office since 2002, recalled growing up on public assistance in a single-parent household in public housing in Harlem.
He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Boston College and a master’s in public affairs from the University of Massachusetts. He lives in Hyde Park with his wife, Suzanne, and their two children.
Tompkins said he points to his own story when talking to young people about staying out of trouble.
“I went through that school of hard knocks, and here I am being sworn in by the governor,” Tompkins said, as Patrick, who also grew up on public assistance, beamed.Michael Levenson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mlevenson.