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Baker’s new chief of staff left NU before governor-elect called

Steve Kadish.Brooks Canaday/Northeastern University

Governor-elect Charlie Baker and his staff glossed over one important fact in all the publicity surrounding his new chief of staff last month: Steven Kadish was weeks away from unemployment when Baker chose him for one of state government’s most powerful jobs.

Northeastern University’s president had revealed in October that Kadish was leaving his post as senior vice president after a scant two years “to pursue other opportunities.” He would remain on the payroll through the end of the year, Joseph Aoun said in a memo, though his duties would be assumed by others starting in November.

But Baker’s staff chose not to mention Kadish’s departure in their Nov. 17 announcement, though aides acknowledge that the governor-elect knew about it. Virtually every news story described Kadish as Northeastern’s chief operating officer, creating the impression that Baker had lured a top manager away from academia.

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People with direct knowledge of the situation say that Kadish had fallen out of favor with other senior managers and that he was leaving a job paying more than $400,000 a year with no other position lined up in advance.

Northeastern officials insist that Kadish’s decision to leave was his alone and when Baker announced his choice of Kadish, he was still on the Northeastern payroll. In press coverage of Kadish’s new job, university officials beamed with pride.

“We are delighted that Steve is going to play a critical role in Governor Baker’s administration,” said Northeastern senior vice president Michael Armini. “Public service is in Steve’s blood.”

But others at the school said senior officials were concerned that the president’s announcement about Kadish, coming just before Baker’s election, could antagonize the new governor, who has worked extensively with Kadish over the years.

Kadish did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Kadish, 58, has had at least 10 jobs since the late 1980s, when he worked as legislative director of MASSPIRG, the public interest group. He has left two high-paying jobs in academia in the last three years.

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Baker, according to news accounts, has described Kadish as the best “fixer” he has ever worked with. They have known each other for more than 20 years, since Kadish served as Baker’s assistant secretary of administration and finance in the administration of William Weld in the mid-1990s.

He also worked under Baker at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care.

Baker’s staff had said Kadish emerged from a very short list of candidates, stressing that he had worked for Republican administrations and also for liberal causes. Campaign finance reports show he has donated to Baker and his running mate, Karyn Polito, as well as Don Berwick, the former federal health care administrator who unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for governor.

When Baker announced Kadish’s appointment to the $140,000-a-year post, Kadish said he was “honored to serve Governor-elect Baker as well as the people of Massachusetts, and I look forward to carrying out the governor-elect’s ambitious vision for a prosperous, thriving Commonwealth.”

Baker already ran into a personnel problem when Richard L. Taylor, a former state transportation chief, stepped down from a leadership role on Baker’s transition team after the Globe inquired about unpaid taxes and business judgments against him.

The chief of staff job is one of state government’s most important positions. Besides implementing the governor’s agenda, the chief of staff oversees budgets, advises the governor on political matters, and manages personnel. He or she may also decide who is granted access to the governor.

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Before Kadish landed at Northeastern, he worked at Dartmouth College, where he spent three years as the closest adviser to Jim Yong Kim, the school’s former president. The men had worked together at Brigham and Woman’s Hospital, where Kadish served as director of global health equity.

Kadish and his wife, Linda Snyder, were both hired by Kim when he took over at Dartmouth in 2009.

Kim immediately instituted dramatic budget cuts at the same time he was making major expenditures, including the $40 million renovation of the Hanover Inn. A longtime Dartmouth professor said the Kim administration, of which Kadish was a key member, was deeply troubled.

“I found [Kadish] to be a very pleasant individual, but he was part of one of the most unfortunate administrations in Dartmouth history,” said Ronald M. Green, a professor for the study of ethics and human values. “I have witnessed six presidencies, most of them much longer in duration than Kim’s. It was an administration characterized by poor communication and a lack of transparency.

“The administration came in stating it was facing a financial crisis, which may or may not have been true, and imposed drastic cuts,’’ Green said. “These cuts were not well explained or carried out.”

Kadish and his wife were so closely allied with Kim that when he left to head the World Bank in July 2012, many in the Dartmouth community thought they would follow. Within days after Kim left in July 2012, however, Northeastern announced it was hiring Kadish, who would start working for the school in October of 2012. His wife took a job at Tufts.

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In making the move, Kadish took a salary hit from the more than $500,000 he made at Dartmouth. Northeastern would not say how much Kadish earned, but Northeastern’s federal tax return for 2012 shows Kadish earned $112,000 for the final three months of the year, suggesting that his annual pay exceeded $400,000.

Baker spokesman Tim Buckley this week stressed that Kadish is an employee of Northeastern, even though his duties have been assumed by others.

“Steve is presently an employee of Northeastern University, where his contributions over the last two years have been met with praise from university leadership and others. The governor-elect is honored to have Steve joining his administration and looks forward to working with him to make Massachusetts great,” Buckley said.

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Andrea Estes, a member of the Globe Spotlight Team, can be reached at andrea.estes@globe.com.