Governor-elect Charlie Baker hustled in the five weeks after his election to corral a transition team that reflected the state’s diversity, filling the changeover corps with people from a wide range of socioeconomic and professional backgrounds.
One box Baker didn’t check? Western Massachusetts.
Of the approximately 175 people named to Baker’s transition team, none hails from Berkshire, Hampshire, or Franklin counties, three of the state’s four westernmost counties — all three of which voted for Baker’s opponent, Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley, in last month’s gubernatorial election.
That leaves a gaping vacancy for a candidate who scored political points early in the campaign by promising to spread the state’s economic wealth beyond the Greater Boston region.
The oversight has already caused political headaches for Baker, as several Western Massachusetts political activists have begun circulating a letter protesting the omission.
“It appears that there was an oversight in including representatives from our communities on your team,” a group of Western Massachusetts leaders wrote to Baker’s policy director, Elizabeth Mahoney, in a letter dated Dec. 19.
“We look forward to working with the new administration, and we think we would be most effective if we were involved from the outset,” said the letter, signed by more than two dozen community leaders.
“We were just concerned that there wasn’t really representation from this part of the state,” Elton Ogden, president of the Berkshire Housing Development Corporation and a cosigner, said in a telephone interview. “I understand the realities of our geography, and the fact that folks in the Boston area have a lot more access and are more involved in a day-to-day basis. That said, we have a lot of really talented people out here who would be helpful. We would just love to get some representation on that transition crew.”
Asked if he thought Baker’s lack of political traction in those counties played a role in their omission, Ogden replied: “It’s certainly possible. It could be a combination of things, and you have to wonder if that didn’t play into it.”
Not all of Western Massachusetts was neglected as Baker went about shaping his administration. A Globe review found that seven residents of Hampden County — home to Springfield, Holyoke, and Chicopee — had been picked for the team.
But that tally pales in comparison to the rest of the state. Forty-four members of the team are from Boston, according to a list provided by Baker aides. Even Rhode Island and New Hampshire got in on the action, each sending one contributor to the Baker cause.
That Western Massachusetts was Coakley country did not factor into the assembly of the team, a Baker spokesman said.
“On the campaign trail, and as Governor-elect Charlie Baker has frequented [w]estern Massachusetts to weigh the needs, concerns and input of the region and [its] leaders on issues of local and statewide importance,” Baker spokesman Tim Buckley said in an email. “The people of [w]estern Massachusetts should expect nothing less once Governor-elect Baker takes office.”
But Baker scored no better than 35 percent in any of those three westernmost counties, his worst region of the state. In Berkshire, he managed no more than 28.3 percent.
‘We were just concerned that there wasn’t really representation from this part of the state.’
He fared better in Hampden County, winning with more than 48 percent of the vote. The county has seven people on the Baker transition team.
Some Republican activists from that part of the state said they do not feel disrespected by Baker.
“I don’t feel slighted in the least by that,” said John Andrulis, a state GOP committee member from Leeds and economics professor retired from Western New England University in Springfield. “To a large extent, the whole Baker campaign wasn’t active in those three counties.”
Isaac Mass, a Republican attorney and Greenfield city councilman, said much of the campaigning in that part of the state had been left to Lieutenant Governor-elect Karyn Polito, a former state representative from Shrewsbury. Mass said he spoke with Baker before the election about what he called the “opiate epidemic” in Franklin County, which he called particularly acute in Greenfield.
“I do know that he’s in communication with people in Western Massachusetts,” Mass said.
But the region’s political expectations have grown in recent years, as Governor Deval Patrick has brought more attention with frequent trips to his vacation home in Richmond, and with the likely next president of the Senate, Stanley C. Rosenberg, hailing from Amherst, in Hampshire County.
Still, there remains the lingering sense that Western Massachusetts is too often forgotten by the eastern-centric political establishment.
“The western part of the state, by both parties and by state government, is largely ignored,” Andrulis said.Jim O’Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @JOSreports.