It is a restoration, a revival.
They come back to Beacon Hill with resumes burnished and bank accounts fattened by years in the private sector, a lucrative exile from governmental decision-making.
The early faces of the Baker administration are something of an alumni gathering of the whiz kids of the Weld and Cellucci administrations, led by the new governor himself. It is a veritable time machine whirring back to the mid-1990s. One half expects them to arrive in their new State House offices sporting slap bracelets and humming the “Dangerous Minds” soundtrack. A Fantastic Voyage, indeed.
There’s Kristen Lepore, who worked with Baker in the Executive Office of Administration and Finance during the Roaring ’90s, and will now lead that agency. Steven Kadish, Baker’s new chief of staff, is a health and human services vet from that era. Dominick Ianno, who ran administration and finance communications, will be Lepore’s chief of staff.
There are many more, new Baker aides who are old Weld or Cellucci aides, people credentialed during the (first) Clinton presidency.
But this march of executive branch retreads does not necessarily presage a return to fusty Beacon Hill practices of yore. In fact, the GOP regimes of the ’90s were in many ways more freewheeling and open than the significantly more imperial governorships of Mitt Romney and Deval Patrick.
And Baker’s advisers are cognizant that the early moves made by his two most immediate predecessors in the corner office were tone-setters. Romney cordoned off his office suite and commandeered a State House elevator. Patrick spent heavily on . . . well, you know.
Patrick’s decision to populate the upper reaches of his early administration with political outsiders, the type of folks who had been drawn to his insurgent campaign, was deemed questionable in light of his early missteps. The tense early months of Patrick’s first term still elicit a deer-in-the-headlights ruefulness from the staffers who were around him then, who recall something of a siege mentality.
And Patrick passed his own judgment on the outsider strategy a little over two months after taking the oath in a grand, outdoor ceremony. He brought on two consummate Hill insiders, David Morales and Joe Landolfi, the latter of whom had himself been an aide to William Weld and Paul Cellucci.
“It’s always a good time to step up your game,” Patrick said at the time.
It was. Patrick straightened out a little bit, and ended up replacing both his communications director and his chief of staff in relatively short order. In some quarters, though, it was seen as an unfortunate, if perhaps inevitable, bowing to the demands of the permanent Beacon Hill power structure.
The Baker-ites say they want to avoid the early-inning miscues that can hobble an agenda.
“We’re not gonna buy a fancy new car,” said one top Baker adviser, in a wry reference to Patrick’s Cadillac. (Baker will cruise around in a vehicle provided by the State Police, per the incoming administration.)
For now, the Baker team’s mantra appears to be “manage, manage, manage,” which appears to be an implicit contrast with Patrick’s tenure, which was judged particularly in its latter years on its alleged failures to do just that.
“The gravity and the difficulty of the task is not lost on anyone, and the level of scrutiny isn’t either,” the Baker adviser said.
Awareness ahead of time is one thing. Recognition in the moment is something else.
And, just as Patrick did, Baker will at some point unavoidably stumble before that same power structure, arrayed as he is against a Democrat-run Legislature. Whether his wizened team will be able to save him, in ways Patrick’s early corps of outsiders could not, will become more than just an exercise in nostalgia.