Massachusetts House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo is promoting communications director Seth Gitell, who for almost nine years has responded to reporters’ questions with deflections, no comments, “I’ve got nothing new on this,” and pithy statements so self-evident, they sometimes contain barely any information at all (“The House will review the bill after the Senate takes action on it”).
But that’s all part of the job working for DeLeo, one of the tightest-lipped pols on the Massachusetts stage.
Gitell — whose lighthearted discussions about the state of newspapers, food, Boston-area history, and current events with journalists are almost always preceded by a question-delivered-as-command “we’re off the record” — will succeed current chief of staff James Eisenberg. Long seen as one of the most powerful aides in state government, Eisenberg is joining high-octane government relations and public affairs firm Preti Strategies.
A onetime journalist — at the Forward, the Boston Phoenix, and other publications — Gitell served as press secretary to then-mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston before joining DeLeo’s staff.
A magna cum laude graduate of Harvard College with a JD from New York University School of Law, Gitell’s taciturn nature might be explained by the types of inquiries he responded to for years.
Gitell helped DeLeo navigate questions about the federal investigation into — and criminal trial alleging illegal — patronage at the Massachusetts Probation Department. DeLeo was never accused of a crime, though he was labeled an unindicted coconspirator by prosecutors in the 2014 trial of former probation commissioner John J. O’Brien. An appeals court later threw out O’Brien’s conviction.
Whitney Ferguson, DeLeo’s director of strategic initiatives and a onetime public affairs official at Steward Health Care, will become deputy chief of staff. Current deputy chief of staff Toby Morelli is joining the Karol Group, a government affairs firm.
“Seth and Whitney both bring leadership, intellect, and knowhow to their work,” DeLeo said in a statement. The Speaker, who has been the House’s top official since 2009, indicated the shakeup doesn’t mean he’s going anywhere.
“With these staff changes and our existing expert analysts and team members, I have a great lineup to help us hit the ground running for the remainder of the session — and beyond,” DeLeo said.
There are other promotions in the office of DeLeo, who leads a 160-person chamber. Chris Eicher is being promoted to general counsel and chief policy adviser. And Richard Gould will be legislative director.
The news of the shakeup came in the news release that was hand-delivered by Gitell to the Boston Globe’s State House bureau.
He spoke briefly, but Gitell’s remarks were presumed to be off the record.Joshua Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.