fb-pixel Skip to main content

Quietly, a high-tech gubernatorial transition is underway

One of the offices that the Deval Patrick administration says will be used by the staff of the incoming governor during the transition.Jim Davis/Globe staff/Globe Staff

When polls close across Massachusetts Tuesday night, even before the votes are tallied, the apparatus of state government will be ready for Martha Coakley or Charlie Baker to begin taking the reins.

Since June, Governor Deval Patrick’s transition director, Brian Gosselin, has worked to prepare websites, videos, and other electronic resources that are set to go live at 8:01 p.m. on Election Day and serve as users’ guides for the next governor’s staff and incoming Cabinet secretaries and officials.

Gosselin said that, so far as he knows, it will be the first digital gubernatorial transition in the country, but with the technology now available, he expects such transfers of power to become the norm.


As the sun sets on the Deval Patrick administration's time at the Massachusetts State House, staffers are preparing for the transition to a new governor.Jim Davis/Globe staff

“I’m looking forward to seeing the reaction to it from the next administration, and what is very useful in the website, what’s useful in these materials,” he said in a State House interview. “I think what we’ve done is build a template that the next administration can use in four years, eight years.”

Between the election and inauguration, when Patrick will officially hand over control of the executive branch, the new administration will have only 64 days to prepare hundreds of new state officials for their responsibilities.

John E. Walsh, who headed Patrick’s 2006 transition team and now runs the governor’s political action committee, said Mitt Romney’s administration was “extremely professional and accommodating” in handing over the reins to Patrick, but assembling a new executive branch is always an enormous undertaking.

“I remember, somebody had said to me when we started, ‘Your job is over a period of a couple of months to put in place the leadership of a $30 billion operation,’ ” Walsh said. “And they described it as ‘at once impossible and unavoidable.’ ”

At least one past transition uncovered improper preparations. In 1983, Michael Dukakis returned to the corner office to find that staffers for outgoing Governor Edward J. King had shredded or thrown out documents the secretary of state later determined to be public records they were required to save.


Acrimony between departing governors and other state officials has marked some changes in power, according to professor Robert J. Allison, chairman of the history department at Suffolk University.

Allison said the Massachusetts tradition of the outgoing governor’s “lone walk” out of the State House and across Beacon Street to Boston Common, now seen as a symbolic return to life as a private citizen, began with the 1884 exit of Benjamin F. Butler, an unpopular governor.

“No one wanted to be seen with him,” Allison said. “Butler clashed with just about everybody.”

When the state’s most notorious pol exited the State House in 1937, he made sure the attention was on him.

“When James Michael Curley left office, he really upstaged the new governor by getting married that day,” he said. “He actually walked out of the State House and joined his bride, Gertrude Dennis, to go out to [Boston College] and get married. . . . Curley did very few things modestly or without great public attention.”

To prepare for a “transparent, professional, and successful transition” in January, Gosselin read up on past gubernatorial and mayoral transitions and reviewed briefing materials prepared by previous administrations, and he met with state agencies to learn more about staff responsibilities and what their new bosses will need to know from the outset.


The materials he assembled consist largely of existing information about the ongoing management and statutory requirements of each agency, but new content was created to explain important policy, programmatic, or contractual decisions that will have to be made in the early days of the next administration.

The preparations aren’t focused solely on incoming staff, though. Patrick administration officials likely to be replaced under a new governor have been provided with information on their pensions and health insurance, as well as assistance in updating résumés and preparing to reenter the job market.

“This is a difficult transition for a lot of people who have been pouring their professional lives — and in many cases, personal lives — into these jobs,” Gosselin said.

Gosselin has also worked to record and codify traditions, including the outgoing governor’s “lone walk,” and to ensure proper archiving of permanent and historical records — which will also be stored and transmitted electronically for the first time.

For the incoming governor’s staff, the Patrick administration has set aside a suite of offices in the East Wing of the State House and will provide them with computers and BlackBerrys from the state’s stock.

The goal of all these efforts, according to Patrick spokeswoman Jesse Mermell, is to have no interruptions in services state government provides on a daily basis.

“It’s really about continuity of government,” Mermell said. “Someone’s going to need to apply for a one-day marriage license in the first week of the administration, or there’s a grant somewhere out there in state government that’s expiring on day 20. . . . Why in the world would the next administration know how to do that off the top of their head?”

Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.