Republican Governor-elect Charlie Baker said Wednesday that he wanted to get started with the hard work of building “a great administration,” after Democrat Martha Coakley’s concession ended the suspense of a race that was one of the closest in recent state history.
“I think at this point we’re anxious to get started with what happens next. ... The first thing we want to get done is hire a great team,” Baker said at a news conference at a Boston hotel.
Baker met later Wednesday afternoon at the State House with outgoing Democratic Governor Deval Patrick to discuss the transition. “I fully expect it’s going to be a very smooth and productive transition,” he said in an appearance with Patrick after the meeting.
Baker’s comments came after Coakley officially conceded the race in a speech Wednesday morning attended by supporters at her Somerville campaign headquarters.
Baker said at the first news conference that he believed voters had responded to his campaign’s message about boosting the economy, improving education, and bringing “bipartisan balance on Beacon Hill,” which is otherwise dominated by Democrats.
Baker said he recognized he had won by only a slim margin and would govern accordingly. “We certainly plan to lead as representatives of 100 percent of the state,’’ Baker said, with his running mate Karyn Polito at his side. “I am pleased in this particular case we got 40,000 more votes than Coakley did.’’
Baker, who had put off making a victory speech Tuesday night because Coakley wanted to see the final results in the race, didn’t make one Wednesday, either. He offered just a few remarks, with no cheering supporters or rhetorical frills, and then matter-of-factly took a variety of questions.
He applauded the outcome of a ballot question that threw out an automatic increase in the gas tax. “I think that’s a good thing,’’ he said. “I think that’s one place where voters will continue to only have to pay 24 cents a gallon and not pay an inflation adjuster. I think that’s positive.’’
He said he expected to address early in his administration the stalled plan to license medical marijuana dispensaries in the state. The licensing process ground to a halt following stories in The Boston Globe that raised questions about the way it was being conducted.
He said he wanted to look into the problems at the state’s Health Connector health insurance website.
“One of the things we would love to discuss with the administration early on in the transition is the state of affairs, the state of the plight, with respect to the Connector,’’ Baker said. “And the main reason for that is that it’s obviously been the source of enormous amount of conversation, discussion, and money for the better part of the past year. And it’s incredibly important to hundreds of thousands of people in the Commonwealth that we get that right.’’
He also announced that James Peyser, a charter school advocate who served as chairman of the state Board of Education in previous Massachusetts Republican administrations, would head his transition team.
“We’re really looking forward to getting going in January,” he said.
It was the second major loss in Coakley’s career. Her first was her failure to win the 2010 US Senate special election against little-known Republican Scott Brown.
Still, she gave an upbeat, positive speech.
“I hope all voters — everybody in this room, and people across Massachusetts — will work with [Baker] and make sure that we will keep Massachusetts going forward. I will, and I know you will, too,” she said, drawing applause.
“I told him I am going to hold him to his campaign promises because I have his cellphone number. So he will be hearing from me,” she added.
Governor-elect Charlie Baker speaks after campaign victory
Coakley, who is stepping down after two terms as attorney general, was joined by her husband, Thomas F. O’Connor Jr., her running mate Steve Kerrigan, Governor Deval Patrick, US Senator Elizabeth Warren, and Maura Healey, her former aide, who won the race to replace her as attorney general.
Coakley said Baker “could not have been more gracious” to her when she had asked for more time to see the final vote tallies come in.
“We felt that the voters in Massachusetts deserved to have every vote counted,” she said.
Coakley said she hoped that Baker would keep “front and center” the need to reduce stigma around mental and behavioral health issues and the need to protect the environment.
“This is not a dress rehearsal for this planet, and we only have one of them,” she said.
She spoke of being in the first class of women at Williams College and choked up slightly when she noted that her mother didn’t have a chance to go to college.
She offered advice for women, saying, “It’s important that you lean in.”
“For every woman who didn’t get the job she wanted, or didn’t get the promotion, or who ran a race and lost, I say, go right back at it!’’ Coakley said. “Throw your hat back in the ring!’’
Fielding questions from reporters, she said, “I’m really proud of how hard we worked and how close we came.”
“I do believe that in this race we educated each other in some ways about what’s important for Massachusetts,” she said.
“Life goes on,’’ she said, concluding her brief news conference. “After this, we come together and make sure we have a governing democracy, and we continue to fight about the issues we care about. Thank you very much.’
Martha Coakley leaves her home
The election’s outcome had stayed in doubt until early Wednesday morning as Baker slowly amassed what became an insurmountable lead over the Democrat.
With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Baker was leading Coakley 48.4 percent to 46.6 percent, with about 40,000 votes separating the two.
Baker addressed campaign supporters around 1:20 a.m. Wednesday, saying he would agree to Coakley’s request to wait overnight for a final vote tally.
By that time, the Associated Press and three national networks — ABC, CBS, and FOX News — had projected Baker the winner.
The tight race was a surprise given that many polls had shown Baker ahead, but that was before a flurry of activity and accusations in the final week of the campaign, the Globe reported Wednesday morning.
Baker’s victory marked a significant comeback for the state Republican Party, which had dwindled to near-irrelevance since Governor Patrick’s 2006 win. The party is now expected to become a more powerful force to influence state policy, though it will remain a distinct minority in the Democrat-controlled Legislature.
Baker’s victory was also a blow to Patrick, his bitter rival from four years ago. The governor, who resented Baker’s attack on him from 2010, campaigned energetically for Coakley and zealously attacked the GOP candidate on her behalf, accusing him of “an authenticity problem.” But Patrick’s problems in managing state agencies made easy fodder for Baker to counter those attacks.
Asked Wednesday about the tenor of their transition meeting, given their previous tussles, Patrick said, “Campaign’s over. Campaign’s over. We’re looking ahead. We’re both looking ahead.”
“Campaign’s over,” Baker agreed. “This is about moving the state forward.”