Western Mass Has Starring & Supporting Roles on Healey Policy Panels…
Nearly three weeks after Attorney General Maura Healey formally became governor-elect of the commonwealth, some meat on the bones of her budding administration are appearing. While Healey and Lieutenant Governor-elect Kim Driscoll have yet to name any senior staff or cabinet, some of their choices for policy committees signal some commitment to a key promise.
Western Mass denizens have key seats among Healey and Driscoll’s six transition policy committees. Among the most prominent is Longmeadow Senator Eric Lesser the only sitting, if outgoing, legislator in the batch. The list includes veterans of transportation, housing and economic development policy in the 413 as well some with expertise in other matters and deep roots in the region.
“We’re excited to welcome this experienced, innovative and hardworking group of leaders to our transition policy committees,” Driscoll, who also chairs Healey’s transition, said in a statement. “They will play a critical role in the important work we are doing to ensure that our administration is ready to begin moving Massachusetts forward on day one.”
Healey and Driscoll unveiled the subject matters for the six committees on November 18. The same day, they announced Danielle Cerny was serving as the transition’s director.
The six committees cover transportation, housing, climate, jobs and the economy, youth and education, and safety and health. The co-chairs include several Massachusetts luminaries including Gina McCarthy, who recently stepped down as President Joe Biden’s top climate advisor, and Chrissy Lynch, chief of staff to the state AFL-CIO. The only co-chair from Western Mass appears to be Keith Fairy, president and CEO of Way Finders, a Springfield housing nonprofit.
Still, the Massachusetts Occident appears has a presence on all committees.
In addition to Lesser, the transportation committee includes Rebecca Townsend, Longmeadow’s Town Moderator and a college professor. Townsend’s inclusion on that panel, however, connects to her role as a founding member of Trains in the Valley, a rail advocacy group. Trains in the Valley has been credited with building popular spport for additional rail services in all directions from Springfield, where two major lines meet. Joining Lesser and Townsend on the committee will be Pioneer Valley Transit Authority administrator Sandra Sheehan.
Also on the housing committee Fairy will chair is South Hadley Town Administrator Lisa Wong. Once the mayor of Fitchburg, Wong has remained active in Gateway City policy since moving to Western Mass. She should be able to bring experience running different types of municipalities from the further flung parts of Massachusetts.
The climate committee will feature a onetime legislator from the 413. Former Pittsfield Senator Ben Downing, who ran for governor this cycle with an emphasis on climate, will bring a lengthy legislative and post-electoral resume to that committee. But his deep ties to the region will also inform how climate change affects even those areas of the commonwealth far afield from the ocean.
The economy and jobs committee will feature a one-time Healey opponent—Downing dropped out before Healey entered the race. Harvard professor and nonprofit leader Danielle Allen will sit on this committee. The Western Mass names include Western New England University President Robert Johnson and Holyoke Community College President Christina Royal.
Another person from the region on this panel is Richard Sullivan, Jr. Now the President and CEO of the Western Mass Economic Development Council, he is also an at-large councilor in his native Westfield. However, gubernatorial administrations are nothing new to Sullivan. He served in former Governor Deval Patrick’s cabinet and later as his chief of staff.
The youth and education committee includes Pema Latshang of the nonprofit Teach Western Mass.
The health and safety committee features several prominent Western Mass figures. Baystate Health CEO Dr. Mark Keroack, Northampton Police Chief Jody Kasper, and Kimberly Lee the Chief of Creative Strategy and Development at MiraVista Behavioral Health Center all on this panel. As the head of Western Mass’s largest health system, Keroack was already a 413 notable statewide. However, he gained additional local and state prominence during the pandemic and served on Governor Charlie Baker’s reopening council.
Service on these panels is not a foreshadowing of anybody’s appointment. Still, the presence of some will only crank up the rumor mill more.
The Massachusetts political commentariat, especially in the 413, has chattered about Lesser receiving a transportation-related appointment to see out his marquee project East-West rail. It also could be figure into the typical post-electoral peacemaking. Lesser is leaving the Senate after an unsuccessful bid against Driscoll, whom he enthusiastically endorsed afterward.
However, some of the others could be on deck as well. Downing, who now lives in Boston, is a very plausible climate policy appointment. Kasper has maneuvered the activist pool in the Upper Valley, while bringing some reform to Noho’s Finest. A public safety appointment could make sense.
These committees have been styled as policy-oriented, but it is impossible to think they will have no personnel impact. With Healey due to take office in about six weeks, time to form as much of her administration as possible will begin to run short. The first major nods should arrive soon.