The yin and yang of Baker

An MBA’s focus and a surprisingly emotional touch make for a strong start for the Republican governor.


Gov. Charlie Baker bends down to greet a woman at Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson’s turkey giveaway on the Sunday before Thanksgiving in Roxbury.

Photographs by Mark Ostow

CHARLIE BAKER IS getting worked up about “queueing theory.”

He’s sitting at a conference table in his smaller “working office” in the governor’s suite at the Massachusetts State House. The space, last occupied by Deval Patrick’s chief of staff, is where Baker has opted to conduct most business, eschewing the ornate official governor’s office for everything but big meetings and ceremonial occasions.

Baker is talking about horrific waiting times at the Registry of Motor Vehicles, and how his administration is reworking the way customer lines are organized for various services. “This is a queueing theory problem, all right, this is not my ideology,” he says. Baker says the revamping of the customer queue system has already made a huge difference in one of the encounters with state government many people have come to dread.

“The waiting lines are literallyjustdisappearing,” he says, his voice rising and cadence slowing as he pounds the table three times in sync with the last words. “People are getting in and out of these places in 10 minutes. Maybe most people would say that’s not very aspirational. If you’re the person who gets paid by the hour and loses half a day, you probably think that’s pretty cool.”

For the wunderkind of Republican administrations in the 1990s, nothing is more satisfying than digging into the workings of government and coming up with a fix for broken systems.

After a failed run for governor in 2010 in which he came off as angry and stridently partisan, Baker hit the reset button when he launched another run four years later, fashioning himself as a bipartisan problem-solver.

It’s much closer to who he actually is, say Baker and those around him. Clearly, it was closer to what Massachusetts voters wanted in a governor—or at least enough of them for Baker to eke out a narrow victory over Martha Coakley in an increasingly Democratic state.

His focus on getting the basics of government right, while dismissing talk about grand visions, echoes an approach that proved very successful for a certain long-serving Boston mayor. He shares another quality with the late Tom Menino that may help immunize him against the wandering-eye hazards that can come after the excitement of the first years in office have faded: A singular interest in the position he now has.

“It’s the only job he’s really, really wanted,” says Will Keyser, the chief strategist for Baker’s 2014 campaign, who calls that fact an important part of the “secret sauce” that has made for such a strong first year in office.

Some of the bigger things Baker has taken on in his first year were not part of any big agenda, but he’s had a hands-on approach to crises that dropped in his lap.

After last winter’s MBTA meltdown, he pushed for reforms that give him more authority over the system than any governor in history—and more responsibility if things don’t go right. He sought to address the seemingly intractable problems at the state’s child welfare agency, where a series of horrific cases exposed deep flaws in the state’s system for keeping vulnerable children safe. And he filed sweeping legislation to address an opioid crisis that is ravaging communities and claiming lives across the state.

He’s also shown a knack tempering the serious business at hand with an amiable lighter side.

He’s been a good sport for good causes, submitting to a buzzcut as part of a fundraiser for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and taking the ice bucket challenge to raise money for ALS research. (He aced the optics of that by getting drenched in a “Free Brady” t-shirt to spotlight the star quarterback’s “Deflategate” travails.) He banters on Twitter, and has become the state’s reigning king of the selfie.

To judge by his poll numbers, Baker seems to have hit all the right notes. In November, a survey of voters in all 50 states reported that Baker was the most popular governor in America, with 74 percent of Massachusetts voters giving his performance a favorable nod and just 14 percent saying they disapprove of the job he’s doing.

But it may be more than just the fix-it focus and everyman moves that explain Baker’s high marks. For a data-driven MBA, who made his early mark in state government as a budget whiz with a famously short fuse, Baker has displayed a surprising comfort with showing emotions of a different sort.

Ironically, that nearly sent his 2014 campaign off the rails. In the final televised debate of the race, when he and Coakley were asked to recall the last time they had cried, Baker wept again in the retelling as he described a heartrending conversation with a New Bedford fisherman who felt he had ruined his sons’ lives by convincing them to turn down college scholarships in order to work with him in what has proven to be a dying industry.

When reporters were unable to track down the puddle-provoking angler, the Coakley campaign pounced on the mystery, sensing an opening in the race’s closing days to shift the storyline from Baker’s big heart to questions about his honesty.

Baker wound up claiming that the encounter occurred in his 2010 campaign—he said he had retold the story at a private event days before the debate and that he may have had some of the details wrong.  But the details seem to have mattered less in the end than the human side of himself that Baker showed.

Brian O’Connor, a longtime aide to former congressman Joe Kennedy, heard Baker speak at a ceremony in June when the “Wall that Heals,” a half-size traveling replica of the Vietnam War memorial in Washington, DC, made a stop in Gloucester. “He broke down in tears, and it was not fake,” says O’Connor, a hard-boiled Democrat whose father died in the Vietnam War. “He’s obviously smart and steeped in policy, but that talk showed another dimension—his willingness to bare his heart and emotions.” That is “extremely unusual and very appealing to voters.”

His managerial know-how has always been Baker’s calling card, and it may have been what convinced voters to hire him for the governor’s job. His ability to not only roll up his sleeves and tackle problems, but to also strike a surprisingly human chord along the way may help explain why he’s proving so popular now that he’s in it.


Baker has a straightforward answer when asked how he explains poll numbers that would make him the “it boy” at a gathering of US governors.

“We’ve tried to be pretty consistent with what we talked about during the campaign, which was wanting to be bipartisan, wanting to collaborate, wanting to get stuff done and focus on the work,” he says.

There’s nothing flashy in that, but a “focus on the work” may have been particularly appealing after a string of management failures that marred Deval Patrick’s second term. From the costly failure of the Health Connector website to the state drug lab scandal and botched rollout of the state’s medical marijuana law, it sometimes felt like the wheels were coming off the bus of state government.

A guy whose big claim was fixing broken systems, whether in state government as human services secretary and then budget chief under Bill Weld and Paul Cellucci, or at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care as it teetered on the brink of bankruptcy, may have been just what the doctor ordered.


Baker at Tito Jackson’s Thanksgiving turkey giveaway.

“I think there was a hunger for a hands-on governor. Not a big thinker, not a great speaker, but a mechanic,” says Dan Payne, a veteran Democratic strategist.  “Dukakis was very good at that,” he says of the state’s longest-serving governor. “Baker probably comes at it a little differently, but I think it’s the same sense of, let’s just keep the trains running on time, which is literally the case with the T.”

Keeping the trains running on time, of course, has taken on a good deal more urgency in the wake of last winter’s epic collapse of the MBTA’s subway and commuter rail systems.

It’s a task that now falls most squarely on Baker’s secretary of transportation, Stephanie Pollack. In trying to fill out a cabinet that would reflect his pledge of bipartisanship, nothing caused more heads to turn than Baker’s selection of the whip-smart policy expert and strong public transit advocate.

Pollack spent years at the Conservation Law Foundation. She helped broker agreements with the state which, to stave off lawsuits, committed to several big-ticket transit projects as mitigation for added car pollution expected from the Big Dig.

The liberal-leaning Pollack would appear to be an odd fit for a tax-averse Republican administration, something she and Baker were both acutely aware of at the time of their initial conversation about the job.

Pollack acknowledges the differences in their political makeup, but says there is common ground, too. “There’s an interesting place where people who see themselves as fiscal conservatives and those who see themselves as progressives meet,” she says. “And that is in a belief that government has to do all that it can as well as it can.” The state’s transportation agencies, Pollack says, “are not being run nearly as well as they can be run.”

Following the T’s meltdown, the Legislature approved creation of a gubernatorially-appointed control board, which now has complete authority over the transit agency. It also agreed to a Baker administration proposal to suspend for three years a law that makes it more difficult to privatize services at the T.

The administration earmarked $82 million over the summer for third-rail and switch upgrades designed specifically to head off any repeat of the problems experienced last winter. It’s too soon to gauge the broader impact of any systemic changes being imposed by the control board.

One thing, however, is clear: The Baker administration now owns the long-troubled MBTA, and will get full credit—or blame—for its performance.

The new administration faces an equally daunting management challenge at the Department of Children and Families, the state agency charged with protecting  children and investigating allegations of abuse and neglect.

In a series of cases over the last several years, children under the department’s watch died or suffered severe abuse because of shortcomings in the system for tracking and handling cases and overseeing the work of department social workers.

Baker vowed to reform the workings of the agency. Bringing coherence to the ungainly child protection bureaucracy may be the ultimate state government management challenge, but the stakes are anything but dry managerial matters, involving perhaps the most vulnerable members of society.

An initial set of changes was rolled out in November, revamping the intake policy governing how cases are initially handled and establishing clear policies for supervision of social workers—something that had never existed.

Baker says he wants to hold DCF employees accountable for the safety of children in the state system, but has said it is unfair to do that if they don’t have a clearly defined system and a set of procedures—a “playbook,” he calls it—to work from.

That won him the appreciation of the department’s frontline caseworkers, who say they have been the easy fall guys for years, taking the blame for systemic problems state government has been unwilling to address. Not only did the new administration acknowledge there were systemic shortcomings that needed to be fixed, development of the new policies involved not just the input of state administrators but also that of the union representing some 2,900 frontline social workers and supervisors.

“It was a very different process than has taken place in previous administrations, and not just the most recent administration, but going back a long time,” says Peter MacKinnon, DCF chapter president for SEIU Local 509. “It really was a back and forth, where we’re both bringing ideas to the table. Let me be clear: DCF is not fixed by any stretch. But we have a foundation. I really believe that.”

“The kids who are served by DCF,” says Baker, “they’re kids just like everybody else’s kids except they are among the most vulnerable and it’s imperative that we as a Commonwealth recognize that and work to get it right.” They need “the support, the infrastructure, the love, and the sense of security most other kids have. When you’re a kid, there’s nothing more important than that. We just have to do a better job there.”


Not long after he lost the 2010 race for governor, Baker paid a visit to the Phoenix Charter Academy in Chelsea. He had been put in touch through a mutual acquaintance with the school’s founder, Beth Anderson.

Anderson lives with her wife and two kids not far from Baker in Swampscott, and they met one Saturday afternoon at his house and had a long conversation about the school, education issues, and, says Anderson, “what it takes to make change in the world, but not in a fluffy sense.”

Anderson, a self-described “social justice Democrat” who had just voted for Patrick, says she was surprised to find that she clicked with Baker immediately.

An unusual charter school, Phoenix targets one-time dropouts, teen mothers, and others on the margin who traditional public schools have largely given up on. Baker, who has had a long interest in education issues and is a big charter school supporter, told Anderson he’d like to visit the school.

“Everyone says that,” she says. “Only 50 percent of them do.”

Within a week, Baker was at Phoenix, which is housed in a timeworn former Catholic parish elementary school, and sitting in on an US history class.

“It’s pretty interesting to have a guy who ran for governor visiting your class,” Anderson says of the students’ reaction. Of course, the race hadn’t exactly gone the way Baker was hoping. Rather than glossing over that fact, she says, he seized on it in speaking to the students.

“He said, ‘I failed,’” says Anderson. “And he said, ‘I know this school is about success, but it’s also about knowing what failure is and how to get back up. Watching you inspires me to get back up.’”

Baker’s 2010 loss may have been the only big setback he’s faced in a charmed life of advantage and privilege, while setbacks and disappointment have often been what’s marked the lives of Phoenix students.

Anderson insists nonetheless that Baker connected. “My kids know a mile away if you’re being authentic or not, and they definitely felt it in him,” she says.

Anderson eventually convinced Baker to join the school’s board of trustees and was a strong supporter of his 2014 run, tapped afterwards to co-chair his transition education committee.

“I love the guy more than any lesbian should love a Republican,” she says.

For his part, Baker says he is wowed by the work Anderson does. “Phoenix is just a game-changer for the kids at that school,” he says. Baker refers to Anderson as the “the catcher in the rye,” saying she grabs kids before they head over a cliff.

The students at Phoenix were hardly the only ones Baker talked to about the travails of losing the race for governor. He buttonholed practically anyone who would listen, going on what one Baker insider calls “the what-went-wrong tour,” meeting with policy experts, political pros, and reporters who covered the race.

Gov-Baker-Thanksgiving-4374“You don’t learn from a loss if you don’t go talk to a bunch of people who are knowledgeable and smart and are going to be willing to tell you what they thought,” says Baker.

The biggest takeaway, he says, was, “I learned that people want to vote for something at some point. That means they want to know what your positive vision for the future is.”

That led him, when he decided to mount a second run, to cast off the harsh edge he often projected in the 2010 race. He also ditched some hard-right positions—most notably his previously professed agnosticism on the causes of climate change, which had seemed politically tone-deaf, not to mention entirely at odds with Baker’s wonky claims to be “a data guy.”

His other big lesson from the 2010 race was that a candidate has to figure out how to “have a conversation with a whole bunch of people who would never actually be sitting across the table from me or next to me.” He says he never found his voice in the race or mastered what might be called the paradox of effective political communication: conveying a sense of intimacy and familiarity to a large audience of strangers.

The “big theory” of the 2014 race was simply “to let people see the real Charlie Baker,” says Keyser. “And the real Charlie Baker is a fiscally conservative, socially moderate, big-thinking compassionate person.”

What that meant, along with the much more positive tone, was balancing his vows of fiscal restraint with making sure voters, especially independents and persuadable Democrats, understood he was pro-choice (a campaign ad pairing him with his daughter covered that) and pro-gay marriage (an ad with him talking to his gay brother checked that box).

Now that he’s in office, it has meant being willing to show in public the emotions that those who know him say are just part of who Baker is.

In early October, Baker was a featured speaker at an event on health care at Massachusetts General Hospital that was part of Hub Week, a series of events spotlighting the region’s strengths in science, art, and technology.

The subject of Baker’s talk was “value-driven health care,” a topic at the intersection of health care innovation, costs, and outcomes that, with his earlier background in state government and at Harvard Pilgrim, was right in his wheelhouse.

When it came time to take a few questions submitted from the roomful of high-powered health professionals, the first index card handed to him veered sharply out of that health management sweet spot. “The question is, what do we do regarding educating to embrace aging and death,” Baker said, reading the card aloud to the audience.

“If they’re all going to be like this, I got places to go,” he said, as the room broke into nervous laughter.

Baker then quickly pivoted back on topic, but not with the generalities one might have expected about the need for more health care services or infrastructure to deal with an aging population.

“This is a tough one for a lot of reasons,” he said, after pausing to gather his thoughts on a question he clearly had not anticipated. He mentioned the overall ambivalence people have about addressing the issue. “And I deal with this in a very real way with my own parents,” he said. Baker’s mother has had Alzheimer’s disease for about 10 years, he said, something she and his still robust 87-year-old father have faced “with an enormous amount of grace.”

Then he got even more personal. “There’s a ton of history in her family on this one,” he said. “I mean, I’m virtually certain that at some point it’s going to be an issue for me. I look like her, I sound like her, I am so cut from her side of the family, and this affected literally everybody on her side of the family.”

The room of several hundred of the biggest medical minds in Boston fell silent.

Baker went on to talk about conversations he and his wife have had about this, and spoke about the need for baby-boomers to make end-of-life conversations something people are more comfortable talking about.

Baker’s candor about his mother’s health, and especially about what that may ultimately mean for his own, was jarring. But one doctor in the audience took it in stride.

“He’s always done that. He uses anecdotes about his family and about himself,” says Dr. Thomas Lynch, who recently took the reins as CEO of the Mass. General Physicians Organization.

Lynch, a lung cancer specialist, has spent his entire career in Boston, except for a six-year period when he held a top position at Yale. His time in New Haven coincided with both of Baker’s campaigns for governor, so Lynch’s perceptions of Baker are shaped almost entirely by more personal dealings when they served together for about 10 years on the board of the Schwartz Center for Compassionate Healthcare. The center, named for a former patient of Lynch’s who died of lung cancer in 1995, promotes practices and policies to make compassion as valued in patient care as the cutting-edge treatments available at places like Mass. General.

“I didn’t know him in the public arena, but I saw that about him beforehand in board meetings,” Lynch says of the openness Baker showed at the MGH talk. “His ability to do that publicly, I think, provides an important connection that is not always easy for politicians to have.”

Asked later about the question on aging and death, and his decision to be so forthright in answering it, Baker says, “Part of this job is about connection. And I can’t think of a better way to connect with somebody or an audience than to speak as frankly as I can about some experience I’ve either had directly or have participated in indirectly. I definitely do way more of that than I used to.”

Lynch alludes to a well-worn description of Baker, one that has been both his blessing and, at times, his curse. “People are always suspicious of someone who comes across as the smartest guy in the room,” he says. “By sharing some of his personal vulnerabilities with people, I think he’s overcome a lot of that.”

Showcasing a mix of management smarts while also finding moments to speak more from the heart may have helped Baker achieve the remarkable popularity he enjoys in a strongly Democratic-leaning state. But he has not always hit the mark when going with his gut.

In November, following the terrorist attacks in Paris, Baker took heat when he said he didn’t want Syrian refugees coming to Massachusetts until he received more information about the vetting process for their admission to the country.

Boston Globe editorial writer Alan Wirzbicki said Baker’s “‘data guy’ act is starting to wear just a little thin,” and criticized him for ignoring available information on the thorough vetting process already in place. By following the “national GOP herd” on the issue, Wirzbicki wrote, Baker risked damaging his reputation as a “fact-driven” practical thinker, which helped him win election in a heavily Democratic state.

“I have questions,” Baker said about refugee vetting the day after his initial comments, while also pointing out that several Democratic officials in the state had sounded similar concerns. “I would just like to have some of them answered, and I don’t think that’s unreasonable and I don’t think it lacks compassion.”

It wasn’t exactly Emma Lazarus, whose famous sonnet adorns the pedestal of the Statute of Liberty. But it was hardly Donald Trump either.

“A guy like me most of the time thinks the answer to questions like that are pretty nuanced,” says Baker.

There was no nuance to fall back on, however, when Baker was asked in June about the shooting at a black church in South Carolina by a white supremacist, who killed nine worshipers. Baker initially punted on the question of whether the Confederate flag should continue to fly over the state capitol there, defaulting to boilerplate conservative talking points.

“My view on stuff like this is that South Carolinians can make their own call,” he told radio host Jim Braude. Within hours he had reversed course and called for the flag to come down, telling the Globe, “I abhor the symbolism and the history of that flag as much as anybody.”

It was a revealing moment in which a reflexive support for state’s rights and local control seemed to blind Baker to the larger moral dimensions of the issue.

“I would hope I would be somebody who people believe will listen when other people tell me I’m in the wrong place,” he says. “I was in the wrong place on that one.”


In his 2002 race for governor, Mitt Romney, the last Republican before Baker to win the corner office, vowed to “clean up the mess on Beacon Hill.” He painted the Democrats who dominate state government as a profligate and untrustworthy bunch. Baker has offered a decidedly milder version of that. The strongest language he used in his campaign felt more like civics book cliché—his often-repeated refrain that things just work better “when you have both teams on the field.”

Baker often personalizes that belief in bipartisanship by talking about how the family dinner table when he was growing up in Needham was its own civics class, as his Democratic mother and Republican father went at it over the issues of the day.

“One of the things I learned is nobody has the corner on all the right answers, and it’s possible to disagree without being disagreeable,” he said in a December talk to the state newspaper publishers association. “My parents, most of the time, were having a conversation and a discussion. They weren’t just trying to score points or win a debate.”

Baker called the dinner table debates the “single most formative” experience that shapes how he thinks about politics and public policy. “It’s very easy to get trapped in a particular perspective or point of view and to stay there. The hard part is being willing to consider a lot of other points of view,” he said.

As far as the Legislature’s top Democrats are concerned, Baker has thus far followed word with deed.

“He’s very easy to work with,” says Stan Rosenberg, the liberal president of the state Senate. “So far it’s been very collegial. He listens. He’ll debate you. If he’s got data that you don’t know, he’ll put it on the table and be pretty forceful about it, but respectful. But he’ll also listen if you’ve got a forceful argument.”

House Speaker Robert DeLeo says he delivered one message to Baker in their first meeting: “My only wish is that you look at me as an equal partner in government. He said, ‘I don’t think I’ve got much of a choice. I’m going to need you if I want to get anything done.’ And we had a good laugh, and that’s the way it’s been.”

Baker had to work hard to win passage of his MBTA reforms, which ruffled union feathers, but he started out with a pretty willing partner in DeLeo. An increase in the earned income tax credit that he pushed for took some negotiating, but more over details than the broad-brushstroke aim of putting money back in the pockets of lower-wage households.

Overall, it was a year of relative comity on Beacon Hill. Some say that’s because there hasn’t been all that much to fight about.

Baker deployed most of his energy setting up his administration and addressing the problems with the workings of government at places like the T and the Department of Children and Families.

“The first whole year was mostly about management and mechanics, and it is really hard to be partisan about the mechanics and management,” says Rosenberg. He says that’s likely to change in the new year when the debate turns to charter schools, taxes, and other issues on which there will be sharp disagreement.

For some, the ease with which Baker seems to have charmed his way through his first year is more a source of frustration than admiration.

Mara Dolan, a liberal radio talk show host and former Democratic State Committee member, describes Baker as “Reaganesque,” and she is not paying him a compliment.

Dolan says there is a disconnect between Baker’s affable bearing and his policy predilections. “He’s likeable and he loves to tell stories just like Ronald Reagan,” she says. “Charlie Baker seems like the guy who’d give you the shirt off his back, and God bless him. But where does he leave us in terms of the environment or worker safety?” she says, raising concerns about an executive order Baker issued to have all state regulations reviewed, with none retained that go beyond standards required by the federal government.

“He’s a good guy, but it’s not about electing a good guy,” says Tom McGee, a state senator from Lynn and chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party. “What’s the real vision of this administration?”

McGee points to talk about service cuts and fare increases on the T. “That’s just the wrong direction,” he says. And while Baker’s biggest play in education policy so far is a call to raise the cap on charter schools, McGee wonders about overall state funding for schools, which has fallen nearly $500 million behind schedule because of health care and special education costs, according to a report released in October by a state review panel.

A lot of the differences with Baker will likely come down to spending and taxes. Even some big areas of his focus on management and mechanics won’t be able to escape that debate.

“Eventually we’re going to have to pay for the T,” says Rosenberg.

“For a governor who is very smart and data-driven,” says former state transportation secretary Jim Aloisi, it should become clear that all the MBTA reforms and efficiencies in the world “can’t solve a $7 billion problem”—the price tag of the so-called state of good repair improvements needed to get the system up to snuff.

At some point, a revenue push may come to shove, challenging Baker on what it takes to adequately deliver the transit services residents—and businesses—count on. Or he’ll face an issue involving kids—a topic on which Baker says he can’t help but get emotional—in which a spending line he draws seems at odds with the compassion he has come to so publicly evince.

Baker insists he can balance his vows of fiscal discipline and caring governance. “Why do you have to be either a bloodless technocrat or a bleeding heart?” he asks.

Baker has no appetite for new taxes, but that may make him as much a bellwether in the current climate as an outlier. House leaders have already said they have no plans to take up tax proposals in the coming year. Rosenberg, on the other hand, says “governing from the center” shouldn’t mean the door to new taxes is permanently bolted shut, even if that’s not the first recourse in response to an issue.

Baker suggests his second year will see more “forward-looking” proposals, but he has yet to lay down a marker on any signature new initiatives he has in store for 2016. Looking at the governor’s first year, Payne, the longtime Democratic strategist, says, “Baker usually tries to bunt rather than hit a home run.”

Some of that may be a belief, dating back to his days as director of the Pioneer Institute, which embraces “limited and accountable government,” that the fewer the grandiose government plans the better. It’s also hard to imagine swinging for the fences with a decidedly Republican initiative in a state where Democrats dominate.

Still, it seems there should be room for some big ideas that “challenge the status quo,” as Baker vowed to do in his inauguration, while staying true to his vow to be a bipartisan problem-solver.

In education, more than two decades after the 1993 Education Reform Act directed billions of dollars in additional funding to schools in exchange for a commitment to new standards and accountability, could there be a new “grand bargain,” perhaps one that allows for more charters while steering more money strategically to districts that are willing to adopt reforms based on we’ve learned since 1993 about improving schools?

Someone with Baker’s appetite for policy innovation and appreciation for scaling things that work should be open to rethinking how government works in big ways, not just fixing what’s broken.

In the meantime, he’s hit on an approach that is working pretty well, and insists there is nothing small-bore about getting the basics right.

“Government has this horrible tendency to overpromise and under-deliver,” he says. “And I know why it happens. Because people like to aspire and all the rest. But for me, working with [the social workers’ union] 509 and the folks at DCF to actually improve the way that place and that organization operates may not be rhetorically soaring, but to some of the most vulnerable citizens of the Commonwealth, it’s pretty damn important. And if you’re somebody who really needs the subway or the commuter rail or bus service to go to work or get to the grocery store or wherever you need to go, again, you don’t really care about the rhetoric coming out of the governor’s office. You care whether the damn thing works.”

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

“If three years from now,” he says, ”what people say about me is, Charlie Baker just makes stuff better, thereby making my life better and my family’s life better and my community’s life better, I’m going to be fine with that.”

  • Mhmjjj2012

    Eight paragraphs on DCF without mentioning Bella Bond? Her identity remained unknown for months under Governor Baker until finally uncovered in a copy and pasted closed file at DCF offices. That social worker was transferred to adoptions instead of being held accountable…again under Governor Baker.

  • Mhmjjj2012

    Sixteen paragraphs on the Phoenix Charter Academy in Chelsea but not one word about its performance as documented by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and nothing of substance about Beth Anderson the school’s Founder, co-chair of Governor Baker’s transition education committee and her efforts to lift the charter school cap in this state? Here’s the rest of that story: The Phoenix Charter Academy in Chelsea has a “persistently low graduation rate,” is a Level 3 performer, hands out $100 recruitment incentives to attract students, cannot fill its seats even with the $100 recruitment fee, and receives $14,731.88 from the state for each student. All of that should have been in this article especially when the reporter devotes 16 paragraphs to the Phoenix Charter Academy in Chelsea, its Founder Beth Anderson and Governor Baker’s relationship with it as a board member.

    • jeanabeana

      Watch carefully and be vigilant on what is released as “graduation rate”… There are specific ways to offer “phony” programs that will increase your rate and then you can always rig statistics. It is one of the disparate ways that schools are compared across 50 states. The person who wrote about it and spoke was the former Texas Commissioner of Ed (Robert Scott). Some minor adjustments were made to make all the 50 states comparable but then in the last 5 to 6 years new ways of “fudging” have been created. I don’t want to go into all details here but you can look at Robert Pondiscio’s article on graduation rates (I am not recommending him but I will point him out to the reader who wants to be informed). I know my neighbor took her son out of public schools and he “graduated” by taking a test and guess computer program at home. It was a total fraud….but parents are buying it.

  • Mhmjjj2012

    It’s one thing to write about Governor Charlie Baker having a “strong start” as governor but quite another to ignore some real issues that will have serious consequences for public education in Massachusetts.

    • jeanabeana

      I send him emails Contact Governor Baker… I accused him of having a “huffiest around the Chrismas tree”… When he is on with Jim Braude he has his former sports fans and say how great a “player” he was… (his track record of governing is NOT going to be built on his sports record no matter how many times he praises Brady).. It will wear thin. My top issues are Schools, Division for Family Services and children (I volunteered 5 years at the homeless shelter) MBTA and other infrastructure, so I send emails weekly . Also you can send to Amy.Rucker in the Secretary’s office (Secretary of Education). Thanks to Mhmjjj for stimulating interest of parents and taxpayers.

  • Mhmjjj2012

    What’s interesting about Will Keyser, the chief strategist for Governor Baker’s 2014 campaign, is his media relations firm is handling the lift the charter schools cap effort for Great Schools Massachusetts. Keyser Strategies floods the news media with press releases mostly focusing on the charter schools wait list…but the most recent one lists 9 organizations joining the push. The Associated Industries of Massachusetts is working for more charter schools while actively working against more solar in this state. Besides promoting more charter schools the Massachusetts High Technology Council works diligently to strip workers of unemployment compensation, workers comp, and the employer Medicare/ FICA match. In other words, the MHTC supports independent contracting. The Massachusetts High Technology Council not only wants to lift the cap on charter schools but also wants to lift the H1-B visa cap so more foreign workers can come to Massachusetts and take high paying jobs from this state’s residents.

    • jeanabeana

      similar things happen in New York (my niece has a high school daughter in high school near Albany)… Governor Cuomo says one little item and the next thing you know a “press release” is read on WAMC in Albany. When he said all the teachers in NY were pedophiles I did write to WAMC just as I call WBUR or WGBH but they do this all the time.

  • Mhmjjj2012

    Another organization supporting more charter schools is the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce…where the former Boston convention center head James Rooney landed in a cushy $370k+ job. The BCC was given credit for being “very involved” in the passage of the legislation that deregulated our electricity giving us the high rates we pay right now.

  • Mhmjjj2012

    The Mass Technology Leadership Council supports more charter schools and is on record wanting to “reform the independent contractor law” which means no unemployment compensation, no workers comp and no employer match for Medicare/FICA.

    • jeanabeana

      thank you for the amount of time that you spend digesting these reports and the information and the press releases. Unfortunatley, the newspapers do not have the reporters they need to do this kind of analysis. I heard from Hank Phillipi Ryan who spoke at our public library that the newspapers are unwilling to pay for these skills. There won’t be any more films like “Spotlight” because the newspapers treat the journalists as “freelance” and pay them as piece meal. I remember when the hat factory did that to women who were working (my aunts and my mom) and they could take the work, do it in their kitchen and get paid 25 cents a day (of course I am using hyperbole but it reminds me of that)….

      • Mhmjjj2012

        There’s definitely an investigative reporting void being filled by the charter school industry with press releases, OpEd pieces, etc. You missed a doozy of a column in the CommonWealth back a few weeks ago referring to yet another Pioneer Institute charter school “study.” It talked about best practices in charter schools but the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s website didn’t recognize even one of the charter schools listed as having best practices. The author just pulled them out of thin air. Unbelievable, but true.

      • Mhmjjj2012

        I wish I could say it took a lot of time to find the information I posted but it didn’t. That’s the really sad part. The Massachusetts business groups advocating for more charter schools had their positions advocating for more foreign workers on their websites or were featured in press releases or news articles.

  • Mhmjjj2012

    The Great Schools Massachusetts press release listing 9 of the state’s “leading business organizations” supporting more charter schools included “NAIOP.” I looked up NAIOP and it’s into commercial real estate advocacy and policy development for owners, developers and investors. I found an April 28, 2011 NAIOP luncheon speaker talking about the “winning formula for redeveloping blighted and poverty stricken areas of a City:” “1) Establish the schools first (pre-k through 12 charter schools used); 2) Establish Rent Assited and Market Rate Rental and For Sale Residential; and 3) Establish Retail/Food.” Also, the NAIOP web site had “Ring the Bell: New Life for Old School Buildings” which stated “in Detroit, a developer bought a closed public school, leased it to two different charter schools over the past decade and used the revenue to help redevelop three other closed school buildings into housing, offices, a movie theater, and, most recently, recording studios and practice rooms for local musicians.”

  • Mhmjjj2012

    Another of the “leading business organizations” advocating for more charter schools is the Massachusetts Business Roundtable. The MBR “supports efforts to increase the supply of natural gas through increased pipeline capacity.” I’m sure Kinder Morgan is happy to know that.

  • Mhmjjj2012

    Let’s review the latest press release from Keyser Public Strategies for Great Schools Massachusetts,”Leading MA Business Organizations Join Great Schools Massachusetts.” announcing 9 of “the state’s leading business organizations” joined “the coalition in support of lifting the cap on public charter schools in Massachusetts” although the press release actually only lists 8 business organizations. Five of those business organizations are on record also supporting more H1-B visas for foreign works: Associated Industries of Massachusetts, Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, Massachusetts Business Roundtable, Massachusetts High Technology Council, and Mass Technology Leadership Council.

  • Mhmjjj2012

    What else is interesting about the latest press release from Keyser Public Strategies for Great Schools Massachusetts is how the waitlist is discussed: “More than 37,000 children…on public charter school waiting lists…including more than 13,000 children in Boston alone. New charters are also frozen in Lawrence, Holyoke, Fall River…” which got me wondering why there was no reference to specific numbers on those three cities’ waitlists so I looked them up. Lawrence has 1,811; Holyoke has 408 and Fall River has 658. Doesn’t that raise the question why are so many names on the Boston waitlists? It’s way out of proportion compared to Lawrence, Holyoke, and Fall River. And how is it Boston has 3 exam schools which means really great schools but can’t seem to get it together for the rest of the schools? Do the exam schools have bigger budgets, more experienced teachers or what?

    • jeanabeana

      ” Holyoke has 408 and Fall River has 658. Doesn’t that raise the question why are so many names on the Boston waitlists? It’s way out of proportion compared to Lawrence, Holyoke, and Fall River.” I would have to check to be accurate on my data but Boston was once at 100,000 pupils and now they are down to about 55,000… Baker is on the radio praising the Brook in Roslindale and he praises his “neighbor” an I guess he takes advice only from her.

    • jeanabeana

      graduation rates… find something by Robert Pondiscio on this topic… don’t overgeneralize but look at his details and form an opinion so we can all ask more questions…. there will be more than this one article but I have to go to work and this was the first one where Pondiscio’s name came up.

  • Mhmjjj2012

    If someone wanted to take a cheap shot at Great Schools Massachusetts then the fact the biggest advocate for charter schools can’t count to 8 correctly would be the perfect way to do it. Members of the charter school “lift the cap” effort must be scratching their heads over Keyser Public Strategies and Great Schools Massachusetts inability to fact check a six paragraph press release for accuracy.

  • Mhmjjj2012

    Fun fact, my son could count to 10 when he was two years old but adult cheerleaders for more charter schools in Massachusetts can’t even count to 8. What’s the world coming to?

  • Mhmjjj2012

    Come on, CommonWealth…wake up…do your job or at least make a half-hearted effort to sift through charter school proponents’ press releases before discarding or printing them. CommonWealth must have received Keyser Public Strategies press release for Great Schools Massachusetts “Leading MA Business Organizations Join Great Schools Massachusetts.” The public deserves to know who’s behind “lift the cap” and how the huge transfer of tax dollars to private interests works with charter schools.

  • Mhmjjj2012

    Speaking of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, AP characterized the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as a huge player on the national and state political scene. The CEO pointed out Congress had a productive 2015 and completed work on several chamber priorities, including ending the crude oil export ban even though this country imports almost 30% of its oil.

  • jeanabeana

    when I went to Best Buy in Leominster to complain about a store policy… the manager said “we just give the money to the Chamber of Commerce; we don’t know how it gets spent”…. so these policies are coming from a special interest group; Also, the MA Business Alliance has been floating phony studies that are really “marketing hype” produced form Pearson Corporation and they take that to the Board of Ed to sell these concerns that they say are good for “business.” Meanwhile my sister-in-law’s dad had to close his small business tile store. They do NOT watch out for small business — they are in for the corporate giants.

  • Norm Spier

    Well, I must interject that, if perhaps the Connector is in the process of getting fixed, it certainly can not be there yet. This is based on my experience for my open enrollment this year, which I started Nov 1, 2015.

    So many things went wrong, especially in that I had five (count’em 5) separate Connector agents IN A ROW make serious mistakes, that it can’t simply be that I was unlucky.

    My experience, and the result, was all of these:

    (a) The Connector (3 agents in a row) told me on Nov 21 it cancelled the insurance it gave me last year effective Nov 14, and I couldn’t get new insurance into effect before Jan 1, 2016 or perhaps I could make Dec 1 2015 if I made a 1 day payment deadline. (Thus, I believed I had no coverage for two weeks or six weeks. Due only to my persistent facebook posting on the matter, a 4th state employee did call me a few days later to tell me all 3 Connector employees were just looking in the wrong database and I really had coverage all along.)

    (b) I almost had a separate multi-month coverage gap from Jan 1 2016 to whenever I would have discovered I had no health insurance in effect — say at my next doctor’s visit. (This occurred because when I called on Nov 1 2015 to do my open-enrollment thing, the Connector agent, unbeknownst to me, apparently put in my income and application data as a change for 2015 instead of as being for 2016. I realized there was a problem only due to noticing the missing autopay debit from my checking account. Had I not noticed that missing debit, I would have been without health insurance for a few months until the coverage gap was caught, say at a doctor’s office for my next physical.)

    (c)I also have a completely unnecessary physician change, owing to the combination of getting insurance-cost-plan data for 2015 instead of 2016, resulting from being put in as 2015 data by that Connector agent on Nov 1, and also the Connector listing of which docs take which plans having old data which incorrectly showed my old doc in my new plan.

    (d)There is a second unnecessary physician change that may come in future months as the Connector re-reviews the exact same income documentation I sent to them on Nov 2. (They reviewed it on Nov 14 as being a 2015 income estimate due to the agent error on Nov 1, and have told me they will now eventually re-review the same exact documentation but may get a different income number potentially putting me on MassHealth and there is no way the can work around it.)

    (e)Generally, the letters the Connector sent me were inadequately informative. One letter also seemed to imply that if I appealed their estimate of my future income, then I might be liable for all medical bills in the interim between now and the appeal.

    (f)The payment portal is still pretty bad, not showing scheduled or prior autopays, etc., and both times I had to use it to make a necessary payment, it showed “no payment needed”.

    Now, I could be a really unlucky guy, with 5 Connector agents in a row making a mistake, etc., but I suspect lots of other people will have serious problems showing up, like disruptions of coverage, even if they are not aware of them now. (So, “adequately”, “better than last year”, those are all possible, but “doing well”, from that other Connector official, is certainly not possible.)

    (The latest Connector enrollment report https://betterhealthconnector….shows, on a per-phone-call-to-the-Connector basis, 15% or 16% of people being dissatisfied at the end of the phone call. It’s hard to interpret that number, as it’s from an optional survey, and also it counts phone calls and not people. The real question is how many people, by the end of the year, will have had an unnecessary insurance coverage gap, whether known or unknown.)

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