Baker chief of staff Lepore leaving administration

Governor turns to top political advisor Buckley to take her place

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER will say goodbye to his longtime chief of staff Kristen Lepore next month as she plans to depart the administration with just more than eight months left on the governor’s term, leaving Baker’s hefty final-year agenda in the hands of another close confidant.

Lepore, who has been a part of the Baker administration since the governor took office in 2015, took over as chief of staff in the summer of 2017 after two years in the Cabinet as secretary of administration and finance.

Over the past two years, Lepore has guided the administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the development of the state’s vaccination program and the reopening of the economy, which had been shut down through various executive orders as a safeguard for public health.

“I am very proud of all the work that the Baker-Polito Administration has done since taking office, including developing a nation-leading response to the COVID-19 pandemic, closing a structural budget gap and making record investments in education and transportation,” Lepore said in a statement.

While she was not ready to announce her next career move on Thursday, Lepore’s departure is planned for April 15 when she will hand the reins of the governor’s office over to senior advisor Tim Buckley, a stalwart of Baker’s team who has been with the governor since his first successful run in 2014.

Buckley, who worked as communications director before taking over as senior advisor, has a close relationship with the governor, and his voice has been a trusted one in the administration for years, according to people familiar with the inner workings of the governor’s office.

As senior advisor, Buckley has played a central role in developing the administration’s messaging and policy strategy, and driving its legislative agenda, and is known as a fiery defender of Baker’s when faced with criticism.

His task now will be to try to shepherd through the Legislature a package of tax cuts and an expansion of pre-trial detention for dangerous defendants, which are among the governor’s top priorities.

“Whether it be Secretary, Chief of Staff, motivator, teacher, colleague or friend, Kristen sets a high bar that few can match,” Buckley said. “I am excited for the opportunity to advance the mission this governor and this administration has carried out since day one: making government work better for every person in the Commonwealth.”

Tim Buckley, senior advisor to the governor, talks with Gov. Charlie Baker after getting buzz-cuts at Granite Telecommunications’ annual Saving by Shaving event to benefit cancer research on March 1 in Quincy. [Courtesy/Joshua Qualls/Governor’s Office]

The shakeup at the top of the administration is not unusual for the governor in his final year in office, but is something different for an administration that has experienced relatively little turnover. Several Cabinet secretaries have been in their roles for the duration of Baker’s tenure, and Lepore is just his second chief of staff.

Former Gov. Deval Patrick, for comparison, had five chiefs of staff over his eight years in office.

One person close to the administration said Baker is not expecting to see an exodus of staff or top Cabinet officials in the coming months, despite his time in office winding down.

“Kristen’s been an invaluable and important voice in the administration and has guided the state, along with the governor and lieutenant governor, through an incredible time,” said Will Keyser, an outside advisor and consultant to the governor.

Lepore left her job as vice president of government affairs for Associated Industries of Massachusetts to join the Baker administration in 2015 as the governor’s top budget official. Baker then tapped her in July 2017 to succeed Steve Kadish as chief of staff.

Deputy chief of staff and policy director Elizabeth Mahoney, who like Buckley has been with Baker since the 2014 campaign, will be promoted to senior advisor.

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State House News Service
“There’s the same group around the governor and the same people who have been with him since the campaign,” Keyser noted.

Buckley is a native of Medfield and graduated from Colorado College. He now lives in Boston with his wife and two daughters. Before the Baker campaign, Buckley handled communications for the Massachusetts Republican Party.