Baker gave a ‘courtesy’ heads-up to O’Connell
Consulted with rep on Taunton mayor’s appointment
THE BAKER ADMINISTRATION notified Rep. Shauna O’Connell ahead of time that the governor was appointing the mayor of Taunton as the interim register of probate in Bristol County, but officials say the notification was done as a courtesy and her own bid for mayor was not discussed.
Gov. Charlie Baker announced the interim appointment of Taunton Mayor Thomas Hoye Jr. as register of probate for Bristol County on Monday and shortly thereafter O’Connell, the Republican state rep from Taunton, announced she was running to replace Hoye as mayor. The bang-bang moves came just a day before nomination papers were due at city hall for candidates seeking to run for mayor in November.
Many Democrats speculated Baker timed the appointment – and the early notice to O’Connell – so she could get a jump on the field and possibly run unopposed. If that was the strategy – and Baker administration officials say it wasn’t – it didn’t work. In addition to O’Connell, three other candidates gathered the 25 signatures necessary to submit nomination papers by the 5 p.m. deadline Tuesday.
Baker has been silent about his motives for three days, but Wednesday night his spokesman issued a statement indicating there were no ulterior motives. “The Administration is focused on appointing qualified people like Mayor Hoye to important positions across state government and is pleased to see a field of interested candidates looking to give back to the City of Taunton by seeking to serve in public office there as the Governor and Lieutenant Governor believe public service is hugely important,” said the statement issued by Brendan Moss.
The Baker administration’s statement helps explain how O’Connell got a jump on the rest of the field, but it didn’t put to rest the speculation that Baker was somehow trying to boost O’Connell’s candidacy.
The timing of the appointment was certainly odd. The register of probate position had been vacant for eight months and Baker officially appointed Hoye a day before nomination papers were due for the Taunton mayor’s race.
Hoye said in a telephone interview that he discussed the register of probate job more than two months ago with Ryan Coleman, who administration officials say is the governor’s chief secretary and director of personnel and administration. He previously served as the governor’s legislative director.
Hoye said he heard nothing more until Friday, when he was told the job was his if he wanted it. Hoye had been preparing to file nomination papers for another run for mayor; indeed, he told a local newspaper on Thursday that he was running for mayor again. Instead, he decided to accept the register of probate job on Friday, which was announced on Monday.
Hoye said he never talked directly with Baker about the job and knows nothing about any dealings between the governor and O’Connell. “I can only tell you what I know from my end,” he said, adding that he doesn’t plan to endorse anyone in the race for mayor.
O’Connell has said she didn’t learn Hoye was getting the register of probate job until Monday. It was unclear Wednesday night how much advance notice the governor gave her.Taunton City Councilor Estele Borges, who ran unsuccessfully against O’Connell for state rep in 2014, jumped into the race for mayor on Tuesday, along with Peter Bzdula and Mark Baptiste. Borges, a Democrat, said she is a fan of Hoye and had no intention of running against him, but was shocked at O’Connell’s quick announcement on Monday.
Asked why Baker would be trying to boost O’Connell’s candidacy, Borges said: “Maybe he wanted to get her out of the State House.”