Polito pushed Taunton mayor for probate job

Hoye’s departure opened door for GOP Rep. O’Connell

TAUNTON MAYOR THOMAS HOYE JR. revealed on Wednesday that it was Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito who first broached the idea of him becoming the register of probate in Bristol County, a move that opened the door for Republican Rep. Shaunna O’Connell to run for mayor.

Testifying before the Governor’s Council, which must approve his appointment, Hoye said Polito approached him at a conference in January held by the Massachusetts Municipal Association and asked him whether he would be interested in the probate job, which had been vacant since November. Hoye, a popular Democratic mayor who had been in office for nearly eight years, said he asked for some time to think about it, and then called Polito back to say he was indeed interested.

It wasn’t until August 5, about seven months later and one day before nomination papers were due for the Taunton mayor’s race, that Gov. Charlie Baker announced he was nominating Hoye to fill the vacant probate post. Within an hour of the announcement, O’Connell formally jumped into the race while Democrats had to scramble to file nomination papers to challenge her. Three candidates did eventually qualify to run.

Many have accused Baker of pulling strings to give O’Connell an edge, and three members of the Governor’s Council raised similar concerns on Wednesday and indicated they are likely to vote against Hoye’s appointment. The five other councilors, however, indicated they would support his candidacy, even as several of them acknowledged politics probably played a role in his selection.

“I think you’re qualified and that’s what we’re here to decide,” said Councilor Terrence Kennedy of Lynnfield. Councilor Eileen Duff of Gloucester said the political maneuverings were outside of Hoye’s control, and added that governors are entitled to nominate whomever they like. “My team didn’t win the election,” she said.

Councilor Mary Hurley of East Longmeadow said she did not think Hoye was part of any scheme to get O’Connell elected. “I believe you when you say you did not have any scheme or plan,” she said.

Taunton Mayor Thomas Hoye (right) waited for the Governor’s Council to interview him Wednesday as they weigh whether to confirm him as Bristol County interim probate register. Councilor Joseph Ferreira of Somerset (left) chaired the hearing. [Photo: Sam Doran/SHNS]

But Councilor Robert Jubinville of Milton said the politics behind Hoye’s selection was troubling to him. He also suggested Hoye, whom he praised for his work as mayor, may have had more knowledge of the timing of the appointment than he has let on. He said, for example, that it was odd Hoye waited until the last moment to file his nomination papers for mayor and ended up not filing them at all. Jubinville also criticized Hoye for failing to inform Taunton residents that he was considering another job.

“This was a deal struck for a certain purpose, the purpose being you give up the mayorship, the rep runs for the mayorship, she’d be the only one in the race,” he said. “That’s what people think happened here. That’s what I think happened here.”

Jubinville said he is convinced Hoye’s appointment was part of a backroom deal. “I can’t be a part of this. I just can’t do it,” he said. “This thing stinks to high heaven.”

A vote is likely next week on Hoye’s appointment.

When the Taunton switcheroo first surfaced, most thought Baker was behind the political maneuvering. But Hoye, who is not a lawyer, said it was Polito who approached him about the probate job. Hoye said he never discussed the probate job with Baker.

Polito said later in the day at another State House event that she thought Hoye had done a fantastic job as mayor of Taunton. “We had conversations about future aspirations and what he might like to do in the future,” she said, which is presumably why she suggested the probate job to him.

Polito noted O’Connell, as a local elected official, was given a courtesy heads-up call that Hoye was being appointed to the probate job. Baker aides had previously said O’Connell was also consulted on whom to appoint to the post. (Polito left the House in 2011 just as O’Connell took office. Polito ran unsuccessfully for state treasurer before being elected lieutenant governor in 2014.)

Polito said she had nothing to do with the timing of Hoye’s appointment, one day before nomination papers were due in the Taunton mayor’s race. “That is not something I had a discussion with either the representative or the mayor about,” she said.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

The salary of the register of probate in Bristol County is $157,000, which is $31,500 more than Hoye was making as mayor. The salary of the Taunton mayor is $125,500, which is nearly $50,000 more than what O’Connell is making as a state rep.

[Jubinville and Councilor Marilyn Devaney of Watertown on Wednesday voted against the appointment of Lt. Joseph McCarthy Jr. of the Shrewsbury Police Department as clerk magistrate of the Westboro District Court. McCarthy previously coached Polito’s son in youth football, which became an issue in the confirmation process.]