Polito praises Driscoll’s experience – but won’t endorse

LG redefined role as municipal liaison

WHEN THE BAKER ADMINISTRATION created a Seaport Economic Council in 2015, chaired by Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, one of its first appointed members was Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll. In 2019, Polito co-led a statewide Economic Development Planning Council on which Driscoll served as a member. And when Gov. Charlie Baker and Polito were pushing for a zoning reform bill, Driscoll was a prime advocate.

Now, Driscoll is the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, looking to succeed the Republican Polito. That leaves Polito walking a narrow line, hoping to cement her legacy of redefining the lieutenant governor’s role as a municipal liaison while avoiding an outright endorsement of a candidate whose experience is tailor-made to fit that municipal role.

In an interview with CommonWealth, Polito had nice things to say about Driscoll’s experience –  while making clear that she will not endorse her and her running mate, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Maura Healey. 

Polito cited Driscoll’s work helping the Baker administration when they created an initiative that gave financial assistance to communities that agreed to implement best practices. “There’s no doubt that there is a candidate that is a mayor that’s running for office and served on our advisory group early on when forming the community compact and has insight into best practices and good government at the local level,” Polito said.

Polito made the comments Wednesday after participating in an event at the Harvard Kennedy School, where a new report was released that praised her work in state government as a liaison to municipalities. Polito used the event to extol the importance of future administrations adopting that model.

Coincidentally, Healey and Driscoll were speaking the same day at a Massachusetts Mayors’ Association meeting, where Driscoll is a former president, pledging to partner with local officials should they win November’s election.  

Baker and Polito are not running for reelection. The Republicans running to replace them are both former state representatives – gubernatorial candidate Geoff Diehl and lieutenant governor candidate Leah Cole Allen. On the Democratic side, Healey is attorney general, and Driscoll has served as Salem mayor since 2005 and been active in advocacy through the mayors’ association.

Will Polito endorse that mayor? “I am not endorsing any candidates for office,” Polito said, adding that she is “focusing on the final days of our administration.” Will she vote for the Healey-Driscoll ticket? That, Polito said, is not relevant.

Both Baker and Polito were local officials before being elected to statewide office – Baker as a Swampscott selectman and Polito as a Shrewsbury town meeting member and select board member. In an interview and at the Harvard event, Polito made clear that she hopes future administrations will learn from her playbook of strong outreach and responsiveness to local leaders.

Polito said having her and Baker as former local officials meant they both prioritized community issues coming into office. Polito was quick to say that’s not a “prerequisite” for becoming governor, though it did inform their views. “I think it’s important to develop a relationship between the executive office – governor, lieutenant governor – and local officials,” Polito said. “And if you happen to have local experience that’s nice, but it’s not necessary. But the relationship building is critically important.”

Meet the Author

Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

Polito said she hopes the next administration – and other governments in other states – “will look at this strategy and prioritize communities and take the pages of the playbook that we perfected and that’s clearly been successful and to not feel like they have to reinvent the wheel.”

Danielle Cerney, a visiting fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Rappaport Institute, wrote a 27-page report examining the Baker-Polito administration’s focus on local government. The report touted the administration’s work, from Baker tasking Polito with being a municipal liaison to Polito’s efforts establishing ties with and responding to local communities. It detailed the community compact program Polito created, the municipal modernization bill Baker introduced and signed into law, and Polito’s strategy of soliciting input from local officials then responding. It points to ways the administration streamlined grant programs to ensure every community could apply for grants – steering a community that wasn’t competitive for one type of grant to a different program where they would be competitive, or providing technical assistance to improve future applications.

Asked what’s next personally after she leaves office, Polito was noncommittal. She said she had “extraordinary experiences” in executive, local, and legislative offices and as a private sector professional. “I will take my experiences and pour it into new work in this next chapter of my life,” Polito said. “Private sector is something that I’m familiar with and also public office. We’ll see what that all looks like in the future.”