In-person leadership meetings could reset relations between Baker, lawmakers

COULD THE RETURN of the “stale cookies” improve relations between Gov. Charlie Baker and legislative leaders?

For most of his two terms in office, the Republican governor appeared to have a strong working relationship with the Democrats who controlled the Legislature. Almost every week, Baker, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, the House speaker, and Senate president would sit down in one of their offices for an hour-long meeting. They would emerge to stand side by side in a State House hallway and answer questions from the press.

Like so much else, the in-person weekly leadership meetings were suspended during COVID-19, when they morphed into calls.

Speaking on GBH’s Boston Public Radio last month, Baker acknowledged that something had been lost. “The fact that I haven’t seen Karen Spilka and Ron Mariano in person except maybe at one event for a couple of minutes … and that we don’t sit down and eat stale cookies and drink bad coffee once a week, I think is a problem,” Baker said. “Human beings see each other as people when they spend time with each other in person.”

GBH reported that Spilka quibbled with Baker’s description of the menu (she said she provided “delicious pastries”) but conceded that he had a point. “Like all other contacts we’ve had during this pandemic, it does not meet the same level of meeting in person, and the interpersonal relationship,” Spilka said.

Mariano never actually had regular in-person meetings with the governor, since he took over from former Speaker Robert DeLeo in December 2020, during the pandemic.

Over the months, the strong relationship Baker had with lawmakers showed signs of fraying. Spilka and Mariano strongly criticized Baker’s vaccine rollout. At a recent hearing on the spending of federal COVID recovery money, there were a number of adversarial moments, as Senate Ways and Means chair Michael Rodrigues accused Baker of breaking state law by spending the money in an unauthorized way. That hearing topped two months of a dispute between Baker and lawmakers over who should control the money and what speed it should be spent at.

On Monday, with all four top leaders vaccinated and case numbers far down from their peak (although rising), the weekly leadership meeting was finally held in person. Baker, Polito, Spilka, and Mariano emerged from the meeting to speak with reporters in the Senate reading room. (The usual crowded hallway gaggle was replaced by spaced-out chairs and a podium, with everyone required to wear masks.)

The four did not agree on every policy. On Baker’s proposed two-month sales tax holiday, the governor said, “I think we agreed to disagree.”

On the speed with which American Rescue Plan Act money should be spent, Spilka and Mariano talked about the need to take time and be deliberative. “The experts all talked about the wisdom in waiting,” Spilka said.

Baker pushed for more spending sooner, and said those same experts who talked about going slow in some areas “also said in a number of other areas it probably made sense to go more quickly.”

But rather than a war of written statements, or lawmakers lobbing questions at the governor over video, the in-person dispute took on a more civil tone, with Baker and the lawmakers finally standing side by side.




Rollins gets the nod: In a history-making move, President Biden nominated Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins to be US attorney for the District of Massachusetts. If confirmed by the Senate, Rollins would become the first black woman to hold the post. A reform-minded change agent who vowed to steer away from tough-on-crime policies that she said swept too many low-level offenders into the criminal justice system, Rollins has drawn praise from progressive advocates for saying the office’s default position will be not to prosecute a set of lower-level nonviolent offenses. The policy drew criticism from Gov. Charlie Baker’s public safety secretary. Read more.

To mask again or not? The fall reopening of schools is now only weeks away and looming over that transition is one big COVID-era question: Will students be required to wear masks? While some hoped we’d be past such issues when classes resume, the coronavirus has other ideas, especially with the more transmissible Delta variant now taking hold. Several health experts said at a legislative hearing on Monday that it will be important to require students to wear masks, especially until those under 12 are eligible to be vaccinated. Vincent Chiang, the chief medical officer at Boston Children’s Hospital, called such an approach “almost a no-brainer.” Boston has already announced that it will require masks for returning students. But Gov. Charlie Baker said he wants to hear more guidance from the White House, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the FDA before considering any statewide policy on the issue. Read more.  


A free ride to the polls: Could free public transit help boost voter turnout in Gateway Cities and heavily minority areas of Boston, where rates lag those of wealthier communities? Sen. Joe Boncore and Reps. Frank Moran and Chynah Tyler say it’s worth a try. They’re cosponsoring legislation, which will have a hearing on Wednesday before the Joint Committee on Transportation, that would make public transit free on all election days for the MBTA and the state’s 15 regional transit authorities. Read more





Heat and heavy rains this summer are a teaser for what’s to come, says Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides. She wants ARPA funding to go toward planning and infrastructure for climate resiliency. (Patriot Ledger)

The Herald continues to hammer away at a bill that would let public employees add three years to their service time for pension purposes if they worked in-person during the pandemic, citing watchdogs who say it would cost billions and strain an already buckling public pension system. 


Fall River officials and nonprofit leaders say they’re bracing for a wave of eviction filings when the moratorium on such actions expires at the end of the month. (Herald News)


Baystate Health said it will require all employees of the Springfield-based system to get vaccinated against COVID-19. (Boston Herald

Responding to the dire shortage of mental health care services for children, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts will let its subscribers have access to virtual therapy visits for children and their parents provided by a California startup. (Boston Globe)

Activists in Somerset are calling on Gov. Baker to shut down a coastal scrap metal operator they say is creating noise pollution, dropping metal into the bay, and coating their communities in toxic dust. (WGBH) CommonWealth has covered the issue extensively, including this story from earlier this month on the calls for Baker to step in. 

UMass Medical School researchers are developing a mobile app aimed at helping teens stop vaping. (MassLive

As case numbers rapidly rise again, Massachusetts averaged 414 new COVID cases a day over the weekend. (MassLive)

Long-lasting COVID symptoms can now be classified as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. (MassLive)


Democrats are working to shore up support among Latinos after the 2020 election saw some erosion of backing from the usually reliable Democratic voting bloc and a movement toward the GOP. (New York Times)


Chris Dempsey, a transportation activist who led the opposition to Boston’s bid to host the 2024 Olympics, officially declares his run for the Democratic nomination for state auditor. (Boston Globe)

Quentin Palfrey, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in 2018, is launching an exploratory bid for attorney general — but says he won’t run if Attorney General Maura Healey seeks reelection. (Boston Globe


Supply shortages fueled by strong demand for home construction projects are continuing to challenge construction companies. (Eagle-Tribune)

Cannabis commissioner Bruce Stebbins, who is from Western Massachusetts, says the new industry has breathed economic life into the state by creating jobs revitalizing dormant buildings. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

Auditor Suzanne Bump is working on a report to quantify just how bad Western Massachusetts infrastructure, like roads and bridges, actually is. (Berkshire Eagle)


West Coast and Canadian wildfires create a haze over much of Massachusetts. (MassLive)

Farmers are struggling to cope with nearly record-breaking amounts of rain in July. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

Environmental groups press lawmakers to impose stricter regulations on biomass energy projects after the cancellation of a controversial Springfield biomass plant. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)


In an effort to keep students cool, new white roofs that reflect, rather than absorb, heat are being installed on public school buildings in Chelsea, one of the hottest cities in the state. (WBUR)

Rich parents of Framingham students were raising more PTO funds than their less affluent peers across town, prompting the district to look across the state and country for more equitable fundraising models. (MetroWest Daily News)


A study says rising sea levels pose an “existential threat” to the MBTA subway system. (Boston Globe)

Quincy’s Merrymount Bridge, the Bourne Rail Trail, and Weymouth’s Columbian Square, are just a few of the Massachusetts projects that can anticipate funding if a $715 billion federal transportation infrastructure bill passes. (Patriot Ledger)

The I-93 overpass in Medford damaged by a tractor trailer last week will take up to a year and $1 million to repair. MassDOT officials say the Alabama-based company that owned the truck will be held legally and financially responsible. (WBUR)

Boston Mayor Kim Janey announces a three-month pilot program to make fares free on the Route 28 bus that connects Mattapan, Dorchester, and Roxbury. (Dorchester Reporter)


Speculation begins over who Gov. Charlie Baker might tap to fill the remainder of Rachael Rollins’s term as Suffolk County district attorney if she is confirmed as US attorney. (Boston Globe)

A former state police trooper fired over a social media post sues to get his job back. (MassLive)

PASSINGSFormer Boston school superintendent Thomas Payzant, who led the district for 11 years, a period during which he was named Massachusetts Superintendent of the Year and Boston won the Broad Prize for best performance and improvement among a large urban district in the country, died at age 80. (WBUR)