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

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.”

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.”

SHIRA SCHOENBERG

FROM COMMONWEALTH

Green light for Medicaid innovations: The feds gave the go-ahead for a five-year renewal of the state’s so-called 1115 waiver governing its Medicaid program. The waiver lets the state implement various innovations in its Medicaid health care program for low-income and disabled residents, known as MassHealth. 

– Under the terms of the $67 billion agreement, the state will be able to pursue innovations that include allowing some residents to maintain coverage for more than a year without requalifying for benefits. 

– The state will also be able to use MassHealth funds for food assistance and some types of housing support.

– The state will be able to use $43 million in Medicaid funds for loan repayment and training programs for behavioral health clinicians, an initiative aimed at addressing the shortage of mental health care providers for MassHealth recipients. Read more

Debate is on for AG rivals: Democratic attorney general nominee Andrea Campbell, who has deflected questions about debating her Republican opponent, Jay McMahon, has agreed to a televised debate to be moderated by WBZ-TV political analyst Jon Keller. It will be recorded on October 20 and air the following weekend. Read more

OPINION

Brownsberger says the T is on track: State Sen. Will Brownsberger offers a vote of confidence in the beleaguered MBTA. Brownsberger writes that the T now recognizes that it has been overextended and needs to redouble its focus on management and overseeing the improvements underway on the Red, Green, and Orange lines. “My overall sense has been that MBTA management has been focused on the right top priority — bringing the core subway systems to a state of good repair,” he writes. “I have not lost faith that these plans will be executed and T riders will feel the benefits for decades to come.” Read more

 

FROM AROUND THE WEB

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu lands a spot on TIME 100 Next, Time magazine’s list of rising stars in various sectors. 

Leaders of a youth football program say the field they practice on in Roxbury, not far from the troubled Mass. and Cass area, remains littered with discarded needles, despite city claims that crews sweep the field to pick them up twice a day. (Boston Globe

Despite initial activism there, Boston’s left-leaning suburbs prove reluctant to defund their police departments. (Boston Globe

A woman is hurt by a falling street light on the Moakley Bridge in Boston, prompting the removal of several of the lights. (WBUR)

Tenants of a Worcester apartment building that collapsed in July ask for more time to stay in a city-sponsored hotel, saying they cannot find new housing. (MassLive)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

A report by the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association finds that 568 psychiatric beds have been taken offline due to staffing shortages, leading to the crisis of patients boarding in emergency rooms. (Eagle-Tribune)

Flooding is becoming a growing threat to New England hospitals. (USA Today Network)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Russian President Vladimir Putin plans a ceremony for today to formally “annex” four regions of Ukraine into Russia, a move that violates international law and is certain to lead to further escalation of the war. (Washington Post

During a speech at a conference on ending hunger, President Biden asks if US Rep. Jackie Walorski is in the audience, apparently forgetting that she died in a car crash on August 3. (New York Times)

ELECTIONS

Sixty-four percent of House and Senate seats in the Legislature are uncontested in the general election. (GBH)

A judge dismisses a lawsuit by Danvers Republican Michael Bean, a State House write-in candidate who missed a key deadline but still sought inclusion on the November ballot. (Salem News)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

SNAP food assistance benefits will increase next month in Massachusetts, a boost of around $25 to $30 per person, as the federal government responds to inflation. (MassLive

US Labor Secretary Marty Walsh gives details on how he helped avert a potential strike of US rail workers. (MassLive)

EDUCATION

A report faults high-level Boston Public Schools officials for not acting on abuse and bullying allegations at the Mission Hill K-8 Schools, which has since been shut down. (Boston Globe

ARTS/CULTURE

Tanglewood, unlike many arts organizations, seems to have recovered from COVID. (Berkshire Eagle)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

North Shore communities sign a charter pledging to work together to solve the region’s water supply problems. (Salem News)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

An inmate serving a life sentence for murder is charged with beating an MCI-Shirley prison guard last month. The guard is still fighting for his life. (Telegram & Gazette)

MEDIA

Does the Washington Post have a Jeff Bezos problem? (Columbia Journalism Review)