Pollack is solid and stunning choice

Baker pick says a lot about him

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER’S choice of Stephanie Pollack as his new Transportation Secretary is a solid and stunning choice.  Solid because everyone who knows Stephanie knows that she is smart, forward-looking, and fully engaged in thinking creatively about mobility issues. Stunning because, well, she works for the Dukakis Center. Labels aside, Stephanie brings the kind of progressive thinking about transportation and its impacts on social equity and environmental justice that suggests that the Baker administration might be the most progressive Republican administration (on transportation issues) since Frank Sargent.

Pollack was a protégé of Doug Foy at the Conservation Law Foundation.  Her legal work was largely responsible for many of CLF’s initiatives to protect the waterfront and focus attention on the connections between mobility and clean air. She is a leader in thinking about smart growth, and the connections between development, economic growth, environmental protection, and mobility. Her work as associate director of the Kitty & Michael Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University has been highly regarded both locally and nationally.  In particular, her work on transit mobility and modal equity in Latino communities puts important focus on issues that would not otherwise have received the attention they deserve.

In late 2006 Stephanie and I were on Deval Patrick’s short list to become his first transportation secretary. For various reasons, neither of us had the chance to take the helm of the state’s transportation secretariat at that time. Her work since then has only enriched her experience and exposed her to the kind of research and data that will inform her thinking and her priorities as secretary. Knowing her, and knowing also the demands and the challenges of the job, I believe they are well matched. I expect that she will not approach issues narrowly, but rather through a multifaceted prism. This is important because transportation and mobility need to be thought of not as public sector silos but rather as elements of public policy that are inextricably linked with others – economic development and environmental protection and social justice. Having someone who understands these connections and has both the intellectual firepower and research experience to draw upon national models will be an advantage to the new governor and his team.

As a progressive who served in a Democratic governor’s cabinet, my reaction to this appointment is several-fold: first, she is by any objective measure a first-rate choice; second, the governor continues to make good on his pledge to lead a bipartisan government focused on substance (he and Stephanie are both wonks, in the best sense of the word); and third, the advocacy community that labors mightily for a transportation system that responds to the imperatives of our times (a mobility system that is less carbon-based, transit-oriented, and focused on social equity) will have a secretary who comes to the job with a background suggesting strongly that she understands and is sympathetic to those imperatives.

It’s very much a time of change. Stephanie will be the Commonwealth’s first female secretary of transportation and, while several women have held high positions within the secretariat, having a woman at the top of the organization will bring its own refreshing change to a massive agency that touches nearly everyone’s lives. There are few people who are both qualified and willing to take on what has historically been one of the state’s most demanding, important, and often thankless jobs. Having been there, I can only offer much respect and good will to those who enter the arena and make the personal sacrifices necessary to do the job well.

Meet the Author

James Aloisi is a former state transportation secretary and a principal at the Pemberton Square Group.