Trick or Treat: The Revenge of Dan Grabauskas

Revenge is a dish best served cold. For the former MBTA general manager, there's probably nothing more delicious than the headline "State Transportation Secretary is resigning "

Secretary of Transportation James Aloisi plans to step down on Halloween. After the public relations fiasco surrounding Grabauskas's departure–the trading of charges over the May 2008 Green Line accident; the long, drawn out will-the-GM-resign-or-be-fired spectacle; the $300,000 plus for his contract buyout; the emails detailing the feud between the two–it was clear that Aloisi had become an albatross around the neck of the Patrick administration.

And who wants to drag a dead bird into an election year when you can direct voters' attention instead to a fresh face at the shiny new Massachusetts Department of Transportation.

Aloisi was brought on as an experienced, though Big Dig-tainted, public sector hand, who could shore up TeamTrans after the lackluster performance of Bernard Cohen, Patrick's first transportation head.

But where Cohen was reportedly good with people and bad at politics, Aloisi proved to be only OK at politics and abysmal with people.

Although he steered the administration's landmark transportation overhaul through the Legislature, he couldn't persuade lawmakers to put the agency on a firmer financial footing with a gas tax hike of any size.

Aloisi unwisely irritated Senate President Therese Murray, only one of the most powerful women in Massachusetts, by labeling her trademark "reform before revenue" motto a "meaningless slogan."

He saw former Massachusetts Turnpike Executive Director Alan LeBovidge to the door after he bluntly demonstrated that toll collectors couldn't be paid out of thin air over a holiday weekend. The secretary kicked outspoken Massachusetts Turnpike Authority board member Mary Connaughton off a turnpike audit committee, calling her "a gadfly" and "a distraction."

In addition, the co-chairs of the Joint Committee on Transportation, Rep. Joseph Wagner and Sen. Steven Baddour, appeared to have been exasperated by all the high drama, with Grabauskas episode being the final straw.

Republicans legislators called for Aloisi's resignation last month after the Patrick administration postponed hearings on MBTA fare hikes until a specially appointed commission studied the agency's finances and management. “We have no confidence that Secretary Aloisi will be able to productively manage the massive overhaul of the state’s transportation bureaucracy,” House Minority Leader Bradley Jones and Sen. Richard Tisei said in a letter to Patrick.

Guess they were right.

Unfortunately, Aloisi's resignation didn't come soon enough, since he dared take on federal officials over safety standards at two new Registry of of Motor Vehicle offices. Upsetting the feds is never a recipe for success.

Aloisi also telegraphed some dissatisfaction with the new MassDOT reporting structure which makes the secretary answerable to a board of directors. (Which will presumably force future renegade secretaries to toe the line before personnel issues get blown way out of proportion.)

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Gabrielle Gurley

Senior Associate Editor, CommonWealth

About Gabrielle Gurley

Gabrielle covers several beats, including mass transit, municipal government, child welfare, and energy and the environment. Her recent articles have explored municipal hiring practices in Pittsfield, public defender pay, and medical marijuana, and she has won several national journalism awards for her work. Prior to coming to CommonWealth in 2005, Gabrielle wrote for the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She launched her media career in broadcast journalism with C-SPAN in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia native holds degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University.

About Gabrielle Gurley

Gabrielle covers several beats, including mass transit, municipal government, child welfare, and energy and the environment. Her recent articles have explored municipal hiring practices in Pittsfield, public defender pay, and medical marijuana, and she has won several national journalism awards for her work. Prior to coming to CommonWealth in 2005, Gabrielle wrote for the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She launched her media career in broadcast journalism with C-SPAN in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia native holds degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University.

Who to move into the top slot at the new improved MassDOT? Jeffrey Mullan, the turnpike executive director, is the likely candidate. Then there are the fantasy picks, Fred Salvucci or Michael Dukakis, favorites of Bay State transportation geeks everywhere.

After two poor selections, the pressure is on the Patrick administration to make an unassailable choice that everyone from the Transportation Committee to the T Riders Union can rally around.