It’s human nature. New governors quickly grow a healthy contempt for the management skills of their predecessors.
No wonder. You move into a new apartment and find the previous tenant pennied all the drains – or, as in the case of the 1993 Bill Clinton transition to George W. Bush, removed all the “W” keys from the White House computers (super classy!) – you’re going to be pissed about it.
And after last week’s discovery that Baker-era MBTA officials knew about serious engineering problems with the $2.3 billion Green Line extension but never told the new administration about them, Gov. Maura Healey is wicked pissed.
“It is absolutely unacceptable,” she said during a WBZ-TV interview just hours after learning of the cover-up. Did Baker know about it? “I have no information to suggest that he knew,” she said, twice, without a head shake or hint of other body language that might give that prepared response a frisson of exculpation.
It’s an unwritten rule of Beacon Hill etiquette – resist the impulse to publicly trash your predecessor, as much as you might loathe them. But Healey campaigned on the premise that she thought Baker had done a good job and would follow his example of mostly governing from the center. And while annoyance over balls dropped and issues bungled has occasionally leaked out over the past ten months, Healey has mostly followed the Golden Dome rule.
But in our interview, her contempt for the scatburger left behind by Baker was palpable.
“This is the Green Line extension that opened last fall last year to a lot of fanfare,” she noted. Phil Eng, Healey’s MBTA hire charged with cleaning up the mess, “is the first GM in many, many years who comes with any transportation experience.” She vowed to make sure “we’re doing everything that we can to address years – years – of mismanagement and underinvestment.”
Reminded that she sounds just like Baker did when he took office during the snowpocalypse winter of 2015 that paralyzed the T, Healey was unsympathetic, noting Baker administration managers “lacked either the competence or the wherewithal to do what was necessary to run the team.” And Healey praised Eng for bringing in “a new management and leadership team with actual operational experience.”
Yikes. This won’t boost sales for Baker’s valedictory book “Results: Getting Beyond Politics to Get Important Work Done” (unintentionally-ironic subtitle: “A Leader’s Guide to Executing Change and Delivering Results”).
But skewering Baker’s legacy spin won’t do much to relieve the grim reality of Healey’s situation. Confidence in the T, already zero, is now surely headed lower. As the few remaining customers bail out in frustration over seeing earthworms outrace their train, the system’s dire financial problems will get worse. What good will Healey’s big push for multi-unit housing without parking near T stations do if tenants decide they still need wheels, and clog the commercial-center parking spaces in the process, to the horror of local merchants?
Healey says that’s “certainly something that I recognize as an issue,” and we believe her. Now the trick is to get the traffic-weary public to recognize why positive change may prove even slower than the 7:55 to Magoun Square.