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No Place Like the City of Homes for Charlie Baker?…

Mayor Domenic Sarno, Gov-elect Charlie Baker and Councilor Tim Rooke (via Facebook/City of Springfield)

Charlie Baker may be the next governor of Massachusetts, but the commonwealth remains solidly Democratic country. Unlike Bill Weld who for a time had a veto-proof majority or Paul Cellucci who had something to gain—ambassadorship to Canada—Baker has little reason not play ball with Beacon Hill Dems. Nor is he likely to try to annihilate them as Romney tried in 2004. Baker provided little under ticket support for his fellow Republicans and so-called grassroots efforts to do the same via Mass Fiscal fizzled.

This all means that for the most part Democratic governance in the commonwealth is unlikely to change much. However, there may be other impacts of Baker’s election that may or may not have implications for Springfield and some elected leaders.

Aside from the deficit brought on by impending cut in the income tax and lower than expected collection of fees, there is no immediate threat to Springfield in Baker’s win. Local aide remains an important lifeline that can affect the city short-term, but both parties have shown little compunction about cutting it. The welfare reform Baker promised is already law and it seems hard to imagine he would oppose job training and the like.

A Democratic governor, arguably would have been more aggressive in pursuing policy to help Springfield, but there is little reason to fear a Republican will change enough to unsteady the city’s ship right away. Baker’s most consequential appointment short-term will be who heads the department Baker himself once ran: Administration & Finance. That department has a role in Springfield’s finances by statute and in the selection of the Chief Administrative and Financial Officer, although for now that post is in good hands.

Baker after the Springfield City Stage Debate (WMassP&I)

Baker is widely expected to appoint a bipartisan cabinet, but the big question is what defines bipartisan. On some level, this will come down to Baker’s motivations and magnanimity. There are two goals of the transition process: staffing your cabinet to meet your priorities and rewarding supporters. To meet that bipartisan goal, will Baker merely install the small clutch of Dems that backed him or will he reach into the well of Democratic professionals to put in smart people regardless of who they backed on Tuesday?

During the campaign, Baker tried to make bipartisan inroads here in the city. He only succeeded in picking off a few individuals. Few, if any are in the city’s reform crowd. Most were of the traditionally name recognition-based political system, but had otherwise seen their stock fall in recent years.

One Democratic name  ripe for an appointment and widely believed to get one is Springfield at-large City Councilor Tim Rooke. Rooke was a vocal supporter of Baker’s and recruited pols to his cause, although as a practical matter he was more an adviser on the region’s politics, than a vote-getter. After a series of Republican endorsements from Baker in 2010 to Scott Brown to Baker again, finally one of them is in a position to reward Rooke’s loyalty. The form it may take remains up in the air, however.

Rooke was with Baker during a meeting with Mayor Domenic Sarno. There is some reason to believe Rooke’s other Republican endorsements were a way for Baker to help his party down ticket. For example Rooke publicly endorsed Debra Boronski for state senate, but some sources say Rooke never cut all ties to Eric Lesser’s camp, either. Boronski had hoped to capitalize on discontent over the loss of Tim Allen— whom Rooke backed in the primary—but that failed to materialize.

Councilor Tim Rooke. (via Facebook/non-campaign)

Councilor Tim Rooke. (via Facebook/non-campaign)

In an email, Rooke sidestepped whether he was in line for a post saying he was just Baker’s “go-to guy” to set up meetings and build relationships with political figures and mayors in the area. Rooke also said he, “May be able to offer some assistance on transition team” too.

Were Rooke to receive a local appointment or a lower level one in Boston allowing for easy commuting back to Springfield, little may change. However, any appointment in Boston could begin to conflict with Rooke’s duties as a City Councilor. If Rooke resigned, his seat would go to former at-large Councilor Jimmy Ferrera, who was defeated for reelection last year. Incidentally, Ferrera placed sixth right behind Rooke who placed fifth.

Despite nearly twenty years on the Springfield City Council, it may not be surprising if Rooke, currently the dean of the Council, were to move on. The 2013 race was among his poorer showings despite a $2000 “campaign consulting” payment to one-time political power-that-was Athan “Sacco” Catjakis.

In contrast to past years, Rooke took a lower profile on the Council in 2014. His top legislative agenda of late was raising the mayor’s salary, which passed shortly before last November. Some saw that as a prelude to his running for the office himself, but talk of that quickly died down after the 2013 election.

Rooke's reelection to the City Council was not especially close in 2013, but he placed lower than in previous years. (WMassP&I)

Rooke’s reelection to the City Council was not especially close in 2013, but he placed lower than in previous years. (WMassP&I)

The fifth place finish after years of placing first or second came as a shock. Many political observers attributed it to minorities motivated to vote for candidates like Justin Hurst and Ernesto Cruz, while the city’s predominantly white areas sat on the sidelines with no mayor or local council race to consider. Indeed, turnout reached a historic low in the city’s first non-mayoral election in decades.

However, that does not explain the comparable success of colleague Tom Ashe, who, while also of a background similar to Rooke’s, has been more adept at forging alliances among the city’s next generation of political leaders. Sharing a name with the sheriff does not provide a satisfying enough answer either.

Rooke can also buy out his time with the city as a mayoral aide to Richard Neal and councilor and transfer it to the state pension system if he so desires.

Rooke’s departure, if it happened, would signal the end of an era at City Hall. There are councilors whose tenures go back further or have relied on the machine to rise, but Rooke is a product of a dying political era dependent on family name and connections.

All of this may depend on Baker, who probably has the final say over whether or not Rooke resigns. Rooke has stuck around for this long, telling WMassP&I last year “I enjoy it.” “There are some things I look forward to taking an active role in,” he said then. Perhaps even now, he is not in any rush to leave.

Now as Baker plans out his term as governor, he and his circle may decide the City Council dean takes an active role.

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