In the first major staff shake-up of Governor Charlie Baker’s 2½-year tenure, chief of staff Steven Kadish is leaving and will be succeeded by top finance aide Kristen Lepore, bringing changes to two of the most powerful unelected positions in Massachusetts government.
Michael J. Heffernan, the commissioner of the state Department of Revenue, will succeed Lepore as the secretary of Administration and Finance. And Chris Harding, the revenue department’s chief of staff, will follow Heffernan into the revenue commissioner role.
In an interview, Kadish, who begins his day at 5 a.m. and is still working after nightfall, offered a simple reason for his departure, saying he has “run out of gas.” The South End resident said he is not leaving for a new job, but rather is looking forward to spending more time with his family.
“I will turn 61 in October. I want to make it to 61,” he said. “People have asked me if I’m going to retire, and the r-word I’m using is ‘rest.’ ”
While many chiefs of staff play an outsized role in political and communications strategy, Kadish has taken a different tack, diving deep on policy and assuming the lead on trying to fix trouble spots in state bureaucracy, such as the Department of Children and Families.
“I’ve had the chance to be a very different chief of staff and I attribute that to Governor Baker,” said Kadish. “The chance to make DCF work better, the chance to make the T work better, the chance to make sure that people who have signed for insurance get their insurance through the Health Connector, it’s a dream for public service.”
Baker, who is gearing up for an expected reelection campaign next year, praised Kadish, Lepore, and Heffernan in a separate interview, and later in a news conference, where he was overcome by emotion talking about Kadish.
Asked in the interview if people should read anything political into the shake-up — Kadish is a Democrat, Baker is a Republican — the governor cut off the question.
“I love this man,” he said as Kadish sat nearby. “I’ve worked with him four times, all right? I love Kristen, I’ve worked with her several times as well. I could care less about the letter at the end of their name. It’s not important. I want people to be smart, collaborative, and people that we can trust, who will be truth tellers when the news is good and when the news is bad.”
Lepore, a former business lobbyist, has overseen the budget during a tumultuous fiscal time, working to close gaps between spending and tax revenue. Baker lauded her fiscal acumen.
He pointed to Lepore reducing the state’s reliance on nonrecurring revenue streams to balance the budget — things like tapping the rainy day fund and selling state buildings.
Last month, a national bond-rating agency, S&P Global Ratings, downgraded its measure of Massachusetts’ creditworthiness for the first time in almost 30 years, a decision seen by some as sullying Lepore’s reputation for sound fiscal management.
Asked whether that has anything to do with the shuffle, Baker said: “No. Absolutely not.”
And he called Heffernan a “terrific numbers guy,” a high compliment from Baker, himself a former budget chief.
The administration and finance secretary has broad power and is effectively the chief financial officer for Massachusetts.
He or she makes the $40 billion budget blueprint upon which the House and Senate build their annual plans. The secretary controls the purse strings of the Commonwealth and makes big decisions on day-to-day operations and long-term capital investment. And he or she oversees a powerful swath of government, from tax collectors to human resources officials to procurement.
Heffernan, who unsuccessfully ran for state treasurer in 2014 (a campaign most notable for a well-received TV ad featuring his family), worked for nearly 20 years at Citigroup and its predecessor firm as a managing director in its markets and banking division, according to an official biography. He cofounded the tech startup Mobiquity in 2011.
Lepore started as budget chief when Baker took office in January 2015. Before that, she was a top lobbyist at Associated Industries of Massachusetts, a powerful business group.
And prior to that role, she served as policy director on Baker’s unsuccessful 2010 campaign to unseat Governor Deval Patrick.
Unlike some executives who retool in the midst of crisis, Baker is riding high. The cascade of shifting roles was announced the same day a national poll found Baker to be the nation’s most popular governor. Seventy-one percent of Massachusetts registered voters approve of his job performance, the Morning Consult survey found.Joshua Miller can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @jm_bos. Click here to subscribe to his weekday e-mail update on politics.