Grading the appointments: Joan Wallace-Benjamin

[by David S. Bernstein]

As Deval Patrick puts together his team to run the state government, the Talking Politics blog will grade his appointments. We'll be keeping a close eye out for hackery, patronage, and incompetence, and whether Patrick seems to be fulfilling his promise to bring fresh, new perspectives to Beacon Hill.

Today, Patrick announced his chief-of-staff, Joan Wallace-Benjamin.

Grade: B+

Putting a woman at the top of the organizational chart certainly sends a strong symbolic message if nothing else. Meanwhile, it's a true sign of change that her color need be of little interest. Her appointment is also a strong sign that Patrick will reverse the funding cuts that have affected services to the needy -- cuts that Wallace-Benjamin has criticized. Wallace-Banjamin headed the Urban League of Massachusetts for 11 years, and is currently in charge of the Home for Little Wanderers, but her real strength is in her vast network of contacts, particularly women, in all industries and walks of life. She'll not only bring talent into the administration, but should dramatically expand corporate and individual participation in state-private partnerships. (Her husband, Milton Benjamin, the former president of Massachusetts Community Development Finance Corp., is an added bonus.)
    A potential downside is her perceived close affiliation to the Boston power structure, and Mayor Menino. But she has a reputation for being smart and well-liked, and for running a tight ship. Only her lack of experience in government keeps me from giving a higher grade.

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