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Jane Swift’s comeback
Just five weeks into her administration, Swift has made decisive moves on voter-friendly issues. How did her inexperienced team turn her from the butt of jokes into a bona fide governor?


TUESDAY, MAY 1, looked like a good day for the Swift administration. The Boston Herald published the results of its latest public-opinion poll about the new governor, and the results were positive: 41 percent of voters said they approved of Swift’s job performance. Compare that with an earlier Herald poll taken in February, when just 31 percent of voters viewed her favorably. Meanwhile, the percentage of those who held an unfavorable opinion of her dropped by 13 points. This was a far cry from the St. Valentine’s Day massacre: on February 13, Swift announced at a press conference that she was ready to become governor. The following day, the Herald published a close-up photo of her looking ridiculous — the photo caught her at the exact moment her eyes went in one direction and her mouth went in the other — under the headline here’s jane. On May 1, Swift had again made the front page, but this time the headline read jane turns tide.

Although one might think the Herald’s poll results would be cause for celebration in the governor’s office, they weren’t. As she does many mornings, Swift summoned the “table,” the nickname given to her group of senior staffers: chief legal counsel Leonard Lewin, secretary of administration and finance Steve Crosby, deputy chief of staff Stacey Rainey, chief policy adviser Judy Butler, chief secretary Abner Mason, chief of staff Peter Forman, and spokesman Jason Kauppi, though other staffers are occasionally pulled into the meeting (see “Who’s Who in the Swift Administration,” page 3 sidebar). “The temptation was to want to pat ourselves on the back,” recalls one administration insider who attended the meeting. But Swift would not permit it. “This is absolutely not the time for that,” she told her team, according to several of those present. “We have to prove ourselves. We haven’t even begun to do that.”

As citizens in the Commonwealth and around the country focus on Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where Swift made history Tuesday night as the first governor in the country to give birth while in office, another story is emerging out of Beacon Hill — the story of how Swift and a relatively inexperienced band of advisers (though they’re not quite as young as commentators have generally assumed) improved her poll ratings and turned the governor into a forceful political presence.

Since taking office a mere five weeks ago, Swift has acted decisively. She’s taken strong stances on adult education, gay marriage, coal-burning power plants, Clean Elections, and sentencing reform. A weak chief executive — like, say, the guy from Hudson who recently moved to Ottawa — wouldn’t be able to do that. (Cellucci started off strong, too, after he was promoted to governor from lieutenant governor when Bill Weld resigned to pursue his nomination as ambassador to Mexico. During his first week, he called for a tax rollback to five percent and for extending unemployment benefits to victims of domestic violence. We saw little of that initiative in his last years as governor, however.) In addition to her policy initiatives, Swift scooped up the best like-minded talent available — hiring Jim Peyser from the Pioneer Institute to serve as an education adviser, and Melrose mayor Patrick Guerriero, a former Republican state rep, to serve as a deputy chief of staff.

To be sure, Swift is not out of the woods yet — as she herself is aware. She still must come through the birth of her children and her working maternity leave without political damage. At the very least, however, Swift’s first month in office won her a second look from voters. By focusing on a pragmatic mix of issues such as the environment, education, and welfare reform, her team has set out on the right foot — as the poll numbers seem to reflect. In the meantime, Swift hit the fundraising circuit during her first month as governor, and raised an impressive $411,127. As one political observer noted, that can mean only one thing: she’s running for re-election.

Need further evidence of Swift’s turnaround? The strongest signal yet is coming from the Democrats. “Her initiatives in the first month of office have positioned her to run as a centrist mainstream candidate in a way that demonstrates her awareness that 50 percent of the electorate is unenrolled,” says Democratic gubernatorial candidate Steve Grossman, who believes he stands the best chance of beating Swift in a general election.

“I think it’s time for every Democrat, whether you’re a member of the legislature or a candidate for governor, to treat Jane Swift like a governor,” says Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh.

A mere six weeks ago, nobody was talking like this about our first female governor. So how did the Swifties do it?

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Issue Date: May 17-24, 2001

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