The big rotation in the cast of Cabinet members in the Patrick administration is under way. On Thursday the Massachusetts governor saw off four of his top executives, and named each of the four new faces to replace them.
Gov. Deval Patrick did what governors do, no matter whether their top leaders are leaving under a cloud or departing the field after declaring victory. The governor said each of his outgoing Cabinet secretaries has his full confidence. He explicitly named JudyAnn Bigby, the head of the troubled Department of Health and Human Services.
"I think she’s been fabulous," Patrick said. "And I would hang on to her if I could. But like I said there’s a lot of wear that goes into these jobs. She’s been here from the start. She’s done a remarkable job. And she goes with my blessing."
Bigby, a physician, does leave with quite a legacy — implementing universal health care and seeing through a health cost control mechanism that could prove to be a national model. But those accomplishments have been buried recently by major problems at the state drug lab and lack of oversight of compounding pharmacies linked to tragic deaths around the country. If that weren’t enough, her department also has to oversee the introduction of medical marijuana in less than a month.
So it’s not a coincidence that Patrick has tapped an experienced administrator to take over the department in crisis: John Polanowicz, who currently runs St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Brighton. A former U.S. Army officer and Stanford MBA, he’s a trained leader.
Polanowicz said he’ll apply disciplined thinking to fix problems.
"Coming from the hospital side, that’s what we do," he said. "We take situations and incidents that have occurred, learn from them. Do a root-cause analysis on them. Try to understand what happened. And then put systems in place to try to ensure they wouldn’t happen again."
A new Cabinet member already facing questions is Matthew Malone. The superintendent of Brockton Public Schools earned high praise a few years ago by dramatically turning around a problem high school. But recent complaints about poor communication prompted the Brockton School Committee last month to end Malone’s five-year contract a year early.
"Make your own call," Malone said. "I think I’ve done a great job in Brockton and again I’m thankful for the opportunity to serve the city of Brockton."
Now Malone is replacing state Education Secretary Paul Reville.
"Building coalitions, collaborations with labor unions, business leaders, higher ed. Producing quality young people ready for the 20th century," Malone said. "It’s the same work that I’ve committed my life to and all my experiences. And I look forward to get to do that at a larger scale."
Two others will be working at a larger scale as new Cabinet members. Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea Cabral takes over as public safety chief from Marybeth Heffernan. And Glen Shor leaves the helm of the Connector, the state agency that helps people shop for health insurance. Now he takes over from state Administration and Finance Secretary Jay Gonzalez.
The extent of the Cabinet overhaul surprised many observers, including State House News Service's general manager, Craig Sandler.
"Particularly Gonzalez, because we are in some dire fiscal straits," Sandler said. "It looked like the tide of revenue was rising, and it’s certainly not the case now. We’re into kind of a double-dip fiscal crisis here, so it’s a little strange to have him leave now."
Patrick said he gave each of his Cabinet secretaries a choice: Either commit to serving out his final two years in office, or leave now. What that does is ensure continuity through the remainder of his term. It comes at the expense of four new faces out of 10 — all at once.
This post was updated with the Morning Edition feature version.
This article was originally published on December 13, 2012.