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Governor-elect Charlie Baker has tapped a Democrat as his first Cabinet pick, turning to Chelsea City Manager Jay Ash to lead his administration's housing and economic development efforts.
Baker offered Ash the position over the weekend, a Baker adviser confirmed Tuesday night. Ash in January would succeed Housing and Economic Development Secretary Greg Bialecki.
Ash, who once worked in the State House for former Majority Leader Richard Voke, has been a strong advocate on Beacon Hill for municipal issues during his time as city manager.
During an August campaign stop in Chelsea with Baker, Ash said he could not endorse because of his non-partisan position, but described Baker as someone he has known for 20 years.
"I greatly respect his substantial acumen and I'm looking forward to a Governor Baker, and what he can do here in the Commonwealth," Ash said. Baker made support for urban centers like Chelsea a cornerstone of his economic development platform during his campaign.
Ash's contract with Chelsea runs through early 2015. He signed a new four-year deal in March 2011 after toying with the idea of joining the Patrick administration as head of MassDevelopment, a job for which he applied and was under consideration until he withdrew his name.
Baker on Monday visited privately with both House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate Majority Leader Stan Rosenberg, who is poised to become president of the Senate in January.
All three expressed optimism in forging good working relationships between the new Republican administration and the Democrat-controlled Legislature.
Late Monday afternoon, Baker met in the office of Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr with the Gloucester Republican and House Minority Leader Brad Jones.
After the hour-long meeting, Baker told the News Service they discussed his first 100 days, efforts to build a team around him, and ways in which the legislative leaders can be helpful to the new administration.
"We said from the beginning we were going to build a bipartisan administration. We meant it, and we're going to be looking for people both inside and outside government," Baker said as he left the building.
Asked about his plans to quell any divisions within the ranks of the House Republican caucus, Baker turned to Jones and asked him to set up a meeting with "both sides" of the caucus before Thanksgiving.
"Everyone is on the same page," Baker said. "We're all working for the same ends." Jones interjected, "I don't know anyone in my caucus that didn't support Charlie for governor."
The rancor within the ranks of the GOP came to a head in May when Jones loyalists called for a vote of confidence in the leader to shut down any thoughts of an uprising from more conservative members. Some lawmakers, including Reps. Jim Lyons and Marc Lombardo, called for a change in leadership, frustrated by what they perceived to be Jones's penchant for being too conciliatory with Democratic leaders.
Jones plans to run for an eighth term as minority leader in January, and said, "I will have the votes on Jan. 7. You've known me for a while, and I'm pretty darn good at counting votes."
The Republicans plan to add at least five, and possibly six, new members to their ranks in the House next year. There are currently 29 Republicans.
Asked whether he supported Jones and Tarr to remain as minority leaders, Baker said, "It's up to their caucuses."
Baker is supporting Republican Party Chairwoman Kirsten Hughes to remain on as leader of the party, according to an aide.
Baker also said he was not considering any current lawmakers for posts within his administration at the current time, but he did not rule out pulling from the Legislature.
"We're just not there yet," Baker said of his hiring process. "I think it depends to some extent on highest and best use. If someone would be a really terrific person working in the administration you'd hate to lose the opportunity. But at the same time if their highest and best use is continuing to serve in the Legislature you'd probably want them to keep doing that."
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