‘Getting beyond politics’: Gov. Baker visits Northeastern with former chief of staff to talk achieving ‘Results’


Marta Hill

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker speaks Sept. 21 at the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Center. He was joined by his former chief of staff Steve Kadish to talk about their co-written book, “Results.”

Marta Hill and Jessica Silverman

Though the T has been at the top of many students’ minds recently because of the newly reopened Orange Line, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker urged Northeastern students to pay attention for another reason: jobs.

“If there’s one thing I would tell you to pay attention to moving forward it’s the T,” Baker said Sept. 21 in the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Complex. “The T has 900 funded unfilled positions. … The biggest message I’m going to give to whoever the next governor is is that you got to fill these jobs.”

Baker and his former chief of staff, Steve Kadish, advised students to pursue careers in the public sector and discussed how to solve policy problems in an age of political partisanship. 

The event, titled “Moving Past Politics to Deliver Results,” was part of Northeastern’s Civic Experience series. 

Baker and Kadish promoted their co-written book, “Results: Getting Beyond Politics to Get Important Work Done,” and offered a book signing at the end of the event, with free books for the first 50 people in attendance. 

The conversation covered topics such as the reopening of the Orange Line, rent policies in Massachusetts and COVID-19 guidance during the peak of the pandemic. Former Massachusetts Speaker of the House and current University Fellow for Public Life at Northeastern Robert DeLeo gave opening remarks and recounted his history working with Baker.

“One of the things I remember most about working with the governor is, quite frankly, results,” he said. “When we first met we talked about that very simple theory. We want to get things done.”

Professor Alicia Sasser Modestino of Northeastern’s School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs and the Department of Economics moderated the discussion. Sasser asked Baker what the motivations for writing the book were, to which Baker said the book was proof things could get done in the public sector if executed properly.

“The point here is to say that good work does get done. Here’s a process and a way to go about doing good work,” Baker said. “Frankly, my hope is that people use it to be successful in the public and not-for-profit sector and use it as a mechanism to encourage other people to understand that good work does get done there, can get done there and can be sustained over time.”

Baker and Kadish focused part of the discussion on the state’s approach to public policy at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically in relation to eviction policies and COVID-19 testing

While details about the virus were still unclear early in the pandemic, Baker said he and his team learned they needed to stick to the facts and educate the public as much as they could.

“We did 100 press conferences 100 days in a row starting in about the middle of March and just running all the way through the summer and into the fall and then we did three or four a week after that for the next year,” he said. “The reason we did that was to basically do the best we possibly could to give people the latest and best information we had on what was going on. … We realized pretty early on that if we couldn’t come up with a really aggressive testing process we were going to have huge problems with respect to actually understanding what was going on.”

Baker also discussed the overdue modernization of the MBTA and the recent closure of the Orange Line and said many of the Orange Line cars being replaced were 50 years old.

“The long story short is that the MBTA really was not invested in for a really long time. People were willing to build things that expanded it because you could actually see it and get credit for it, but actually putting our dollars into modernizing and upgrading and maintaining the core system was just not something you could get public recognition for, so people didn’t do it,” Baker said. 

For Jonah O’Brien, a second-year political science and communication studies combined major, conversations about investments in the MBTA stood out the most. 

“It’s interesting how politics works, where you’re always focused on building new stuff, not repairing the old, because that’s what looks good,” O’Brien said. “It was interesting to see how he was able to justify going back and repairing the old stuff, which I think is really important.”

Kadish pitched the idea of pursuing future careers in government, specifically with the MBTA, to the Northeastern students in attendance. 

“Think about the T and other parts of state government. To have more of you guys working in public service is a huge thing. You’ll have a great time and an unbelievable experience,” he said.

The two also spoke specifically on the Inflation Reduction Act and climate initiatives passed by the Biden Administration, explaining that projects in the laws passed would benefit Massachusetts in areas like housing, broadband and infrastructure, among other things. 

When asked by an audience member about how to achieve bipartisanship when working with a divided government, Baker recalled his childhood and watching his parents engage in political debates.

“I look for common ground because that’s what I watched my parents do. They were usually debating means they weren’t debating ends,” he said. “The big problem with thinking about this in terms of just my side and your side is that it doesn’t have sustainability.”

Aminata Sillah, a student at the Northeastern University School of Law, said Baker’s advice on local government was “awesome.” 

“Gov. Charlie Baker is here and he’s one of my favorite politicians ever. And I like the way he’s able to traverse political lines. And also the way he’s delivering on public goods and services,” Sillah said. “He is a fantastic human being. And the way immigrants have been respected in Massachusetts is awesome.”

O’Brien described himself as pretty new to political science and said this event was a great way to learn more about how to get involved in public service. 

“I feel like the governor really did a good job in explaining the ins and outs of how he runs the office,” O’Brien said. “I’ve learned a lot about how the whole system works.”

Baker closed the conversation by pushing those who were ambitious to make a difference to consider working for local government.

“If you’re curious about how many different ways there are to build a life, live in a community, contribute, make a living, there is no place that’s going to give you the window into those things like the public sector,” he said.