The Unstoppable Maura Healey
From her time working in Coakley’s office, Healey learned that the AG doesn’t always need to lead with a fist: She can wield soft power to decisive effect. Case in point: Boston’s bid to host the Olympic games. Led by a group of private backers and former Beacon Hill insiders calling themselves Boston 2024, the city won the U.S. Olympic Committee’s blessing without giving Massachusetts citizens specifics about how the games would be financed. Through this past winter, Boston 2024 stonewalled attempts to get more information about the costs and the source of the billions of dollars in funding. In March, when Boston 2024 unexpectedly announced it had retained Patrick to lobby for the bid, Walsh pressed the organization to reveal salary information for its staff and consultants, including how much the former governor was being paid. Sticker shock hit when the public learned Patrick’s rate was $7,500 per day
Behind the scenes, Walsh’s office asked Healey for help bringing more of Boston 2024’s finances to light. Just a few weeks after her office got involved, in June, Boston 2024 suddenly agreed, after months of delay, to release quarterly reports with itemized staff salaries, contracts, expenses, and dollar ranges of contributions. Most notably, the group agreed to ban anonymous donations.
Technically, under Massachusetts statutes, Healey couldn’t demand much more than the minimum required by the IRS’s Form 990 nonprofit filings. But just by virtue of getting involved, her office raised the implicit threat of a lawsuit if she felt Boston 2024 was withholding vital information. Boston 2024 CEO Rich Davey says the organization already knew it had to begin releasing quarterly reports, and welcomed conversations with the Attorney General’s Office about “what might be appropriate to have in such a report.” Both Davey and Walsh’s chief of staff, Dan Koh, say that, over a few weeks, the conversations were collaborative as the three offices tried to agree on a satisfactory level of disclosure.
But the political skill Healey exercised in extracting concessions from Boston 2024 impressed one of her predecessors, former AG Scott Harshbarger—a man who initially supported Healey’s opponent, Warren Tolman. “She gets a lot of points from me,” says Harshbarger about the Boston 2024 negotiations, “for getting involved early instead of waiting, for trying to prevent a problem from happening.”
At City Hall, Koh notes that the Attorney General’s Office has been exceptionally collaborative— not just in bigger, public conversations like the one about Boston 2024, but in smaller details as well. As an example, Koh tells me about the time Walsh’s and Healey’s offices simultaneously decided to create bathroom policies that welcomed the transgender community. Healey delayed her announcement in order to synchronize with City Hall, Koh recalls, with Walsh and Healey each offering a quote for the other’s press release. Such generosity about sharing credit “is extraordinarily rare in politics,” Koh says. But her collaborative gestures have some political symbolism, as well: Walsh had endorsed not Healey but Tolman in the Democratic primary.
It can’t hurt that neither Walsh nor Healey is a big fan of gambling. Walsh’s office is suing the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to prevent Steve Wynn from building a casino in Everett. Healey has called for tougher casino regulation, and in July asked the state Department of Transportation to hold up a key permit for Wynn’s casino, citing environmental concerns.
Of course, nearly all political relationships are both temporary and contingent. These are early days for Healey, and while she’s passed most tests with flying colors, there are plenty of divisive issues ahead. At the Chamber of Commerce, she faced exactly the kind of danger zone in which she might stumble: A place where her deep-seated progressive ideals could run into powerful opposition.
But the Maura Healey who stepped to the podium to address the Chamber of Commerce—the seat of so much of the city’s financial power—was not confrontational. As always, she was strategically unassuming: low-key outfit, beige pumps, scarcely any jewelry. She thanked everyone in the warm, charming manner that had won her so many enthusiastic votes. She then went straight to the point, reassuring her audience by promising “predictability, practicality, and fairness”—and an open door. “We’re problem solvers,” she said of her team, pointing to her division chiefs’ table. “We’re in this together.” Take our business cards, she urged those in attendance, and make appointments with our office. Let us learn from you, so that we can make “informed decisions that understand the impact and the consequences.”
And then, weeks after meeting with the Chamber, Healey showed exactly how canny she was: She made room for the business community’s concerns. Her office adjusted its paid sick-time regulations with a safe-harbor clause to accommodate businesses that already offered similar policies—rewarding those that had done the right thing on their own, while offering immediate relief to the construction workers, home health aides, and burger flippers for whom the referendum had been designed. It was that most rare thing in politics: an honest compromise. Even the referendum’s biggest critic, the Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM), said Healey had proven herself a savvy player. “I think [Healey] did an exceptional job, and her office did an exceptional job in getting these regulations out before July 1,” said AIM executive vice president Christopher Geehern.
Verdict: The new sheriff plays well with others.