When Governor Charlie Baker was elected to his first term of office four years ago, his first major announcement was the appointment of Jay Ash to the post of Secretary of Housing and Economic Development.
The announcement by Gov. Baker, a Republican, came as a surprise to many political insiders because Ash was a lifelong Democrat and at the time was serving as the City Manager for the City of Chelsea, a post he had held for almost 15 years. Moreover, the Secretary of Housing and Economic Development is among the most important members of a governor’s cabinet, and typically goes to a person who is among those most trusted by the governor to implement his broad policy objectives.
However, Ash’s appointment by Gov.-elect Baker signaled two things about the incoming administration: First, that Baker was going to “reach across the aisle” to Democrats and second, that he was seeking the most-qualified persons he could find to serve in his administration.
During the past four years, Charlie Baker’s appointment of Jay Ash, who officially stepped down from his cabinet post in December to become the new president of a nonprofit business group known as the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership, has proven to be a win-win for Gov. Baker — and the people of Massachusetts — on both scores.
Ash, who had served for many years as the chief of staff to former House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Voke, not only knew the ins-and-outs of the legislative process, but also was on a first-name basis with many legislators, most notably House Speaker Bob DeLeo, who played a key role in working with Jay in implementing the many initiatives put forth by the Baker administration.
In addition, Jay Ash brought to the table his experience as the City Manager of Chelsea, a small city that is the prototype for both the potential and pitfalls of economic development of urban areas throughout the state.
During his tenure, Jay Ash brought to fruition many projects that will bring economic benefits for future generations of our state’s residents. Among Ash’s signature accomplishments, he played a key role in bringing the Pawtucket Red Sox to Worcester, which included the redevelopment of the city’s Canal District with $35 million in infrastructure and affordable housing funds; he brought $12.5 million in state funds to the Berkshire Innovation Center, which will focus on life sciences in Pittsfield; he played an integral role in persuading General Electric to locate its world headquarters in Boston’s Seaport District; and he was instrumental in bringing about a significant reduction in the number of homeless families living in motels.
All in all, Jay Ash’s tenure as Secretary of Housing and Economic Development has been among the most successful and remarkable of any Cabinet member of any administration in the state’s history. We know we speak not only for the residents of his native Chelsea, but also for citizens throughout the state, in thanking Jay Ash for his years of public service and wishing him well in his future endeavors.