Chafee’s wise staff hire
Governor Linc Chafee’s Christmas, ooops, holiday gift to himself surely was the hiring of George Zainyeh as chief of staff. Zainyeh, a veteran of Rhode Island Democratic politics and onetime Chafee nemesis (the two ran against each other twice for Warwick mayor) replaces Patrick Rogers as the governor’s top aide.
Zainyeh doesn’t have Rogers strength as a brainy lawyer, but Zainyeh brings political skills and relationships that Rogers lacked. Peering at the agenda that Chafee faces as 2012 begins and a new session of the Assembly convenes, Zainyeh is sure to have his hands full.
Chafee needs to stop being his own chief of staff. Zainyeh is a smart political operative who knows his major task is to keep things running and free up Chafee to be governor. The pension overhaul frayed the governor’s relations with organized labor. Zainyeh is a good choice to mend them; he has strong ties to such labor leaders as the AFL-CIO’s George Nee.
Zainyeh also has deep connections to the Assembly, particularly the House, where he served as a Warwick rep. He understands the ebb and flow of the legislative process better than Rogers. Chafee is going to need good relations with lawmakers as he works for such tough legislation as helping municipalities, particularly Cranston and Providence, with pension red ink.
And Chafee needs more message discipline, which Zainyeh understands. Zainyeh was top aide to Patrick Kennedy, a political figure, who like Chafee, often said whatever was rolling around in the front of his brain at a given time. Chafee can’t do much about the silliness of Bishop Thomas Tobin (Kennedy couldn’t either) and the Tea Party fringe, but the governor could avoid some of the foolish talk that lights up talk show nation and gives the ProJo fodder for editorial nonsense. (Has anybody noticed that Tobin likes to get in-our-face about so many things that New Englanders hold dear. Drive by his residence and see the banners as big as bed sheets pronouncing East Providence `Steelers Country’).
The message work must get better for Chafee to succeed in the court of public opinion. For example, after the Board of Governors for Higher Education approved in-state tuition for children of undocumented immigrants, couldn’t the governor have waited an hour or two before he talked about drivers licenses for immigrants? And Chafee needs to keep more rhetorical focus on jobs. The economy is the top issue in Rhode Island and the second, third and fourth most important too.
Zainyeh is an operative of substantive political and personal skill. And Chafee knows of his work ethic – the governor recalled recently to On Politics that he almost lost the Warwick mayoralty because Zainyeh outworked him in the campaign.