By Bonnie Adams, Managing Editor
Shrewsbury – It’s been nine months since Karyn Polito officially became lieutenant governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, serving with Gov. Charlie Baker.
The Shrewsbury resident previously served in various roles in that town’s government and then as commissioner of the Massachusetts State Lottery from 1999-2000 and as state representative for the 11th Worcester District from 2001-2011. After losing a close race to Steven Grossman for state treasurer in 2010, she worked in her family’s commercial real estate development firm until winning the November 2014 election with Baker.
Polito earned her bachelor’s degree in management from Boston College in 1988 and her J.D. from the New England School of Law in 1991.
She and her husband Stephan M. Rodolakis have two children, Bobby and Judy, who both go to Shrewsbury public schools.
In a recent interview Polito reflected on the philosophy on which she has based her private and public life, what she hopes to accomplish in her role as the commonwealth’s lieutenant governor, and the empathy she has for those who commute into Boston every day from central Massachusetts.
“I have always been taught to work hard at whatever I do,” she said. “In my family, we learned from the example set by my grandfather, [Robert Lutz] who was one of Shrewsbury’s longest running Town Meeting members. (Lutz was also a former member School Committee member and one of the founders of and a commissioner for the Shrewsbury Electric Light and Cable Company). And I served on the Board of Selectmen – it helped to open future doors for me to serve in other capacities.”
Even losing the election for treasurer was a “valuable experience,” she said.
After that election, she returned to her family’s business, which she enjoyed. But when the opportunity to return to public service with Baker came, it “felt like the right time,” she said.
“We both felt that the state would be well served by our experience in both the private and public sectors,” she added.
As she has transitioned back to the public sector, Polito noted that she, like “every working parent,” plays a juggling act.
“Personally I could not do it without my supportive husband and other family members helping,” she said. “But [Baker] is also very family-oriented. He knows the value of family time.”
“Professionally, the transition has been smooth because the governor and I had strong a friendship and working relationship honed on the campaign trail. We have also assembled a strong team that has served us well.”
When asked about what is the most surprising thing about being back in state office, she noted something that many from central Massachusetts can relate to – the heavy volume of traffic.
“I have a lot of empathy for those who commute into Boston each day. I go in about three days a week, and travel to other parts of the state the other days,” she said.
With the ink on the inauguration programs barely dry, Baker and Polito had to deal with a myriad of weather-related problems including near record amounts of snow (and where to put it once it was plowed) and a failing public transportation system.
Again, a balancing act was required, Polito said, in order to deal with the situation at hand while also still working on their established agenda.
“I was surprised by how many people watched the weather news when it snowed constantly this past winter,” she said.
“But we had the right people on the team – Matt Beaton (secretary of energy and environmental affairs) and Stephanie Pollack (secretary of transportation) and public safety officials among others – to deal with train travel, road travel and bans. Public safety was our primary focus. The team empowered Gov. Baker and I to make good decisions. And as the governor says, ‘It’s important not to be surprised when surprising things happen to you.’”
One of the initiatives Baker has assigned to Polito is to chair the Community Compact Cabinet.
“I absolutely love this program; it’s an extension of what we promised in the campaign. It will help communities make good connections with state government and form strong partnerships. It will also make sure state resources are shared fairly across the commonwealth. There has been enormous interest and participation across the commonwealth so far,” she said.
Polito is “passionate” about empowering women and especially those who have been victims of domestic violence. As such, she is thrilled, she said, to chair the Council on Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence.
The council’s charge, according to the website mass.gov, is to “advise the governor on how to help residents of the commonwealth live a life free of sexual assault and domestic violence by improving prevention for all, enhancing support for individuals and families affected by sexual assault and domestic violence, and insisting on accountability for perpetrators.”
By chairing this committee, Polito will be able, she said, to continue the work she did as a state representative when she was instrumental in the passage of “Jessica’s Law,” a bill which established tough mandatory minimum sentences for child sex offenders.
She is also is overseeing the Seaport Economic Council which helps to ensure resources are protected for the 78 coastal communities in the state.
Going forth, Polito said she knows there is a lot of work to do, but is eager and ready for the challenge.
“As I said, in my life, I have always worked hard at the task at hand. I continue to strive to work hard every single day,” she said. “My goal is the same as our campaign goal – ‘Make Massachusetts great!’”