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By Michael P. Norton
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
BOSTON — House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s office is undergoing major staff changes, with his two senior aides departing for jobs in the private sector and his director of communications, former reporter and Mayor Thomas Menino aide Seth Gitell, moving up to chief of staff.
Whitney Ferguson, formerly director of strategic initiatives, will become deputy chief of staff. Ferguson previously worked at the Castle Group and in marketing and public affairs positions at Steward Health Care. She is a graduate of Trinity College and Boston University.
Two longtime DeLeo aides, chief of staff and chief policy advisor James Eisenberg and deputy chief of staff Toby Morelli, are departing to join Boston-based lobbying firms.
Eisenberg will join Preti Strategies as policy advisor and Morelli, who handled legislative affairs for DeLeo, is joining the Karol Group, helmed by former Rep. Stephen Karol, former Sen. Paul White and former Beacon Hill aide Kevin Grant.
“I’m proud and excited to announce these changes to our team in the Speaker’s office,” DeLeo said in a statement that suggested he intends to seek another term as House speaker in January 2019. “Seth and Whitney both bring leadership, intellect and knowhow to their work. With these staff changes and our existing expert analysts and team members, I have a great lineup to help us hit the ground running for the remainder of the session — and beyond.
The midsession staff shakeup adds to the major changes already underway on Beacon Hill, where lawmakers plan formal sessions from January through July 2018.
The Senate is undergoing a different type of transition, with Acting Senate President Harriette Chandler in charge after the Senate elected her last week to succeed Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, who took a leave of absence as president while the Senate Ethics Committee conducts an investigation into sexual assault and Senate interference allegations against Rosenberg’s husband, Bryon Hefner.
Senior members of Chandler’s staff this week began moving into the president’s third floor suite where some Rosenberg aides remain and others plan to stay on with Rosenberg as part of a smaller staff.
Chris Eicher, who served since 2014 as policy counsel in DeLeo’s office, is shifting into the role of general counsel and chief policy advisor. Eicher previously worked as legal counsel to the House Committee on Ways and Means and legal counsel to the Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy. He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Connecticut and his law degree from Northeastern University School of Law.
The general counsel’s post has been vacant for a spell in DeLeo’s office, but was most recently held by Joe Shannon and before that by James Kennedy, the current House counsel.
Richard Gould, legislative director for House Minority Leader Brad Jones, is DeLeo’s new legislative director. Gould previously worked as an aide to Sen. Bruce Tarr and former Sen. Richard Tisei, and also worked for the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority. He is a graduate of Colby-Sawyer College.
“I’m excited about Speaker DeLeo’s new team and my part on it,” said Gitell, a former Boston Phoenix reporter, Menino press secretary, and Harvard College and New York University School of Law graduate. “I look forward to working with the Speaker, membership, members of the broader community and my colleagues on staff to help the House continue to tackle the issues Massachusetts faces.”
Eisenberg and Morelli have been fixtures in the House in recent years, essentially serving as the major conduits through which House legislation flows.
“I wholeheartedly thank my good friends Jim and Toby for their years of service to Massachusetts and to the office of the Speaker,” DeLeo said in a statement. “As their careers have advanced and their families have grown, they have both shown incredible commitment to the Commonwealth and the House of Representatives. Jim and Toby were instrumental in crafting initiatives that have helped distinguish Massachusetts as a national leader. I am deeply grateful to them for their knowledge, dedication, wise counsel and, most importantly, friendship. I wish them the best as they embark on their new careers.”
Said Eisenberg: “I am profoundly grateful to Speaker DeLeo and his staff — and to the leaders, chairs, members and staff of the House of Representatives for allowing me the privilege to work with them for almost two decades. While I am excited to join the outstanding team at Preti Strategies, I will deeply miss the people who make the House such an extraordinary institution and with whom it has been my honor to serve.”
Marykate Nelson, a policy analyst in Jones’ office, has been promoted to legislative director there, according to a Jones aide.