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HARRISBURG — Newly installed Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro is filling his executive staff with advisers, mediators and policy experts with political veterans and loyal allies.
Unlike departmental secretaries, top Democratic staffers do not need to be confirmed by the state Senate. But they have some of the most important jobs in the new administration and will work with Shapiro behind the scenes to help him implement his plans as governor.
Those included campaign staff, people who worked with Shapiro in the attorney general’s office and Republican lawmakers who supported former President Donald Trump in 2016.
The executive will help the governor develop strategy, provide policy expertise and serve as his representative in negotiations with the Legislature, departments and interest groups as he works to deliver on key campaign promises. Balancing the state budget, cracking down on illegal guns and raising the minimum wage are some of his main promises.
“You keep putting out fires,” said Mary Eisenhauer, who served as legislative director and chief of staff to Shapiro’s predecessor, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.
Isenhour said advising is part of her job, though she added that Wolf, “I didn’t advise because he’s the one with the Ph.D.” She often helps governors make tough decisions, telling Wolf, “Okay, Governor, it’s our choice. … We can do A, B or C. You are the governor, you decide.
According to Shapiro’s transition team, the new administration’s chief of staff, Dana Fritz, has been with Shapiro since his tenure in Montgomery County government, where she first managed “financial and political work” for the then-sheriff. “.
She served as deputy campaign manager in Shapiro’s 2016 run for attorney general and stayed with him after he took office, working in communications for several years and serving as deputy chief of staff. Next, she managed his 2020 re-election campaign, then his 2022 gubernatorial campaign.
Shapiro’s policy and planning secretary, Akbar Hussein, also comes from a senior campaign position — in his case, policy chief — and will continue in a similar role, helping shape Shapiro’s agenda.
Hussain serves as the executive director of Shapiro’s transition and is the first Asian American or Pacific Islander in Pennsylvania to serve in that role, according to transition staff.
Before working on Shapiro’s 2022 campaign, Hussain was a government investigations attorney at the large Philadelphia law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius and clerked for a U.S. district judge.
Shapiro’s incoming legislative affairs secretary, Mike Vereb, is one of the new governor’s closest allies and, for a powerful Democrat, one of his most unusual.
Vereb, a former police officer who worked in corporate security, is a Republican who served in the Montgomery County State Assembly from 2006 to 2016. Shapiro served in the House of Commons from 2005 to 2011.
Vereb also chaired the Montgomery County Republican Committee from 2013 to 2015, when Shapiro was county executive.
As a state representative, Vereb has angered his party by being willing to consider tax increases.
In many cases, though, he voted along party lines in ways that conflicted with the current Democratic platform. He supported a 2011 bill — as did many Democrats at the time — that would have banned abortion coverage in state health care exchanges and opposed Wolf’s moratorium on executions. He was also one of the first Pennsylvania politicians to endorse Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Instead of seeking re-election in 2016, Vereb became the only staff member not involved in Democratic politics or Shapiro’s campaign to be named the new attorney general, and he has served as director of government affairs since then.
In his new role, Vereb will be Shapiro’s primary liaison with the Legislature. Isenhour said that responsibility was a difficult part of her job during the Wolfe administration.
“You’re trying to coordinate across agencies, advocacy groups, the legislature — and the legislature is challenging,” she said.
She noted that Republicans no longer hold the state legislature as firmly as they did under Wolfe. She believes Shapiro, whom she has known for 25 years, is more than capable of negotiating.
“I think this moment was made for Josh,” she said. “Trust me, I had this on my bingo card 25 years ago.”
Other senior appointments include those who oversee the state budget, provide legal advisers to the entire government and support the chief of staff.
Uri Monson, currently Chief Financial Officer for the School District of Philadelphia, will serve as Budget Secretary. Pennsylvania legal representation will be overseen by Jennifer Selber, who worked closely with Shapiro as executive deputy attorney general for the office’s criminal division. Campaign operative Larry Hailsham Jr., who was political director when Shapiro ran for governor, will be the new executive deputy chief of staff.
Joining Shapiro are six deputy chiefs of staff who will work on specific policy areas and liaise across the executive branch, departments and interest groups. They all have extensive experience in national politics.
Joseph Lee, a CIA intelligence analyst who served under Wolff as acting secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of General Services, will serve as deputy chief of staff for administration and opportunities. Lindsey Mauldin, the former chief of political operations at Planned Parenthood of Pennsylvania, previously served in the Wolf administration’s Department of Human Services and Health and will now serve as deputy chief of staff for both agencies.
Danielle Okai is currently the Deputy Director of Public Engagement at the U.S. Department of Commerce and has previously worked in the White House, President Joe Biden’s campaign and the Wolf Administration. She will serve as Shapiro’s deputy chief of staff for economic development. Former Center County Commissioner Michael Pipe, who often focused on public safety issues during his tenure in county government, will serve as deputy chief of staff for public safety.
Wolf administration veteran Sam Robinson, who served among other roles as the former governor’s deputy chief of staff for environmental policy, will take on a similar role in Shapiro’s administration as deputy chief of staff for consumers and the environment. Former union political director Tori Shriver will work for Shapiro on labor issues as deputy chief of staff for education and workforce development.
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