Corbett hires staffers amid poll slump
HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Corbett named his third chief of staff and his third secretary of legislative affairs in as many years Wednesday as he struggles to improve his public image and clout inside the Capitol a year before he runs for re-election.
The announcement by Corbett, a Republican, confirmed a report Tuesday by The Associated Press that Corbett was expected to announce the latest departures from his administration.
Corbett made no public appearance to announce the changes, doing so in a press statement that thanked his departing aides. His new chief of staff will be veteran Republican lobbyist and political strategist Leslie Gromis Baker, whom he called “a woman of talent and integrity.”
The shake-up follows a bruising legislative session in which his public support continued to lag in the polls and he failed to win lawmakers’ support for his major agenda items, including the privatization of the state-controlled wine and liquor system.
Gromis Baker, 53, will replace Steve Aichele as Corbett’s chief of staff. Aichele was Corbett’s chief counsel when he took office in January 2011, but became chief of staff last year in a separate shake-up. The post pays $155,000.
Gromis Baker’s firm, LG Strategies, has been Corbett’s hired lobbyist in his dealings with the federal government. Her firm has been paid $560,000 by the Corbett administration beginning in 2011, according to the treasurer’s office.
Previously, Gromis Baker was a White House political aide to President George H.W. Bush and served as public liaison in the administration of former Gov. Tom Ridge. She managed Ridge’s gubernatorial campaign in 1998 and the Pennsylvania campaign of presidential candidate George W. Bush in 2000, and she coordinated the mid-Atlantic committee for Bush’s 2004 presidential campaign.
Corbett gave no reasons for Aichele’s departure. The people who had knowledge of the decision-making process and confirmed it to the AP ahead of the announcement provided varying reasons.
An overarching concern among Corbett’s advisers is the governor’s inability thus far to turn around his lackluster performance in opinion polls and improve his administration’s handling of communication with the public and dealings with a Legislature controlled by his fellow Republicans.
Republican lawmakers routinely complain that Corbett is detached and lacks the public relations savvy and personal relationships to help them to advance his agenda.
Corbett plans to run for a second four-year term in next year’s election.
Corbett’s legislative secretary Christopher Carusone is leaving after a year to become a partner in a Philadelphia-based law firm. Andrew Ritter, Carusone’s top deputy, will serve as his replacement on an acting basis. The job pays $145,700.
In the past year, Corbett also has seen the heads of five different cabinet agencies depart.
Carusone’s hiring raised eyebrows, since he was put in a position to deal face-to-face with lawmakers after having served in the attorney general’s office under Corbett as part of a team that prosecuted a sweeping corruption case in the Legislature.
Prior to joining the administration, Aichele was chairman of a Philadelphia law firm. His wife, Carol, is currently serving as Corbett’s secretary of the commonwealth.