BOSTON - Governor Charlie Baker's efforts to solve winter commute issues give "a first-hand glimpse of a man who represents a government bureaucracy that people criticize as impersonal, and a Republican Party that political opponents say doesn't care."
Does Charlie Baker care? Just ask Peter Picknelly: Viewpoint
The first text came in 6 in the morning on February 12, the Thursday leading up to President's Day weekend.
"It said, 'Peter, this is Charlie Baker. Can we talk?' " said Peter A. Picknelly, chairman and CEO of Peter Pan Bus Lines in Springield.
Had this been April 1, Picknelly would have been tempted to chalk it up as a prank. But no, this was the governor of Massachusetts, a man Picknelly did not know.
The Northeast was getting clobbered by Winter Storm Neptune, coming on the heels of Winter Storm Marcus and not to be confused with Winter Storm Juno and so on.
This was the latest in a barrage of all but unprecedented winter weather. Massachusetts was getting hit especially hard, and nowhere was it worse than in Boston, where an emergency was unfolding into a crisis.
"Obviously, I was surprised," Picknelly said. "I said sure, we can talk.''
What happened over the next four days gave Picknelly a first-hand glimpse of a man who represents a government bureaucracy that people criticize as impersonal, and a Republican Party that political opponents say doesn't care.
Does Charlie Baker care? Listen to Picknelly, and you judge.
"Within two minutes of my response text, he called me. He told me Boston was having huge problems getting people to work, there were problems with the subway system and he needed help with some buses,'' Picknelly said.
"He was on top of it. We had conversations with the Secretary of Transportation immediately thereafter, and with the (Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority) about what routes were involved.''
But the man in the middle of it all, according to Picknelly, was the governor.
"It was extraordinary. Throughout the weekend, I kept getting texts and calls and I finally said, 'Governor, I love talking to you, I'm amazed you are doing this, and we'll take care of everything. But don't you have other people to make these calls?''
Baker said no. To him, this was personal.
"He told me, 'I've got to make sure I can get these people to work. Specifically, we've got to get the hospital workers in. I need to make sure this is going to happen,' '' Picknelly related.
"I was blown away with how active he was on all this, and how much he cared.''
Peter Pan Bus Lines sent 23 buses to Boston on Thursday. The last Baker-Picknelly conversation came at 9:30 Sunday night, more than 87 hours after the first.
There was no photo-op attached to this, no chance for political glory or gain. No press release accompanied the conversations of a weekend that did more than introduce Picknelly to Baker, a man he had met only briefly during the governor's visits to Springfield.
Baker's term will be marked by passionate and at times contentious debates about priorities and budget constraints. It will be easy for critics to say "He doesn't care,'' if a favored department or program is cut.
Do not tell Peter Picknelly, though, though, that Charlie Baker does not care. Not after a stressful weekend's worth of texts and phone calls from a man who was convinced that micromanaging has its place and the best way to handle this emergency was to wade into it himself.
"The weekend was a moving target, with needs and locations changing all the time,'' Picknelly said.
"He was on top of it from the start and he stayed with it, right till the end. That was pretty remarkable, at least to me.''