Laslo Boyd: Matt Gallagher’s New Job

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By Laslo Boyd:

If you recognize Matt Gallagher’s name, it’s because for the past 13 years he has worked closely with Mayor and then Governor Martin O’Malley. Actually, if you’re reading this column and follow government and politics in Maryland, there’s absolutely no doubt that you know who Matt Gallagher is.

The innovation in government decision-making most associated with O’Malley’s years as an elected official is CitiStat, later rechristened StateStat. Put simply, it’s what people like Gallagher refer to as data-driven decision making. The activities of key government functions are measured and tracked by metrics that should give decision-makers a greater ability to make the most effective use of their resources.

O’Malley has received a lot of favorable national attention for his use of data in the public sector. Gallagher is the person who oversaw the operation, first in City Hall and then in the State House.

Now, as O’Malley enters this last stage of his final term as governor and contemplates a campaign for the presidency, Gallagher has seized what he sees as a very special opportunity to “try to improve Baltimore.” Gallagher has left his position as O’Malley’s Chief of Staff to become the President and CEO of the Goldseker Foundation.

This is an example where timing, as it so often is, is everything. The outgoing president, Tim Armbruster, had been at Goldseker for 34 years and was part of a generation of leaders in the Foundation Community in Baltimore that has been in place for a long time. Gallagher is one of several new faces in a world that could play a critical role in Baltimore’s future.

The Goldseker Foundation gives out $3-4 million in grants each year and has totaled approximately $80 million in grants in its 40-year history. There are a number of larger foundations in the Baltimore region, although some of them, such as the Annie E. Casey Foundation, have a national orientation for much of their giving. Goldseker, however, is completely focused on local and regional needs.

How does a foundation of that size and scope compare with the influence that Gallagher had as the Governor’s Chief of Staff and numbers guru? For one, Gallagher, who grew up in Baltimore, seems excited about the prospect of concentrating on the issues facing the City and trying to impact those in a positive way.

One insight comes from his stated goal of being a “thought leader” in the Baltimore community. He is counting on having credibility from his years with O’Malley, his skill and expertise in bringing metrics to bear in thinking about public policy, and the greater flexibility that the non-profit sector has to address issues.

There are, as Gallagher notes and we are reminded by each day’s news, lots of challenging issues facing Baltimore, from an aging infrastructure, to population and revenue losses over the years, to a loss of jobs, to the seemingly perennial problems associated with public education and crime. He argues that for foundations to have an impact on any of these issues, it’s essential to be selective in choosing goals and then to leverage the resources of a coalition of interested parties.

He is thinking first about the ability of Baltimore’s foundation community to agree on objectives and strategies, but any major initiatives will also require the buy-in of both the business community and the public sector.

There may be a real irony in Gallagher’s returning to Baltimore issues at this moment in time when there is such frustration about the soaring crime rate. CitiStat had its origins in a program in New York City that focused on law enforcement. O’Malley’s first campaign for Mayor emphasized his goal of reducing the murder rate, a position for which he generated considerable political capital.

Gallagher will find that one of the biggest differences between government and the foundation that he now heads is the time frame. Public officials are very attentive to both election and news cycles. The cost of an excessive emphasis on the short term is often shortsighted public policy.

At the Goldseker Foundation, Gallagher has the opportunity to take a longer view of the challenges that he hopes to address. If he is able to bring with him some of the political skills that he has watched Martin O’Malley demonstrate over those 13 years, Gallagher may be able to persuade other partners to work collaboratively on a long-term vision for the City.

That would be a real advance. So much of what has been done in the past, although often positive, has been very project oriented. Baltimore needs more than a few successful projects to move forward. It needs a vision, a well-thought out and coordinated strategy and a lot of participants rowing in the same direction.

If Matt Gallagher’s new venture contributes to that kind of future, his journey from the State House will have been a very productive one.

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Laslo Boyd's professional experience includes serving as education advisor to the Governor of Maryland, Acting Secretary of Higher Education, senior administrator in several higher education institutions and university professor.  His work in political campaigns has involved strategic communications, public opinion polling, and development of position papers.  Dr. Boyd has consulted for a wide range of clients in higher education, government, and business.  He has provided political commentary and analysis in both print and electronic media.