Change is coming to the top of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office as California faces its deadliest period yet in the coronavirus pandemic.
Newsom announced Monday his chief of staff, Ann O’Leary, will depart the office in mid-January after two years in the role. Longtime lobbyist and Capitol staffer Jim DeBoo will take take over leadership of the governor’s staff on Jan. 1.
“When we started this journey in 2018, neither one of us could have predicted the perfect storm of crises that would hit California and test its leadership,” O’Leary wrote in a resignation letter, referencing the pandemic, wildfires, the bankruptcy of the state’s largest utility and protests against police brutality.
The leadership transition has been widely expected. It’s not unusual for a governor to shake up staff halfway through a term, and O’Leary may be in line for a position in the Biden administration, though nothing has been announced.
But the transition also represents a change in direction and approach for Newsom’s administration. O’Leary, a former policy adviser to Hillary Clinton, had limited relationships in Sacramento and was selected in part to help Newsom pursue ambitious policies related to children and families. But the administration was soon bouncing from crisis to crisis, quickly shifting its political and policy priorities.
DeBoo, meanwhile, is a longtime Capitol insider who observers say has shrewd political instincts that will benefit Newsom as he enters the new year with a worsening pandemic, a pending economic recovery and the threat of a recall.
DeBoo, who ran his own communications firm in Sacramento, worked on behalf of major clients including the California Medical Association, the California Apartment Association and T-Mobile. He ended his registration as a lobbyist earlier this month. He also served in top positions for former Assembly Speaker John Perez.
“Jim DeBoo has a long legacy of service at all levels of government and, as we continue to carry our state through these unprecedented challenges, his ability to bring people together and drive the priorities most important to Californians will be pivotal,” Newsom said in a statement.
DeBoo will take the title of executive secretary rather than chief of staff; it’s the title that’s previously been held by the top staff member in the governor’s office. The job includes overseeing the governor’s staff and the strategy on communications and messaging as well as the office’s relationship with lawmakers. He’ll work closely with Ana Matosantos, Newsom’s cabinet secretary.
DeBoo said in a statement he hopes to help the state “recover, thrive and grow.” He will make $207,000 a year.