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Patrick remains in charge, aides say

Murray to help out as governor assists wife

John Mahan (left) shook hands with Lieutenant Governor Timothy P. Murray, who was with his bulldog Smash, during the St. Patrick's Day Parade in Worcester yesterday. (DAVID KAMERMAN/GLOBE STAFF)

Governor Deval Patrick will continue leading the government but will delegate some of his work to Lieutenant Governor Timothy P. Murray and to his Cabinet, Murray said yesterday. The announcement came one day after Patrick said he would work a more flexible schedule to spend more time with his wife, Diane, who is suffering from exhaustion and depression.

"We'll have a staff meeting tomorrow, and my sense is the governor is going to continue to be active," Murray said in Worcester, where he was attending the St. Patrick's Day breakfast and roast at the Elks Lodge. "There may be some things that he passes off to me and the Cabinet, but he's going to be active and involved, and he's the leader of this government."

Murray said Patrick had revealed to him Friday that the governor would need to shift his focus from some of his political responsibilities to spend more time with his family.

"This is a tough business, and our thoughts are with the governor and Diane," Murray said. "She's an incredibly talented woman, and we look forward to the family doing what needs to be done and just supporting in any way that we can."

The governor's aides were left to sort out a highly unusual situation for a fledgling administration. They had already been reeling from weeks of intense criticism following some high-profile stumbles, just months after Patrick was elected with high expectations on a surge of popular support.

Yesterday they sought to reassure the public that Patrick is still in charge.

"Governor Patrick will continue to discharge his duties and to press forward his agenda for the Commonwealth," said his spokesman, Kyle Sullivan . "The governor will limit his public appearances, particularly during the evenings and on weekends, and Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray will occasionally represent the governor at public events."

Patrick plans to tour the state this month to promote his first budget, capitalizing on the grass-roots connections he made during his campaign. The spending plan has generated controversy among some lawmakers and business leaders, in part because it relies on capturing revenue from closing corporate "tax loopholes."

Sullivan said yesterday that the budget tour would still go on, with the dates to be announced. He also said that Patrick would follow through with plans to visit Fall River this morning to promote extended learning time in schools with his former Democratic primary rival, Christopher F. Gabrieli. Patrick's budget would double money for extending the public school day to $13 million.

Sullivan also declined to say whether Diane Patrick, 55, a prominent employment lawyer, had been hospitalized or comment on the seriousness of her condition. He also said he had no information on the public's response to the governor's office because the news came over the weekend.

People interviewed around Boston yesterday generally expressed sympathy for the Patricks and suggested the new administration needed time to get on its feet. Some of the posts to a message board on Boston.com were less charitable; some contributors called attention to Patrick's past mistakes.

Representative Daniel E. Bosley, a Democrat from North Adams, said in an interview that he thought the public would give Patrick time and space. "Universally, I think everyone understands that when you have an issue in your family like this, you need to take care of it," he said.

Senate minority leader Richard R. Tisei agreed. "I think most legislators and the public at large will definitely give him the benefit of the doubt and the leeway that he needs right now," said Tisei, a Republican from Wakefield.

But other political observers said the news comes at a difficult time. The new administration is trying to recover from weeks of negative news about Patrick, including his recent phone call on behalf of a controversial mortgage company to a bank with extensive business before the state.

"The most important part of a new administration is the first six to nine months," said an aide to a former Massachusetts governor.

"You want people to develop a positive view of the administration," said the former aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Right now, they have a negative view."

The former aide said people would probably feel sympathy for Patrick, but even so, if Diane Patrick's condition is serious, "then it's going to be a distraction for him at a very bad time."

Mary Anne Marsh, a Democratic strategist, said the administration could benefit by using the governor's time more strategically. Patrick's campaign, she said, had done this skillfully by using surrogates to maximize his reach.

"Just because his time is more limited doesn't mean he's going to be less effective," Marsh said. "In fact, it might make him more effective if he's used wisely. Instead of having him at 10 events around the state, maybe you'll see him once every couple of days on one topic -- but it's a topic that really matters."

Dan Payne, a Democratic consultant who worked for Patrick early in his campaign, said he would not be surprised if being in the spotlight had been a source of strain for Diane Patrick.

"I'm sure the problems he's been having over the last few weeks had an impact," he said. "They're very close, and I'm sure she was feeling the personal aspect of what was happening."

But he predicted that Patrick will keep a firm hand on everything in the administration. "Deval wields a mean cellphone and BlackBerry," he said. "If you're a member of the Cabinet, you're going to be getting a lot of e-mails and cellphone calls. Maybe more than you did when he was putting in 16-hour days."

Lisa Wangsness can be reached at lwangsness@globe.com. John Drake, who reported from Worcester, can be reached at jdrake@globe.com.

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