BOSTON—Former Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas Reilly crossed party lines Thursday and said he plans to vote for Republican Charles Baker next month because the administration of one-time rival Deval Patrick "hasn't gone well."
At a news conference in front of the Statehouse, Reilly also joined current and former Harvard Pilgrim Health Care employees to rebut an ad Patrick is running that criticizes Baker's decade-long leadership of the state's No. 2 health insurer.
The ad targets a 150-percent increase in premiums, and the growth of Baker's compensation to $1.7 million annually, during that span.
While the state's chief law enforcement officer and regulator, Reilly approved a January 2000 deal putting the company into receivership. Baker led its re-emergence, and the company now consistently tops surveys in customer satisfaction.
"Is he the best politician? No, he's not. Can he do the job? Can he get the job done as governor? Yes, he can. I've seen him do it," Reilly said of Baker.
In a statement, Patrick campaign manager Sydney Asbury said Reilly's appearance "proves Baker has misled voters about the state's role in saving the health insurance giant."
She added that after the company was placed into receivership, Baker fired 1,200 workers, left 128,000 Rhode Island policyholders uninsured after pulling Harvard Pilgrim out of that state and raised rates over 150 percent in Massachusetts.
Reilly lost a bitter 2006 Democratic gubernatorial primary campaign to Patrick. He has since worked for two Boston law firms and largely avoided politics.
Yet he denied any personal animosity, telling reporters he both endorsed and voted for Patrick after the primary.
"Like millions of people in this state, I wanted him to do well," said Reilly. "It hasn't gone well."
Reilly refused to get into any political differences with Baker, such as their opposing views about allowing the children of illegal immigrants to get in-state college tuition. "This campaign's about jobs,' he said. "Those things will work themselves out, OK?"
Baker did not appear with Reilly, an absence his staff blamed on a prior commitment in Lawrence. It was not among the events on his public schedule.
Baker was criticized two weeks ago when he appeared alongside Paul Loscocco to accept his endorsement after Loscocco defected as running mate to independent gubernatorial candidate Timothy Cahill.
Kristen Keel, Baker's chief of staff when he served as Weld administration budget secretary, spoke on behalf of about 25 current and former Harvard Pilgrim employees who attended the news conference. Keel later served as the insurer's vice president of financial planning and analysis.
"They act as if a helicopter kinda levied in and dropped a bunch of cash on Harvard Pilgrim and waved their wand and that's all it took," said Keel. "These folks are here to tell you today that that's absolutely not true."
She described a change in company culture under Baker, which included weekly e-mail updates about Harvard Pilgrim's financial health, and a paring of expenses such as live plant service. She said all expenses over $1,000 had to be approved.
"It was dirty, in-the-trenches work, and Charlie Baker was down there, leading from the trench. He was not leading from a desk," said Keel.
Reilly himself attacked the ad.
"It's absolutely wrong," he said. "And it's unfair."
A new poll shows Patrick with a seven percentage point lead over Baker in the race.
Forty-six percent of the 500 likely voters in the Suffolk University/WHDH-TV poll released Thursday said they intend to vote for Patrick, with Baker getting 39 percent.
Cahill got 10 percent, and the fourth person in the race, Green-Rainbow candidate Jill Stein, got 1 percent.
Four percent were undecided.