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Patrick aims to meet with Fidelity on loss of jobs

Denies neglecting state issues on trip

The governor spoke to reporters yesterday after returning from overseas. The governor spoke to reporters yesterday after returning from overseas. (John Tlumacki/Globe Staff)
By Michael Levenson
Globe Staff / March 19, 2011

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Governor Deval Patrick, confronting a series of problems that unfolded while he was away on a two-week trade mission, said yesterday he will meet with Fidelity executives about their decision to ship nearly 1,100 jobs out of state and wants them to declare “to my face’’ that the move is final.

Patrick also expressed frustration that his transportation secretary did not tell him or the public about a 110-pound light fixture that crashed from the ceiling of a Big Dig tunnel until five weeks after the accident. He said Jeffrey B. Mullan has “appropriately apologized,’’ and added that he still has confidence in him.

Questioned about fears of a nuclear disaster after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the governor said he is concerned about the safety of the aging Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth, but he supports extending its license next year as long as the proper reviews are conducted.

Back at the State House for the first time since March 4, when he flew to Denver for a fund-raiser and then to Israel and England for a trade mission, Patrick vigorously rejected criticism that he was neglecting the state’s problems while overseas.

“I’m in touch with my Cabinet routinely and was throughout the trip; this wasn’t some disengagement,’’ he said. “By the way, I was working for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on this trip.’’

He said that while his mission did not produce any major job announcements, it was “very full and very productive.’’ He also pointed out that the state added 15,400 jobs last month. At the same time, the admittedly exhausted governor faced questions about the setbacks and controversies that occurred while he was away.

He reserved his sharpest comments for Fidelity executives, who he said had planned to join him for part of his trade mission in England, but backed out “at the last minute’’ late last week. Three days later they told him, while he was in London, that they were moving nearly 1,100 jobs from their campus in Marlborough to their offices in New Hampshire and Rhode Island.

“From Fidelity’s perspective, it’s a done deal, but I want them to say that to my face and I want to see whether there is something we can do,’’ Patrick said. “But I am not hopeful of that.’’

He said he did not want to “scold’’ Fidelity executives, though he said he has long struggled with his relationship with the Boston-based financial services giant, which has slashed its Massachusetts workforce to 7,300 from about 13,000 when Patrick took office in 2007.

“There’s a conversation we’re going to have to have, that I have been trying to have with Fidelity since the first few weeks that I have been in this job, and it has do with communication,’’ he said. “I can’t compete if I don’t know that something is amiss.’’

Abigail Johnson, the billionaire president of one of Fidelity’s divisions and the daughter of its chairman and chief executive, is one of a dozen executives who advise Patrick on ways to create in-state jobs. But Patrick said neither she nor anyone else from the company warned him that Fidelity was planning to move jobs out of state. “Not once did they give us a chance to compete for those jobs, and we can compete and will compete, but we have to have information,’’ he said.

Anne Crowley, a Fidelity spokeswoman, said the company gave Patrick a day’s notice before announcing the move to the public and its employees. Fidelity did not tell Patrick sooner because “it was not a competition’’ between Massachusetts, which gives the firm a tax break, and Rhode Island, which has also extended benefits to the company, she said.

“Our decision to close our Marlborough site was a decision based on the excess real estate we have’’ after cutting thousands of jobs during the recession, she said. “There was not anything we were asking from the state.’’

Crowley said a London-based executive had planned to join Patrick for one event on his trade mission, but canceled because of a “scheduling issue.’’

Asked if she believed Patrick was scolding the company, she said: “It’s not my job to comment on his public relations strategy.’’

“We have an ongoing relationship with the state, and we are not going to discuss the details of our relationship,’’ she said.

Late yesterday, however, she said the governor had spoken to a Fidelity executive. “It was a very constructive conversation and we will be speaking with him again,’’ Crowley said.

Turning to the Big Dig, Patrick criticized Mullan for waiting to tell him and the public about the light fixture that fell in the O’Neill Tunnel on Feb. 8. He said Mullan was “trying to avoid a panic’’ while the state inspected the light fixtures, but should have spoken out sooner.

The governor also said his administration has been working with federal officials to renew the license for the 39-year-old Pilgrim plant and is confident it can be operated safely once the proper reviews are conducted. “Fortunately, we are not on fault lines,’’ he said.

Patrick’s stepped-up political activities and travels have stirred fresh speculation about his future beyond Beacon Hill. In the past, he has played down any interest in an appointment to the Obama administration. Yesterday though, he acknowledged he would consider an ambassadorship — but only after completing his term in 2014.

“I’m going to give it 120 percent until the end of this term, and then we’ll see,’’ he said.

Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@globe.com.