Maura Healey always knew what she wanted–and her Northeastern professors saw that

maura healey shaking hands as she walks down the aisle of the house of chambers
Massachusetts Gov.-elect Maura Healey shakes hands as she arrives in the House chambers to be sworn in as governor at the State House in Boston. Nancy Lane/The Boston Herald via AP, Pool

Maura Healey always knew what she wanted.

“She’s incredibly smart, remarkably smart,” says Judith Olans Brown, a retired Northeastern law professor who taught Healey, Massachusetts’s incoming governor, when she was a student in the law school. “She could always see the forest and the trees, and their relationship to each other. She knew the big picture, she knew where she wanted to go, and the different ways to get there.” 

Healey’s historic inauguration—she is the first woman to be elected to the Massachusetts governorship, and the first openly gay woman to helm their state nationwide—was testament to that fact. During Thursday’s swearing in, Healey, who served as Massachusetts’ attorney general since 2015, provided a bold agenda for a state grappling with soaring housing costs, chronic transportation challenges and increasing climate vulnerability.

Healey’s pragmatic vision for the state, which she outlined during her speech, reflects a grit and determination that was readily apparent to her teachers and mentors at Northeastern’s School of Law, Brown says. It’s those qualities—the drive to help the disenfranchised and hold power to account—that helped her win overwhelming support during her bids for attorney general and the governorship, Brown says.  

“She was fearless,” Brown recalls. “I really watch from afar with admiration at some of the work she has done.”

Healey’s best known for a litany of causes she championed as attorney general, which included, most prominently, taking on the Trump administration over immigration policies and a host of other issues; the Sackler family for their role in the opioid epidemic; and the e-cigarette company JUUL.  

A progressive, public interest lawyer, Healey was explicit about her choice to attend Northeastern after graduating from Harvard University with her bachelor’s degree, for that very reason. “I was very intentional about my decision to go to Northeastern,” Healey said previously. “I went to Northeastern because it is the country’s leading public interest law school.”

“It was the kind of training that [Northeastern] gave that was perfect for what she wanted to do, which was take care of the downtrodden; you know, social justice,” Brown says.

Just some of the action items Healey outlined during her inaugural speech included the creation of an interagency task force to compete for federal transportation dollars; a new general manager and safety inspector to oversee the state’s ailing transit infrastructure; a complete equity audit of state government; a secretary of housing to identify affordable housing opportunities; and a cabinet-level climate chief to tackle climate change.

“We have untold wealth in the commonwealth, but record public revenue does no good when families can’t pay the rent, buy a home, heat their home or pay for child care,” she said during her first address as governor. “Communities of people are yearning to thrive, but haven’t been given the tools to do it.”

Brown, a longtime advocate for the advancement of women in law and a constitutional scholar, says she believes Healey will be an effective leader for Massachusetts. 

“Any job that requires you to manage and motivate a staff of people, and to get along with folks with diverse backgrounds and different perspectives, is good training for governor,” she says, referring to Healey’s time as attorney general. 

Brown also taught U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, of New Hampshire, who attended Northeastern Law School as well. 

“And I remember asking [Hassan] what she thought her job was really about when she was governor, and she said listening to people and solving problems. It’s all about listening to people,” Brown says. 

Brown recalled a conversation she had with Healey when the governor-elect spoke to a group of students during an early meeting of the Brown Forum: Women in the Law—a Northeastern conference that Brown co-founded. The exchange took place as Healey was gearing up to run for attorney general.  

“I remember I asked her, I said, ‘What happens if you don’t get it, what’s plan B?’” Brown says. “And she just looked at me and said, ‘There is no plan B. I’m going to win.’”

On Thursday, with former Massachusetts governors looking on inside the Statehouse, Healey thanked outgoing Gov. Charlie Baker, who she says “led the commonwealth with a steady hand,” governing “with care and integrity.”

“The example he set for eight years was in the best tradition of public service, and that now becomes his legacy,” she said. 

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