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Battenfeld: Maura Healey pick to chair MCCA faced own accusations about lack of diversity



Gov. Maura Healey’s new chair of the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, who just engineered the ouster of executive director David Gibbons, faced accusations of being a “stumbling block” to diversity while she was a top official in Boston Mayor Martin Walsh’s administration.

Emme Handy, former Chief Financial Officer under Walsh, came under fire after a long-awaited 703-page city report found that few city contracts went to businesses owned by people of color.

The findings were so bad that the head of the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts called on Handy and another top Walsh official to be fired and called them “stumbling blocks” to diversity.

“Bold leadership is required to immediately correct this systemic problem,” the council said in a statement reported by the Bay State Banner.

Despite that, Handy, who has since left city government, was picked by Healey to chair the MCCA in a board shakeup that eventually led to Gibbons – who made $316,000 in 2022 – agreeing to a “mutual” parting of the ways on Tuesday even though he has a year left on his contract.

The Herald first reported that the shake-up was pending and that Healey would likely replace Gibbons with someone of her choosing.

“During this transition to new leadership, the Board will continue its critical work to foster diversity, equity and inclusion at the MCCA,” Handy said in a statement. “The Board has an expansive and positive vision for the Authority and is committed to launching a transparent and inclusive search to identify the next Executive Director who will share that vision and bring it to life.”

The big question now is will Healey and the board lead a real nationwide search for someone with convention experience or pick a politically-connected candidate like City Councilor Michael Flaherty, who is on the MCCA board and is angling to get the plum executive director job.

The MCCA is one of the crown jewels of the Massachusetts hackerama and has long been known as a patronage haven.

But the board will now be under pressure to pick someone of color to replace Gibbons, who actually wasn’t politically connected and was a hospitality executive when he took over the top job eight years ago.

But he earned the ire of Flaherty and state Sen. Nick Collins with some of his development decisions and has had a target on his back for the last year.

Long serving Mass. Convention Center Authority executive director out

Gibbons and Handy tangled earlier this year over the executive director’s plan to develop a chunk of land owned by the MCCA in South Boston. That plan was nixed by the newly appointed board just last week, in an at times tense meeting during which Handy said the process for choosing a project developer was not transparent and would need to begin again.

Gibbons’s fate was also sealed by a report commissioned by the MCCA earlier this year that found that Black and Hispanic employees were stuck in the lower echelon of the MCCA organization and “tend to feel isolated or marginalized.”

The report commissioned by the MCCA to address allegations of racism also found that under Gibbons the authority was “much more focused on financial bottom line” than on racial inclusion.

But the report found that some explosive allegations, like the MCCA discriminating against Black vendors, were unfounded.

Boston, MA - November 17: Gov Maura Healey speaks during National Adoption Day at the Edward W. Brooke Courthouse. (Matt Stone/Boston Herald)

Matt Stone/Boston Herald

It’s now up to Gov. Maura Healey to find a new convention center boss. (Matt Stone/Boston Herald)
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