Gov. Patrick Has Enough Votes To Remove UMass Chair Tocco

Governor Deval Patrick has rounded up enough votes on the University of Massachusetts board of trustees to muscle aside Stephen P. Tocco and probably replace him with Robert J. Manning, an investment executive who is the board’s vice chairman, UMass officials say.

Faced with his probable removal as chairman, Tocco, who had initially rejected Patrick’s request that he step down before his current expires next summer, is meeting Tuesday with the governor’s senior staff. He has been trying to persuade the governor to give him several more months as chairman.

Tocco’s term expires in June, but Patrick and his allies are confident they have a slim majority to oust him at the trustees’s Dec. 14 meeting, according to UMass officials who have been briefed on the situation.

Tocco, an appointee of Governor Mitt Romney who took over as trustee chairman in 2006, declined to comment.

Tocco has said in the past that he had hoped to work out any differences with the governor and thought that he shared Patrick’s vision for the university system.

The governor’s office declined to comment.

Tocco beat back an attempt by Patrick’s allies to vote him out of the chairmanship in September, handing the governor an embarrassing political defeat.

At the time, Patrick had just placed five new members, his first UMass trustee appointments, on the 19-member board.

Manning did not return a call to his office.

The university sources said it is not clear whether Manning has accepted Patrick’s request to take over the post.

Patrick’s got involved personally over the last month in seeking the shake-up.

He called several Republican-appointed board members into his office to persuade them to back his move to oust Tocco, while surveying their feelings over who they thought would be best to succeed him.

Over the last few days, Patrick, confident he had gained the backing of a majority to replace Tocco, settled on Manning, the board’s current vice chairman and chief executive of MFS Investment Management, a mutual fund and financial services company in Boston that had $187 billion under management in 2006.

The motivations behind the change are not clear. Manning, like Tocco, is a Romney appointee, raising questions why Patrick chose to wage an internal power struggle, which has produced considerable tension at the top of the state’s public university system, to replace one Romney appointee with another.

Officials in Patrick’s administration said the governor wants to have his own person running the board when it undertakes some high-profile and far-reaching decisions for the university system. That includes choosing new chancellors for the Amherst campus and the medical school and implementing the governor’s $1 billion capital building plan.

With strong ties to Beacon Hill political figures, Tocco has played major roles in Republican administrations while having close ties to the Democratic leaders on Beacon Hill.

Since the early 1990s, he has been a Cabinet secretary, executive director of the Massachusetts Port Authority, and chairman of the Board of Higher Education.

Because of his years in politics and government, Tocco has a host of strong allies and a long line of enemies. His relationship with Patrick seems to be good.

At a university event last week, Patrick greeted Tocco with a warm embrace. But a planned retreat for the board earlier this month was canceled because of the power struggle.

Patrick is the first Democrat to appoint UMass trustees since Michael S. Dukakis left office in 1991, and his power play is emblematic of other attempts he is making to get control of boards and commissions.

Since his election last year, Patrick has said he needs to control the state’s independent agencies to govern effectively.

Because of a system of staggered terms designed to insulate the agencies from politics, governors traditionally have to wait until well into their first term to gain control of the powerful public authorities that set far-reaching policies in such areas as transportation, education, and economic development.