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Carney tasks former chiefs of staff with research on recovery strategies

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Gov. John Carney addresses the public April 3 during a press conference in Wilmington about the state’s coronavirus response. He has quietly tasked two former political appointees with researching the state’s post-virus economic recovery. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

DOVER – Gov. John Carney has asked two former gubernatorial chiefs of staff to research the coronavirus’s economic impact in Delaware and begin to compile ideas on how to aid in the recovery effort once the health concerns subside.

Thomas McGonigle, who served as former Gov. Jack Markell’s chief of staff from 2009 to 2012, and Douglas Gramiak, who served as Carney’s chief of staff from 2017 to 2019, were asked to serve in a voluntary, unofficial basis about two weeks ago. They are speaking with stakeholders, researching what other states have done and drafting potential recovery-related ideas to consider.

“The governor clearly recognizes that there’s going to come a time and a need to pivot from emergency response to emergency recovery,” McGonigle told Delaware Business Times.

Thomas McGonigle | PHOTO COURTESY OF FAEGRE DRINKER

In a statement, the governor’s spokesman Jonathan Starkey confirmed the duo’s work, saying they “have started to take a look at what Delaware needs to do to recover once the immediate crisis has passed.”

“They’re volunteering their time to help think through how Delaware can get back on its feet after the crisis,” Starkey said. “They’re working closely with Attorney General Kathy Jennings to determine what authorities and tools we already have at our disposal to accomplish this work, and whether any legal impediments exist.”

The experience in state government for McGonigle and Gramiak, who now work together at the Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath law firm in Wilmington, make them particularly well-suited to review the state’s agencies for how they may be able to offer regulatory aid as well as suggest how legislative aid through the General Assembly could be offered.

McGonigle, who served Markell when he assumed the governor’s office amid the 2009 Great Recession, said that those experiences will be something he looks back to as he compiles thoughts for Carney’s administration. Although the reasons for those economic downturns are vastly different, the goals of recovery remain the same, he said.

“We’ll look to some of those things to see if they make sense in this context, but generally you want to try to stimulate the economy, gets projects moving forward as fast as possible and get people back to work,” he said.

While Markell navigated the Great Recession, McGonigle said that the post-coronavirus recovery may be even more difficult because of the social distancing guidelines that will likely delay full-scale recovery.

Douglas Gramiak | PHOTO COURTESY OF FAEGRE DRINKER

“There probably won’t be an on-and-off switch, there will likely be some ratcheting,” he said.

Delaware Business Roundtable Executive Director Bob Perkins confirmed that he’s among the Delaware business stakeholders who are developing ideas on how the state can emerge from the crisis.

“If there was ever a time for the business community to work together, this is it,” he said. “Now is the time, for example, to put the Ready in Six initiative on steroids to help encourage business retention and attraction.”

Other sources who asked not to be identified said other ideas could include expanding broadband internet services statewide – particularly in light of the number of people who might be interested in continuing to work from home after the crisis – and fostering ways to help restaurants rebuild customer confidence once they can reopen.

Perhaps most important, McGonigle also noted that his voluntary work with Gramiak frees up the administration’s officials to focus on the immediate health concerns of the public and the short-term economic needs of businesses and workers.

“I do know from my experience in 2009 and ‘10 that you’re in these sort of crisis moments and it is hard to focus on the things that are a little bit longer term even though you know you need to,” he said. “To know that the governor is thinking that far out, and that he’ll have some information at the ready when the time is right, is a bit comforting.”

By Jacob Owens & Peter Osborne

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