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Dayton fills top staff positions, names ‘Velvet Hammer’ as chief of staff

Mark Dayton this morning made it official: Tina Smith will take on the important role as the new governor’s chief of staff. He also named six other women to posts.

Mark Dayton this morning made it official: Tina Smith will take on the important role as the new governor’s chief of staff.

Smith, who has served as the chief of staff to Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, is a relative newcomer to the Dayton team. She was campaign manager for Rybak in his bid to win DFL endorsement.

She’s known by some at City Hall as “the Velvet Hammer,’’ because of her strong advocacy on behalf of her boss, yet, her ability to smooth over any ruffled feathers with those who have opposing views. Those skills will be fundamentally important, given the obvious political battles that lie ahead for the Dayton administration with a Republican-controlled Legislature.

In addition to the announcement that Smith would be his chief of staff, Dayton also announced others who will take on key leadership roles in his office. Most noticeable about that list is that all of those named today are women.

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Dayton’s other appointments:

• Dana Anderson, who has worked for Dayton for a decade and served as his tireless campaign manager, will be deputy chief of staff.

• Michelle Kelm-Helgen, who was chief of staff for now-former Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, is to become deputy chief of staff for legislative affairs.

• Andrea Mokros — who has served in a variety of political positions, including deputy chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar — will become deputy chief of staff for communications and outreach.

• Katharine Tinucci, who was a deputy campaign director and spokesperson for Dayton during his campaign, will be press secretary in the new administration.

• Fatima Villasenor, who previously worked for Dayton when he was a senator, will be a senior aide to the new governor.

• And longtime civil rights and DFL activist Josie Johnson will replace Smith as co-chair of the transition team. That’s a voluntary position.

“I would not say that this is an accident,’’ said Tinucci of the gender makeup of the appointments. “Many of the top people on his campaign staff were women.’’

Laughing, she added, “there will be more appointments. I’m sure some will be men.’’ 

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In a statement about his appointments, Dayton made no reference to gender.

“Each is an experienced professional in her own right,’’ Dayton said. “And, together, they form a very strong nucleus of the governor’s office.’’