Fall River Mayor Paul Coogan’s appreciation for Baker and Polito is simple. 

“When you called them, you got an answer,” he said. 

That was a lifeline for the new mayor when the coronavirus arrived two months into his first term. Coogan, a Democrat, says the Republican duo were genuinely responsive to cities far away from the state’s power center in Boston and its surrounding suburbs. 

State Sen. Michael Rodrigues, another Fall River Democrat, said Baker has kept an ideal of bipartisanship alive in Massachusetts long after it disappeared from national politics. As chair of the senate’s powerful ways and means committee, which controls state spending, Rodrigues attends weekly meetings with the governor. 

“I thought he epitomized the right way to be a chief executive officer,” the senator said. “He never made it partisan. He never made it personal.”

Baker, a moderate who campaigned on his track record as a thrifty and even-handed executive, draws more intense criticism from his own party. Massachusetts GOP Chairman Jim Lyons responded to Baker’s announcement with a statement of his own on Wednesday.

“Our party remains committed to the ‘America First’ agenda advocated by President Donald J. Trump,” Lyons said, “and it's clear to me that Charlie Baker was shaken by President Trump's endorsement of another Republican candidate in Geoff Diehl.”

Lyons was referring to the former president’s endorsement of Diehl for governor in October. Baker has denied that Trump’s endorsement contributed to his decision not to seek a third term. In his joint announcement with Polito, the pair said, "This next year needs to be about recovery, not about politics.”

During Baker’s nearly seven years in office, he has relied heavily on support from independent voters and centrist Democrats outside of Boston. The governor won every city and town on the South Coast during his last election in 2018

State Senator Mark Montigny, a New Bedford Democrat, said Baker played a crucial role in the development of the region’s most ambitious projects. 

“Most people look at the downtown renaissance in New Bedford as being one of the more extraordinary changes to a downtown in the country,” said Montigny, “and they see the development of the Star Store as the impetus.”

He credits a young Baker, who managed the state budget as Governor Bill Weld’s secretary of administration and finance in the 1990s, with finding the money to renovate the Star Store. At the time, the Beaux Arts-styled department store was a vacant blight that stretched an entire city block. It now houses UMass Dartmouth’s art school, as well as a bureau office for The Public’s Radio. 

Montigny also credits Baker for breaking the stalemate on a thirty-year-old promise to restore train service from Boston to Fall River and New Bedford. 

“I got to the point where instead of being a cheerleader for the project, I became more of a cautious pessimist,” Montigny said. “I got tired of promises that were broken by Democrats and Republicans.”

It was Baker’s administration that finally put up $1 billion in bonds to build South Coast Rail, an extension of the MBTA’s commuter rail network that is under construction and scheduled to start running before the end of 2023. 

Baker’s term will expire at least several months before the project is expected to be completed. Meanwhile, the list of people considering a campaign to replace him as governor gets longer every day. 

Harvard professor Danielle Allen and State Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz of Boston are both running as Democrats. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey is rumored to be in the mix, and Politico reported yesterday that President Biden’s Labor Secretary, Marty Walsh, is considering returning to Massachusetts to join the race.

“I don't think the field is defined at all,” Montigny said. “This announcement is an earthquake politically.”

Rodrigues, the Fall River state senator, has already endorsed Ben Downing, a former senate colleague from western Mass. who’s running for governor as a Democrat. 

Montigny said he gave up on his own dreams to run for governor years ago, but he’s still not ready to endorse anyone. 

“I'm very skeptical about promises made when candidates come rolling through,” Montigny said. “The governor didn't just show up and make the case during the campaign, because we are way too skeptical for that. That was not Baker.”

Ben Berke is the South Coast Bureau Reporter for The Public’s Radio. He can be reached at bberke@thepublicsradio.org. Follow him on Twitter @BenBerke6.