HARRISBURG - After a bruising budget season in which the administration was unable to score any major policy wins, Steve Aichele, Gov. Corbett's chief of staff, is stepping down, according to two people in the governor's inner circle.
Aichele will leave his $154,000-a-year post by summer's end, the sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Neither Aichele nor Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley could be reached immediately for comment.
Also leaving this summer, according to the sources: Corbett's legislative liaison, Christopher Carusone, who was brought in last year during a previous staff shake-up and was paid $148,000.
The front-runner to replace Aichele as chief of staff is GOP strategist Leslie Gromis-Baker, the sources said.
Gromis-Baker, 53, has a long pedigree in Republican politics. She is most associated with former Gov. Tom Ridge, having served as political director of his 1994 campaign, manager of his 1998 reelection effort, and director of public liaison during his first term. Later, Gromis-Baker ran his political action committee, the Ridge Leadership Fund.
In 2000, she directed the state presidential campaign of George W. Bush, and was mid-Atlantic chair of the president's 2004 reelection committee. She had been a White House political aide to his father, President George H.W. Bush.
Gromis-Baker is seen as highly organized and having a deft political sense - which some Republicans privately say has been sorely lacking in Corbett's administration.
If she accepts, she would become Corbett's third chief of staff in as many years. In May 2012, Aichele replaced Bill Ward, whom Corbett named to a judgeship.
At that time, some of Corbett's political advisers were pushing for a shake-up out of concern about his sagging poll numbers and what was seen as an inability or unwillingness to sell his agenda and his successes.
Corbett has since gone on the stump often. Even so, with his 2014 reelection race looming, his approval ratings lag. Making matters worse: his fellow Republicans who control the legislature broke for the summer without delivering on any of his "Big Three" initiatives: transportation funding, public-employee pension reform, and liquor privatization.
"Corbett had to do something, considering it was obvious that his top staff has not been effective in enacting his agenda and working with the legislature," said pollster G. Terry Madonna of Franklin and Marshall College.
"He needs a paradigm shift if he is going to have a chance at reelection," said Madonna, a historian of Pennsylvania politics. Still, he said, "shaking up the staff is no substitute for policy victories and the ability to tell the public what you're doing and why. . . . It could be a start, but it's no panacea."
Aichele, 65, headed the Philadelphia law firm Saul Ewing before he and his wife, Carol, joined the administration - he as general counsel, she as secretary of the commonwealth, running the Department of State.