Monday, December 31, 2007

The Year in Springfield 2007...

The year 2007 was a bit nicer to Springfield than past years had been. It was a year of bitter electoral upsets and tragic death, but it was also a time of signaling economic renewal and changing times.

The year opened with the inauguration of Deval Patrick as governor of
Massachusetts. Patrick is the first Democratic governor since Michael Dukakis left office in 1990. Meanwhile in Washington, the Democrats in the House and Senate took control of the Capitol for the first time in twelve years. Hometown Congressman Richard Neal took the gavel at the Subcommittee on Select Revenue Measures, under the House Committee on Ways and Means. Cong. Neal has used his time since to work on repealing/restructuring the crippling Alternative Minimum Tax, which has ensnared more and more families each year.

City Councilor Angelo Puppolo resigned his seat in the city council to take his seat in the State House of Representatives. This paved the way for Jimmy Ferrera, the tenth spot winner in 2005 to move in and take Puppolo's seat.

After a year-long delay, the city finally instituted its much-maligned trash fee. A law-suit brought on by Cheryl Coakley-Rivera and a few others had challenged the fee as illegal, but some clarification of the right to opt-out quelled that uproar.

Springfield learned in February that Gov. Deval Patrick intended to renew the Control Board for an extra two years, much to the chagrin of the City Council. Citizens responded with little more than a whimper of opposition, emphasizing the out-of-touch side of the loudest opponents of extensions Councilors Bill Foley and Kateri Walsh.

The mayoralty of Charles Ryan scored a victory with a landmark settlement with the Springfield Museums Association. The city gained a long-term lease in the Association-owned Central Library while Springfield citizens will gain free access to the museums.

By May, Springfield had the players in place for a race for mayor. Originally dismissed as a snoozer, the race would play out much differently. City Councilor Domenic Sarno announced his candidacy shortly before Mayor Ryan's formal announcement.

Around this time, Gov. Patrick ran afoul of the legislature by directing the state-appointed members of the FCB to stick the remaining loan money the state lent to Springfield into investment accounts. This prompted Sen. Stephen Buoniconti to request State Auditor Joe DeNucci to look into the city's books. It also delayed bills on Beacon Hill meant to lengthen the city's repayment schedule on the loan.

Patrick in late Spring replaced the state-appointed members left over from Romney's administration. Patrick appointed former gubernatorial rival Chris Gabrieli, local civic leader James O'S Morton, and former Taunton mayor, Robert Nunes. Among their first actions was formally extending the life of the FCB on a 4-1 vote, with Councilor Walsh dissenting.

Soon after the new members were installed, Phil Puccia, the Executive Director of Control Board resigned to take a private sector job. His deputy, Stephen Lisauskas, replaced him.

Over the summer in June, author of Urban Compass, Heather Brandon, styled by some as Springfield "Blogging Laureate," moved to Hartford. However, rather than simply packing up and putting her efforts into Connecticut's capital. Instead, she has worked there and in Springfield weaving, if not indirectly, the similar tales and common destiny of the twins cities upon the River Connecticut.

On August 1, a bridge collapsed in Minneapolis, sending ripples out across the country. Questions arose about the stability of bridges reached Massachusetts, home of a collapsed "new" tunnel nearly a year before. Most local bridges were given a clean bill of health, but not all.

Deval Patrick opened a Pandora's box and called for the state to legalize gambling. The proposal received an icy reception from Mass. House Speaker Sal DiMasi. Its fate remains unknown. Political sources say a gambling bill could pass the Senate, but not the House. As of yet, nothing has happened.

News reports from CBS 3 Springfield reported exterior analysis of the city's great symbol, the Campanile was underway. Earlier in the Control Board's tenure money was appropriated to address the long-standing neglect of the city's magnificent clock tower.

Out east in the Fifth Congressional District of Massachusetts, Niki Tsongas won the Democratic nomination in the race to replace retired Congressman Martin Meehan. Tsongas went on to win the general in October against Jim Ogonowski.

In what came to define October surprises in Springfield, Edward Flynn, Springfield Police Commissioner, was found to be named a finalists in Milwaukee's search for a new top cop. The news rocked the mayoral election and went on to become a contributing factor in the results in November. Flynn, not even two years in office, took the job. The Control Board, against the wishes of the mayor, Councilor Walsh, and Sarno decided to start a new search rather than install right away Deputy Chief William Fitchet.

Between Flynn, trash fees, and a difference in politicking, it should have been obvious
that Ryan reelection was anything, but a shoe-in. In fact it was quite different. Sarno defeated Ryan and will be sworn January 7. City Council remained the same except for Sarno's seat, which went to up-nd-comer Pat Markey.

In December, the Control Board held its last meeting with Charles Ryan as mayor. The board members, Lisauskas, and some of the speakers gave the mayor a proper send-off for his years of dedication and integrity in public service.

Hard to say if we here at WMassP&I lived up to our hopes for a pithier yet more expansive year in review. Either way, it has been quite a ride. And there is more to come. Iowa is only three days away and New Hampshire is only a week away. While always vigilant where Springfield is concerned, expect more national political coverages in the coming months and weeks.

Just as we said last year, have a safe and happy new year. Call a cab if you've had a few too many. Dial-a-Rides are free and ensure your safety and the safety of others. Once again happy 2008.

*Patrick and Ryan photos from, Sarno photo from Sarno for mayor website, Lisauskas/Ryan photo from Urban Compass, Municipal Group photo from Springfield city website.

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