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Monday, November 02, 2009

Springfield City Election Endorsements...

Well, the plot to rope in candidates with some tough questions went over like a lead balloon with only one councilor candidate contacted responding.  Admittedly, WMassP&I is no austere journal of opinion, but we are disappointed.  So we move on to the task of selecting our endorsements for City Council.  We will try to keep this short.  Ha!


Before that, however, I strongly urge you to check out the endorsements on the Springfield Intruder and other blog sources, if any.  The Intruder offers a thoughtful and fair analysis of the candidates and admits not to purport knowledge for some of the city's races.  WMassP&I will be taking a similar position of not taking a stance on races we do not know anything about.  Moreover, we more or less pass on taking a stance on Wards 1 and 3, by agreeing with the sentiments put forth on the Intruder in its endorsement of Gumersindo Gomez for Ward 1 and Melvin Edwards for Ward 3.  Again this is because we do not know the races well enough.  Some of the endorsements mirror the Intruder anyway.  Despite our political and ideological differences, Bill Dusty and I, in my opinion, are on the same page for city issues.


Ward 2
The race between Michael Fenton and Thomas Sullivan has been among the more competitive in Springfield's first in a generation Ward elections.  Both candidates have expressed a strong desire to improve the city's fortunes.


Now I have known Fenton for many years and I am certain that his conviction to improve the city is real.  Moreover, his campaign has focused on trying to move past that paralysis of nostalgia that has retarded any growth the city needs in order to adapt and thrive in this world and economy.  In his campaign, Sullivan has proposed among other things increasing the number of police to fight crime, almost to the exclusion of other issues as times.  The council has no direct control of this and alas it will not reduce crime.  Sadly the victims of October's violence would very likely have not been saved by more  cops on the street.  While I do not fault Sullivan for this proposal on its face, it represents, sadly, the same type of candidacies and campaigns that have defined Springfield for years.  Simplistic, and playing the fear and misunderstanding many voters have about their city and its problems.


Fenton's campaign is one that has the promise to actually utilize the city's strengths to attract green jobs and not just talk about them.  Taking on the high business tax, Fenton is confronting one of the very problems that has been the root of the city's malaise.  For too long, candidates have run campaigns that essentially promise to make things the way they used to be whether directly or implicitly.  Or, campaigns are pitched to one group of people feeding the divisiveness that has compounded problems further.  His age has been pointed to as both a positive and a negative, but there is great merit and sacrifice in what Fenton is doing.  Trading in the time that many of his age often spend on intoxication, libidinous activity, and other mindless diversion, Fenton wants to focus on the mammoth, but thus far elusive effort, to get Springfield on its feet and moving forward.


WMassP&I endorses Michael Fenton for the Ward 2 seat on the City Council.


Ward 4

The Ward 4 race points to some of the problem's in the city's poorest neighborhoods.  As reported by the Intruder, candidate Norman Oliver appears to be running as a Civil Rights activist.  It sounds like Oliver could be down a path that as the Intruder notes essentially surrenders any agency the residents of Ward 4 possess for the sake of his own political future.  Does racism exist? Absolutely.  Is there still work to be done?  Same answer.  However, the time has come to start building on that foundation forty years of progress has made rather than suggesting simply because it is imperfect we cannot move forward from there.


E. Henry Twiggs, Oliver's opponent, has served in various capacities for the local Democratic Party.  The Democratic party in Massachusetts is not my favorite branch of the national institution.  However, it is certainly a venue where in Twiggs has taken in a broad range of information and experience about government in general, but also met a large cross-section of people.  Such a point of view would hopefully encourage Twiggs to execute the office less provincially than Oliver may given what his campaign implies.


WMassP&I endorses E. Henry Twiggs for Ward 4


Ward 5

The Ward 5 race is of note because the Ward itself may be one of the most diverse.  While not consisting of the city's poorest neighborhoods, it does include more affluent areas like Sixteen Acres and less than such like parts of Pine Point and Upper Hill.  Indeed the two who made it to November are well known in the city and in their communities; both would no doubt serve the interests of the city well.  However, between Carol Lewis-Caulton and Clodo Concepcion, the former has a record many city councilors should envy.  A councilor for one term starting in 2000, Lewis-Caulton was known for taking on tough issues and big institutions.  An article by Maureen Turner, noted her advocacy for the city library (at the time under the thumb of the Library and Museum Association) and quality of life issues.  Small things like noise and blight can make a big difference in the long-run.  When people feel like the city cares about their neighborhood, they are far more likely to reciprocate and that kind of advocacy is what Springfield needs.  Certainly Ward 5 residents can relate to that point of view.  Concepcion, as the head of the 16 Acres Civic Association, can show that Lewis-Caulton does not have the market on neighborhood issues, but he lacks the same record to back it.  WMassP&I endorses Carol Lewis-Caulton for Ward 5


Ward 6

This has been particularly problematic as WMassP&I is in essence based out of this ward.  Politically, possibly the city's single most important district, Ward 6 and its neighbor Ward 7 have been the home for most of the city's mayors and councilors for years.  It should be no surprise that both reformers and members of the city's often self-interested political elite would be jumping at this seat even as parts of it have grown poorer.  After the dust settled from the September primary, Ward 6 voters were left with Keith Wright and Amaad Rivera with one kink which I'll get to in a moment.


As has been suggested on the Intruder and the Valley Advocate, namely Turner's On Springfield blog, Wright has been called a front man for the city's political elite.  With their backing, if that is true, it was assume victory would be inevitable, although as elections go, hardly a given.  Ward 6, which is almost entirely Forest Park save for a nub of East Forest Park is quite diverse.  Many of the people who will actually show up to vote Tuesday would probably require a little bit more than just the say so of the same power brokers that brought you Springfield most indicted.  As such Amaad Rivera was able to surge ahead of the other preliminary candidates and edge out Wright for first place by less than 10 votes.


Rivera's campaign while well-run and otherwise honest, however, advocates strategies that almost sound socialist.  Although I consider myself progressive, I also recognize where leftist politics have failed or when the self-titling of such goes too far.  Consider our US Senate race where everybody claims to be the left of everybody else, an absurd debate at best.  Rivera's campaign include support for wide scale unionization.  That is code for two things: getting endorsements of private sector unions and a wink at the public employee unions.  The former is disingenuous, even if unintentionally, and the latter has been a problem for years.  If it is not code, then it is naive.  There is a time and a place for organized labor, but it cannot be required of employers in the city and as the Intruder notes, almost no business in Ward 6 could really be affected by such a proposal.  Moreover, should workers organize it should be done because of their decision to do so, not the government.  However, it is then up to workers to keep tabs on their stewards and local leaders.  Rivera also talks about spending stimulus dollars, which in addition to being politically dicey, are one-time only funds and are unlikely to ever be generous enough to buy Springfield out of its problems.  I would also like to take a moment to point to Springfield's financial issues as the symptoms, rather than the cause of larger issues.



Wright, however strikes a more moderate tone and because he is the only one to respond to WMassP&I survey, I am inclined to endorse him.  His positions are reasonable if a little predictable and his answers on the WMassP&I survey were satisfactory.  If he was put up to this by others, hopefully, he will demonstrate the courage and curiosity to seek out opinions other than that of his original backers.  For this reason WMassP&I backs Wright.


However, there is the problem of Tom Walsh.  By all accounts he is a really good guy, who probably could have rocked the vote had he run.  Walsh, Mayor Domenic Sarno's Communications Director, did not however for any number of reasons.  Indeed, as many as 55 people may have written his name in last September.  Much of the movement seems to stem from Wright's non-opposition to Longhill Gardens, an irony since Walsh's boss, the mayor, approved the project.  Although Walsh has yet to have an "if nominated I will not run, if elected I will not serve" moment, his candidacy is the wish of others and without the "candidate" actually campaigning unlikely to succeed.  Voting for him might draw support away from Wright and propel Rivera forward with his hopeful, but flawed promises.  That said, if you really cannot bring yourself to vote for Wright, WMassP&I cannot in good conscience condemn a write-in vote, but we beg that you consider the consequences of your actions.


Ward 7

Sadly, it often seems like we must rely on negative endorsements a bit too often.  Moreover, WMassP&I is not as informed about the details of this race as it should be since Ward 7 is only blocks away from our home base.  Michael Rodgers's status as a candidate will forever be tainted for his dubious attempted End-Run around the Control Board.


Back in the FCB days, members of the School Committee and members-elect (we cannot even say the committee as this was done without the knowledge of members like Antonette Pepe) attempted to renew former superintendent Burke's contract without Control Board approval.  Then, vested with the legal authority the Massachusetts General Court has removed from them, they announced the deal was solid.  The FCB revoked the contract and declared it null and void.  Burke was sent on his way.


The obvious power grab was made all the more precarious when certain sources implied that Burke had somehow ingratiated himself with the School Committee, even as his stock was falling among the city's other leaders and residents.


Tim Allen's campaign at least had the wherewithal to establish an online presence an absolute must in this ward.  Ward 7 might be the most solidly affluent ward in the city.  Its newer residents are likely to be young families who will want to be connected to their elected officials digitally and independently of the city website.  For not being among the insidious school committeepersons would glean him a nod, but getting an "A" for the effort of connecting to constituents-to-be gives Allen the slam dunk to be WMassP&I's choice for Ward 7.


Ward 8

John Lysak has been a persistent and thus far undeterred city council candidate for years.  He ran two years ago and failed to break the wall of incumbents, but with Ward 8 able to elect its own councilor he may have a chance at last.  Ward 8, which includes Pine Point, the eastern Boston road area, and Indian Orchard has long been starved for political attention.  The Eastfield retail area has been neglected by the city, if not by developers, as city leaders looked elsewhere for retail development.  Despite this and a lack of direct highway access, Eastfield remains the city's largest single retail area and a major source of property taxes.  With Wilbraham's sudden interest in developing retail along its stretch of Boston Road, it cannot be taken for granted any longer.  Lysak has taken an interest in Boston Road.  Indian Orchard itself has also been neglected as neither of its reps in Boston live in Springfield.  Often folded into the Ludlow House district to which it belongs, it too has suffered a decline, far less noted than that of parts of Forest Park and elsewhere .  John Lysak is man to represent IO and all of Ward 8 at 36 Court.


Recent reports from cyberspace and the grapevine cobbled together by the Intruder imply Ramos may be too close to the power bases in other areas of the city namely the establishment in Ward 1 and City Councilor Jose Tosado, who, although has great ties to Ward 1, actually lives in Ward 5's 16 Acres.  Ramos has a website, but the positions listed are abstract if common to any politician who does not want to come across a morose.  The Intruder also posits that Ramos may be a plant from Ward 1 to assert political control there.  Even if he is not a plant, engaging in an effort to secure political control is self-serving and will do nothing to improve the area's fortunes.


Vote John Lysak for Ward 8.


At-Large Seats

Sadly there is not a particularly exciting slate of candidates for the City Council's new 5 At-Large seats.  Curiously, as in past years when we only had At-Large councilors, only one slot will certainly go to a "newcomer."  Many of the newcomers are not unknown like former councilor Morris Jones or Tom Ashe, a School Committee Member.  While the switch to eight ward seats and five at-large has cleared some of the fog from the Council chambers, it is probable that the four incumbents running for reelection will get in again.


Of those incumbents, WMassP&I fully backs Tim Rooke.  As I have noted many times before, he is reputedly the only member of the City Council still on it that has apologize for failing to properly scrutinize the past budgets and policies that left Springfield a ward of the State.  That takes class and it stands out as nobody else did.   WMassP&I has questioned a few, but hardly all, of the fights he has picked with Mayor Sarno.  However, that he is willing to demand an airing of issues like School Department relocation in public even as the die is cast is crucial in a deliberative democratic society.  I am certain that he has the best interests of the city and its residents at heart.  Re-Elect Rooke tomorrow.


Beyond Rooke, WMassP&I lacks enough information about the candidates to make any equally in-depth endorsements.  I am voting for Vera O'Conner, who also ran in 2007.  She was honest about a turnaround in opinion about the Control Board.  Converting from anti-FCBism to appreciation is an astonishing transformation for a politician.


That leaves three more to vote for.  Kateri Walsh is the least objectionable of the incumbents to slide in there if you find yourself leaning toward incumbents.  Robert Francesca is her parallel among newcomers.  I would dismiss Thomas Ashe for his role in Burke Contract-gate and Morris Jones has been said to have Albano ties.  Tosado earned himself some respect for backing ethics reform, but the constant rumors about collusion between him and Cheryl Coakley-Rivera aiming at a Ward 1 based takeover is too backroom wheeling and dealing for me.  Ferrera, well, the whole Pot-Smoking $300 fine seemed like grandstanding at its worst.  Springfield as a mecca for pot-smoking?  The decriminalization happened all over the state and marijuana is among the least of the city's problems.  Vote how you will, but vote for these folks at your own risk.


School Committee
The only School Committee race that we are comfortable to comment on is District 3.  Chris Collins, too, was among those who conspired in a Soprano-esque, fashion to insist on more Burke for the students of Springfield.  If I recall, he was not even on the School Committee when he attempted to dodge the law and public hearings to reward a lackluster administrator.  Still he conspired away.  Moreover, he is the brother of the President of the Springfield Education Association, Tim Collins.  We will save a discussion of Tim Collins, Gillette razors, and teachers unions more generally for another time, but there most certainly exists a conflict of interest.  Anti-endorsement it is, but vote Collins's opponent, Orlando Santiago.


WMassP&I is also intrigued by the candidacy of Joe Flebotte for District 4.  I am staying away from making a full-fledged endorsement because I do not know enough about the race, but Tommy Devine calls Flebotte's opponent an Albano stooge.  Can't take risks like that.  It is refreshing to see somebody like Flebotte, 20, running for office.  If you live in the District 4 (wards 2 & 8), I'd say vote him.


Mayor

A city like Springfield, which for better or for worse, makes a contact sport of politics deserves a better mayor's race than this.  Tommy Devine posits that the Democratic machine drove out both talent and idealism.  Well, I would argue that the machine transcends party affiliation at this point, but alas it may be true.  We do have some good candidates in the ward races at least, which is the very least we could hope for.  The problem is that we still have to elect the most powerful person in Springfield, the mayor.


Sarno ran a race to abolish the trash fee, which may (or may not if Rep Coakley-Rivera's legislation incorrectly named the FCB ordinance that passed the trash fee) be eliminated by 2011.  He ended up with egg on his face quite quickly when he realized the FCB did it out of desperation.  He handled Longhill Gardens poorly and hemmed and hawed on numerous other issues.  However, I think his indecisiveness is not necessarily a sign of incompetence and instead an indication that he wants to be sure he makes the right decision.  Sometimes the best decisions are not the most popular one (a shame voting cannot work that way!).  We do live in a republic wherein we elect people to make the decisions, do the governing, for us.


Bud Williams has some distressing ties to Albano and reportedly fell asleep at a public meeting.  I cannot dismiss his tenure on the Council as among the worst.  However, he has been somewhat humdrum at times.  He was City Council President when that infamous final Albano budget sailed through the council.  However, he was also one of the few councilors not from the Forest Park or 16 Acres, and could less disingenuously claim to represent those of his racial persuasion.


Still, his place is not at the helm at 36 Court Street.  His campaign has been anti-Sarno, lacking in originality.  His ten point crime reduction plan runs into numerous legal, financial, and practical impediments; his call for a moratorium on low-income housing projects might face expensive legal challenges with limited change in the problems that has led to a plethora of subsidized housing.


No savior of Springfield is Sarno, but he is perhaps a caught between a political machine trying to reassert itself since Ryan was elected and the hard realities of a city that needs something better than the mediocre making decisions.  Perhaps with better advice and more conviction, Sarno can find better footing for himself and the city this time around.  Not all of his decisions have been bad; his efforts to spruce up downtown and the South End are aimed at improving the infrastructure not handing out liquor licenses like candy to mobsters and criminals.

WMassP&I endorses, shockingly enough, Domenic Sarno for another two years at 36 Court.  While you are at the polling place, vote to lengthen the mayor's term for four years effective 2012.  The consensus is that Springfield needs a mayor, despite the risk of cementing power, who can actually govern for longer than a few months before entering campaign mode.


That, ladies and germs, is that.  Get out there to vote.  Remember!  Vote Early and Vote often.  In Massachusetts, we will have plenty of opportunities between now and mid-January alone!

*All candidate photos from candidate's websites.  Walsh photo from springfieldcityhall.com

1 comment:

Tommy said...

Good picks. This being Springfield, I urge everyone to vote early and often!