Thursday, December 30, 2010

Residency is Where the Heart Is...

Amaad Rivera (Facebook)
A most curious item appeared in yesterday's Republican.  The City Solicitor and the Election Commissioner have apparently confirmed Amaad Rivera's residency in Ward 6, paving the way for the legally second place winner of last year's municipal elections to take his seat.  However, questions persist and implications abound even after these recent rulings.  Gladys Oyola, the city's election commissioner, has referred some of these questions to the Secretary of State's office, who arguably is the truly last word on the subject.

Generally, under the commonwealth's municipal law, city councils appoint eligible individuals to fill out terms until and unless, there exists time to post a special municipal election.  Indeed, a special law for Springfield affirmed this, but the pool was limited to those that ran in the last election.  However, a more recent, and therefore controlling law applies to Springfield.  It was written likely out of expediency (a fear of corruption) and makes sense under a Plan "A" government (for the record Springfield is legally a plan "A" city operating under a special state law that changed our council).  Under the old at-large system, there were 9 seats, and the top nine vote-getters would become the councilors.  If a councilor resigned, the next highest vote getter could take the seat if still eligible and so on.  This remains reasonable for the five at-large councilors.  However, for ward councilors, this essentially means the loser in the general becomes the new councilor (No offense Councilor-designate Rivera).  However, to give the council that power is also troublesome.  Boston holds elections for vacancies as they are doing since the City Council there removed convicted councilor Chuck Turner.

What set off these questions and an inquiry onto higher powers was Tim Rooke's request for a more thorough inspection of Rivera's residency.  Rooke has ascribed his motives to performing due diligence because Rivera is pursuing a degree at Brandeis University in Waltham.  Considering the city's history of slipshod governance, Rooke may have a point on the due diligence.  If Rivera has been pursuing a degree in Waltham, roughly an hour on the Pike just outside Boston, he may be maintaining a residence close by.

Rahm Emanuel (wikipedia)
If true, however, it may not substantively change Rivera's eligibility.  Residency is generally defined as where you live, but that can only be confirmed to the extent that you are registered to vote somewhere.  If you rent, especially if you are a tenant-at-will, there is no exact proof you live there.  College students that have a local address on file, including dorms, can be called to jury duty in Massachusetts.  Certainly, car registrations and bill provide more evidence.  As President Obama's former chief of staff, presently a Chicago mayoral aspirant, Rahm Emanuel can tell you, running for office requires a wee more scrutiny.  Still, where one is registered to vote, absent evidence of residency elsewhere more than 50% of the time, remains the best evidence.  The reason is simple: you can run for offices for which you are entitled to vote.

Where you live is not the whole story.  You must live in the city/district (in this case ward) for a year prior to election/designation in order to be eligible.  Again absent any real evidence Rivera lives outside Ward 6, this is not really an issue.  The Republican reported that records show Rivera moved from one Ward 6 address to another in August.  It seems unlikely Rivera purported some fraud lying in wait for Wright to resign and snap up the Ward 6 seat.  Could he have secured housing closer to Brandeis, be living there, but retain legal residency in Springfield?  Absolutely, but the law does not appear to demand a more thorough inquiry than voter registration and the city census.  Bill Dusty, in commenting on a blog post on Maureen Turner's On Springfield said Rivera admitted as much to moving to Boston for school.  A relevant inquiry, but a legally unnecessary one may be whether Rivera's time taken traveling back and forth from Waltham--two hours daily--may detract from his ability to serve his district.  Indeed, Turner noted in her blog the litany of Boston-based or otherwise non-Springfield groups backing Rivera.  Any such determination would be at best  an opinion and more importantly cannot be fairly measured until Rivera is actually on the council.

Rivera, for his part, implied that there may exist some other motivation behind the questions about his eligibility.  Namely, he may be referring to an anonymous letter, the Republican noted, that claimed an "Amaad Rivera" lived in Roslindale, a neighborhood of Boston.  However, the election commission dismissed that claim because that Rivera is twenty plus years older than the councilor-designate.  Even so, there is cheaper and closer housing to Brandeis than Roslindale, which with traffic might take about as long to reach Waltham as Springfield.  These alternative motivations, if real (or implied), are probably not a question of race.  No doubt racists live in Ward 6, but they probably would not go through the concerted effort to impede a fairly routine procedure for Springfield (the present law has existed for eighteen years).  Rather, the culprits may be among the Forest Park establishment, which would much rather have one of their own representing them.

Forest Park (FP Civic Association)
What that may mean is hard to say beyond concerns about his connection to Boston-based groups.  While Keith Wright probably had that establishment's backing, what he did to earn it remains unclear.  The Forest Park establishment should not be confused with the powers behind the city's more corrupt or inept policies, a group called the Network by the Springfield Intruder and others.  There is crossover, but they are not the same.  Rather these people are mostly lifelong residents active in the civic association, live in the Historic District and along the park's periphery, and likely possessing decent educations.  It is probably not Rivera's politics they object to--assuming that any difference exists.  Rather, it is that he is not among them.  However, this is just speculation.

Long story short, Tim Rooke is in the right asking for due diligence, but given the rather loose requirements under the law, a more in-depth inspection or Rahm-like testimony is unnecessary.  Rivera, for his part, should thicken his skin in the wake of Springfield's often-tough politics and understand that a modicum of scrutiny is not too much to ask, especially as he becomes the first mid-session council replacement under ward representation.  The Forest Park powers should just suck it up.  Maybe they will find Rivera acceptable and in sync with their needs.  And if not, they can find a better candidate and if they are really determined that candidate could very well win.  November looms large.

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