Friday, December 31, 2010

The Year in Springfield 2010...

So comes again another year the wide world of Springfield.  As is tradition, WMassP&I will recount the events and news that made 2010 different from 1876 in Springfield.  As both a city and as one of 351 parts of Massachusetts, Springfield saw its share of ups and downs that may come back to haunt, er, define us in the coming decade.  I guess it really depends.

City Hall (WmassP&I)
The year's most important event may very well have been a continuation of an event we mentioned last year.  The Springfield City Council underwent a paramount shift not only in structure, but in composition as it expanded form nine to thirteen in order to welcome new councilors from the city's eight wards.  Five seats remained at-large.  Four of those seats were retained by councilors under the old setup, with former School Committeeman Thomas Ashe filling out the fifth.  The diverse group of newcomers included time-tested figures like E. Henry Twiggs and past city council candidates John Lysak and Clodo Concepcion.  New faces included the city's youngest councilor in its history, Michael Fenton, Tim Allen, Melvin Edwards, Zaida Luna, and Keith Wright, a Springfield schoolteacher.

Not long afterward, Massachusetts rocked the national political landscape by electing State Senator Scott Brown to the United States Senate.  While national Republicans spun a fairy tale that the President Obama's allegedly left-wing policies were to blame, determined tea partiers aside, the result was due to a dismal campaign by Attorney General Martha Coakley.

Beacon Hill was not without its share of attention.  Budget troubles meant more cuts, particularly for cities and towns meant a reduction in school and unrestricted aid.  The entire situation was laid against the backdrop of an election for governor, which even early in the year was thought to be a bruiser for Democrats.  Charles Baker was coming at Gov. Deval Patrick from the right, Tim Cahill, former Democrat, was coming from the further right, while Jill Stein attempted to slip in from the left.  

Mohegan Sun (wikipedia)
Casinos, too, became an issue that would crest at the end of the session.  Massachusetts Speaker Robert DeLeo rammed through casino legislation that would have essentially given dying racetracks the right to open slot parlors in an attempt to make it like it never was when Deleo's father worked at the tracks.  Locally Mohegan Sun, who forays into non-Connecticut states has not been without controversy, got behind building a casino right off the Mass Pike in Palmer.

Longtime Hampden County District Attorney William Bennett announced his intention to retire this year.  Sen. Stephen Buoniconti, long chafing at a promotion announced his bid for the office.  Four other Democrats of varying notoriety competed for the Demcractic nomination.  Westfield defense attorney Mark Mastroianni ran as an independent.

Springfield's new city council gave the established order of things in the city's its first test as the budget process unfolded.  Knowing that local aid receipts would diminish, councilors wanted to cut the budget accordingly in order to spare taxpayers a property tax hike.  Mayor Domenic Sarno, for his part, used his budget magic to keep Fiscal Year '11 to within 1% of '10.  However, those methods included paying for pricey 2011 items with 2010's budget surplus.  The budget battle came to a head when the council, unable to agree to cuts in excess of $500,000 in a half-billion dollar budget voted down the budget as a whole.

Councilors were later informed their vote was immaterial.  By merely acting to review the budget they had fulfilled their statutory duty.  In a subsequent vote, enough councilors changed their votes to pass the budget as a face-saving measure.  However, hurt feelings endured and began to set the stage for an ascendant Council President Jose Tosado.

Sen. Pres. Murray (official site)
Later in the summer Senate President Therese Murray got her chamber's version of casinos passed.  It omitted slot parlors, but they found their way back in when the House and Senate bills were reconciled.  After all that, Patrick vetoed the legislation due to its slot parlor provisions.  There did not exist enough time to vote to override his veto and the votes may not have existed in the Senate.

As Scott Brown fever embraced New England, challengers to Congressman Richard Neal materialized.  Jay Fleitman of Northampton and Tom Wesley of Hopedale squared off to win the GOP nod for the 2nd Congressional District.  While both pointed to Health Care (which passed Congress in March), Tom Wesley picked up the Tea Party mantle hard core.  While Neal faced no Democratic opposition, his critics began crawling out of the sewers to attack the Springfield Democrat for sins real or imagined (on their part) past and present.  Also in the primary, Sean Curran beat back a primary challenge from disgrace former state rep Chris Asselin (whom Curran originally beat).  Onetime Agawam Mayor Susan Dawson failed to make a political comeback against Westside rep Jim Welch in the race for Stephen Buoniconti's Senate seat.  Buoniconti secured the Democratic nomination for D.A. after a colorful primary campaign where, among many gems, Springfield was called a war zone.

Western Mass Politics and Insight became a big-kid blog in October by transitioning to its own domain (

Tensions began to run high in Springfield over the Urban Leagues slow move out of the Mason Square Branch library more than a year after the city took the property by eminent domain.  Preparations were made by the city council to vote on expropriation (the legal term), but progress was finally made as the League finally left for its new place at STCC Technology Park.  At the same meeting the city gave city employees time off for cancer screening, a benevolent act, but one that may expose the city to liability as, ironically, a labor violation.

Patrick in 2008 (WmassP&I)
For a change some of our major endorsements actually won their races this year.  Governor Deval Patrick, with whom we have had differences won reelection in the four way race securing a respectable 6% margin, albeit on plurality.  Cong. Neal comfortably beat, if not crushed, Ireland-has-a-great-tax code Tom Wesley.  (The Irish Government also accepted a bailout from the E.U. around this time).  Voters voted down Question  3, sparing the state a (more) massive revenue shortfall.  Question 1 passed, repealing sales tax on alcohol.  Jim Welch won Buoniconti's seat and other local incumbents, Rosemarie Sandlin excluded, won their races.  Mark Mastroianni, who, despite false claims at a Democratic rally he is a Republican, beat Buoniconti to be Hampden County's D.A.  Martha Coakley won reelection as A.G. on a walk.  Steve Grossman beat Karyn Polito to be Treasurer and Suzanne Bump won the state Auditor's job.

Cong. Richard Neal (Facebook)
Nationally Democrats were trounced losing their majority in the House of Representatives, but only suffering shrinkage in the Senate.  In New England, though, the tea party fever only hit New Hampshire particularly hard while only touching Maine.  Republicans made gains in the Massachusetts House, but actually lost a seat in the Senate.  In Connecticut, Rhode, Island, and Vermont, Scott Brown and his truck were equally repudiated.  As Republican danced on would-be headstones nationwide, Sen. Brown likely began some soul searching.

The fallout kind of did extend to Western Mass, as Democrats competed for the top minority slot in the new Congress on Ways and Means.  Since Harlem Democrat Charles Rangel had stepped down from the Ways and Mean's Chairmanship, Cong. Richard Neal was trying to move into place the pieces to secure the slot for himself.  While he won a preliminary caucus vote, Neal ultimately lost out to Sander Levin of Michigan (notably Michigan will have a peculiarly large number of reps in leadership positions between both parties).  More bad news came for Massachusetts as the Census reported Massachusetts will lose a House seat due to reapportionment.  The impact to Western Massachusetts is neither clear nor certain.

Rep Petrolati (
A scandal in the commonwealth's probation department boiled over into the Springfield area when a report on the systemic corruption implicated State Rep. Thomas Petrolati.  Called the "King of Patronage" in Western Massachusetts, the initial report commissioned by the Supreme Judicial Court described a pay for play scheme whereby recommendations were often given to probation department candidates who donated heavily to Petrolati and others.  As the scandal grew and the A.G. and US Attorney began investigations, Petrolati was dethroned from his Speaker Pro-Tempore position he had held since DiMasi was speaker.  Among local luminaries connected to the scandal was Springfield City Councilor Jimmy Ferrera who secured a driving position with the Probation Department and donated to Petrolati and Stephen Buoniconti.

Engaging in a quick political turnaround, President Barack Obama seized the lame-duck session of Congress to pass a compromise tax bill, which extended unemployment, but otherwise angered everyone.  Also passed were the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, a new food safety bill, and a 9/11 First Responders Health bill.  Sen. John Kerry successfully led the President's New START treaty to ratification in the Senate.  Special recognition to Indiana GOP Sen. Richard Lugar for principled support for the treaty.

Springfield City Hall Council Chamber (WmassP&I)
Finally, the Springfield City Council rapped up some last minute work.  Two strangely early measures on the trash fee, one Sarno's and one Tosado's crossed swords, almost as a prelude to next year's mayoral contest.  Sarno's proposal failed, and Tosado's passed, but the latter only reaffirmed existing law.  The council demanded answers from Palmer Renewable Energy regarding the proposed Biomass Plant in East Springfield.  Support is building to repeal their permit, but legal questions remain on the issue.  School busing funds were passed because they were needed...or were they?  Finally, Keith Wright, councilor for Ward 6 resigned citing family issues.  He will be replaced by Amaad Rivera, whose own qualifications have been questioned.  The Councilor-designate will take his seat at Monday's organizational meeting.

And that is that.  WMassP&I closes the book on 2010 and wishes you and yours a happy new year.  We hope to be there with you through the political thick and thin, breaking news and shoving opinion in your face in 2011.

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