Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Mayoral Moves vs. the Record's Reality...

 **UPDATE 1-27-11: Jose Tosado has announced his run for mayor of Springfield according to WFCR.  Tosado was widely expected to announce his run this week.**

Pres. Jose Tosado (Facebook)
What do John Boehner and Jose Tosado have in common?  On spec, not much.  One is corporate Republican the other a Democrat in a non-partisan office.  One has two jobs mentioned in the US constitution the other has a position that could along with the whole city of Springfield, in theory, be wiped away on a whim of Beacon Hill.  One leads a party more than willing to attack Hispanics or any immigrant group at every turn.  The other, well, being Hispanic, that would just be bizarre.

However, there may be a key connection between the Ohio Republican and the head of the Springfield City Council.  Both have set the stage for political promotion by demonizing the actions others and repeating a mantra of cutting spending and promising lower taxes or fees, minus, of course, the record to back it up.  Jose Tosado will likely announce his intention to run for mayor this week, probably Thursday. Tosado was not contacted for this report.

Speaker Boehner (wikipedia)
What equates Tosado to Boehner, is not just his anti-spending tone, but rather its misplaced nature.  Springfield and the federal budget (defense excluded) actually does not have a lot of give unless we want to horrible cuts to critical programs whether it is police and fire in Springfield or food stamps and infrastructure for the feds.  Instead, Tosado turns to the department heads and their salaries not unlike Republicans going after civil servants.  Some slimming is possible, but Tosado wanted no part of it in June and failed to call out Sarno on the use of last year’s surplus to pay for things cut from this year’s budget.

Briefly, this is not a pro-Sarno post.  Sarno is way out of President Barack Obama’s league and Boehner is somewhat shorthand for his party’s claims and contradictions.  Moreover, Sarno has made his share of missteps, which do not go unnoticed and may be at least as unfortunate as Tosado’s posturing.

During the trash fee debate, which lasted little under one City Council meeting, Tosado successfully counter-scheduled his own trash fee repeal--a redundant ordinance--on the same day Sarno’s request for a home rule petition to extend the same fee was up for a vote.

Mayor Sarno (Facebook)
The mayor and his staff blew their chance to keep the trash fee as it was then.  They had failed to describe the financial realities and allowed a healthy fiscal image to be juxtaposed against one that needed the revenue.  Impending local aid cuts were not emphasized.  Moreover, the proposal Sarno unveiled Monday, with three different sized barrels, should have come out much sooner.

What was most telling about that debate was how Tosado phrased it.  Tosado derided spending by the city, oddly enough,  on “spokesmen” by city departments among other things.  He ridiculed the mayor and his staff’s admittedly convoluted assessment of the city’s finances, but then picked the healthier side anyway.  At the same time he attacked supporters (and abstainers) of Sarno’s trash fee proposal for not being “here,” that is city hall, and not seeing what is going on.

However, Tosado’s proposal and his simultaneous denunciation of spending was equally disingenuous.  It was not because Tosado did a 180, like Sarno, on the trash fee (from for to against it).  Rather it was because the council president’s comments simply do not match his record

During last year’s epic budget battle, the City Council actually voted down Sarno’s budget, as they had amended it.  After being advised that by merely acting to amend the budget, they had fulfilled their statutory obligations for passage, the City Council re-voted to save face and passed it.  The amended budget successfully cut less than $500,000 from a half billion dollar budget or less than one tenth of one percent.  Tosado voted for adoption of the budget both times.

Councilor Tim Allen (campaign site)
The record of the budget votes (as obtained from the City Clerk) reflects that Ward 7 Councilor Tim Allen said that he was elected to seek some tax relief after residents suffered years of sharp increases caused by the city’s lopsided property values.  As such Allen and other councilors sought to cut $2-3.5 million from the budget, particularly from the $110 million of the budget that could be legally cut.  Sarno was not at all helpful in councilors’ efforts to find loose change in the city couch cushions, but Tosado then did not call him out on it.

Tosado’s vote does not appear alongside very many of the individual cuts that were suggested by councilors either. In fact, many of the votes he joined, had large support for reduction of personnel-- namely in professional hiring (HR) and finance and administration. Similar sized cuts in DPW and Parks were proposed, but voted down with the help of Tosado's nay. He picked the cuts that would not alienate any particular constituency like personnel and fiscal watchdogs. Alternatively, Tosado could have had then-Council VP Twiggs moderate debate while he proposed his own cuts. The record reflects no such move. That is not to say that the approved cuts to those departments are inherently bad, but they stand out as conspicuous priorities, unless paired with equal pain across city departments.

Property tax rates in Springfield would fall, somewhat symbolically, but due to Sarno’s ability to use property values to his advantage as well as $1 million out of the city’s savings.  It had nothing to do with Tosado’s newfound sense of fiscal restraint.

Bud Williams (Facebook)
What this reveals is what may be a false choice for voters in Springfield come November.  Assuming the contest does become Sarno and the Tosado, the latter will be as much of a creature of the Springfield establishment as Sarno.  In that way, Tosado is very different from Sarno’s last opponent, Bud Williams whose contributors differed from the typical Pioneer Valley names.

Among the names that appear on both Sarno and Tosado’s campaign reports according to the State Office of Campaign and Political Finance: Frank Colaccino, head of Colvest and according to certain sources a major roadblock to planning and zoning reform in Springfield; members of the Callahan family, owners of Palmer Paving and behind the Page Blvd. biomass plant (Tosado is one of 4 members of the City Council that voted for the permit that is still on the council); Gary Cassanelli, the city’s fire commissioner; Heriberto Flores, head of the New England Farm Workers Council; IBEW Local 7; Dot Lortie, a well-known real estate agent; Judith Matt, Spirit of Springfield Director; members of the Picknelly family; and the Pioneer Valley AFL-CIO.

Do not read too much into this, yet.  That any given candidate received money from these contributors does not suggest anything bad itself.  What will be interesting to watch,  Tosado’s contributions rise during the mayoral campaign, is how many contributors donate to both candidates’ campaign possibly blurring any difference between the two.

The Campanile (WmassP&I)
It is one’s record that defines who they are and where they stand, not necessarily their contributors (although it can clear things up).  Tosado inadvertently may have tipped his hand as a consumate insider by saying other councilors were not at 36 Court like he is.  The suggestion is that he is pulling levers, lobbying his colleagues and whipping support, something many councilors lack the time to do.  Consequently he can push his agenda, as in the trash fee, while pulling back from politically inconvenient votes, like cuts to Parks and DPW, whose unions‘ support he will need in the election.

With his announcement due this week, the spotlight will turn to Tosado.  If Tosado wants his anti-trash fee, fiscal restraint proposal taken seriously, he will need to press and vote for cuts that affect the entire city.  Otherwise, Tosado may find himself the target of the same charges of hypocrisy he will likely level against Sarno.

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