Sunday, November 13, 2011

Election Detritus 2011: PAST DUE...

Mayor Sarno (
Anybody watching the elections play out in Springfield and the neighboring towns should not really be surprised what transpired.  Mayor eating that may end the latter's political career and won the city's first four-year mayoral term.  On the other hand, Bud Williams, who was only slightly less bludgeoned by Sarno in 2009 rose from the political dead, Albano ghosts and all, to return the Springfield City Council.  Elsewhere, Holyoke put its future in the hands of an ambitious, recent college graduate.  Ohio spiked the conservative agenda into the face of their conservative governor and Mississippi decided it liked birth control more than it hated abortion.

Locally the results of the Springfield election were really not all that surprising.  All of the incumbents running for the same office won, a feat made easier for the six ward councilors who faced no tangible opposition.  John Lysak dispatched Orland Ramos once again, in a campaign littered with complaints over Lysak's campaign expenditures and rumors Ramos was behind personal attacks on Lysak based on the breakup of the latter's marriage.  In the at-large races all four incumbents running for reelection won.  Bud Williams, whose tenure on the council is distinguished by the very fact that it happened, regained a seat among the at-large seats.

Ward 6 Councilor Amaad Rivera who opted to run at-large failed to crack into the top five falling behind Justin Hurst a scion of the city's arguably most notable black political family.  Meanwhile Kenneth Shea cruised into Rivera's seat facing no opposition.

Mayor Domenic Sarno trounced City Council President Jose Tosado winning nearly all of the city's precincts, including several predominantly minority ones.  While arguably the result seemed inevitable after the June tornado and low turnout in minority wards, the fact is that Tosado ended up being an unlikely standard bearer for reform in the city.  A longtime city official with poor campaigning skills, he lacked the charisma that sells in Springfield politics made famous by Cong. Richard Neal and notorious by former Mayor Michael Albano.  Whatever effort to prop up the minority vote failed as Hispanics voted in abysmal numbers in the city (In an anecdotal side note, Puerto Ricans, who make up the overwhelming majority of the city's Hispanic population are thought to be more prone to voter apathy than Hispanics at large).  Meanwhile, the city's blacks and Asians seemed to have little to get excited about in a Tosado candidacy.

Meanwhile Mayor Sarno took the challenge seriously and fully used the power of incumbency to bolster his position even among minority groups.  The result was one where several other candidates for office further down the ballot, like Amaad Rivera, sought to distance themselves from the Tosado campaign.  Ultimately, Tosado's defeat seems somewhat preordained in retrospect.  From the moment Tosado suspended his campaign after the June tornado to the moment Sarno suspended his after the October snowstorm (which was more effective as the mayor had an emergency he could address, unlike Tosado, who as a city councilor could not address the tornado as directly), it now seems like Tosado's effort was futile.

Mr. President? Eek!
(Urban Compass)
The down ballot effect was palpable, too, as the turnout of Sarno's machine was full-bore, even as Tosado's challenge seemed less lethal week by week.  Indeed, that can be only explanation for Councilor Tom Ashe's top of the ticket performance.  Voters may have mistaken him for Hampden County Sheriff Michael Ashe, who is practically a demigod in Valley politics.  Before the September Primary, Tim Rooke seemed destined for the top spot, but he grabbed the silver with Kateri Walsh getting the bronze.  Ferrera, who seems set to take over the Council Presidency, got fourth beating out his friend Bud Williams, who got fifth.

If there was one outright tragedy of this election, it was the total lack of any meaningful campaign for City Council.  Without passing judgment on the results themselves, there was little if any effort on the part of candidates to actually say what they had to offer the city and why they were running.  Other than vapid statements from candidates assuring they loved the city, a declaration that in itself is as meaningful as declaring one's love for a Kit-Kat Bar, there was nothing that illuminated why anybody was running for the council.  Some candidates tried to offer a more substantive explanation, but they overwhelmingly ended up in the losers pile and even their efforts failed to sharpen the meaning of their races at times.

Mayor-elect Alex Morse
(© RD Photography 2011)
Elsewhere in the Valley, the most notable race was the mayor election in Holyoke where Alex Morse, a 22 year-old Brown graduate beat freshman mayor Elaine Pluta.  Although it seems impossible to diagnose Morse's victory as anything less than the terrific ground game organized by Morse's campaign, in addition to the candidate's fluency in Spanish, there were other factors in play.  Morse had the backing of the Victory Fund, a fund raising group that supports gay candidates, which Morse was.  Additionally, David Cicilline, a Rhode Island congressman for whom Morse intenered when Cicilline was Providence's mayor, held at least one fund raiser for Morse.  That financial backbone, coupled with a campaign that observers say was a campaign better run than Pluta's, led to Morse victory.

Councilor Ayanna
Pressley (Facebook)
In Boston, Ayanna Pressley, who squeaked onto the Boston City Council in 2009 as one of its at-large members topped the at-large field this year as voters returned all incumbents running at-large.  Michael Flaherty, who ran against Mayor Tom Menino in 2009 attempted to get back on the council to set up for a 2013 mayoral run, but was denied.  Pressley's victory is attributed not only to support from political luminaries from John Kerry, for whom she once worked, and a fear that the Boston City Council could go without a female member, but her own tenacity and political savvy.  She forged an alliance with another at-large Councilor John Connolly and the two barnstormed across the city together.  It also gave her invaluable support in West Roxbury, where Connolly lives and which is treasure drove of reliable voters among the immigrant and student-heavy population.  After her victory, prognosticators began talking about her future prospects, but absent a Menino decision to not run in 2013 (his machine backed her toward the end of the campaign) mayor of Boston is unlikely to be one for now.

Across the country, Ohio voters shot down a bill designed to strip collective bargaining rights for virtually all public employees in the state.  The measure was defeated with 61% to 39% voting in favor of repeal.  Gov. John Kasich, following the vote, conceded defeat in a rambling and visibly humble speech.  The win was seen as a major victory for labor, even it essentially maintained the status quo as opposed to gaining any ground.  A loss would have dealt possibly irreversible damage to labor in the Midwest and possibly nationwide.  Instead, it set the stage to embolden efforts in Wisconsin to recall Scott Walker and strengthen Democrats' position in Ohio next year.

In Maine voters restored a forty year-old law that allowed same day voter registration after an opportunistic Republican majority repealed it.  And in Mississippi, a state as blood-red and conservative as it can possibly be, voters dealt a double-digit rebuke to an attempt to define a person as at the beginning of conception.  The measure had been assumed destined to pass given the strength of the pro-life movement in the state, but voters appeared as troubled by the idea as losing access to birth control and questioning ever miscarriage as the fact of abortion.  Another underlying thought has been that Mississippians, who are the nation's poorest citizens as a whole, were upset at being troubled with an arguably ridiculous measure when jobs are people's number one concern.

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