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One of the best things about being a little tardy on writing about local politics in an election year is that even if you wait until September, you almost never really miss anything too big, anyway (unless you ran this campaign a couple years back). All the real meaty stuff doesn’t happen until the primary season starts. Anything else happening earlier is pretty much just chattery fluff that no one’s going to care about come November.
And so here we have the fall season approaching, and our local candidates in Springfield are all sweaty and anxious about their chances of reaching, or returning to, the Promised Land of landing a government payroll.
Back in 2009, when ward representation first came to the city, I remember all the political pundits and local activists talking about how great things would be once everyone had a financially viable shot at running for office here. Turns out their hopes were a little bit off.
Well, actually, their hopes were a lotta bit off.
Today, most incumbents running for re-election in Springfield are pretty much in the driver’s seat for a return visit to office. Most are either coasting back into office either unchallenged or they have unknown challengers who might get a few hundred votes compared to their own, say, 4,000. That’s about the same situation as before ward representation. Let’s face it, the masses just aren’t yearning to get into office themselves, and they’re not entirely too eager to elect new people into office, either. The notion that they are is pretty much a social activist’s pipe dream. The old adage that says “everyone’s [senator, representative, etc.] sucks except for mine,” rings true. (Unless you’re a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts.)
Alright, let’s get on with it. Below is my opening commentary for this year’s Springfield City Council and School Committee elections. (The Mayor’s seat isn’t up for grabs this year.)
The City Council
In Springfield, only two seats will have a September 17th preliminary vote for the City Council:
Ward 1’s incumbent city councilor, Zaida Luna, will face off against Jose Claudio, Miguel Rivas, Jr., and Stephen Daly. I remember Daly from attending a couple events at Kimball Towers Condominiums, where he was that condo association’s Board President. This is Daly’s first foray into politics (as far as I know), so regardless of how things turn out, it’s a good opportunity for him to get his feet wet, so to speak. (Although political waters can be a tad murky.) And there’s an outside chance Daly just might pull off a perceived upset on the 17th, which might be poetic justice after his non-mention at the end of a recent Republican article on rival Claudio.
In Ward 5, incumbent Clodovaldo Concepcion is running against challengers Kyle Burns and Michael Belanger. Reading up on Burns’s Facebook page, he looks to be a little miffed about a local community center (Green Leaf Community Center) being recently renamed after Concepcion. He further surmised that a Concepcion vote in favor of a mayoral pay raise may be a returning favor on the part of the incumbent. Burns has also recently charged Concepcion with state ethics violations. A Burns campaign press release states Concepcion “used public buildings, employees, property, and other things within his control in violation of the state’s ethics rules.”
Belanger operates Main Street Auto Service in Indian Orchard. (Yawn)
Two other City Councilors will meet their sole challengers in November.
Ward 8 City Councilor John Lysak will once again meet perennial challenger Orlando Ramos. Lysak first won his seat back in 2009 and has been doing a solid job ever since. If Ramos wins out, it may have more to do with the city’s changing demographics than any statement on Lysak’s performance these past four years. Ramos, for his part, has been trying to inject himself into Springfield’s governing structure for some years, now, and this is his latest chance to become an “insider” in the city’s political scene.
Ward 3 City Councilor Melvin Edwards will square off against newcomer Salvatore Circosta. Like his friend Lysak, Edwards has done a solid job of representing the people of his ward since first getting elected to the Council in 2009. And in this contest, Edwards continues to hold an edge in a ward with an overwhelming minority constituency. It’s notable that the last couple of times Edwards has seen a challenger – Martin Loughman in 2009 and now Circosta in 2013 – his opponents have been white Italians, whose population in the ward has dwindled substantially since the early 1990s. That no other black or Latino candidates have stepped up these past few years is a sign that their community here is still largely rudderless and dependent on others elsewhere in the city, save for Edwards. Circosta, a Republican, is the owner of Sal’s Bakery on Belmont Street. If Circosta did pull off a huge upset, it’s not certain how he would be able to identify with the minority population that makes up almost all of Ward 3.
Four ward city councilors have no challengers this November: Ward 2’s Michael Fenton; Ward 4’s E. Henry Twiggs; Ward 6’s Kenneth Shea; and Ward 7’s Timothy Allen.
There are five at-large city council seats, meanwhile, and four are up for grabs to the highest vote-getters this November.
Incumbents Thomas Ashe, Jimmy Ferrera, Timothy Rooke, Kateri Walsh and Bud L. Williams are all seeking re-election. Their challengers this fall are Ernesto Cruz, Jeffrey P. Donnelly, Justin Hurst and Joshua Carpenter.
Hurst is part of Springfield’s power-brokering Hurst clan, which publishes the African-American Point of View in the city. He is the son of former School Committee member Marjorie Hurst, who once famously told two of her fellow committee members (both white), “You’re so racist, you don’t even know it!” The younger Hurst is also the husband of School Committee member Denise Hurst, who is herself facing re-election this year (see below).
The angst-ridden Donnelly, a Republican, has run for office several times the past few years. He self-published a book detailing his perceived political persecution at the hands of those who he says feel threatened by his goals. On his website, he describes his stance on gays and lesbians, which is worth quoting just a bit, below.
Ok, I’m going to tell you just what I told a guy a few years back when I was asked my opinion on Gays in a bar.
I looked him straight in the eye and told him that I loved gay guys, because the more gay guys there are out there. The more single women there are for a single guy like me. To this he just looked at me puzzled, and then asked what I thought about lesbians. To this I said that they break my heart. After saying this he called over one of his friends and told me to repeat what I had just said, and then they looked at me and asked me if I knew where I was, and I replied yes, a bar. Then they laughed, offered me a beer and were nice enough to inform me that I had wandered into a gay bar, I sat down with them and had a drink.
The School Committee
Pepe is a favorite of the Intruder’s – her fiery style and independent streak have raised a lot of hairs in the hack-filled halls of Springfield City Hall, but made admirers of those who look for more honestly and transparency in government. She ran for Mayor back in 2011 but lost in the September preliminary election to Jose Tosado, who himself got crushed in the November polls at the hands of incumbent Mayor Domenic Sarno (son of Italian immigrants, you know).
Two ward school committee members are also seeking re-election: Norman Roldan (Wards 1 and 3) will have Rosa Perez to contend with in November, and Peter Murphy (Wards 2 and 8) is going up against challenger Zaida Govan this fall.