Bark in Peace, Simon
For reasons I can’t quite explain, I always get excited about Election Day. Don’t ask me why; I rarely find much to inspire me among the field of candidates, and even when I do, those candidates hardly ever win.
But my misgivings about the larger political system notwithstanding, Election Day itself is always kinda fun: counting the sign-wavers—true believers and patronage beneficiaries alike—outside the polling places; watching nervous candidates make their last rounds of flesh-pressing; staying up late to catch the final numbers and then the news broadcasts of beaming winners and stiff-upper-lip losers.
Without a doubt, the most fun I ever had on an Election Day was in 1999. That year, I hit a few of Springfield’s polling places with perhaps the most nontraditional politician I’ve ever covered—Simon Powell, canine candidate for mayor—and his campaign manager/owner, Karen Powell (herself, one of the most nontraditional activists I’ve ever covered).
Karen and her husband Bob were the cofounders of the grassroots group CANE, which had its roots as Citizens Against Needle Exchange but later morphed into the more broadly focused Citizens Action Network. Much of CANE’s energy was focused on trying to stop the excesses of the Albano administration (remember Mayor Mike’s half-baked, and dishonest, plan to build a minor-league ballpark in the North End?). While detractors—namely, the Albano gang and its enablers at the Springfield Republican—sniffed that the Powells and their allies were destructive “nay-sayers,” they actually were a heartening example of the little guys taking on City Hall—sometimes, even winning.
The Powells’ decision to run their dog for mayor highlighted the absurdity of a political establishment that was happy to re-elect Albano despite the many reasons to question his administration’s judgment and ethics—reasons that were spelled out all too clearly in the rash of federal public corruption indictments and convictions that followed soon enough. That message apparently resonated with a portion of the electorate; veteran Springfield political pundit Tom Devine has reported that Simon’s mayoral bid received more than 600 write-in votes. (For the sake of comparison, Chris Asselin—the former Springfield state rep who this year tried to reclaim his seat after a stint in federal prison on corruption convictions—received 570 votes in the September Democratic primary.)
Last weekend, Karen Powell announced some sad news for Simon’s many political fans: she and Bob had to make the tough decision to put down their ailing 12-year-old dog. Devine offers a smart, funny and sweet tribute to Simon, and his human companions, on his blog.