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2012 Valley Advocate Halos and Horns

We know who’s been good or bad, so be good, for goodness’ sake.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2012
Illustration By Mark Roessler
H&H--2012

It’s been a long time since a Northampton mayor has been considered for a halo by the angels at the Valley Advocate office. To be sure, not everything David Narkewicz has done in his first year in City Hall’s top job has delighted this newspaper’s halo committee, which wasn’t happy when the mayor selected a city solicitor who was currently suing the city, or when he gave Fire Chief Brian Duggan a free pass after former city councilor and blogger Mike Kirby raised legitimate questions about Duggan’s moonlighting gig as a consultant.

But overall, those who bestow halos are pleasantly surprised by and cautiously optimistic about Northampton’s new mayor. Maybe it’s little things like the aw-shucks thrill he seemed to have throwing out the first ball at this year’s Little League ceremonies, but refreshingly, DNark’s agenda seems to include all the residents of the city, not just those who kiss his ass. He has been busy cleaning up after the office’s last tenant, ending the year with a reported $1.7 million in fiscal savings and plans for, among other things, new construction on King Street and winter plowing on Noho’s bike paths.

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Limbo: Catholics of a certain vintage don’t need to be told what Limbo is; for the rest of you, it’s the now somewhat out-of-favor notion of the place where the departed souls of folks who can’t be assigned either to Heaven or Hell end up. Colloquially, of course, being in “limbo” means being in a suspended state, your fate undecided. And that seems an appropriate place for Holyoke mayor Alex Morse right now. Last year, we gave him a halo for his enthusiasm and positive, casino-free vision for reviving his city; this year, we were poised to give him a horn for changing course and saying, to the great dismay of many supporters, that he was now open to the idea of a casino in town. But now Morse has changed course again, saying he regrets floating that divisive idea. Like a lot of Holyoke residents, we hope that 2013 sees Morse get—to use his words—“back on track,” and back to the vision that got him elected in the first place.

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A halo with a chorus of cherubs in the background to Patrick Sullivan, head of Springfield’s Parks, Buildings and Recreation Department, for taking on the job of making the waterlogged Gerena School in Springfield’s North End safe and healthy. Built below the water table and washed by runoff from nearby roads, the school has been a hazard for children and staff with asthma and for people passing through its entry tunnel, where water can stand for days after heavy rains.

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Halo: What a rare treat for progressive voters this year: two candidates—Jill Stein, the Green Party’s presidential nominee, and Bill Shein, a Democratic contender in the 1st Congressional district—who ran intellectually honest, smart and thoughtful campaigns that offered real solutions to issues that matter, and did so while foregoing the big campaign contributions that too many otherwise worthy candidates can’t bring themselves to turn away. Maybe they didn’t win on Election Day, but Shein’s and Stein’s campaigns nonetheless felt like important and heartening victories.

And on that subject: a horn to the Commission on the Presidential Debates, that creature of the two big parties, for restricting voters’ access to information by banning both Stein and Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson from its debates.

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A horn, too, to one of Shein’s fellow candidates, Andrea Nuciforo, whose campaign lifted large chunks of his position papers from other campaigns—and then, when Shein revealed that apparent plagiarism, initially accused his competitor of playing “desperate” politics, then blamed the mess on an unnamed former campaign worker.

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Horns as well to the media for giving U.S. Rep. Richie Neal, the incumbent in that 1st Congressional District race, a more or less free ride back into office—with special notice for the moderator of a debate on Pittsfield radio station WBEC, who announced that he would shut down conversation about the sources of candidates’ campaign contributions. Sure, why confuse voters with meaningless information about the major industries that invest millions in political campaigns in the too-often realized hope of influencing public policy?

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A welcoming halo to the Valley’s newest congressman, U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern. From his sponsorship of a proposed amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision to his support of the egalitarian Budget for All, McGovern is a welcomed progressive addition to the region (although we are less than pleased with his apparent role in securing the accident- and speeding-ticket-prone Sheila Burgess her job as director of the Mass. Highway Safety Division).

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A business that actually welcomes a labor union to its shop? A halo to Northampton’s River Valley Market for doing just that. Here’s hoping more businesses follow its example.

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And a halo to another business that hasn’t lost its grip on decency: Dick’s Sporting Goods suspended “modern sporting rifle” sales after the Newtown school shooting even as other gun outlets took advantage of the spike in purchases.

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Horn: We’ve given the disgraced ex-mayor of Springfield Michael Albano so many sets of horns over the years, it’s a miracle he can still keep his head up under all that weight. Then again, if his recent race for a $26,000-a-year gig on the Governor’s Council is any indication, Albano’s “comeback” to electoral politics can hardly rank among Mayor Mike’s prouder moments. After leaving Springfield in financial ruin, somehow escaping the fate that landed legions of his cronies behind bars in the wake of a federal probe of his administration, the notoriously self-promoting Albano has kept a low profile since 2004. His freak-show race against father’s rights activist Mike Franco for an obscure political post this fall was noteworthy only as a creepy reminder that, with newspapers like the Springfield Republican and loyal party elders like Mike Dukakis happy to endorse failure, it’s hard to keep a corrupt Democrat hack down in Massachusetts.

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Oh, and a horn to the Springfield Republican for endorsing (yet again) Mike Albano. In one of its lamer (and that’s saying something) endorsements, the longtime Albano boosters wrote, “We had reservations about Albano’s return to public office, given the fact that the former mayor left office during an FBI investigation into his administration that resulted in federal jail terms for his former chief of staff and the leader of a city job training school. The mayor was never charged with any wrongdoing. The voters have spoken, offering Albano sweet vindication and a chance at a comeback career representing the 8th District Governor’s Council.” Stupid is as stupid does.

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A halo to the vigil-sitting parishioners of Holyoke’s closed Mater Dolorosa for their moving dedication to the church that has meant so much to them and their families.

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In the wake of Massachusetts voters’ resounding approval of a new medical marijuana law, a halo to Lyle Craker, the UMass Amherst professor of plant science who has tirelessly—and, alas, so far unsuccessfully—fought the federal government for permission to study the potential medical benefits of the cannabis plant.

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Huge, flaming Tim Curry-in-Legend-sized horns to the ever-hateful Westboro Baptist Church, already on a roll of spreading its version of “God’s love” by carrying signs that say “God Hates Fags” to the funerals of gay soldiers killed in combat and other asinine displays of ignorance. Its new low: picketing a vigil for the Sandy Hook elementary victims with the claim that the tragedy happened because Connecticut legalized gay marriage. Maybe we should send them new Bibles, as theirs appear to be defective.

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Halo: Here in the Valley, we’re used to fierce nuns who fight for social justice (we’re looking at you, Jane Morrissey and the Sisters of St. Joseph). But what fun it was this year to follow the “Nuns on the Bus,” the sisters who toured the country speaking out against tax cuts for the rich and for healthcare and other programs for the poor, despite the scolding they received from the U.S. bishops for their activism.

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Halos to those brave Walmart workers who’ve stood up and walked out in protest against their employer’s infamous treatment of its 1.4 million workers (that’s just here in the U.S.). According to a 2011 report from UC-Berkeley, if Walmart paid all its employees a minimum of $12 an hour, it would cost the company $3.21 billion a year—that’s 0.72 percent of the $444 billion in sales the company reported in fiscal 2012.

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Halo: The election of the Rev. Talbert Swan II as president of the Springfield branch of the NAACP has led to a revitalization of the organization, which this year has weighed in on important matters ranging from Fire Department promotions to casino-related job creation to this fall’s Senate race. With the recent reactivation of an Amherst NAACP branch, this venerable organization’s presence should soon be felt throughout the wider Valley.

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A horn to state senator Stephen Brewer of Barre, who proposed for Massachusetts a “stand your ground” law like the Florida law that tied the hands of Sanford police when they wanted to arrest George Zimmerman for the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager. Such laws prohibit prosecution of gun owners for shooting, on their own property or in a public place, anyone who makes them feel threatened.

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Halos: Pro Springfield Media (the brainchild of Nancy Urbschat and her creative comrades at TSM Design) and Katie Stebbins (the force behind www.HappySpringfieldParent.com and www.BYOFamily.com) are part Springfield cheerleaders, part evangelists spreading the good word about that often-underappreciated city (and, in the case of BYOFamily, sharing the love with Holyoke, too).

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Halo: While those other scouts were busy reaffirming their bigoted ban on gay members and troop leaders (a policy that some Valley troops publicly denounced) and trying to do some damage control in the wake of a sex-abuse scandal, the Girl Scouts of America were reaffirming their openness to all, including, in the case of one Colorado Scout, a little boy who identifies as a girl, and refusing to back down to right-wing pressure over the decision.

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Horn: Yes, we recognize the irony of giving devil’s horns to Scott Lively, the hyper-conservative Christian minister who set up shop in Springfield a few years ago. Infamous for meeting with Ugandan officials to discuss that country’s anti-homosexuality laws (one proposal considered by the government called for the death penalty), Lively recently grabbed local headlines for suggesting that the November gas line explosion at a Springfield strip club was a punishment from God. Honestly, if God starts doling out punishments, wouldn’t He start with folks who spread hatred in His Son’s name?

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Horn: In truth, there were so many instances of anti-labor ugliness and corporate greed this year that it’s hard to pick just one to wear the horns. But we nominate the Hostess executives who blamed their company’s failure on the demands of labor unions (who, in fact, had agreed to pay and benefit cuts to help the struggling company) while treating themselves to pay hikes and now, remarkably, $1.75 million in bonuses to oversee the now-bankrupt corporation’s dissolution. You, gentlemen, are an insult to the Sno Ball.

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More billion-dollar horns for global banksters and bank regulators. The former deserve them for manipulating the LIBOR rate, the housing market and the stock market and, most recently, laundering money for terrorist states and Mexican drug cartels. The latter are perhaps worse; though they levied collective fines against the banks in the billions of dollars, they’ve yet to put a single bank employee in jail.

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Not everyone on Beacon Hill deserves a halo, but let’s give one to Rep. Lori Ehrlich of Marblehead for filing a bill to speed up the classification and repair of natural gas pipeline leaks, and mandate that the gas companies share information about the locations of leaks with local police and firefighters.

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Horn: It’s too bad that Easthampton voters failed to gather enough signatures to force a recall election of City Councilor Donald Cykowski, who was caught on video making a racist remark about Puerto Ricans at a meeting and also was accused by the city’s former library director of ongoing sexual harassment. Horns to Cykowski for not just doing the right thing himself by resigning his seat and sparing Easthampton further embarrassment.

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Horn: Remind us again how the Springfield Republicanis keeping its promise to offer impartial coverage of the casino debate in that city, despite the fact that it stands to profit greatly by the plans of one potential developer to buy its property for a casino site. Could it be through its lack of coverage of residents who oppose the casino? Or is its refusal to air arguments that a casino would not necessarily be Springfield’s economic savior, and could, in fact, bring plenty of problems to the city? To the Republican goes a set of horns (which makes two sets this year).

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While other states are moving away from so-called “three strikes and you’re out” crime laws, recognizing that they’re overly broad and ineffective, Massachusetts this year went ahead and passed such a law. The list of Western Mass. legislators who voted for the law is, alas, so long that it’s easier to note those who were brave enough to stand up against the political pressure and vote against it: state Reps. Cheryl Coakley-Rivera (D-Springfield), Ben Swan (D-Springfield) and Tricia Farley-Bouvier (D-Pittsfield). Halos to all.

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Halo: Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley was the first AG in the nation to publicly support an amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision, warning that “individual people’s voices will continue to be steadily drowned out if corporations are allowed to spend billions in unreported and unaccounted funds to influence elections.” In April, she and 10 other AGs, including Vermont’s William Sorrell, wrote to Congress in support of such an amendment.

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New Jersey Governor Chris Christie squeaks in on this one, currently nurturing a fragile and pint-sized halo as previous bad behavior can’t be erased entirely with one wipe. Still, the blustery Republican deserves some real credit for tossing aside politics when faced with the devastation that Hurricane Sandy wrought on his state, working with and even speaking highly of President Obama, and especially for answering a loaded question from Fox’s Steve Doocy by saying, “If you think right now I give a damn about presidential politics, then you don’t know me.”

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In a key victory for progressives, Senator-elect Elizabeth Warren has the opportunity to bring accountability back to the financial industry thanks to her new appointment to the Senate Banking Committee. Historically a vocal proponent of the middle class, Dr. Warren already has some proven legitimacy as a defender of Main Street interests, having overseen the establishment of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau last July. We hope she brings (in addition to this halo) as much tenacity to the Senate as she has to being a regulator, and a little more middle to the “upper House.”

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Horns: Paul Caron of Springfield wins the Screwtape and Wormwood award for turning a job that should have been done with one or two phone calls to Washington into a $120,000 cash cow for his lobbying firm. The UniFirst uniform cleaning company in Indian Orchard wanted to buy a slice of neighboring Hubbard Park, and the purchase needed clearance from the National Park Service; what are public officials for? But wheeling, dealing and influence peddling turned the transaction into a lobbying plum and a testimony to the fact that K Street isn’t just in Washington; it’s all over the country.

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A pair of 30 billion-pound horns to the Mass. State Legislature’s Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, a weight roughly equivalent to that of unrecycled bottles that went into landfills in the past 15 years. While proponents have been trying to update the state’s bottle bill to include containers of non-carbonated beverages for the last decade and a half, and though some in the committee opposed its being sent out—again—for “study,” a larger conspiracy of silence has continually relegated the enormously popular legislation to death by procrastination.

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Sooty, tar-coated horns to TransCanada, for continuing to forcefully lobby to build its Keystone Pipeline to extract what many scientists have called the dirtiest oil on earth from Alberta’s tar sands. Said James Hansen, head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, of the prospect that the tar sands oil would be extracted and burned, “Essentially, it’s game over for the planet.”•

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