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Between the Lines: Familiarity Breeds Contempt

One candidate’s change of heart

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Last month, when state Rep. Cheryl Coakley-Rivera (D-Springfield) announced that she was leaving her seat for a job in the Hampden Superior Court Clerk’s office, Sal Circosta decided to jump into the race to succeed her.

A month later, Circosta has changed his mind, citing an unwillingness to immerse himself further in Springfield’s political culture.

When he entered the race, Circosta expressed his disgust at the fact that, at the moment she was announcing her plans to leave office, Coakley-Rivera was already naming her preferred successor, Carlos Gonzalez, head of the Massachusetts Latino Chamber of Commerce. That immediate endorsement was “a slap in the face to democracy,” Circosta told the Advocate at the time. “It has politics written all over it. That’s politics as usual in this area.” And ultimately, it was politics as usual that prompted him to withdraw his candidacy.

While Circosta is interested in public service (he’s a member of the Army National Guard and sits on Springfield’s Community Police Hearing Board), he had been mulling over whether his generally conservative political perspective was the right fit for the seat, he said. “I started to think more and more: am I going to reflect the thoughts of the 10th District?”

Meanwhile, once he’d announced his interest in the seat, “All these political people started coming out of the woodwork and saying, ‘Sal, you’ve got to do this, you’ve got to say this, to get elected.’ … I started thinking: is it worth selling my soul to get elected?”

Circosta’s short-lived campaign afforded him a closer view of the local political scene, and, he said, he did not like what he saw. Growing up in Springfield, he said, he looked up to Italian-American politicians like Mayor Domenic Sarno, former mayor Mike Albano, state rep Angelo Puppolo. But as he’s gotten to know more and more elected officials, he said, his admiration has waned. “It is seldom that I’ve met a politician that I think is intelligent, that thinks, and thinks not, ‘What’s good for me?’ but about the big picture. … They all look at electability, the next election,” Circosta said.

“You start seeing the political machine in Springfield. You find out if you don’t get their blessing, they’re going to work against you,” he continued. “I’m not afraid of that. I like a good fight and a good debate…. But I don’t need to play those sort of games right now. I’ve got a lot on my plate.”

As he leaves the state rep race, Circosta is endorsing Springfield City Councilor Melvin Edwards, against whom he ran last year for the Council’s Ward 3 seat. “He’s been out in the field, getting his hands dirty more so than any other politician,” Circosta said of Edwards. “What I like about Melvin … is, he’s a guy who’s not out getting his picture taken everywhere.”

If Edwards does win the state rep seat, Circosta said, he might run again for the Ward 3 Council seat—a position where an official can be more directly connected his constituents than to the political machine.•

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