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Who wants to see Bud Williams elected the next mayor of Springfield?
Mike Albano, for one.
You remember Mike Albano. He's the four-term Springfield mayor who left the city with a debilitating fiscal deficit when he finally left office in 2003—a deficit that, coupled with declining state aid, almost landed Springfield in state receivership, before the state Legislature opted instead to create a Control Board to oversee city finances. He's the same guy who sat in the corner office during the city's most corrupt era—an era that culminated in the convictions of a number of his pals and hires (Anthony and Chester Ardolino, Gerry Phillips, Frankie Keough, to name a few). He's also the guy whose oft-professed devotion to Springfield apparently ended when he stopped receiving a pay check from the city, and promptly moved out to East Longmeadow.
With a track record like that, you'd think Albano would be the last guy Williams would want to have his name associated with as he gears up for a run at the mayor's seat this fall. But apparently Albano's checkered past doesn't bother Williams, who accepted hundreds of dollars in campaign donations from the disgraced ex-mayor over the past year.
Mayor Charlie Ryan, who succeeded Albano in office, made no bones during the 2003 campaign about his distaste for the crowd that controlled City Hall during that administration. "We're going to say goodbye to the fakers and the influence peddlers," Ryan promised supporters at a campaign rally that year. "I want the privilege of escorting them down the street and out of town." And, for four years under Ryan, the Albano crowd found itself with little purchase in City Hall.
When Ryan was defeated by Domenic Sarno in 2007, many in the city worried that Albano and his pals would find a more welcoming environment under the new administration. After all, there were more connections between the Albano and Sarno camps than between Albano's and Ryan's—starting with Charlie Kingston.
Kingston is the one-time Springfield tax collector who was convicted of tax fraud in 1994. (He was granted a new trial in 1999 and the following year pleaded guilty to misdemeanor tax charges.) Kingston had run Albano's successful campaign against then-state Rep. Paul Caron in 2001 (a particularly ugly campaign season and one that, had it ended differently, very well could have spared Springfield much of the fiscal distress it's experienced in recent years). Kingston also played a prominent role in Sarno's 2007 campaign against Ryan. In an interview with the Advocate at the time, Sarno described Kingston as a supporter and old family friend.
While the Sarno administration has had more than its share of problems, fears that it would be a repeat of the Albano years have apparently been unfounded. Indeed, according to several local political sources, Sarno's and Albano's relationship has been chilly.
Albano no doubt could expect a warmer welcome under a Williams administration. Williams, who announced earlier this year his plans to challenge Sarno in this fall's election, has been on the City Council for 15 years, two of them alongside Albano. After Albano was elected mayor in 1995, Williams was one of his most dependable allies on the Council. Perhaps it's that loyalty that's prompted Albano's generosity to Williams' campaign war chest.
According to the most recent reports filed with the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance, Williams has more than $36,500 in his campaign war chest—not far behind the incumbent Sarno, who has $42,500. (David Parkhurst, a hotel manager and third candidate for the seat, has $146.)
In April of this year, Albano gave Williams' campaign a $250 donation, half the total amount an individual can donate to a campaign in a calendar year. Albano also gave Williams two donations, totaling $350, in October and December of last year.
Williams is not the only Springfield city councilor to benefit from Albano's largess. The former mayor contributed $100 to Councilor Jimmy Ferrera in April; last year, Albano gave the maximum $500 to Ferrera's campaign. He also made a $125 contribution to Councilor Jose Tosado last month.
These days, Albano is a self-employed "public affairs consultant," with an office in East Longmeadow. His company is "a multi-disciplinary and dynamic consulting firm offering complete services in the public affairs and government relations, multi-media communications, and real estate development sectors," according to its website.
"We are your eyes and ears, monitoring information, sensing trends, drawing conclusions and making the connections others may miss," the website promises prospective clients. (Who "we" are is unclear; the site does not name any other employee of the firm).
"Connections," of course, are what consultants like Albano are selling—connections that can help clients land contracts, win necessary government approvals, or otherwise find the backing needed to move their projects forward. Albano, no doubt, is relying on his years in government to attract clients; his website still refers to him by the cloying (and self-assigned) nickname "Mayor Mike" and is filled with grip-and-grin photos of Albano with the various political big wigs and celebrities he met over his years in office (Bill Clinton and Rudy Giuliani, former Celtic Bill Walton and boxer Evander Holyfield, ethics-challenged former House Speakers Tom Finneran and Sal DiMasi).
The scrapbook snapshots notwithstanding, Albano presumably won't be phoning up Bill Clinton to call in some favors on behalf of his clients. Rather, it's Albano's local political connections that could come in handy—and that voters should, therefore, be watching closely.