Today’s a day of political disappointments in Springfield.
First up on the list of bad news: U.S. Rep. Richie Neal has been bypassed for the much-coveted chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee—a powerful position that could have yielded great benefits for his constituents.
Neal had been angling for the seat for months, since New York Congressman Charlie Rangel stepped down from the position earlier this year amidst an embarrassing ethics scandal. Things had been looking good for Neal, the former Springfield mayor, when a House nominating committee named him as its pick to succeed Rangel. But yesterday, the Democratic caucus voted, 109-78, to instead give the job to Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan, who’s been the acting chairman since Rangel stepped aside.
The changing of the guard at Ways and Means provides as opportunity for peek at the rather unsavory way political power is distributed in our political system. As reporter Ben Storrow writes in this morning’s Daily Hampshire Gazette, Neal’s campaigning for the job relied heavily on the time-honored tradition of campaign money passing from hand to hand. According to Storrow’s report, Neal raised considerable campaign funds over the last year, and passed $235,000 of it on to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. As Valley political consultant Matt Barron points out in the article, “Neal went out of his way to shower money on folks,” which would then allow him to “call in a chip for their vote” when the time came to select a new Ways and Means chair. Apparently, however, Neal’s hefty contributions paled in comparison to Levin’s, who’s given about $430,000 to the DCCC since last year, Storrow reported. Also working in Levin’s favor were his years of seniority.
At the risk of sounding morbid, it’s worth nothing that Levin, at 79 years old, isn’t likely to hold on to that seat forever, which could open it up to the 61-year-old Neal down the road. Then again, as Springfield residents know well, not all politicians wither during their senior years—witness former Mayor Charlie Ryan, who found his political second wind in his 80s, to the great benefit of the city.
Next up on the bad news report: freshman City Councilor Keith Wright has announced his resignation, effective Dec. 31.
Wright—Ward 6’s first councilor under the new ward representation system—broke the news in an email to supporters yesterday. In the announcement, Wright said he decided to leave the Council to spend more time with his wife and infant son, Joseph, who was born prematurely earlier this year and spent 76 days in the hospital before finally coming home.
The baby, Wright wrote, “still requires around the clock care,” so in addition to taking a leave of absence from his job teaching in a city school, he’s also decided to step down from the Council. “It has been an honor to have served this past year as City Councilor, and I look forward to being able to give additional time to my son and wife in the coming year,” Wright added.
While there’s been no official word yet from City Hall, seats vacated mid-term are typically filled by the candidate who finished in second-place in the last election. In this case, that would be Amaad Rivera, who finished behind Wright in the 2009 election. And there’s a spot of potential good news: while Forest Park is losing an enthusiastic and dedicated councilor in Wright, Rivera, whose campaign highlighted economic fairness, youth development and environmental protection, could be an exciting addition to the Council.