Friday, November 04, 2011 • 4:53 PM Comments (5)

Election Countdown: Stormy Weather

posted by Maureen Turner

The freak tornado that hit Springfield June 1 had one bright side, at least for Mayor Domenic Sarno: it created lots of opportunities for him to show up in the media, reaching out to affected residents and vowing to help them get back on their feet.

And while I’m not suggesting that the mayor welcomed such a devastating event—so save the offended emails—it would be naïve to pretend that Sarno didn’t enjoy a public-opinion boost in the days and weeks after the storm. Indeed, the Springfield Republican, in its recent endorsement of the incumbent, cites Sarno’s response to the tornado as one reason he deserves re-election.

Last weekend’s freak snowstorm—and, notably, the subsequent long-term power losses—don’t appear to be serving Sarno as well. As Springfield residents have faced day after day in dark, cold homes, criticism has mounted of the administration’s efforts to get the city cleaned up, lighted up, and generally up and running again.

Sarno, meanwhile, has aimed his criticism at Western Mass. Electric, for not restoring power to the city faster. Earlier this week, the mayor held a press conference to announce that he had been in “constant contact” with upper management at WMECO—and made it clear that he wasn’t happy with them. “The resources that have been devoted to the City of Springfield, the largest community affected, have not been sufficient and therefore the job is not getting done,” Sarno said. “I am becoming increasingly frustrated by WMECO’s response. Utility companies are never hesitant to have rate increases, however, residents need services and it’s now time for them to perform.

“I thank the residents of Springfield for their ongoing patience and resiliency and assure them that I will not tolerate this type of response,” the mayor added. Yesterday, Sarno followed up with an announcement that he’s asked Attorney General Martha Coakley to investigate WMECO’s response to the storm.

One Springfield resident who is not impressed with Sarno’s latest post-storm performance: City Council President José Tosado, who happens to be his opponent in next Tuesday’s mayoral election.

“Mayor Sarno doesn’t mind taking credit for the good stuff,” Tosado charged in a campaign release. “But when something goes wrong, it’s always someone else’s fault.

“No doubt WMECO’s slow response made a bad situation worse. But the Mayors DPW and Parks Department let residents down, too. Roads were not pre-treated, and even major roadways were left unplowed and blocked by trees days after the storm. As of yesterday, traffic signals at thirty intersections were still not functional,” Tosado continued.

Tosado also accused Sarno of milking the tornado for political advantage. WMECO’s response in that case, Tosado said, “was truly outstanding. ... But the Mayor made sure the spotlight was only on him, generating more photo ops and free media exposure that any amount of campaign contributions could buy.”

Sarno’s criticism of the utility “is just the latest example of the mayor avoiding responsibility,” went on Tosado, accusing Sarno for failing to be a strong leader on issues ranging from violent crime to the wood-burning power plant proposed in East Springfield to the recent audit showing rampant fraud at Putnam high school.

Meanwhile, a third municipal candidate has a different response to the post-storm fiasco: Orlando Ramos, who is challenging John Lysak for the Ward 8 City Council seat, suggests that the city consider creating a public utility, similar to those in Holyoke and Chicopee, to ensure better response time in the future.

“WMECO has failed us miserably!” Ramos said in a press release. “It’s not a coincidence that a City like Holyoke—which has publicly-owned gas and electricity—had a much quicker response time than other communities.” A city utility would also result in reduced costs to ratepayers, he contended.

“This is not something that is going to happen overnight; but I think it certainly does warrant a comprehensive study. I would support the creation of [a] special commission to evaluate the pros and cons of having a publicly-owned power company,” Ramos said.

Comments (5)
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A public utility... with an accompanying public union, public union wages, municipal pension program, etc. and so on. Just what Springfield needs. WMECO's lackluster performance was due to a lack of intiative in innovatation and planning, which in turn is largely due to its near monopoly in the region. It has far too few bodies for the area it manages. I think the cities mentioned by Ramos were better off not because they had public utilities, but because those utilities had less territory to manage.

Posted by Bill Dusty on 11.5.11 at 10:16

Bill, if you think those communities were able to respond better because they had less territory to manage, then you should be in favor of a municipal power company in Springfield because it would cover a lot less territory than WMECO/NU.

WMECO doesn't have a "near monopoly". It has a total monopoly. Each community is served by a single power company. In this case, it is better for that company to be run by the public, accountable to voters, than by a for-profit company, accountable to shareholders who don't live here.

Posted by Muni on 11.7.11 at 21:28

In my opinion, since the disbanding of Springfield's Finance Board in June '09, Mayor Sarno has proven to be far more talk than action. Under the Finance Board's direction, various assessments and advisors provided Sarno with 'vision,' like the National Urban Land Institute's Plan for Springfield and the Zimmerman/Volk Downtown Residential Housing Assessment -- and he was responsive... Until the Finance Board left.

Unfortunately, after the Finance Board left, so (it seemed) did Mayor Sarno's vision.

Springfield suffered several corruption scandals in its schools; cronyism deals for downtown land parcels, which went to Springfield's "good ol' boys" in bid process that seemed... Unfair, (e.g. the landmark Court Square building, which was touted for market-rate residential housing by all of the Finance Board assessments, but which the Mayor instead decided to give to Picknelly's son, to build yet more Springfield office space -- this, when the office tower directly across the street from the Court Square building is empty except for two floors, i.e. the Sovereign Bank building.)

All assessments are clear about one fact: what Springfield needs is more market-rate housing downtown to increase the liveliness and the desirability of visiting Springfield. (Also, the ULI has been clear that Riverfront development must be pursued -- even going so far as to organize a conference regarding the Riverfront in 2010. No action regardiing the riverfront has yet been taken.)

In that vein, not a single, new market-rate downtown home has been created under Mayor Sarno -- in 4 years.

Additionally, there have been confused plans regarding how to rebuild Springfield's several tornado effected neighborhoods -- several prominent boards have been created to address the issue (featuring the same ol' faces who've failed to get anything going in this city during previous years,) but naturally, nothing is happening.

Unfortunately, I believe that machine politics will carry the day today, and that Mayor Sarno will win; however, I believe that Springfielders (like Holyoke residents during the past several years) are getting wise to the fact that our city's government WORKS FOR US.

Springfield does not belong to just the Mayor and 50 or so business cronies -- it belongs to all of us... Soon, I believe, someone will come along who shows genuine consideration for all of Springfield's residents -- and a purity of intention for making this city even better instead of making his/her friends happy.

Posted by Justin Marsh on 11.8.11 at 15:06

Muni,

I am most definitely NOT in favor of a municipal power company. That is not the answer. Your statement that a public utitiliry would be 'accountable to the voters' is laughable. The expense of such a utility, after pensions, public union wages, health insurance, etc., would be catastrophic for the city's remaing taxpayers, and the incompetence, corruption, political favoritism and nepotisim that plagues the city's existing public institutions would only spread to the utitlity.

Posted by Bill Dusty on 11.10.11 at 15:35

Long-term power losses in the past were relegated to the rural areas. Now, increasingly, the long-term power losses are in the suburban areas. Look at Connecticut as a prime example. One of the wealthiest areas in the U.S. and their power has been off for over five days. Something is seriously wrong within the utility companies across the country.

Posted by NeatDesk Desktop Document Scanner Review on 11.10.11 at 17:39
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