Amaad Rivera is not exactly receiving a universally warm welcome as he gets ready to join the Springfield City Council.
Rivera will be sworn in to the Ward 6 seat at the first Council meeting of the new session, on Jan. 3. He’ll replace Keith Wright, who resigned from the seat mid-term to spend more time with his infant son, who was born prematurely this summer and continues to have special health needs. In cases of a mid-term resignation, the empty seat goes to the person who finished in second place for the seat—in this case, Rivera.
In this morning’s Springfield Republican, reporter Pete Goonan writes about what he calls “continuing questions raised about [Rivera’s] residency and eligibility to serve on the council.” According to Goonan, city election officials have been contacted by a number of people questioning whether Rivera actually lives in the ward, and therefore is eligible to hold the seat. The questions appear to be sparked, in part, by the fact that Rivera is a full-time graduate student at Brandeis University, in Waltham—about 80 miles, or 90 minutes, down the MassPike.
Among those raising the question was at-large Councilor Tim Rooke, who told the Republican, “It’s called due diligence to protect the integrity of the entire City Council.”
Gladys Oyola, the city’s new election secretary, and City Solicitor Ed Pikula have both confirmed that Rivera lives in Ward 6.
The questions about Rivera’s residency appear to be just part of larger criticisms, from some Ward 6 residents, about whether the newest councilor is, in fact, connected to the neighborhood and its concerns.
Ward seats were added to the City Council with the 2009 election, after years of activism by residents who argued that ward councilors would be more responsive to neighborhood concerns than at-large councilors, and that the new system would bring direct representation to neighborhoods that rarely, if ever, see one of their residents elected to the Council.
While some of the inaugural ward races were disappointingly anemic, the race in Ward 6 was lively and, at times, heated. Wright, the eventual winner, largely enjoyed the support of the strong network of neighborhood activists in the Forest Park area. Rivera drew much of his support from social-justice groups and labor unions; among the organizations endorsing his campaign were ¿Oiste?, a Latino political activist group based in Boston; the Gay and Lesbian Labor Activist Network, or GALLAN, also based in Boston; and labor groups including the Pioneer Valley Central Labor Council, UAW 2322, the New England Regional Council of Carpenters, and SEIU 1199.
Supporters of Rivera pointed to his base of support as evidence of his concern for issues of social justice, equality, and workers’ rights. Others, however, were left uneasy to see a candidate for ward councilor—whose first responsibility, by definition, is to the neighborhood that elected him—receive so much support from outside Ward 6 and, indeed, outside Springfield.
Wright won that election with 1,444 votes to Rivera's 1,292.
To find out more about Rivera’s vision for the city, check out his website, or his responses to a detailed candidate questionnaire distributed by the Forest Park Civic Association during the 2009 election.
Postscript: After posting this article, I got a message from Amaad Rivera questioning, fairly, the fairness of describing GALLAN and ¿Oiste? as Boston-based groups. While both organizations are headquartered in Boston, they have active arms in western Mass.; indeed, it should be noted that, locally, ¿Oiste? was active in the campaign to bring ward representation to the Springfield City Council in the first place.