Tuesday, February 08, 2011 • 1:23 PM Comments ()

The State of the City

posted by Maureen Turner

Late last month, Jose Tosado officially kicked off the 2011 campaign season with his announcement that he plans to run for mayor. This week, Mayor Domenic Sarno more or less kicked off his own campaign, with his State of the City address on Monday.

The mayor’s address was, of course, not an official campaign event. But being the incumbent has its obvious privileges, among them the ability to convene city department heads and elected officials (or perhaps I should say “elected official,” singular—of the 13 city councilors, all but Ward 3’s Melvin Edwards were conspicuous in their absence), call in the media and give a lengthy speech on what you’ve accomplished in office, and what you plan to do in the future.

Sarno’s speech was, in keeping with his general approach to the job of mayor, decidedly upbeat. “I am very pleased to report that the state of our beloved City of Springfield is strong and is steadily improving,” he began. “This is no small accomplishment. Just a few years ago, we lost our fiscal autonomy to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. But, as a result of making tough choices and with persistent hard work, we have regained our financial independence. We have moved forward decisively and we have generated substantial momentum in every dimension of city government. And, we did this in the face of the worst global economy since the great depression.”

Sarno’s speech touted a list of accomplishments that we’re sure to hear repeated on the campaign trail, from improvements in the city’s bond rating, to the retiring of a $52 million loan from the state, to a new property tax rate which he described as both “pro-homeowner and pro-jobs.” Sarno talked about new school renovation projects, redevelopment efforts on Main and State streets, and public health programs to address teen pregnancy and the health care needs of homeless people.

The mayor even tossed in a little humor: “The City of Springfield, like municipalities all across the country, has been dealing with steadily declining revenues. But, believe me, Springfield will continue to exercise strong fiscal discipline, and we will successfully weather any storm … even an occasional snowstorm.”

Ba-dum-dum.

(I’m not sure if Sarno was going for humor when, near the end of his speech, he used the line: “And always remember and never forget … We are one, we are strong, and we are Springfield.” That phrase—“always remember, and never forget”—rolled around in my head for awhile, bumping up against my store of lame 1970s sit-com memories. Finally, no longer able to stand it, I Googled the expression, and found it was the catch phrase of Schneider, the benignly lecherous apartment-building super on “One Day At a Time.” I’m going to assume that Sarno was not intending to invoke that ignoble pop-culture reference, and that any association is solely my own, low-brow fault.)

In any case, credit to Sarno for going for some levity—because as much of his speech made clear, his job is not exactly a barrel of laughs. Despite the mayor’s relentless optimism, many of the achievements noted in his speech were tempered by the larger, bleaker context in which they take place: The mayor talked about the hiring of new cops and the reduction in certain crime categories, while acknowledging “the acts of violence and murders that are affecting so many of our City’s youth. … The gang-against-gang and drug-related killings are senseless and we must continue to strive to eliminate this violence.” He spoke of improvements in the MCAS scores of city school kids, while acknowledging: “Our graduation rate is too low… Our drop-out rate is too high.”

And under the issue of economic development, a number of the high points—the new state data center in the former Tech High, the controversial redevelopment of the former federal building on Main Street—were projects funded by public dollars, not private capital, or were job-retention or creation deals in which corporations (Titeflex, Smith & Wesson) got tax breaks.

“I am proud of all that we have accomplished together. And I hope you are, too,” the mayor said in conclusion. “But my Administration will not rest on its laurels. There is more work to be done.”

Come November, will Springfield voters choose Sarno to keep doing that work? Will they instead go with Tosado, or School Committee member Antonette Pepe, who’s also considering a run for mayor? Or will another, as-yet-unannounced candidate jump into the race?

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