Wednesday, November 09, 2011 • 10:53 AM Comments (4)

Not Much New in Election News

posted by Maureen Turner

So the voters have spoken—at least, the 22 percent who showed up at the polls—and their message, apparently, is a simple one: We’re pretty happy with the way things are.

Incumbent Mayor Domenic Sarno, of course, held on to his seat handily, with 72 percent of the vote. While challenger and City Council President Jose Tosado fared better than he had in the Sept. 20 three-way preliminary race—he won 28 percent of the vote yesterday, up from 23 percent in September—his numbers have to be disappointing to supporters, who saw him as the candidate with a new vision for the city. Interestingly, Tosado, the numbers would suggest, didn’t pick up much of the vote that went to the third candidate in the preliminary, School Committee member Antonette Pepe, who had won 16 percent of the vote in September and endorsed Tosado after her elimination.

So why did Tosado—always a top vote-getter in City Council races—fail to ignite voter passion? It’s not that his campaign didn’t have a solid platform; his website and campaign literature were full of detailed plans on education, public safety, economic development. Rather, it seems, his campaign lacked a solid campaign, an effective way of getting that message out to residents. Then again, maybe residents heard his message, and rejected it.

Because the mayoral and City Council terms are concurrent, Tosado had to give up his Council seat to run for mayor. That means we won’t get to see Tosado press for some of the ideas he articulated in his mayoral campaign on the Council. It also means the Council will lose one of its strongest critics of the incumbent administration—something a healthy city government always needs. (Not that Sarno will be shy on critics, with veteran at-large Councilor Tim Rooke leading the way.)

Voters also showed themselves uninterested in change on the City Council, re-electing all four incumbents who were on the ballot (Rooke, Tommy Ashe, Kateri Walsh and Jimmy Ferrera), as well as the one ward councilor (Ward 8’s John Lysak) who faced competition this year. Even the “new” faces are far from new: Ken Shea, who won the uncontested race for the Ward 6 Council seat left vacant by incumbent Amaad Rivera’s decision to run at large was a long-time member of the School Committee. And the at-large seat left vacant by Tosado was filled by former City Councilor Bud Williams, who left the Council in 2009 to run a failed mayoral campaign. (Williams’ mayoral campaign, in fact, actually fared better than Tosado’s; while Williams ran a decidedly weaker campaign, he won almost 30 percent of the vote in 2009, compared to Tosado’s 28 percent yesterday.)

One of Mike Albano’s most reliable go-to guys, Williams is an opportunistic pol, who flipped-flopped on crucial issues like ward representation and needle exchange and who, infamously, admitted to sometimes “dozing” during Council meetings. By putting him back on the Council, voters missed an opportunity to inject some new blood into the group—not that the field of challengers was all that inspiring (although I was especially disappointed not to see Charles Rucks, head of Springfield Neighborhood Housing Services, catch the attention of more voters.)

The only incumbent not to win re-election was Rivera, and that loss will carry an asterisk in the record book. Rivera did not lose the Ward 6 seat he now holds—although, given his rocky relationships with many of his Forest Park constituents, he very likely would have. Indeed, perhaps mindful of this, Rivera had opted instead to run for an at-large seat, which, he said, would have allowed him to focus on some of the larger, city-wide issues he’s interested in, such as foreclosure prevention, economic equity and environmental justice. His loss means the Council loses one of its most progressive voices, while gaining, in Williams, a guy who sat mutely on the Council while the city’s finances collapsed.

Finally, while this is a Springfield-issues blog, I can’t resist a nod to Alex Morse, who upset all kinds of political apple carts in Holyoke yesterday by beating incumbent Mayor Elaine Pluta. Morse’s victory in Holyoke could have implications for the entire region, given his opposition to a casino in the city. It also makes you wonder: where are the similarly bright, energetic new leaders here in Springfield?

Comments (4)
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...and thank you Tom Vannah. Patti Devine took a huge hit based on prior election results and has been unseated! I count you as responsible for this - after Patti herself, of course - she chose her actions but it was the Advocate not the Republican that was willing to expose her for her true colors. See here for some unintentional humor on her part.

Posted by pronoblem on 11.9.11 at 17:39

In my opinion, Springfield's low voter turn-out was caused bythe fact that this was not a 'sea-change' election for Springfield. The candidates were not arguing about 'big ideas' or 'vision' - they were, essentially, talking 'inside baseball,' so to speak, on whether to change Springfield's procedures, (slightly.)

Arguably, the biggest differentiator between the two candidates was race and ethnicity; however, in my opinion - as a Downtown Springfielder - it seemed as though people were evaluating Tosado as a politician rather than a "Latino politician," and in my opinion, that was noble. (Just in running for mayor, I believe that Mr. Tosado did Springfield's Latinos. He ran an admirable, gentlemanly campaign.)

This leaves us with Mayor Sarno. In just 2011, Sarno deflected two school corruption scandals; he gave a building that numerous reports insisted be set aside for market-rate housing to a "friend" who insists on making it into more office space, (even though the office building across the street is empty except for two floors;) he allowed Palmer Paving to move forward with their BioMass Plant, despite the reported health risks, while also taking Mass (es) of cash from the company; last week he "lambasted" WMECO, while not addressing the failings of Springfield's DPW (the Apremont Triangle is still impassable; also, it seems like this Mayor's solution to almost everything involves creating a board of corporate big-wigs -- DevelopSpringfield, charged with planning after the tornado: I'm lookin' at you! -- and he always seems to select the same people, and thus we never really get anywhere.

I love living in downtown Springfield; I don't love its current politicians. Unfortunately, a low voter turnout favors the incumbents, because it means that people simply aren't energized enough to come out in droves. Personally, I think that was the case here. In 4 years, I hope that we can have the 'big idea,' 'vision' race which, in my opinion, our city needs.

Posted by Justin Marsh on 11.11.11 at 5:52

Justin, I agree; voters didn't see this as a "sea-change" election (the way, apparently, many Holyoke voters did). If I had a dollar for evey person who told me they didn't see very much separating the two candidates, well, I'd treat all the voters who actually voted to coffee. But, of course, there was at least one thing that made this a very important election year: the extension of the term from two years to four.

What do you think it would take to get the city to that big idea/vision race in four years? Do you see potential leaders on the horizon who can run that sort of campaign - and get people to care? Because that's where city politics always falters - the same small group of people, with very little new blood. Tosado tried to run a "vision" campaign, but we see how that panned out.

I see lots of smart, committed people doing good things in the city, but I don't see many of them running for office.

Posted by Mo Turner on 11.11.11 at 8:26

That's why Tim Rooke backed the idea of giving the mayor's position a pay raise. It's kind of hard to get a successful person - who's maybe making 2-to-4 hundred grand a year - to take a considerable pay hit (and now for four years at least) in order to help clean up a city that's basically been run on cruise control for years by mayors and councilors who, with rare exception, have no idea whatsoever how to successfully run a business, never mind a city, and are relying on appointed officials to do things for them.

I think that's also a big reason why this city has a habit of hiring administrators (for whatever department) and never firing them, as City Councilor Melvin Edwards once wryly noted when he first got into office. (Do we ever hire someone who does poorly and we end up having to dismiss them? Apparently not.) I, for one, am sick and tired of hearing city officials - whether it's the Mayor, Schools Super Alan Ingram ("Plante is doing great!"), or anyone else - brag about how great a job all these hacks are doing, and yet every year we're still greeted with one scandal after another.

Posted by Bill Dusty on 11.14.11 at 11:18



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