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Sectionalism and the City…

E pluribus, unum urbs.

Yes, that is not exactly how the saying goes. However, I say this with the intention of demonstrating a point. For all you Latin scholars out there, you know that what I said was Out of many, one CITY. No less than the City of Homes.

The philosophical commentary aside, we move on to today’s topic. It is a hot button issue in Springfield right now. No, its not the control board, though, rest assured they will find themselves here as well. Rather, it is ward representation.

For those you who do not know, the city of Springfield uses an at-large voting system to elect it city councilors. All nine are elected by everybody in the city at the same time as the mayor. Switching to ward-representation, as is done in Westfield, Holyoke, and Boston would divide the city, into equal districts. From each one, an councilor would be elected. Even before a rather dubious voting rights lawsuit was filed on behalf of Springfield citizens, there were those who supported ward representation as a fairer means to represent the city.

Unfortunately, this is a tricky issue. Personally, and I say this with limited reason for my opinion, I think the idea is defective. In theory the council would become more diverse and better represent the city. Proponents point to the city’s half white half minority status to suggest that change would occur. I contend that under a ward-based system, little would change. All wards do not vote equally. Voter turnout for municipal elections is historically low anyway. In addition, while some neighborhoods like Sixteen Acres are more white than the city by and large, and the opposite is true for minority neighborhoods most of the city’s neighborhoods are pretty well integrated. Thirty years ago, Forest Park was whiter than the city as a whole. Today, I believe it represents the city very well.

What it will do, however will benefit the neighborhoods more than the people themselves. Not at their expense, and possibly to their benefit. However, ward representation will provide a representative directly from the city’s disenfranchised neighborhoods. That doesn’t mean that, regardless of their race, they will serve others like them any better or poorly. However, for the same reason, ward representation is attacked as permitted councilors to use their influence to benefit their neighborhood at the expense of the city as a whole.

Now, I am sure that I have offended many people. However, fear not. I may oppose ward representation on a number of levels, but I also believe it is inevitable. Unlike Mayor Charles Ryan and Councilor Tosado, I agree with what Councilor Kateri Walsh proposes, which is a full look into the city charter. Its last revision was in the 50’s. If wards representation is to addressed, it CAN and MUST wait for such a wider revision. However, the sooner the revision the better. We may want to take a look at other elements of city government, such as mayoral term periods, composition of the city council, maybe abolishing the school committee. I only mention the school committee, as a point of debate because New York City moved control of schools to under the purview of the mayor. Could it work? I really do not know. But that is not what we’re talking about today.

Councilor Walsh has it right. We need to look at this issue through a much wider lens. She should know too. Elected months before the Control Board stepped in, she may see the city’s wider fiscal problems, which diminished home rule, connected to many other defects in the current administration of government. One way or another, the days of the 1950’s City charter are numbered. Let’s keep an open mind and work to make the next one good and effective for the next 50 years.

Springfield City Website City Council, Mayor’s Office, and other Resources For news and developments about Springfield and Ward Representation from The Republican