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Rebuilding from Tornado More Interesting than Sen. Brown…

The Crowd (mostly reporters) in Six Corners (WMassP&I)

Today in Springfield a mob of reporters, a few politicians and aides toured the Six Corners neighborhood of the city. It was one month ago today that a tornado touched down in Westfield and scarred the Massachusetts landscape from the Whip City to Brimfield, including the largely poor blocks along Central and Hancock Streets in Springfield.

Senator Scott Brown took another tour of the tornado ravaged section of the city. According to Brown, this particular expedition had been planned for next week, but when Harry Reid canceled the Senate’s Fourth of July recess, it got bumped to today. However, the walk around Hancock, Spruce, Beech and Central streets was surprisingly unimpressive, or more accurately the fact of the walk-around itself was unimpressive. A great deal of damage remains, blue and dark green tarps cap many homes and debris still clutters sidewalks and yards. However, there are signs reconstruction is well underway.

Indeed, although those recovery efforts were somewhat few, they were the highlight of the tour. The gaggle migrating through the streets, with reporters breaking off to get the same shot—Brown and Mayor Domenic Sarno chatting—seemed more like an intrusion than a help to the quiet, if ravaged neighborhood.

Sarno, Brown and Antonette Pepe on Spruce St (WMassP&I)

While Sarno was undoubtedly and dutifully informing Brown about recovery efforts in the city, their conversation or what could be heard while trying to keep pace, seemed somewhat boilerplate. The tone and tenor of the discussion could just as easily have taken place with Brown sitting in his office. Some reporters noted—off camera and out of earshot of the Senator—that Brown acknowledged residents and workers, which Sarno ebulliently greeted, with an unenthused royal wave. Brown did not even stop to greet the man in a garage off Central Street who praised him.

Elsewhere, work crews patched up houses even as the crumbled remains of others settled further into the earth. New housing stricken by the tornado was sheathed in green material and being repaired. Several families sat on their stoops watching their children play. Cars slowed partly out of curiosity of the mob’s purpose or because the road was obstructed by the tide of human masses as a cop tried to wave the traffic around.

Sen. Brown and Mayor Sarno (WMassP&I)

When the gaggle reconnoitered at the Elias Brookings School, Brown and Sarno gave some remarks. Just before the mini-Q&A started, one reporter opted to wire Brown, rather than kill their arm’s circulation and hold out a microphone. Initially, Brown’s mic was about mid shirt, but he fiddled with it, and the mic seemed to snag one of his buttons. Brown turned around to adjust the mic (and his shirt apparently) as another reporter made a remark about Brown taking his shirt off. A different reporter (your Editor-in-Chief) blurted out, “This ain’t Cosmo!” which roused a brief roar of laughter.

Sarno praised Brown, as well as Senator John Kerry, Cong. Richard Neal and gubernatorial Dynamic Duo Gov. Deval Patrick and Lt. Gov. Tim Murray. When Brown spoke, he praised officials. However, he seemed to largely echo Sarno, even blandly reiterating the mayor’s reference to the synergy between municipal, state and federal resources. Then the conversation started tilting toward taxes and the debt ceiling (which was the alleged reason Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid cancelled the recess).

Brown said taxes are absolutely off the table. However, he was oddly more explicit than Republicans tend to be, as they usually say “raising taxes,” which is generally not viewed as the same thing as taxes or revenue in general. Complicating matters further, Brown appeared to contradict himself when he later said taxes cannot be considered until everything else is looked at. Well, then this happened:

“There’s a whole host of things you can do before raising taxes. Why is it that the first thing people think about? We could repatriate our money, streamline, consolidate, we can. Payroll tax deduction for businesses to create jobs to stimulate the economy,” Brown said.

Sen. Scott Brown (WMassP&I)

Um, okay! Earlier, in response to a question from WMassP&I that asked what Brown is telling his Republican colleagues with regard to how government is working correctly here after the storm, Brown seemed to deflect. He claimed not to understand the question. Going further, WMassP&I offered as an extreme example, Sen. Mike Lee of Utah who has called federal disaster aid unconstitutional. “You’d have to ask Sen. Lee about that,” Brown said dismissively. Then oddly he actually answered the question (sort of) by talking again about how things were going well in Springfield. When the topics returned to taxes, Brown concluded with how the United States, after impending adjustments to Japan’s tax code, will have the highest marginal corporate tax rate. Before WMassP&I could note that companies like GE pay no corporate income tax, Brown stopped answering questions.

Brown stood aside the gaggle which endured a bit longer with Sarno. At one point a reporter noted that things were getting back to normal as the mayor was touring the city with a tie on as opposed to, in the mayor’s words “jeans, a golf shirt and work boots.” Soon thereafter, things wound down. Brown left for another, similar walk-around in Sturbridge, while Sarno went to City Hall to excoriate the City Council for protecting the city’s stabilization fund.

Many of the TV reporters went around to other houses to get a few shots in front of damaged lots for the conclusion of their reports. WGGB’s Ray Herschel actually interviewed fellow reporter G. Michael Dobbs of the Reminder as the latter’s home was nearby and had sustained damage. WGGB noted that Dobbs’ car was totaled in the storm.

House on Beech Street (WMassP&I)

Beyond that though, despite the flurry of reporters, the media seemed to yawn at Brown’s visit. There simply was no story. Most write-ups were short and focused more on rebuilding and could have just as easily omitted Brown and been just as informative. Brown delivered no message of additional federal aid; no announcement of a bill in the Senate to augment standing federal disaster programs; no groundbreaking opinions on taxes or the debt ceiling (his bizarre statement that appeared to be about repatriating foreign profits of American companies notwithstanding). A few pats on the head and words of praise, but no biscuits.

We contemplated what degree of snark and commentary was appropriate for this report and found that frankly the biggest news was that there simply was not any. Still, we are being kind. Although this blog has no problem tearing officials down whenever appropriate, the standard for this blog has generally been there must be a there, there. Today, “there was no there, there” on the streets of Six Corners, other than the encouraging, if slow signs of recovery…and the mob of reporters following an otherwise non-story.