The Year in Springfield 2012…
UPDATED 11:51PM: For clarity, grammar and accuracy.
Another year, and another raucous political era in the City of Homes. Everything from local politics at 36 Court Street to the Presidential election had their impacts upon Springfield. Petty politics reigned early on at the City Council, the presidential campaign, albeit its fundraising arm, came through the city and the path to a new senator’s victory
Mayor Domenic Sarno took the oath of office in January, starting both his and the city’s first four-year mayoral term. The Council, for its part, remained relatively static only bringing on once and again at-large Councilor Bud Williams and Ward 6 Councilor Ken Shea. Councilor Jimmy Ferrera, the only pre-ward representation at-large councilor to not be Council President, finally got his turn to hold the gavel.
However, Ferrera, ignoring Uncle Ben’s great admonition, “with great power, comes great responsibility,” quickly found himself in a place that is rare even for Springfield’s imperfect councilors. In an move unprecedented in recent Council history, Ferrera shafted two of his rivals, giving one, Ward 2 Councilor Mike Fenton zero standing committee assignments. This prompted a wide backlash in the press. No, not just the sanctimony of this space and other blogs, but biting headlines in the Republican as well.
Rebukes from civic associations in Fenton’s ward and in high-turnout Ward 7 (represented by Tim Allen) were also in abundance prompting further headlines as well as private thrashing by other citizens.
The Council did have one critical victory, however. Its appeal of the building permit required of the proposed Page Boulevard biomass plant came before the Zoning Board of Appeals. Technically, the ZBA ruled on the appeal submitted by Springfield resident Michaelann Bewsee, but the merits, if not the standing of both appeals were the same. The Council’s appeal was later accepted as well firming up biomass opponents’ position ahead of court battles over the issue.
Across the nation, very different battles were being waged. Republicans trades out the frontrunners in their presidential primary contest like square dancers trading partners. Our own Mitt Romney, never the front runner took New Hampshire and then Florida, but only after carpet bombing Newt Gingrich, of all people, with SuperPAC ads. After Gingrich and other fell, Romney had the nomination by April.
However, Romney was not the only one who used SuperPACs to great effect. “Pundit” Stephen Colbert formed his own SuperPAC and even briefly ran for “President of the United States of South Carolina.” Colbert brought to light the absurdity and danger of the nation’s post-Citizens United campaign finance system.
Meanwhile in Massachusetts , another contest was heating up. Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard Law professor and creator of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau cleared the Democratic field. Polls between Warren and incumbent Scott Brown showed a close race leading into the State Democratic Convention in Springfield.
Then Warren suffered a torrent of news reports over her Native American heritage. As history would bear out, the complicated nature of her claim is all, but common in Warren’s native Oklahoma. While the issue dogged Warren for much of May, at the convention, Warren captured over 90% of delegates’ votes (and kept her only remaining challenger off the ballot).
Back in Springfield, tragedy struck the city when Police Office Kevin Ambrose died, ostensibly saving the life of a women involved in a domestic dispute. He became the city’s first cop killed in the line of duty since the deaths of Alain Beauregard and Michael Schiavina in 1985.
The city faced another tough budget. Unlike last year, however, the Council could not bring itself to cut anything out of the budget. Savings were needed and libraries took cuts in the throat. Three branches were closed. Only after a bid by Councilor Allen and others to save his neighborhood’s library and others, which involved raising the trash fee, were the closures averted.
President Obama had a good spring for his part. After Vice-President Joe Biden blew up the president’s spot, Obama came out of the closet in support of same-sex marriage. While the timing is debatable, the results were anything, but bad for the president. He secured a boost in support (both in enthusiasm and donations) from supporters and may very well have helped push 2012 into being one of the best years for gay rights. Marriage equality would go on to win at the ballot box in all four states in which it appeared.
Obama’s spring got even better when the US Supreme Court upheld his signature domestic policy achievement, the Affordable Care Act. Many media outlets got the news wrong, but in the end the truth was the law was constitutional. The shocker, however, was not that it was upheld, but that the swing vote was Chief Justice John Roberts, a Bush II appointee.
Primary Day, a bizarre Thursday election, decided the outcome of many races as they often lacked Republican opponents.
The redistricted Hampden Senate race pitted West Springfield’s James Welch and Springfield Ward 3 Councilor Melvin Edwards in a contest where Springfield constituted the overwhelming majority of the district. West Springfield and Chicopee lined up behind Welch. Several Springfield City Councilors lined up behind Edwards. Left unclear, however, is how succession would work if Edwards won a seat in the legislature.
Edwards was injured at a charity basketball game shortly before the primary, severely curtailing his ability to campaign. That and poor turnout in Springfield, ultimately did Edwards’ bid in. While the city’s turnout exceeded our expectations and favored Edwards, it failed to match the city’s proportion of the district. Welch, facing no general election opposition was secure for another term.
The Clerk of Courts races started out tamely, but descended into acrimony at the last minute. The four-way Democratic primary race between Springfield at-large Tom Ashe, assistant clerk of courts Laura Gentile, former Ludlow selectman John DaCruz and Chicopee legal administrator Linda Stec DiSanti was a battle for sure. The candidates faced off on whose resume was the best, who had the best vision for the office, and whose vision was the most practical.
Ashe had been seen as a frontrunner because of the bulk of the political establishment behind him. However, in point of fact, both he and Gentile had cleaved the Springfield-based vote in two. Last minute attacks against both candidates, the sources of both unknown, made an entrance at the last minute. Gentile ultimately claimed the big prize, facing no Republican opposition in November.
An open governors council seat went to former Springfield mayor Michael Albano who had no apparent campaign apparatus. Albano, freshman Chicopee City Council Gerry Roy, and Westfield School Committeeperson Kevin Sullivan competed for the open seat.
Springfield’s Congressman, Richard Neal, too, faced a primary. His district, after redistricting, included Berkshire County inviting challenges from Pittsfield’s Andrea Nuciforo and activist Bill Shein. While the race was imperfect, it was clear early on that Neal had made the necessary moves to lock up support in the Berkshires, despite his own expected advantage in Greater Springfield. Another race lacking a Republican, Neal won the primary with room to spare.
In business, Springfield also attracted a great deal of attention as three companies proposed casinos in the city. Ameristar, MGM and Penn National Gaming all submitted bids putting Springfield in the running to host Western Massachusetts’ sole casino. So far only Mohegan Sun’s Palmer bid is the only non-Springfield proposal. Ameristar would ultimately pull out. The competition in Springfield briefly brought Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse to reverse himself on casino opposition. After a public backlash, Morse reverted to his anti-casino stance.
Springfield would also have a cameo in the Presidential Election as First Lady Michelle Obama came to the city for a fundraiser. The presidential race would take on a new face after Mitt Romney was caught on tape disparaging nearly half of Americans who, in his words “believe that they are victims.” After the Republican Convention, which was widely panned, and the Democratic Convention, where Michelle Obama and Bill Clinton stole the show, Romney’s remarks seemed to mark the death knell for his campaign.
Shortly before the conventions, Romney picked Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan, author of the budget to voucherize Medicare as his running mate. Ryan, who never faced much scrutiny despite being crowned a “serious” budget person by the Washington media, slowly fell into the background despite the excitement Republicans had for his place on the ticket.
The convention also proved another turning point for Elizabeth Warren. While her summer ads had been given the thumbs-down by critics, her speech in Charlotte, warming up the crowd for Bill Clinton, solidified Democratic support in Massachusetts. Brown barely attended his party’s convention.
Brown scored the endorsement of former Springfield mayor Charles Ryan. The endorsement came despite a fairly anti-Springfield voting record. Ryan lavished Kennedy-esque praise on Brown, which seem to come without any explanation or example other than bland declarations of “bipartisanism.” Kennedy’s father, Joe Kennedy, did support Richard Nixon over Democrat Helen Gahagan Douglas in 1950 so maybe that is what Ryan meant. Ryan would be among Brown’s Democratic supporters, which included former Boston mayor Ray Flynn, who, incidentally, also supported Mitt Romney.
Springfield would also be the last place Brown and Warren debated each other. After debates at the WBZ studios and at Umass-Lowell, the two came to the City of Homes. Jim Madigan’s moderation of the debate won accolades, but also wrapped up a string of strong performances for Warren. Brown and Warren’s fourth meeting was cancelled by Superstorm Sandy and then permanently squelched by Brown.
Back at the City Council a battle over revamping the city’s zoning ordinance ran into sharp opposition from developers and the City Council in September, despite considerable public support. Many councilors supported the measure as well, but the nine votes needed for passage were not there at the time. In a bizarre move, Council President Ferrera closed the hearing, thereby preventing Ward 3 Councilor from voting on the measure. The ordinance went to committee and expired there in December.
In the General Election, a few area races were competitive. In the 2nd Hampden House race, Brian Ashe, whose new district no longer included pockets of Springfield, had a rematch with Longmeadow Select Board Member Republican Marie Angelides. While the redistricting was though to favor Republicans, Ashe ultimately prevailed, even outpolling Obama in some parts. Other area races proved less surprising, although notably, Holyoke City Council Aaron Vega became that city’s new State Rep.
In the close of the race, Brown resorted to personal attacks that turned off many voters. Warren stuck to Brown’s record in the Senate. Warren would ultimately beat Brown by nearly eight points, a far greater margin than expected. That margin was driven by record statewide turnout and high turnout in cities like Springfield and Holyoke where Warren racked up nearly 50 and 60 point margins respectively. While Springfield’s turnout rate failed to meet 2008’s, this was driven by an increase in registered voters. More voters turned out in Springfield in 2012 than in 2008 despite considerable problems at polling stations in the city.
Of course, the biggest prize on November 6 was the race for President. Early in October, Obama turned in a mediocre performance at the first debate. Hysterical liberals turned it into a catastrophe, although polling suggested that the net result was to bring Romney voters home, excited by his strong, if dissembling performance. Vice-President Joe Biden came in with reinforcements during his debate with Ryan. By the second debate, however, Obama brought his “A” game, slamming Romney with the 47% remark in a strong closing. The debate even featured an instant fact-check by Candy Crowley, the moderator, which made Romney look small. By the final debate, Romney’s strategy seemed to be lay low.
Despite this, Romney seemed convinced he would win, not even preparing a concession speech (a sin of hubris in politics). States came back for Obama much more quickly than anticipated and by the relatively early hour of 11pm, the president was declared reelected by networks. Only Florida remained in doubt, but by that point it did not matter. Obama had won a second term.
The year closed out, politically, with the still-ongoing talks to avert massive increases in taxes and sharp cuts in spending that could, if unresolved by February, could plunge the nation back into recession. Obama also nominated John Kerry to be Secretary of State, ensuring a new special election is in the offing. Potential candidate include Brown, Congressmen Mike Capuano and Stephen Lynch and State Senator Ben Downing. Congressman Ed Markey has already announced.
Changes in City Administration were undertaken as well. Earlier in the year, Joseph Conant temporarily replaced retiring Fire Commissioner Gary Cassanelli. At the end of the year, a process began to formally allow Conant to take the job permanently. Lee Erdman, the city’s Chief Administration and Finance Office, announced his departure after one three-year term in the post. Finally, the mayor’s Communications Director, Tom Walsh, also bid City Hall farewell.
Springfield had one last breath of political intrigue as a battle formed over the Council’s Presidency. Ferrera wanted another term while Ward 8 Councilor John Lysak wanted a try at it. The contest ended rather quietly and suspiciously when Ferrera ended up being the only name thrown in for nomination at an informal caucus.
For Springfield and the region, 2012, was a huge year, bigger than last year. For better or worse, and despite a gas explosion the day after Thanksgiving, the city’s politics overshadowed disasters. The city played a critical role in major political contests offering excitement and possibly a break from its continuing, but familiar problems.