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The Year in Springfield 2013…

City Hall After the February Storm (WMassP&I)

City Hall After the February Storm (WMassP&I)

On balance, 2013’s place on the good year/bad year for Springfield may depend entirely on a person’s outlook.  Certainly if you are pro-casino, it was a good year.  If you are anti-casino not so much.  If your candidates did not win in this year’s election, it was probably not a good year either and if they did win, maybe it was.  Either way as 2013 lumbers to a close, we present once again, The Year in Springfield…

The city’s year began in part in Washington, D.C. where redistricting shook up the numbering, if not so much the faces among the commonwealth’s delegation.  Springfield’s district and its own Richard Neal were officially put into the 1st Massachusetts District after decades in the 2nd.  Meanwhile, across the Capitol, Elizabeth Warren, the first of the commonwealth’s two new senators installed this year, took the oath of office.  The city delivered mightily for the Cambridge Democrat.

Elizabeth Warren (WMassP&I)

Elizabeth Warren (WMassP&I)

Warren would be destined to become the senior Senator from Massachusetts after it became clear at the end of 2012 that John Kerry would be nominated as Secretary of State.  In the scrum that followed, several Democrats considered getting into the race, but declined.  In the end, Congressmen Ed Markey and Stephen Lynch jumped into the Democratic race.

Jimmy Ferrera (WMassP&I)

Jimmy Ferrera (WMassP&I)

The Springfield City Council selected at-large Councilor Jimmy Ferrera to be president once again, although a chastened Ferrera issued less politically fraught committee assignments this time.  Ward 2 Councilor Mike Fenton and Ward 7 Councilor Tim Allen both got chairmanships and almost nobody could have been claimed there were screwed over this time.  Fenton’s chairmanship was of a special residency committee, which produced several items although most get stuck in the maw of city politics.

Around the same time, the city swore in Joseph Conant as the new Fire Commissioner.

Gov. Patrick in 2010 (WMassP&I)

In Boston, Governor Deval Patrick made a valiant, but ultimately unsuccessful (and politically a poorly executed) bid to raise revenues in the commonwealth to pay for investments in education and infrastructure.  State reps and to a lesser extent their senate counterparts cowered before the threats of the commonwealth’s never-satisfied anti-tax zealots.  An effective disinformation campaign (coupled with the freedom from any obligation to govern) by Republicans doomed any rational program to repair the commonwealth’s decaying roads and bridges.

Springfield, left with only two bidders to build a casino, saw Penn National and MGM battle for the city’s hand in gaming marriage.  Penn National had tried to win by playing an almost exclusively inside game, coupled with dubious coverage from potential benefactor, The Republican.  MGM, meanwhile went to masses, recruited community groups and backed Penn National into a street fight it could not win.

A rendering of MGM’s proposed casino (via

The Republican, in a serious, well-reported, but suspiciously timed piece, seemingly hit Domenic Sarno on his connections to Charlie Kingston.  Instead of taking the move as a threat, Sarno did what so few do in the city, he defied the city’s North Starr and picked MGM.  It probably did not help that the paper’s attenuated links between MGM and Kingston were, to everybody who knew the score on the casino battle, false.

A bid by Sarno to get bars to close at 1 a.m. failed before the liquor commission on a 3-2 vote.

Speaking of the mayor, he was not on the ballot this year, but the Council was and while hardly every race was contested, the election, particularly in the wards had some real races.  Ernesto Cruz was among the first challengers, announcing early before going on hiatus to help Ed Markey get elected to the US Senate.  With all at-large Councilors running for reelection, Cruz, joined by 2011 candidate Justin Hurst, Joshua Carpenter and Jeffery Donnelly could only join the council if an incumbent lost.  Candidates also materialized in half the ward council races and for several of the School Committee races.

Boston experienced horror & terror at the annual marathon when Tamerlan & Dzokhar Tsarnaev allegedly placed twin bombs along Boylston Street. Tamerlan would die in a police altercation that preceded a day long shelter in place order for greater Boston. Dzokhar would later be apprehended after hiding in a boat. He awaits trial.

Senator Ed Markey. In the special election to win John Kerry’s seat, Markey, a US Rep from Malden, won big in Springfield just as Elizabeth Warren did. (via wikipedia)

With Massachusetts locked in its third US Senate election in as many years, Democrats Lynch and Markey fought a spirited race for the nomination.  Meanwhile, Republicans, jilted by ex-Senator Scott Brown, as in the one dethroned by Sen. Warren, had their own primary.  To their credit, it was actually semi-competitive rather than being the papal bull state party’s nominations tend to be.  Former US Attorney Mike Sullivan, State Rep. Dan Winslow and one-time Selectman candidate Gabriel Gomez crossed swords in the tiny primary window allotted by law.

In the end Markey bested Lynch in organization and money, although probably not in fervor.  Lynch’s votes in congresses past came back to haunt him and Markey was able to rebuild the machine Warren built and use it.  The fit was not exactly hand in glove, but it delivered Markey the primary and Democrats quickly showed a unified front heading into the general.

The Republican primary was fascinating.  The social conservative/borderline tea party wing of the party got behind Sullivan.  Winslow, a former Romney man and conservative, however, showed a touch of the modernism the party, especially nationally, needed.  Despite sounding reasonable, he never gained traction in the primary (he ultimately resigned from the legislature and took a job in Nevada).

Gabriel Gomez (via

It was Gomez who would win the primary as Romney backers abandoned Winslow and hoped to put a more diverse face on the party.  While Gomez may have been somewhat on par with Winslow on the ideological spectrum, he proved himself an impossibly cryptic and listless candidate.  From personal attacks against Markey to woefully vague answers and pie-in-the-sky political promises (like changing the party), he proved to be, in the words of Massachusetts conservatives, “not ready for prime time.”  Markey won by 10 in the end.

The US Supreme Court left its own mark on 2013 as well.  While the decision gutting the Voting Rights Act will go down as a low mark in the court’s history, on a 5-4 decision the Defense of Marriage Act was itself neutered and in striking part of the law, the federal government can now recognize the marriages of couples married in states with marriage equality.

Changes to Springfield’s historic foreclosure ordinance were rejected by the Council.  The city won in court as banks tried to stop the ordinances.  After two years the city began to implement one of the two laws, but the First Circuit ordered the city to stop pending completion of the appeals process.

(via wikipedia)

Media in the commonwealth experienced some seismic changes as well.  In March The Boston Phoenix folded and the city (and the state) lost an alternative voice that frequently chased after stories other media ignored and provided a perspective rarely available elsewhere.  Most recently, The Phoenix often via its well-regarded Massachusetts political scribe, David Bernstein, studiously tracked the US Senate race and because of Mitt Romney, the Presidential race in 2012.  Before that, Chris Faraone provided some of the sharpest coverage of Occupy Boston.

Many people and many alumni of the publication lamented its loss.  After the Boston mayor’s race, Bernstein, who while unemployed would break news of Tom Menino’s retirement, noted how the city’s first in a generation mayor’s race may have lacked something without a paper like the Phoenix.  Bernstein currently writes for Boston Magazine and contributes to WGBH.  Faraone’s writing appears in The Jamaica Plain Gazette and elsewhere, from where he lobbed criticisms in Dan Conley’s direction.  Many others landed on their feet as well.

The Springfield City Council in 2012 (WMassP&I)

The Springfield City Council in 2012 (WMassP&I)

The issues wracking the City Council were many this year, but tainted by fears among many on the Council as to what the electorate that showed up in November would look like.  Residency became among the most fraught subjects as efforts to force major reforms to the city’s ordinance floundered amid mayoral opposition and petty politics.

One reform proposed by Councilor Fenton would have worked to eliminate waivers for future department heads and limit them for future employees.  Opponents on the council fell into two groups.  Those that wanted no residency and those that demanded immediate and likely illegal rescission of existing waivers.  The ordinance passed the council, but was vetoed by Mayor Sarno, his first ever, on the grounds that the ordinance was unconstitutional, a strained conclusion.

Council President Ferrera, who opposed the Fenton ordinance, put forward a bill that was derided as the “fire everybody” ordinance.  It never came to a vote and other measures proposed or sponsored by Ferrera and council ally Bud Williams were often constantly referred back to committee with no action.

On the brighter side, after failing to advance in 2012, a citywide revision of the zoning ordinance passed the City Council.  Slightly tweaked from the 2012 revision, it replaced the 40 year-old previous code.

Mayor Sarno's year? Meh. MGM vote was a win, but what else? (WMassP&I)

Mayor Sarno’s year? Meh. MGM vote was a win, but what else? (WMassP&I)

During the dead of summer, an astounding 25% of voters showed to cast ballots on whether or not Springfield should host a casino, namely MGM.  MGM spent millions and received the full backing of Mayor Sarno, which was questioned by mayor Sarno who warned layoffs could happen if the city’s budget was not balanced.  The budget counted on $4 million from MGM if the Gaming Commission awarded a license to the casino developer.

At the time, the move by MGM to get the election set as early as possibly seemed odd, but in retrospect it proved that their fears were justified.  In casino vote after vote, communities voted down proposals, including MGM’s other two competitors in Western Mass leaving the Las Vegas-based company the last man standing.  Indeed, even in Springfield, despite the small fortune MGM spent, opponents’ shoe string anti-casino campaign held them to under twenty points.

Councilor Tom Ashe (WMassP&I)

Councilor Tom Ashe (WMassP&I)

Another issue that emerged in the city was pawn shops.  As the City Council batted the issue back and forth between committee and the Council floor, pawnshop owners complained of a burden on business and victims of theft said the ordinance, as written, made recovery of lost difficult.  At-large Councilor Tom Ashe made it a cause of his while Ferrera fought against it.  No measure ultimately passed.

As the Fall began, it became clear that a slew of races would be in store for the area next year.  Hampden County District Attorney Mark Mastroianni was nominated by President Obama to replace Federal District Court Judge Michael Ponsor.  Registrar of Probate, which is being held by an interim appointment, is drawing interest from Sen. Gale Candaras, whose seat in turn could attract Angelo Puppolo, opening a House seat.

And lest we forget the statewide races!  Attorney General and Treasurer are both open as Steve Grossman and Martha Coakley seek the governor’s office.  They are joined by Dems Joe Avellone, Don Berwick and Juliette Kayyem.  In other parties, Charlie Baker, the 2010 Republican nominee, Springfield’s own controveral minister Scott Lively and more.  The races for AG, LG & Treasurer are packed, too, but we’ll save those details for next year.



The legislature finally did pass a transportation funding bill, but with only meager revenues some of which were repealed when the unworkable tech tax was scrapped.  That was not good enough for anti-tax zealots who said the pegged to inflation gas tax was an abomination, but the pegged to the economy ratcheting down of the income tax is cool.  The income tax in 2014 in Massachusetts will be 5.2% instead of 5.25% as it was in 2013.

As for the city election, the race for at-large Councilor ultimately proved to be among the incumbents and Cruz and Hurst for the most part.  In Ward 1, incumbent Zaida Luna faced a stiff challenge from Jose Claudio, who survived a four-way preliminary in September where Steven Daly and Miguel Rivas failed to advance.  A preliminary in Ward 5 had hilariously low turnout.  Michael Belanger beat Kyle Burns for the right to take on incumbent Clodo Concpecion. Ward 3’s Melvin Edwards faced Sal Circosta without a preliminary, as did Ward 8’s John Lysak who faced again Orlando Ramos one more time.

City Council at-large Debate at Griswold Theater (WMassP&I)

City Council at-large Debate at Griswold Theater (WMassP&I)

On the School Committee, St. John’s Congregational Church’s Pastor, Calvin McFadden challenged Denise Hurst and Antonette Pepe at-large.  Three candidates, but only two could win.  Norman Roldan, of Wards 1 & 3 squared off with Rosa Perez and Peter Murphy, of Wards 2 & 8 faced Zaida Govan.

The election had minimal coverage by the press, with a near blackout on some media.  Others, like ourselves, The Valley Advocate and The Reminder tried to fill the void.  However, attention was focused on competitive mayoral contests in Chicopee, Holyoke, West Springfield and Westfield.

Down in Washington, the government shutdown rippled even out to Springfield where the Armory closed.  The seventeen day standoff was a low point for the Republican party as it walked off the cliff and into historically low approval ratings.  While a rocky start for would ultimately reverse that, the shutdown also put off public attention to the disastrous website launch as well.

Hysteria played a large role, but there is little doubt 2013 was not a good year for President Obama (via wikipedia)

When attention refocused on the site, it proved an unmitigated disaster for President Obama.  Coupled with overblown complaints largely from healthy folks who lose their crappy health insurance, Obama reached a new nadir in his administration.  The website was ultimately repaired, but the damage, for 2013, had been done.   More to the point, Massachusetts’ site might as well be inoperable.

Elsewhere in the digital world, Springfield joined Facebook, at last.

Elections in the Valley proved surprising on a lot of levels.  Alex Morse kept Holyoke’s top job, but Chicopee’s Michael Bissonnette and West Springfield Greg Neffinger were both turfed out of office, replaced by Richard Kos and Ed Sullivan respectively.  Don Humason won a state senate seat vacated by Mike Knapik.  Ferrera and Lysak would lose their seats to Justin Hurst and Ramos in the Springfield Council races.  A similar fate befell Roldan and Pepe, the latter of which defied expectations.  Denise Hurst held on to her seat and will be joined by McFadden.

Councilor Mike Fenton was informally elected next year's Council President. (WMassP&I)

Councilor Mike Fenton was informally elected next year’s Council President. (WMassP&I)

Shortly thereafter, Fenton, who was unopposed for reelection, announced he had the votes to become the city’s youngest Council President and the first ward councilor to hold the office since the current charter was adopted in 1961.  Denise Hurst announced she had the votes to become School Committee Vice-Chair (the chair is nominally the mayor).

In the last gasps of 2013, Sean Curran of the 9th Hampden District announced his retirement setting off a flurry of speculation and interest.  Similar attention has been paid to Ben Swan’s seat in the 11th Hampden and the possibility he may retire next year.

The Council closed out the year with a demolition delay ordinance and pay hikes for the mayor and council (just before the election).  MGM got a positive suitability rating from the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.  And good news from the city assessor’s office, property values have begun to recover.

It was another hell of a year in Springfield politics.  From voters’ voice in innumerable elections to substantive policy battles (if fueled more by politics than sincere disagreement), it certainly was an exciting year.  As ever, 2014 will bring with it trials as an ever-present question hangs overhead, can the city stay solvent without gutting services and decimating the public workforce further?

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