Browse By

Briefings: Judge Not Lest Ye Be Bonded…

Mark Mastroinanni, second left, with City Councilors Mike Fenton and Kateri Walsh and a former aide to John Kerry last year. (via Twitter/@mfentonspfld)

Minor tremors of political news in the Pioneer Valley as District Attorney Mark Mastroianni finally received US Senate confirmation as a US District Court Judge. Meanwhile, the Springfield City Council advanced bonding authorization to clear out a deficit for the construction of the new Putnam vocational high school.

Mastroianni, who was nominated to fill the seat of US District Court Judge Michael Ponsor last year, was confirmed by the Senate in Washington on a 92-2 vote. The lone votes against were those of Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, both Republicans. Among the notable absent senators was Thad Cochran, Republican of Mississippi, who was forced into a runoff last night against his tea party primary challenger.

The former assistant DA turned private attorney ran as an independent in 2010 defeating the Democratic nominee for Attorney General, Stephen Buoniconti, then a state senator. Last year, Senator Elizabeth Warren opened up a search committee to select a replacement for Ponsor, who had assumed senior status in 2011. Mastroianni was ultimately whom President Barack Obama nominated at Warren’s recommendation.

Judge Michael Ponsor, a Clinton appointee, assumed senior status in 2011 to lighten his caseload and thereby opening the seat for a new nomination (via

Mastroianni’s confirmation was a long time coming, but its relative speed, in comparison to past judges, was made possible by the a change in Senate rules permitting a simple majority to advance district and circuit court nomination on a simple majority. Previously, Republican invoked filibusters to kill both controversial and uncontroversial court appointments or to simply eat up time on the Senate floor.

Mastroianni’s departure paves the way for Governor Deval Patrick to appoint a successor who will serve until the regularly scheduled election in November. NEPR reported that Patrick will appoint a successor once the Mastroianni is sworn in. The NEPR report also included comments from Judge Ponsor. However, some in the media are already lamenting the exit of a DA who was quite accessible to them.

Mastroianni’s nomination produced a scramble to succeed him in this year’s regularly scheduled election. The field settled out to be Attorney Shawn Allyn of AGawam, Hampden assistant District Attorney Anthony Gulluni of Springfield, former Hampden ADA Hal Etkin of Longmeadow, and former Hampden ADA and one-time Hampshire ADA Brett Vottero. All are running as Democrats. No Republicans or third party candidates are on the ballot.

Springfield City Council in January (WMassP&I)

Springfield City Council in January (WMassP&I)

In Springfield this afternoon, the City Council took the second vote necessary to authorize bonding to cover a gap in the construction accounts of the new Roger L. Putnam vocational high school. Last week Councilors were informed of the last-minute measure, necessary to cover unexpected expenses and indeed some that should have been expected that had driven the cost above projections.

Amid tense exchanges Monday night between councilors and Chief Administrative and Financial Officer Timothy “T.J.” Plante, the council was told a failure to pass the bond authorization would jeopardize the city’s free cash account. Councilors appeared at least as perturbed, if not more so, at the short window to consider the matter as the fact of the cost overruns. A vote was needed as least twenty days before June 30 (the end of the fiscal year) to clear the referendum window permissible under the City Charter.

Today, Plante reminded the Council that it did not expect the full $5.8 million would need to be borrowed, but that it could not get some money from the Massachusetts School Building Authority to cover the difference before the fiscal year ended. Instead, the authorization allowed the city to sell bond anticipation notes that would clear the city’s accounts through end of the fiscal year. The actual bond sale will not come until January, at which the entire issue will likely be re-litigated, although minus whatever MSBA funds  the city can secure.

The final vote was 11-2, just as it was Monday. Ward 2 Councilor Michael Fenton and Ward 7 Councilor Tim Allen were the only no votes.