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The Tosado Experience…Coming to a Beacon Hill Near You?…

UPDATED 8/5/14 2:14PM: For additional quotes from Cruz & Markey.

Jose Tosado (via Facebook/Tosado campaign)

SPRINGFIELD—On some level, running for State Representative is much different from the other races Jose Tosado has tried to win. Tosado always ran in the whole city whether for school committee, city council or mayor. As a candidate for state representative, however, Tosado is attempting a political comeback in only a fraction of the city. Despite being one of 160, the position could hold more power than any local office.

The tactics are different, too. “We have been doing more door knocking and personal contact then I have ever done in any race,” Tosado said.

An at-large City Councilor from 2001-2011, Tosado is competing for the Democratic nomination in the 9th Hampden House district, left open by retiring rep Sean Curran. Ed Collins, the International Rep for the IBEW and Springfield School Committee member for wards 2 and 8 Peter Murphy are also seeking the nomination. The district includes East Springfield snaking from Atwater Park through Indian Orchard and Pine Point to the heart of 16 Acres. One Chicopee precinct is in the district, too.

Map of Springfield's state House districts. The 9th Hampden is light green. (via

Map of Springfield’s state House districts. The 9th Hampden is light green. (via

The seat itself has been held by historic figures from both the light and dark of municipal power from Sean Cahillane to Athan Catjakis to Chris Asselin. The seat as it is today is a 2000 amalgamation of the former East Springfield-only seat and parts of the 16 Acres/Indian Orchard seat Paul Caron once held.  The base of power remained in East Springfield after that, continuing the district’s role as the city’s often Irish-Catholic, arch-Democratic rep seat.

Because the race has cut across the city’s political camps, it was difficult to find politicos willing to speak on the record or say anything of much substance.

“I’m optimistic about the race,” Tosado said. “If you just compare my experience…” he continued, noting his 12 years of municipal service plus 25 years as a senior manager at the Department of Mental Health.

Born in Puerto Rico, Tosado spent nearly all of his life in Springfield. He grew up in the North End and joined the navy as a young man. After he got out, he was drawn to social work and landed in the Department of Mental Health ascending to management. That upward mobility led Tosado and his wife Irma, now a retired public school teacher, to 16 Acres where they have lived for thirty-five years and raised their two daughters.

“Stay tuned,” Tosado’s said in 2011 when asked about his political future at end of his Council tenure in 2011. During a recent interview, Tosado said he considered a comeback in 2013, but decided instead to support up and comers like Ernesto Cruz. “I felt after the mayor’s race that I’ve done my part, Tosado said.

However, Curran’s retirement represented an “historic opportunity.” Armed with name recognition and Tosado’s pitch of experience, this race offered an prime exit from political retirement. “When this opportunity came up, I saw it as a good opportunity for myself and for the ninth Hampden district.”

Cruz, who is helping Tosado’s campaign, said he learned a lot from the former councilor. “Jose has consistently proven that he can move up in rank without missing a step.” Cruz added that the 9th Hampden has great candidates, but Tosado was the best fit, “With Curran, Candaras, Coakley-Rivera, and others moving on…we need someone who can work with the old and the new.”

Tosado’s return to the spotlight has revived Bax & Obrien’s nickname for him, “Tostito” (Tosado is good humored about it). However, it also prompts an examination of the record he is touting.

Fmr Councilor Jose Tosado in 2011, was, during their term served as President 3 times. (WMassP&I)

Fmr Councilor Jose Tosado in 2011, was, during their term served as President 3 times. (WMassP&I)

On balance, the record is good. Elected to the School Committee in 1999, he told WMassP&I he ran for Council in 2001 believing greater influence lay here. He placed 10th, but joined the then nine-member body after Michael Albano appointed Brian Santaniello to the Election Commission. In a wide-ranging 2011 interview with The Valley Advocate, Tosado distanced himself from Albano. Although an early ally of the ex-mayor, Tosado, did not rely on city income and never needed to kowtow to that crowd. Once a councilor, he could exert more independence.

He became one of the city’s strongest councilors electorally, consistently polling at or near the top of the at-large Council ballot, with predictable support from Latino precincts, but also from across the city. His tenure overlapped some of the biggest issues that came before the City Council including biomass and the Control Board.

Contemporary media reports from the Control Board debate report his opposition to Beacon Hill intervention, but also indicate a nuance position. He feared, as then-Gov. Mitt Romney demanded, the suspension of collective bargaining rights for city employees. The legislature retained union rights and now Tosado says the Board did some good. “It did what the political branches could not do” to right the city’s fiscal ship. His pro-labor position earned him unions’ good graces in later races, including for mayor. Only now, with one of their own in the race, Collins, is labor looking at somebody else.

Tosado was Council President during the effort to repeal the biomass permit (WMassP&I)

Biomass was another flashpoint. Although he voted for the permit’s initial approval, as further studies and changes arose, Tosado, by that time again Council President, scheduled many of the meetings that built the record for repeal. Tosado joined with all of his ward colleagues and at-large Councilor Tom Ashe, all of whom were elected in the 2009 election, to repeal the permit.

Speaking to WMassP&I, Tosado described the Council as principally a land-use body, but many substantive issues were in play. After the Control Board, the Council saw the last throes of the trash fee battle and the body unanimously passed the city’s historic (but currently stayed) foreclosure ordinance.

Patrick Markey, a former City Councilor who served with Tosado during the Council’s final term as an all at-large body, said he was impressed with his colleague’s diligence. Markey said when he and Bruce Stebbins were working on the Ethics Ordinance, he observed Tosado’s copy of the ordinance “all marked up and highlighted” ahead of the debate on the proposed and later passed law. Markey said he was neutral in the rep race.

As President, Tosado also set up special committees to look at raising the mayor’s salary and establishing a civilian review board. The results of neither committee passed and Tosado voted no on both. In the latter’s case, Tosado said at the time he preferred reestablishing the Police Commission over codifying an advisory board.

Cruz noted that throughout his tenure, Tosado worked full-time. Being a legislator, “would be the first time that he’s able to give an elected position full time attention.” Markey also mentioned the level of responsibility Tosado’s DMH  job entailed.

His campaign for mayor seemed the peak of his transition from lucky candidate number 10 in 2001 to progressive mayoral candidate. Despite losing decisively to Sarno, he raised a decent sum of cash and earned the support of large swaths of the city’s reform community and several key unions.

The extent is debatable, but most agree the tornado mixed up the politics of 2011’s mayor race. (WMassP&I)

Veterans of that campaign attribute the loss and the margin to a host of factors, but the influence of the June 2011 tornado is impossible to ignore. In a follow up email, Tosado said, “Had it not been for the devastating tornado I believe a different result may have possible.” He also said some of the ideas his campaign proposed came were adopted by others. Proposals like the gun court were instituted by district attorney’s office and revival of the police commission was in vogue earlier this year.

In some ways, though, Tosado’s experience as a councilor informs his rep candidacy. Public safety, a perennial issue in Springfield, is a high priority. His approach reflects his philosophy about a rep’s job. “I believe that the primary job is… to make sure the 9th Hampden District receives its fair share,” Tosado said. He indicated that other legislative priorities cannot come to fruition with the money to go with it. Tosado is also aware of the limited influence new reps have on Beacon Hill.

To that end, he would like more funding for Springfield to hire more cops. On crime Tosado draws from his own experience. “It is very personal,” he said, adding that his own father was murdered in 1980 and his brother is a police officer in the city. Relatedly, since the interview, the House and Senate passed a bill that would allow police chiefs to contest the issuance gun permits in court. Tosado expressed skepticism and said the bigger problem are guns brought in from states with lax laws.

“I don’t think that criminals are going to come in and register,” he said noting that he himself is certified to carry a concealed weapon.

Tosado did opine on some of the top issues before the legislature this session. He said he was glad to see Beacon Hill raise the minimum wage, but would have liked to see it index to inflation and added that the inclusion of tipped workers was overdue, “I think tipped earners are grossly underpaid.”

Likewise on women’s issues, Tosado said having sisters and daughters women’s issues, particularly pay equity and the buffer zone, were on his mind. A new buffer zone has since passed, but during the interview Tosado said he supported a new law to replace the one the Supreme Court overturned.

Tosado supports Gov. Deval Patrick’s position on the migrant children. (via Twtitter/@massgovernor)

Tosado also offered support for Gov. Deval Patrick’s offer of temporary space for the migrant children showing up at the border. One of the two places Patrick offered was Westover Air Reserve Base and supports Patrick’s offer of help. “Things must be horribly bad for a parent to do that,” he added referring to parents, largely from Honduras, putting their kids on buses to escape violence in their country.

Tosado said he is not naïve about the potential for the situation, but at the moment the federal government has assured this will be temporary and funded by Washington. “I don’t think we have a choice here,” Tosado said. “It is the right thing to do. It is the Christian thing to do.”

Because of the lack of attention it has received, the race is difficult to measure. Some think it is really between Collins and Murphy, while others say Tosado is in a prime position with Collins and Murphy splitting the white, largely Irish vote, which will side with identity politics. Other sources say Tosado has locked up the lone Chicopee precinct. The candidate himself has been surprised at the number of Latino households particularly in East Springfield that—if they vote—could be another well of votes.

Cruz suggested Tosado could build a broad base for the primary, “Jose has been known to just about the most diverse base I’ve seen in working as an activist over the past 5 years.”

For now, though, Tosado is not worrying who is up and who is down. He is focused on broadcasting his message, a mix of door knocking and data, with the help of Cruz, the 2013 council candidate. Tosado will take a cut in pay to join the legislature, but says he will have to in order to be a “full time legislator.”

“I think I am most qualified, most experienced,” and he continued, “ready to serve on day one.”