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The Year in Springfield, 2014…

In Springfield politics, 2014 was almost all about the competitive state & county elections. (WMassP&I)

In Springfield politics, 2014 was almost all about the competitive state & county elections. (WMassP&I)

Another year has come to a close and without a doubt, it was a huge year in Springfield politics primarily for state offices. Springfield area legislative delegation underwent one of the more dramatic and in some cases sudden transformations in recent years. New legislatives in three different seats will represent the city in Boston next week.

In local political news, the early battle over police leadership was an early flashpoint. The City Council selected Michael Fenton as its president, making him the youngest Council president by some accounts, among other historical footnotes. While the council was somewhat drowned out by the legislative races, there were changes in 2014. Of course, the fate of casinos had a definite impact on the city.

Thus, the year in Springfield!

Once and future Council President Mike Fenton.   (WMassP&I)

Once and future Council President Mike Fenton. (WMassP&I)

The year began with the formal seating of the City Council elected the year before. On the same day Fenton was sworn in as president, at-large Councilor Justin Hurst and Ward 8 Councilor Orlando Ramos joined the body. Fenton would streamline council procedures on ministerial approvals, while appointing citizen committees to review several issues. The Council also agreed to changes pawn shop changes, the passage of which had bedeviled the Council for two years.

On the legislative front, the year had opened with some certainty that there would be changes. Rep. Sean Curran announced he would step aside, prompting a flood of speculation and ultimately three candidates for the 9th Hampden seat came forward: longtime Labor leader Ed Collins; district School Committee Member Peter Murphy; and former at-large City Councilor Jose Tosado.

Senator Gale Candaras made waves shortly late in 2013 by suggesting she might retire. By January, it was clear she would seek the technically, sorta open Register of Probate position. Rep. Angelo Puppolo seemed poised to seek her senate seat. Ludlow School Committee member Chip Harrington announced plans to run in the Democratic primary regardless of Puppolo and his campaign war chest. Republican Debra Boronski of East Longmeadow had said she would run if Candaras retired.

The 1st Hampden & Hampshire Senate District in gray. Click for larger view.. (via

The 1st Hampden & Hampshire Senate District in gray. Click for larger view. (via

Shortly after Candaras announced her plans to retire, Puppolo reversed course and said he would remain in the House of Representatives. More candidates materialized including Longmeadow therapist Thomas Lachiusa and Ludlow Selectman Aaron Saunders. But another figure also began making the political rounds, one who once worked a stone’s throw from the Oval Office.

The gubernatorial election was in full swing even among the city and region’s leaders. Led primarily by Fenton, Springfield pols backing Treasure Steve Grossman in the Democratic primary included Mayor Domenic Sarno and Councilors Kateri Walsh and E. Henry Twiggs. Attorney General Martha Coakley had Rep. Ben Swan, former State Rep Ray Jordan, and Councilor Zaida Lunda. Don Berwick, Obama’s former Medicare chief had a lock on key parts of Springfield’s Deval Patrick activist corp.

Hampden County District Attorney Mark Mastroianni would not seek another term after President Barack Obama nominated him to Springfield’s federal judgeship. Attorneys Shawn Allyn and Hal Etkin, assistant DA Anthony Gulluni and former assistant DA Brett Vottero sought the office.

Springfield's House districts, just . (via

Springfield’s House districts, just . (via

Differences existed among the candidates, on policy many were incremental or rhetorical. Allyn generally occupied a more liberal outlook, while maintaining ideologically diverse support in his native Holyoke. Etkin had sprinklings of support in Ludlow and Longmeadow. Vottero, a sharper candidate than in 2010, rallied public safety officials that had worked with him over his former career as an ADA. Gulluni had  broad support among political classes, but in pitching himself to voters, emphasized his more recent experience within the office itself.

All while the state political environment was shaping up, a titanic battle was shaping up over leadership of Springfield’s Finest. Concurrent to this was the behind the scenes, opaque selection process that seemed to most as little more than Kabuki theater to lend Sarno’s selection the guise of process.

Commissioner John Barbieri at his swearing in (WMassP&I)

It seemingly began when Councilor Williams pushed for the reinstatement of the Police Commission, something made possible by Commissioner William Fitchet’s impending retirement. It had been an issue in the 2013 elections, but the new ordinance precipitated Sarno’s decision to privately interview the city’s three deputy chiefs for the top job. Robert McFarlin was said to have the inside track. The Council would have need to pass an ordinance before new commissioner was named.

While a majority existed to reinstate the Commission, it could not override a certain mayoral veto. Proposed ordinances came before the Council, but got referred back to committee. But rising community complaints about McFarlin and his career proved too hot to handle. Sarno took a pass on McFarlin and promoted John Barbieri to some fanfare and near-universal approval.

Back in the elections, Eric Lesser, a Longmeadow native and Harvard Law student, had begun quietly campaigning for Candaras’ senate seat. He had appeared at countless events before announcing in February. He would not be the last to enter the race. Springfield Ward 7 Councilor Tim Allen joined the race shortly thereafter. History would prove it to be primarily a contest between those two.

Eric Lesser with wife Alison Silber and daughter Rose picking up his nomination papers. (WMassP&I)

The rivalry came to a head at a State Ballot Law Commission hearing in Boston, ordered after Allen challenged Lesser’s residency and eligibility for office. Lesser prevailed to much fanfare (and free media).

But in the meantime, another legislative race blossomed. Rep. Cheryl Coakley-Rivera suddenly resigned to take job at the courthouse, leaving another open contest in Springfield. Coakley-Rivera endorsed her one-time rival Carlos Gonzalez. Councilor Melvin Edwards and political and labor activist Ivette Hernandez also threw their hats into the ring for this heavily Latino, urban district.

As candidates jousted, lawyers in Boston did battle over another issue: casinos. AG Coakley had disallowed a ballot question on casinos, but supporters sued and successfully argued before the Supreme Judicial Court to have the measure placed on the ballot. It would be the movement’s high point. Supporters could never raise the money to get on TV, let alone match the fortune the pro-casino side spent. During this time the state Gaming Commission awarded MGM Springfield a gaming license.

CAFO Timothy (T.J.) Plante's fiscal stewardship earned plaudits. (WMassP&I)

CAFO Timothy (T.J.) Plante’s fiscal stewardship earned plaudits. (WMassP&I)

Fiscal news in the city was positive, too. Financial officials offered a sanguine budget that passed most critics’ smell test. Fiscal landmines remain, but FY2016 was hailed as a good sign for the city.

In the primary, Springfield sided with Coakley by a margin larger than Hampden County as a whole. In the AG’s race Maura Healey won both easily despite Warren Tolman’s support here. Steve Kerrigan and Deb Goldberg won the lieutenant governor and treasurer nominations. Gonzalez took Coakley-Rivera’s seat. Tosado prevailed in the 9th Hampden. Lesser won the senate primary, but narrowly. Allen’s Springfield base, especially Ward 7, came out in force, but not enough to counter his weakness in the suburbs.

Hamdpen County’s next District Attorney (via Facebook/Gulluni campaign)

Gonzalez and Tosado’s races were effectively decided by the primary as was the Hampden DA’s race. Gulluni, who emphasized his Springfield ties, did very well here. Though only winning the county and Springfield by plurality, in both he scored huge margins compared to his next closest opponent.

Throughout the year, Massachusetts senior senator, Elizabeth Warren, traveled the country raising money and campaigning for Democrats. The national mood could not be overcome in many races, but Warren’s support helped in Michigan, Minnesota and New Hampshire, all Democratic holds. In impassioned stops in Massachusetts, the senior senator touted Coakley and the rest of the ticket, including Lesser in East Longmeadow, the only local legislative candidate for whom she campaigned.

Senator Elizabeth Warren was in demand in 2014 (WMassP&I)

Senator Elizabeth Warren was in demand in 2014 (WMassP&I)

The general election legislative campaigns were spirited, though not as much as the primaries. Lesser faced Boronski. Incumbent Democratic Reps Puppolo and Mike Finn faced challenges. Wilbraham Selectman Robert Russell ran against Puppolo. Nathan Bech tangled with Finn. Russell might have been formidable, but after his bankruptcy came to light, his call for better fiscal stewardship rang hollow.

Boronski attacked Lesser from all angles. Some hits were stale holdovers from the primary. Others were more inventive, indeed, fictional, like accusations of felonious conduct. The proof? Satire in The Harvard Crimson! Gasp! Franco ran as the America First candidate because YOLO. Lesser prevailed, bolstered by strong showings in the cities, Belchertown, Granby and his hometown. Despite Boronski’s hopes to capitalize on lingering bitterness there, Springfield delivered mightily for Lesser.

From losing to winning. Charlie Baker, governor-elect (via Facebook/Baker campaign)

For governor the race shifted back and forth. Republican Charlie Baker, whose party nearly disintegrated over its botched convention, often polled narrowly ahead. An attack on Coakely’s record protecting children by a third party group with ties to Baker (but not acting in coordination with him [wink]) reinvigorated her candidacy, but it was not enough. Coakley fell to Baker in the closest gubernatorial election in decades.

Other statewide races were far less climactic. Democrats cleaned up. Healey became AG by the same margin she won the nomination in September. Goldberg was elected Treasurer, while Bill Galvin and Suzanne Bump held the Secretary of State and Auditor’s office handily. But local Candaras lost her bid for Hampden Register of Probate by a hair to Suzanne Seguin, the acting register.

Warren, for her part, came out of the midterms stronger than before, even as her party went into the minority. While pleas for her to run for president will probably be for naught, Warren was elevated to senate leadership, despite being continuously (and refreshingly) outspoken.

The Springfield area Cathedral High community was rocked by the Roman Catholic Diocese’s backtracking on rebuilding the school on Surrey Road. The effort to save the school has brought together much of the city’s disparate political factions.

Union Station (WMassP&I)

Union Station, becoming a reality at last… (WMassP&I)

The real work of demolition began at Union Station in December, promising the near-mythical project would happen, the realization of one of US Rep Richard Neal’s longtime goals. The baggage building is being torn down to be replaced with a new bus and parking facility. The terminal itself will be renovated. Also in rail news, ChangChung, which won the MBTA’s new car contract, announced a new facility on Page Boulevard, the site of the old Westinghouse plant.

While much of the commonwealth prepares for a little bit of political rest, it may not be the case in Springfield. Sarno already has an opponent in Johnnie Rae McKnight, but more challengers may yet surface. Candidates for city council, both at-large and ward seats, filed their campaign finance paperwork just under the 2014 buzzer. As for Council leadership itself, Fenton secured another year as President. In any event, 2015 may be just as intense—politically—in the City of Homes, as 2014 was.