Browse By

Briefings: Neal Set to Back Sarno Part IV…

US Rep. Richard Neal, circa 1980’s, during his time as mayor of Springfield. (via Facebook/Neal campaign)

The reelection campaign of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno announced in a release today that Congressman Richard Neal would endorse the incumbent in his quest for a second four-year term and fourth overall. Even if the timing is a tad early, the endorsement says something more about the state of the race than either Sarno or the congressman, himself a former Springfield mayor.

Although it is too early to make assumptions, the race is notable for its lack of competition from established pols. In every mayoral election since 2001, the closeness of the result notwithstanding, the principal challengers were all current or former electeds. So far none have stepped forward this year, easing the position for politicians, influencers and notables on all levels to back Sarno.

Since joining Congress, the congressman typically offers personal support to municipal candidates more quietly such as through his state PAC. While there have been Springfield mayoral endorsements over the years, the most prominent foray into the city’s nonpartisan elections may be his backing of Mayor Robert Markel in 1993. By contrast Neal has a much higher-profile in state and federal elections.

Sources close to Neal confirmed the endorsement for 12:30 p.m. Friday at Springfield City Hall.

Neal has had good relationships with most of his successors and Sarno is no different, although their collaboration has been particularly evident. Many of the accomplishments that Sarno has touted owe a great deal to Neal’s influence and power in Washington.

US Rep. Richard Neal and Mayor Domenic Sarno at a 2011 press conference. Former Neal aide and current city development chief Kevin Kennedy at left (WMassP&I)

Certainly Sarno’s advocacy for disaster relief was necessary, but sources have long said that Neal’s 25+ years in Washington, close relationships with Democratic leadership and political acumen were critical to the city’s haul from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Union Station, a pet project of Neal’s dating back to his own mayoralty, was made possible, at least in part, by Neal working with federal departments that grown skeptical of the project by its previous grandiose incarnations.

Neal may very well have backed Sarno anyway, but that he can do so without dividing his coalition likely makes the decision all the easier. It is not an exaggeration to say that many attending Sarno’s kickoff Monday night would gladly consider a viable alternative, but they now doubt one is likely to emerge.

That may also explain the timing. A full-blown endorsement event with Neal, one of the few local politicians whose backing could actually matter, might be better placed on the other side of the summer when voters tune in. Alternatively, if this is an attempt to scare any would-be candidates out of the race before the filing deadline, that betrays considerably more fear on Sarno’s part than is warranted.