Supporters and Rivals Welcome a Recognizable Challenger in Ward 6…
SPRINGFIELD—As she arrived at her June 11 kickoff in the heart of the Forest Park Historic District, almost everything about Kim Rivera seemed to befit the office she was seeking. Dressed sharply in a dark jacket and skirt, focusing on hyper-local issues and meeting supporters in a historic Colonial-style home for which the neighborhood is famous, Rivera checked the boxes for a Ward 6 City Council campaign.
But belying that apt start to Rivera’s campaign was her history of grassroots organizing that both inspired her to run and lends her candidacy the credibility to be something more than an exercise in vanity or naïveté.
Ivette Hernandez first met Rivera while both were volunteering for SEIU Community Action, but then Hernandez was often nonplussed even put off by Rivera’s pace collecting signatures. “I hated her,” Hernandez said half-jokingly, “she was so competitive.”
But last year, Rivera backed Hernandez’s unsuccessful bid for state representative and the two became close. “I learned how passionate she is,” Hernandez told a living room overflowing with supporters.
Supporters including SEIU 509 Deputy Political Director Calvin Feliciano, Holyoke political activist (and city council candidate) Nelson Roman and her son and would-be predecessor, Amaad, contributed to the portrait of Rivera as a driven activist.
The candidate herself emphasized her community work paired with a narrative of a poor single mother who became a homeowner and sent three kids to college.
“As my family succeeded, I became more involved in my community,” Rivera, a personal care attendant and parent facilitator for the Springfield Public Schools, told the crowd. She promised “to build a more inclusive community in Ward 6.”
Rivera, 49, looks to displace the man who succeeded her son, Ken Shea, who won the Ward 6 Council seat after Amaad Rivera vacated the seat for an unsuccessful at-large run. The younger Rivera was on the Council in 2011 serving out Keith Wright’s term, who resigned in late 2010 for family reasons.
Although several politicos viewed Amaad Rivera as lacking political graces, his year on the Council was also one of the body’s most ambitious and substantive legislative sessions. Personalities aside, some were simply unsure how to respond to the prolific progressive policy propagator. He encountered frequent, sometimes disjointed opposition from colleagues and residents.
After his 2011 at-large loss, Amaad Rivera worked for Ed Markey’s Senate campaign. He now serves on Markey’s staff as Constituencies Director.
With her appealing, homespun biography and platform highlighting fundamentals like infrastructure, youth program and adult education, Kim Rivera may not face the same headwinds her son did.
During an interview she said she doesn’t want voter interaction to be only momentary. “I want to sit there, listen to their concerns…even the things [about Springfield] they’re proud of.”
Rivera told WMassP&I Ward 6 needs a councilor who listens to the voice of the community, “I don’t feel we have that.”
Shea would argue that point, however.
One week later at his kickoff at the Clubhouse of city-owned Franconia golf course, the incumbent councilor and his wife greeted guests that ranged from political contacts dating back years to more recent supporters.
Always amiable in demeanor, if sometimes severe in visage, Shea seemed downright jovial about having competition. Framed by commanding views of the fairway through the Clubhouse floor-to-ceiling windows, he told WMassP&I he found the prospect of a competitive race, like those he ran for School Committee, “refreshing and energizing.”
Shea indicated the race has been cordial so far, too. Mentioning his wife and Rivera have been coworkers, he added, “I think we are on friendly terms.”
From crime and poverty to density and diversity, Ward 6, which largely encompasses the Forest Park neighborhood, mirrors the city overall. Affluent precincts hug the neighborhoods eponymous park while poorer sectors lie among the multifamily dwellings wedged between White Street and the “X.”
The ward’s divisions roughly, though quite imperfectly define the outset of the race and both Rivera and Shea will need to appeal beyond their bases to win.
“I’ve always reached out to the diversity in the city,” Shea, 72, noted and has engaged, if still as a beginner, social media as an outreach method. He observed that issues like combating crime and unsafe housing conditions and improving education were a priority for all residents and “don’t stop at the boundaries of Ward 6.”
Dot Lortie, a prominent city realtor who has had business with Shea’s legal practice, attended the kickoff and praised his honesty, humor and ability to find a solutions. “He sizes up a situation and solves it,” she said.
But there is no denying one of Shea’s biggest assets is name recognition after years on the School Committee and three on the Council. His kickoff guests included councilors, the mayor and Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni, the latter two both longtime Ward 6 residents.
Rivera should not be underestimated, though. Electeds like Councilor Zaida Luna and Holyoke Councilor Gladys Lebron, countless Springfield activists and aspiring candidates up and down the Connecticut River were at Rivera’s event. Moreover, her compelling biography can find appeal in all quarters.
Feliciano of SEIU 509, who used to lead SEIU 1199’s political and community organizing in Springfield, recalled Rivera’s persistence herding to the polls. But more than just an organizer, he called Rivera “someone who knows what it is like to struggle and be resilient.”
Remarking on choosing a Council seat for her political coming-out, Rivera said, despite its (perceived) limited powers, “I know that being on the City Council we can make local changes,” to benefit the community.