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Editorial: We All Own Springfield’s Turnout and Sad Democracy…

Our city's poor turnout is all our faults? (WMassP&I)

Our city’s poor turnout is all our faults. (WMassP&I)

Despite a spirited race for mayor, voters simply whiffed on Tuesday’s preliminary. Sweltering heat and a moved election date contributed to an abysmal 7.1% turnout. But this is a tragedy, one that goes right to heart of what is wrong in the Land of Springfield.

This is an American problem to be sure. However, if disengagement has infected the country’s civic life, it has become full-bore gangrene in the City of Homes. Politicians pantomime engagement and make hollow declarations of accountability, turning residents off. Some media tries its best, but the most influential either are unable or—disconcertingly for the Fourth Estate—unwilling to offer a full and substantive account of Springfield’s civic life and why it matters.

We, too, must acknowledge our failings. Though an independent, not-for-profit, advocacy journalism outlet, we could not meet our self-appointed burden in this preliminary. To the Springfield mayoral candidates about whom we did not write profiles, Michael Jones, Beverly Savage, Domenic Sarno and Miguel Soto, we apologize. But less to them, we acknowledge that amid a large and more-spirited-than-expected field, we could not fulfill our mandate.

Hardly perfect, but doing better in Holyoke. (WMassP&I)

Hardly perfect, but doing better in Holyoke. (WMassP&I)

This problem cannot be attributed to merely poverty or demographics and the unfortunate correlations with voter turnout. Holyoke, granted in the throes of surging citizen participation, has beat Springfield in the turnout game recently, despite the two cities’ similar demographics. How many of Holyoke’s 20,000 active voters will turn out on its preliminary September 22?

The decline is historical and it is unacceptable. Despite recording only 82,000 registered voters, 58,000 voted in Springfield’s 1961 general election. That was a banner election year, but in 1963 registered voters fell to 76,000 and still, 45000 voted. Today, registered voters usually hover around 100,000, but only between 22,000 and 27,000 actually vote in municipal general elections. The trend follows for gubernatorial and presidential elections.

The irony is this ebb in public participation hurts the entire city, even the machine it protects. Like an autocratic, third-world regime, legitimacy is lost without buy-in from the people. Businesses, Beacon Hill, Washington, non-profits, and advocacy groups can see how farcical our democracy is. They will either avoid Springfield or simply not take it seriously.

Yet, the blame falls not just on cynical politicians, a tuned-out citizenry staring into its smartphones, uncreative bureaucrats who cannot engage the public and media whose focus group-driven coverage steers clear of municipal affairs unless lurid or literally taxing. We are all responsible.

This is not just Domenic Sarno's doing. We all have something to ponder. (image made via Springfield mayoral portrait & files)

We cannot blame Domenic Sarno alone on this one. We all have something to ponder. (image made via Springfield mayoral portrait & files)

It is a rare day when this blog so heartily agrees with The Republican’s editorials on Springfield, but the paper’s assessment of this shameful turnout is largely right (if lacking in introspection).

One bone of contention with our friends at the paper: it is impossible to know whether the results are a “resounding endorsement” of Sarno or resigned acceptance of his reign. He still faces Salvatore Circosta one-on-one in November.

In any event, all parties, if their concern for our city is more than posturing, must accept they have the blood of Springfield’s civic life on their hands. No matter where you stood on Tuesday or where you will stand on November 3, we must reverse this disconnect. The solutions are anything but clear, but the consequences are too great to stand by and do nothing.