A Much Different Race, Reichelt Sprints toward the Finish in Westside…
WEST SPRINGFIELD—When William Reichelt, the town attorney, placed first in the mayoral preliminary two months ago that eliminated former mayor Gregory Neffinger and left State Representative Michael Finn in second, he had turned the election narrative here on its head. Facing Finn one-on-one, however, Reichelt is working to ensure his 400 vote margin in September was not a fluke.
To prevail Tuesday against an established figure like Finn—no stranger to tough fights himself—the retail manager turned lawyer will have to make the most of the momentum he got in September.
“I was very surprised after the primary to have won by 400 votes,” Reichelt said. Response from voters went from, “‘You’re who, you’re what?’” to “‘Oh you’re the guy who won. That’s so awesome!’”
Teetering on the cusp of 30, Reichelt pushes a back on the image of him as the precocious upstart.
“I don’t feel young,” Reichelt said in an interview at the Dunkin Donuts near the intersection of Kings Highway and Route 20. “‘You’re a kid,’” others have observed of him. “No I’m not!”
He has served on town boards and commissions like the Planning Board (regaling WMassP&I with tales of how this Dunkin outlet’s awkward layout came to be). Though his hair is in retreat, his appearance could still fit an Abercrombie & Fitch stereotype, appropriate as he ran one of the retailer’s stores after graduating from Westfield State.
Being a store manager was valuable experience after graduating, but there was little hope for career advancement. Wanting a new job and frustrated with the slow pace of working toward an MBA part-time, he turned to law school. He joked he chose law over accounting, as his father and brother had, because they both worked in cubicles.
Reichelt started out hoping to become a prosecutor and interned on both sides of criminal cases, but he secured a paid legal internship with the Town of Agawam. That led to a full-time gig—and contacts from across the Westfield River that have helped during the race. He later became his hometown’s attorney although he does work in a cubicle.
“I learned through managing people,” Reichelt said of his time at Abercrombie, adding that, as Town Attorney, he oversees the lawyers doing contract work for the municipality. That experience could be helpful while overseeing a $97 million budget for a town of 28,000.
Reichelt told WMassP&I that revising zoning and permitting to ease things for small businesses and combating blight were among his priorities if elected. Though an apostasy for his profession, he remarked, “You don’t want to have to get a lawyer to open up a mom and pop store.”
Part of controlling blight, he said, was managing the impact of MGM and I-91’s reconstruction. Reichelt said he expected I-91 traffic would move to Route 5 and locals would, in turn, shift to routes like his own street, Piper Road. The town will need to proactively reengineer traffic to accommodate these shifts.
Blight had a more traditional context, too.
“The foreclosure crisis hit West Springfield harder than it seems,” he said, adding that he had worked with the attorney general’s office on a program to renovate houses banks foreclosed on. In one of his campaign videos released last weekend, he promised to ramp such efforts.
Such videos are part of Reichelt’s aggressive social media and branding strategy. While the short films have an infomercial air, they, along with regular, engaging Twitter and Instagram posts around town, have helped bring in younger voters, something even Finn supporters concede Reichelt has done well.
Reichelt dinged Finn a bit on this point, promising to continue using social media to reach residents if elected.
“I don’t want to be that candidate that uses their Facebook & twitter like crazy and then shuts it down for two years,” he said.
Recently however, Finn has seemingly knocked Reichelt a bit back on his heels. The state rep has focused like a laser on property taxes and free cash, stemming what momentum the town attorney had according to some Westside observers.
During a debate sponsored by the Council on Aging (held after Reichelt spoke to WMassP&I) Finn produced a Reichelt mailer that he considered “negative” something he said Reichelt vowed not to do.
“I was more than shocked this morning when I opened up my mailbox and saw Will break his promise,” Finn told West Springfield seniors.
“The mailer we’re talking about, they’re just facts. Nothing negative about it,” Reichelt replied.
But less than the mailer, the free cash and tax issue has proven thorny for Reichelt. Finn has charged that spending has gone up in the town and with it property taxes, and he has concentrated on the town’s free cash—unexpended funds from the preceding fiscal year—as a means to lessen the tax burden. Instead, Finn has said, it has gone to additional spending.
Perhaps reflecting Finn’s criticism in the weeks before, speaking to WMassP&I Reichelt said he would work to stabilize town finances and fund capital projects, “Without defaulting on our bills and doing it in a way that is not smoke and mirrors,” but in a way that is “meaningful and lasting.” Reichelt has accused Finn of using his own numbers to justify his critique. Finn has said they came from the town website.
Although incumbent mayor Sullivan has not publicly endorsed anybody, Reichelt has cast himself as heir apparent. Many of Reichelt’s key staffers and supporters like his campaign manager, Michele Cabral, were on Sullivan’s 2013 campaign too. Yet, it has opened Reichelt up to criticism from Finn on Sullivan’s record, including spending and taxes.
Reichelt has however, differentiated himself from his boss. He conceded that West Springfield itself has not always gotten out its message effectively. “Something we have not done well is communication,” he told WMassP&I, adding that his administration would also focus more on blighted properties than Sullivan’s has.
The rising temperature of the campaign notwithstanding, Reichelt says he will have a relationship with Finn his supporters like Senator Jim Welch—for whom Reichelt once interned—no matter who wins, a sentiment that Finn has expressed as well. “Because I like him I hate to criticize,” Reichelt said of Finn.
As the race enters its final hours, Reichelt said he has enjoyed meeting new people and growing his following since the preliminary, “It’s been a blast.”
The response has been incredible, ensuring that win or lose, the effort will not have been for naught. “Best parts is the amount of energy that comes out of other people,” he said. “If everybody was like ‘oh, I don’t know,’ it could have been a miserable five months.”