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In Hampden Sheriff Home Stretch, Still a Game of Inches…

UPDATED 8/7/2016 10:24AM: For clarity and grammar.

Former Springfield Mayor Charles Ryan endorsed Nick Cocchi on July 27. (courtesy Cocchi campaign)

Former Springfield Mayor Charles Ryan endorsed Nick Cocchi on July 27. (courtesy Cocchi campaign)

Nicholas Cocchi, the Assistant Superintendent for the Ludlow jail, scored a key and somewhat rare endorsement, adding to the intrigue and competitiveness surrounding the Democratic primary for Hampden Sheriff. Former Springfield Mayor Charles Ryan stepped back into the public eye last week and lent his support to Cocchi during an event at the candidate’s 16 Acres campaign office.

Ashe himself announced the backing of Chicopee State Rep Joseph Wagner and support from the building trades in the past week. But Ashe’s endorsements and Ryan’s for Cocchi, followed by that of Agawam mayor Richard Cohen, emphasize the impact of every advantage in the Democratic primary for Hampden Sheriff.

Endorsements do little to change the outcome of elections, political science suggests and the political coalitions of many top tier endorsements are not necessarily what they used to be.  This is a point that ex-Springfield Mayor and current Governor’s Council Michael Albano has been relying on as he has been virtually passed over by major endorsers save the odd union local.

The Ryan endorsement comes as the Ashe-Cocchi dynamic has become a battle of the cities and suburbs. A strong showing for Ashe in the cities would probably win him the race. Strength in the suburbs is key to Cocchi’s victory.

Hampden County (via

Should turnout match 2012—which also featured a Thursday primary, but also enjoyed the juice of US Representative Richard Neal contested re-nomination fight—the seat of Hampden County could be a third of the Democratic primary vote.

That bodes well for Ashe, who has assembled a coalition within the city that cuts across its usual warring factions. Albano has pockets of support particularly in the remember-it-like-it-wasn’t crowd, but nothing like Ashe’s. Until the Ryan endorsement, Cocchi had largely ceded the city to Ashe, save the backing of groups like Women of Vanguard.

It would be easy to assume Ryan’s endorsement of Cocchi was a political slap at the man who beat Ryan for reelection in 2007, Domenic Sarno, or even Ashe, whom Ryan crushed in 2005. By most measures, Ryan has never operated that way.

After the death of his wife, Joan, a fixture at Ryan’s side during his career in city politics, which included a stint as mayor in the 1960’s, few thought he would step into the political arena in any vocal way.

Charles Ryan meeeting with reporters during his tenure as mayor. (via Urban Compass)

However, his commitment to the city and apparent independence offers Cocchi a helpful boost. While retiring incumbent sheriff Michael Ashe—no relation to the councilor—has put his shoulder into electing Cocchi, even a pol as powerful as the sheriff had little to offer Ryan, a retired lawyer.

Ryan’s reputation among many in the city’s somewhat diffused reform element could be helpful to Cocchi. Though many of Councilor Ashe’s backers have ties to or are residents that openly dislike Springfield’s insular, dated and often self-serving politics, such people also formed a key part of Ryan’s base. Many remain appreciative of Ryan’s efforts to save the city from financial ruin.

There are risks inherent with Ryan’s endorsement, too. Despite having firm backing from multiple unions, some labor groups remain chilly toward Cocchi. While many layoffs were the result of the wreck left behind by Ryan’s predecessor, Albano, labor discontent was common during the Control Board era.

Ryan, though a classic JFK Democrat, has crossed party lines in the recent past and as mayor he enjoyed a trans-partisan, trans-ideological base. Passionate progressives, earnest moderates and well-meaning conservatives were bound by a common thread—improving how 36 Courts Street operates. That may seem out of place at a time of deep political polarization.

Ashe is still likely to dominate in Springfield, but Ryan’s decision could focus the anti-Albano vote on Cocchi and make a difference in a close election.

State Rep. Joseph Wagner (via

Ashe is attempting the same tactic himself. Cocchi’s two-year head start on his opponents has helped him build recognition and support including in cities like Chicopee and Holyoke. Democratic politicos in the former have seemingly lined up behind Cocchi, but Wagner backing Ashe, however quantifiable, counters the narrative of Chicopee as a runaway for Cocchi.

In the end, the race will be probably be decided by the boots on the ground, although media buys remain a huge X-factor. Albano, who has decidedly less visible support, has continued to pump money into his own campaign account, to finance an incoming flood of ads. Cocchi has done the same and has been on air for a while. Ashe has yet to buy television ad time according to FCC records.