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Longmeadow Daze: Around Town and among the 538…

UPDATED 10/26/16 7:56PM: For clarity and grammar.

Longmeadow Daze is an occasional series reporting on and analyzing Longmeadow government and politics.

Mary Gail Cokkinias (WMassP&I)

Mary Gail Cokkinias (WMassP&I)

LONGMEADOW—It is an oddity among Western democracies, but one American students learn early on in social studies classes. Since the founding of the republic, the Electoral College, not voters, formally decide who becomes president of the United States. Voters now choose the electors and thus president, but these 538 people remain the final arbiters on who occupies the White House.

For the second time in two presidential elections, one of Springfield’s most prominent suburbs is the hometown for one of Massachusetts Democrats’ 11 electors. Mary Gail Cokkinias, a Democratic activist here, secured the honor this year four years after fellow Longmeadow resident—and Democratic chair here—Candy Glazer held the same honor to reelect President Barack Obama.

Western Massachusetts has traditionally had a place at the electoral college table. Indeed, Cokkinias is not the only one from the 413. Dori Dean, a political activist and consultant from Holyoke, is also an elector and in 2012 Ray Drewnowski, then of Easthampton and now of Holyoke, was an alternate. Agawam’s Corinne Wingard was an Obama elector in 2008. But Longmeadow’s consecutive slots underscores the town’s growing importance in the state party.

It’s a special honor for Cokkinias, a retired teacher, who has supported Clinton since 2008 because of her experience and understanding of government.

Sec. Hillary Clinton after her acceptance speech Philadelphia

Sec. Hillary Clinton after her acceptance speech Philadelphia

“She is extremely qualified. She is more knowledgeable than most people in Washington,” Cokkinias, who has campaign throughout the election on Clinton’s behalf, said.

Cokkinias said she thought in 2008 Obama lacked the relationships needed to govern, but he has done a “masterful” job despite “a very tough time with an extremely hostile house and senate.” “Would Hillary have had an easier time,” she added. “I don’t know.”

Dating back to the New Hampshire Democratic primary, Cokkinias has organized and led frequent trips to the Granite State to volunteer on behalf of Clinton.

While Cokkinias is thrilled a qualified woman is running, her support is not about gender alone. Rather Cokkinias sees Clinton as an example for other women to not be deterred by setback or failure.

She reflected that in the past such role models were rare, something younger women may not realize. Cokkinias’ own mother was a teacher with a master’s degree, but some family members felt her mother place was at home.

The Connecticut State House, a familiar sight to a young Cokkinias. (WMassP&I)

The Connecticut State House, a familiar sight to a young Cokkinias. (WMassP&I)

Cokkinias grew up in a political household. Her father was a Connecticut legislator and she would come home to strategy sessions in the living room. Conventions and caucuses stand out as regular events. Meade Alcorn, a Republican speaker of the Connecticut House was a frequent guest.

“It was a part of the fabric that I had growing up,” she said in a recent interview.

It was a different time, too. Cokkinias said compromise was the order of the day, unlike the gridlock, discord and contempt that defines politics today.

Now a senior member of the Longmeadow Democratic Town Committee (LDTC) and a state committee member, Cokkinias and LDTC mainstays like Glazer have contributed to Democratic growth in this formerly reliably Republican town.

Michele Marantz, now a vice-chair of the LDTC, met Cokkinias during Elizabeth Warren’s 2012 run for Senate. Cokkinias extended an invitation to attend committee meetings and later encouraged Marantz to become a delegate to the Massachusetts Democratic convention.

“And off I went to my first state convention in Springfield,” Marantz remembers.

This year Cokkinias sought a female district delegate slot to the national convention in Philadelphia, but lost out to Easthampton Democratic activist Nicole LaChapelle. Rather than seek an at-large spot as she did in 2012, she sought the even more competitive position of elector.

Former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton, heavily favored to win Massachusetts. (via wikipedia)

Former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton, heavily favored to win Massachusetts. (via wikipedia)

Massachusetts voters have elected the electors for the Democratic presidential nominee for decades aside from Ronald Reagan and Dwight Eisenhower’s landslides. Clinton leads Republican nominee Donald Trump in the commonwealth by wide margins in polling. Thus, Massachusetts Democratic electors are almost guaranteed a place among the country’s 538 presidential electors.

“Certainly it was very competitive in that you had a large number of well-known, well-respected activists competing for only 11 slots,” Jason Palitsch, a Democratic elector from Shrewsbury said. “I believe almost 30 candidates threw their hat into the ring before balloting.”

The State Committee, a sprawling panel of elected and status add-on members from across the commonwealth, only received some curation of the candidate list from the Clinton campaign. It was a real race that required three ballots. The competitiveness and tension were heightened by the poor ventilation at the school in Lawrence where the vote took place.

Fellow Democratic elector Jason Palitsch. (via Facebook/Palitsch campaign)

Fellow Democratic elector Jason Palitsch. (via Facebook/Palitsch campaign)

Despite that, “it was a friendly contest; we all serve together on the DSC, and are all committed to electing Hillary Clinton President,” Palitsch said in a message to WMassP&I.

Cokkinias’ selection as an elector is a testament to her activism over the years. However, it also reflects Longmeadow’s growing relevance in state politics and within the Greater Springfield area.

“Part of it is the fact that the population has grown in Longmeadow,” Cokkinias said. “When my late husband and I moved to Longmeadow, and the Glazers were a little bit later, no one was politically active.” The LDTC was small and largely inactive.

Over time it grew. Its slate filled and helped Democrats get elected to town offices and later the legislature. Longmeadow’s rep, Brian Ashe, and senator, Eric Lesser, are residents.

State Democrats, “recognize there is greater talent here that is often overlooked in the statewide scene,” Cokkinias said. Whether in government or within the party itself, that attention is essential for the region generally and Springfield in particular. Some governors have recognized this. Cokkinias observed that Dukakis opened an office in Western Mass, which his GOP successors dismantled. Democratic Governor Deval Patrick revived it and Republican Charlie Baker has maintained the office.

Longmeadow Dems in February. To right Cokkinias (fourth right) are Michele Marantz and Committee Chair Candy Glazer. (via Facebook/Longmeadow Dems)

Longmeadow Dems in February. To right of Cokkinias (fourth right) are Michele Marantz and Committee Chair Candy Glazer. (via Facebook/Longmeadow Dems)

While Cokkinias and Glazer have been active for some time, their election reflects some shifts in the region, too. As Democrats’ hold on some nearby towns recedes and Springfield turnout withers—once frequently the home of electors—opportunities arise for Longmeadow activists.

Marantz, the LDTC vice-chair, noted Cokkinias’ selection and Glazer’s before that as electors was a reflection of their contribution to the party, “Both of these folks have worked very hard for the honor.”