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Briefings: Fenton Takes on New Challenge—Contested Reelection…

Michael Fenton Thursday night at his kickoff. (WMassP&I)

SPRINGFIELD—Since becoming the first ward representative for Ward 2 since the dawn of the Kennedy era and the city’s youngest city councilor, Michael Fenton has faced no opposition. Every remaining ward councilor from the class of 2009 has nevertheless faced opposition of some kind. Fenton’s unopposed streak seems set to end in 2017.

Entering this group isn’t daunting Fenton who launched his reelection in a packed John Boyle O’Reilly Club in East Springfield. Family, friends, Council colleagues and pols from West Springfield’s mayor to legislators joined the four-term councilor as he touted the progresse in the city while assuring more work is ahead.

“I am incredibly proud, incredibly proud of the work we’ve done and how far we’ve come,” he said to the room.

Though the ballots is not yet set, at least two have pulled papers for the Ward 2 seat, Ivelisse Gonzalez and Kency Gilet. The latter seems the furthest along in his campaign though it is not yet clear what threat he constitutes. The Ward 2 race is only one of several that could see spirited campaigns.

Ward 2 in Springfield divided up into its constituent precincts in shades of blue and lavender. (via Mass Sec. of State)

Ward 2 runs roughly between the Chicopee border and I-291 from Bay State Medical Center to Roosevelt Avenue. It encompasses the Atwater Park, East Springfield, Hungry Hill and Liberty Heights neighborhoods.

Since learning he will face opposition, Fenton has embraced the idea of a contest. In an interview, he cast it as a good indication for the city’s traditionally moribund municipal turnout.

“It’s a healthy sign for Springfield’s democracy,” Fenton said.

Nevertheless, much has changed since 2009. Then a fresh Providence College graduate living at home, he could campaign between his studies at law school. Now a married, 30 year-old homeowner with a full-time job at well-respected Springfield law firm, time for a major grassroots effort is even more precious.

Still, it’s a challenge Fenton and friends appear ready for. His campaign paraphernalia sported a new design. Yet, several supporters went nostalgic, wearing shirts emblazoned with his 2009 logo. Fenton’s spouse, Jon Berthiaume, is pitching in on the digital side.

A view of the crowd at the John Boyle O’Reilly Club Thursday evening. (WMassP&I)

Thursday night Kathy Tobin, a former television reporter turned nonprofit director, introduced Fenton. She said their families go back to the former Our Lady of Hope church

“I’ve watched Michael go off to college and I was proudest when he came back an experienced young man that wanted to give back to the community that gave to him,” Tobin noted.

Fenton finished a nearly unprecedented three-year stint as president last December. In his remarks, he ticked off several accomplishment, many from his time as president. But he also highlighted Mary Troy park, CRRC’s rail car plant and reuse of the former Army Reserve building as a police support facility. All are in Ward 2. Fenton also suggested the trajectory the city has also shifted.

“In the last eight years, I think, you’ve seen a lot of the water cooler conversations about Springfield change,” he told the crowd. As further proof, he highlighted investments his peers have made in the city including home ownership as he and Berthiaume have done.

Speaking to WMassP&I, Fenton was confident, but did not dismiss the challenge. Eight years ago after a second place finish in the preliminary, Fenton won by nearly six points. Thus, he said he takes every challenge seriously. But Fenton indicated he would take a page from his 2009 campaign.

“Go out and talk to people,” he said was the key. “It’s how you get things done and it’s how you win elections.”