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Briefings: Who Run the City? Girls!—Like Jynai McDonald, Perhaps?…

Jynai McDonald (WMassP&I)

SPRINGFIELD—It was not the most crowded kickoff this election cycle and the at-large field is hypercompetitive this year. But as Jynai McDonald strode into Palate on Boston Road, the energy was hard to miss. The prospect of an open at-large seat has uncorked interest and possibility with McDonald’s launch last Thursday as only the latest example.

A community activist and nonprofit leader with her own story to tell, McDonald cuts an impressive figure. But many of the at-large aspirants of 2017 do. Nor does she have quite the same name recognition some other challengers possess. Still, the early hints suggest McDonald has the potential to surprise and break through Springfield’s normally predictable politics.

“I know how to bring people together to get things done,” McDonald told the crowd assembled in the dining room off the restaurant’s bar on June 1.

Many candidate a promising the same, their eyes on the seat at-large Councilor and State Rep Bud Williams seems prepared to vacate. Yet, an early look suggests McDonald could assemble a coalition broad enough to crack through and, presumably, govern.

McDonald with supporters at Palate on June 1. (WMassP&I)

The nature of Springfield’s municipal electorate—older and whiter than the overall population—favors candidates from the better-off neighborhoods in at-large races. Add to that more universal factors like name recognition and candidates like McDonald would have a steep climb to 36 Court Street.

But her kickoff indicates she could overcome that if a lot else goes right. Supporters say she has already been hitting doors to introduce herself to voters outside her base.

Surrounded by a heavily diverse crowd, McDonald, 28, promised to emphasize constituent services and other longstanding causes of hers. But she sounded notes on police-community relations and sustainable economic development.

The Western Mass manager for Training Resources of America, McDonald also emphasized getting residents into work. “Not just getting them jobs,” she said, but “preparing [them] to be in work.”

Carol Lewis-Caulton in 2007 (via Tommy Devine’s blog)

If elected, McDonald would only be the second black woman to serve on the Springfield City Council. Carol Lewis-Caulton’s, who served a lone term at the end of the last century, was the first.

African-American pols have found increasing ease getting onto the Council since the introduction of ward representation. Since Morris Jones was elected to the all at-large Council, there has always been at least one. Now five councilors are black, a percentage well above that community’s share of the population overall.

But skin color alone may not be what McDonald make competitive. As her kickoff illustrated, she is drawing from a range of the city’s political groups. While a common thread is progressivism, prominent Latino leaders, women’s political advocates and social justice activists were all there.

The 2016-2017 City Council…is mostly boys’ town.

In addition, several politicos and pols in attendance. State Rep. Carlos Gonzalez and Ward 1 Councilor Adam Gomez spoke at McDonald’s kickoff. Both represent big chunks the city’s Latino community, but also its emerging progressive movement. Gomez, one of the most active, liberal anchors of the Council, especially burnishes McDonald’s already noted progressive credentials.

However, the appetite to bolster Springfield’s abysmal female representation in government could prove crucial. McDonald described her own challenges as a young single mother and women have taken especially key roles in her campaign. Some highlighted the importance of female role models for women of all ages in the city.

Ayanna Crawford, an activist and communications professional, said McDonald was setting an example. “It is important for me and my daughter to see women standing up,” she told the crowd at Palate.

The City Council’s lone woman, Kateri Walsh, is seeking reelection in the same five-seat at-large race as McDonald. Several other female candidates have filed for the race as well.