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Briefings: Council Pres. Ramos Says He’s Cleared for Round 2…

Orlando Ramos being sworn in as Council president by his boss Sen. James Welch this past January. (WMassP&I)

Not 24 hours after the polls closed Tuesday, Springfield City Council President Orlando Ramos declared he had the votes to remain Council President for another year.  It was a swift, but not unanticipated announcement. By now it has become habit for Springfield council presidents to seek back to back terms heading the chamber.

Vote counting for the presidency can begin weeks or months before the winner announces he has sufficient support. Even in election years, the battle is usually won well before voters go to the polls. But this year, with two open at-large seats, the results may have had an outsized influence on whether Ramos would have the seven councilors needed for another one-year term as president.

The Council President’s power is primarily ministerial. He or she presides over meetings, usually deferring to the clerk as to procedure. The President’s most important discretionary power is appointing committees that review legislation and oversee the administration.

As expected, all incumbents won reelection Tuesday. The two open at-large seats were wildcards. Based upon Ramos’ release, he needed the winners of both seats to go his way. He declared victory with a bare seven-vote majority including both at-large newcomers Jesse Lederman and Timothy Ryan.

Councilor Ken Shea (via Facebook/Shea campaign)

That also means until Tuesday Ramos, who represents Ward 8 on the Council, may have fewer votes than his rumored challenger, Ward 6 Councilor Ken Shea. Even if all incumbents not on Ramos’ release had not committed to Shea, Ramos was still two votes short on Election Day.

Like most presidential battles at 36 Court Street, this one brewed quietly (there are exceptions). In the broadest outlines, it pitted a more progressive Ramos against the somewhat moderate Shea.

Ideology usually does not play much of a role in Springfield Council President contests, though. First pick for committee assignments are more tantalizing carrot to dangle for votes.

In addition to Lederman and Ryan, Ramos’ release said he had the backing of Councilors Melvin Edwards, Adam Gomez, Justin Hurst, Marcus Williams and, of course, Ramos himself.

Sources say discontent with Ramos’ presidency prompted the reluctance to give him another year at the wheel. Yet, it is not clear what that dissatisfaction is.

Ramos does preside in the shadow of the three previous Council Presidents, Michael Fenton, Jimmy Ferrera and Jose Tosado. Fenton served an unprecedented three (busy) years. Ferrera’s rocky tenure attracted a cascade of attention—and criticism. Tosado, now a state rep, guided the chamber into the ward representation era.

Traditionally, unless another contender publicly refuses to concede, the entire Council votes in the self-declared winner unanimously. Some councilors have cast “present” votes on occasion, but acclimation is the rule.

Council President Orlando Ramos (submitted photo)

That said, hard feelings can endure. As he was not among Ramos’ vote in the release, it is at least possible Ramos could replace Thomas Ashe as chair of the Public Safety Committee. Ashe has lead that panel since joinging the Council in 2010. But such a move could detonate the Police-Community Relations Committee Ramos created this year and which Ashe co-chairs.

Several competing interests will dominate the Council in 2018. With MGM opening, casino oversight will come to the fore. The start of commuter rail service to Hartford and New Haven poses issues from rezoning around Union Station to trackside improvements that still remain.

If the Council presidency’s fate really was on a knife’s edge until Election Day, Ramos had quite a battle on his hands. Nonetheless, that fight may have been a mere dust-up compared to the challenges Ramos and the Council face in 2018.