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Twiggs Remembered as Force for Justice in Springfield and Beyond…

Councilor E. Henry Twiggs in 2015. (via Facebook/Twiggs campaign)

E. Henry Twiggs, Springfield City Councilor and local civil rights icon, has died following a recent illness. The five-term Ward 4 Councilor had marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, fought to restore ward-based seats in city government and lived to see the election of the nation’s first black president.

Elected leaders from the full Council to US Representative Richard Neal and former Governor Deval Patrick, remembered Twiggs and expressed condolences to his wife, Karen, who survives him. First elected in 2009, Twiggs, 80, did not seek reelection this year amid failing health and a decision to move on and give others a chance to govern.

“The Springfield City Council is deeply saddened by the recent passing of E. Henry Twiggs,” Council President Justin Hurst said in a statement on behalf of the Council. “He took great pride in serving his community and his legacy will live on through the many lives he has touched.”

Twiggs first joined the Council amidst a major transition. Counting himself, the body then featured nine new members elected at the dawn of the post-Control Board era. As the Council grew more confident, Twiggs became a reliable vote for reformist endeavors, and often a leader on them. That work earned him deep respect among his colleagues.

Despite inevitable and frequent clashes with Mayor Domenic Sarno, the mayor offered unvarnished praise for Twiggs and condolences to his family. “My thoughts, prayers, sympathy, and encouragement to his wife Karen, family and friends,” the mayor said in a statement. “Henry was a Civil Rights Activist and a Statesman who always had the heart of his/our community in his soul. He fought his health challenges with strength and pride.”

Springfield City Council 2018

E. Henry Twiggs, fifth from left, in 2018 and the Council with which he was last elected. (WMassP&I)

Twiggs figured prominently in local Democratic politics as well. He played key roles in Patrick’s gubernatorial campaign and led the City Democratic Committee.

According to The Republican, Patrick, now a candidate for President of the United States, remembered Twiggs as “a source of encouragement, guidance and wisdom.”

“His high-pitched calls to action fired me and others up more than once,” the former governor continued. “Given his many years of activism on behalf of social and economic justice, he made me want to make him proud. I hope I did. I know I am proud to have known him as my friend.”

Many also recognized his long history of work on civil rights. While re-institution of ward representation was a key local example, Twiggs had fought for civil rights across the country and arc of history.

“He was a man of dignity, compassion and conviction,” Congressman Neal said in a statement. Noting his work during the 1960’s alongside Dr. King, Neal continued, “Throughout his remarkable life, Henry stood up against the forces of injustice and inequality, and helped make our community and nation a better place in the process.”


Won’t be the same… (WMassP&I)

Although the focus is now on the grieving process, his death comes more than six weeks beforef his term expires. His elected successor, Malo Brown, an aide to State Rep Bud Williams, does not take office until January 6.

Pursuant to revisions to the city charter the legislature passed in 1965 and 1992, the recipient of the “next highest number of votes from the most recent municipal election who is eligible and willing to serve” is eligible to take the seat.

The succession laws were passed at a time when the Council and the School Committee—the 1992 law clarified the same vacancy rules applied to the latter—were elected entirely at-large. The charter was never updated for ward representation. Thus, the next highest vote-getter is necessarily the previous race’s outright loser. That happened when Keith Wright resigned in late 2010, deeding his seat to the person he vanquished in the 2009 race, Amaad Rivera.

The tightness of the calendar could permit the Council to sidestep seating anybody. The City Clerk must notify the Election Commission and Council of the vacancy. The Commission then has 15 days to certify and notify the eligible the person with the most votes from the 2017 Ward 4 election.

Twiggs did have an opponent that year, Robert Kelly, who at the time led a nonprofit. As the definitional recipient of the next highest number of votes, he could take the seat provided he remains eligible for it.

If Kelly is deemed ineligible or declines the seat, the Council could probably fill the seat itself. The most obvious person would be Councilor-elect Brown. Nothing compels the body to make any choice though the Council effectively dissolves itself ahead of Christmas, though.

Still, those legalities and politics are taking a backseat for now. Tributes are still pouring in, recognizing both his life’s work, but also his friendship and dedication to the community and his support of future leaders.

Today Springfield lost one of its best. The impact he made was profound. To me he was a dear friend, mentor, and…

Posted by Michael A. Fenton on Thursday, November 21, 2019

Among them was at-large Councilor Jesse Lederman who spoke about his mentor and later Council colleague with deep fondness. Lederman often credited Twiggs, whom he succeeded as Democratic City Committee chair, with giving him his start in electoral politics.

“From the day we met, he took me under his wing, and taught me the true meaning of public service,” Lederman said in a statement this morning. “Indeed, he was the first individual to suggest to me that I could run for and win elected office. Our work in this coming term will be dedicated to his memory and his legacy.”