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More 2021 Council Candidacies Coming Soon to Springfield…

Springfield Council chambers

More are making a move on this room for when, hopefully, the Council won’t be virtual. (WMP&I)

The 2020 election has prompted at least two ward races for Council next year as two members move up to the legislature. However, the campaign gears have begun to turn beyond these open seats. Two sitting councilors will likely see challenges next year and some citywide challengers are not waiting to hear whether any at-large councilors will move on.

The mayor’s office is not up next year, but the City Council and School Committee are. Among those likely to run for Council in 2021 is Lezlie Braxton Campbell, a Springfield teacher and chair of the Young Democrats of Massachusetts (YDMA). Meanwhile, Jynai McDonald, a community and labor activist who vied for Ward 4’s seat in 2019, appears set for a rematch with Malo Brown.

At-large, two individuals have filed with the Massachusetts Office of Campaign & Political Finance. However, a third, James Ryan, also a city teacher, confirmed he is in via a statement to WMP&I.

“As someone who teaches here, is raising a family here, and has years of policymaking experience, I’m committed to making sure that all of Springfield has a voice as we not only recover from this crisis, but rebuild stronger than ever,” he said.

An announcement and filings with OCPF are expected soon.

While turnout in municipal elections have not lived up to the hopes of ward representation advocates, competitiveness has. If no incumbents retire, at-large councilors remain difficult to pry out. However, since the city revived ward seats, every ward has seen at least one incumbent in a contest. On three occasions fortune—and voters—smiled upon those challengers.

Lezlie Braxton Campbell (via

In an interview, Campbell confirmed his interest in the Ward 3 seat Melvin Edwards currently occupies. However, he emphasized that he had not made any formal announcement.

“I have been thinking about this for a little while,” Campbell said.

Among his motivations, Campbell cited the ward’s low turnout—Ward 3 typically has the city’s lowest—and a desire to make city service more accessible. These issues have only grown more prominent for the 7th grade social studies teachers as the COVID-19 pandemic inflates already bloated inequities in the city.

“How many folks are actually engaged in voting and the civic process?” he asked—and answered: not enough. “I want to work on changing that.”

Ward 3 consists of Maple Heights/Six Corners, the South End and parts of Forest Park.

In neighboring Ward 4, the contest in 2021 could be similar, if not identical to the one in 2019. Early in that year, Springfield civil rights icon E. Henry Twiggs announced he would not seek reelection. Unwell, he passed away shortly before the general election that November.

McDonald jumped in, joined by recurring ballot characters Lorenzo Gaines and Larry Lawson. They and a fifth contender were eliminated in the preliminary. Brown, an aide to state rep and former councilor Bud Williams, would enter the open race, too. While Brown dominated the low-turnout preliminary by 25 points, the general was far closer. Brown beat McDonald by a far narrower eight points.

Though not directly comparable, her performance in 2019 showed improvement over her unsuccessful at-large bid two years earlier.

Jynai McDonald

Readying a rematch? Jynai McDonald in 2017. (WMassP&I)

McDonald has not made any public announcement of a bid. However, she never closed her OCPF account and city politicos see the pieces moving. A source close to her indicated she would be running but did not expect any declaration until next month at the earliest.

Reached via text, McDonald would only say residents should keep watch the seat, but declined to offer further details.

In addition to the Council’s eight ward seats, it has five at-large. While retirements have come suddenly, there is little reason to believe incumbents will bail in 2021. Councilors Justin Hurst, Jesse Lederman and Tracye Whitfield are unlikely to head for the exit as all have pending legislative agendas—or broader ambitions.

Sean Curran, elected last year, is only just settling back into politics after leaving the State House in 2014. The main reason some think Kateri Walsh might hang up her council boots is the length of her tenure—over 20 years over two Council stints. However, she has defied retirement speculation before.

That leaves a tough road for Ryan. At-large challenges are common even with all incumbents staying put, but incumbent at-large losses are vanishingly rare. If a seat opens, the field will explode as has happened the last two cycles.

Yet, the wide world of campaigning is not new to Ryan. Prior to becoming a teacher in Springfield, he had worked in local California politics. As a resident of Longmeadow, he had sought a seat on the School Committee there.

As his statement indicated, the challenges the city faces, many of which he sees in his classroom, however virtual, influenced his decision to run for City Council.

James Ryan Springfield

Well, the pictured is self-captioned. (via LinkedIn)

“The COVID-19 pandemic brought Springfield new challenges, while exposing deeply-rooted issues that have deprived our city of its full potential,” he said.

Juan Latorre and Juan Caraballo have also filed with OCPF this year. Neither have taken any other public steps. It is also unclear whether they would be running at-large or in a ward. Both list Ward 7 addresses.

McDonald face hurdles, too, given Brown’s incumbency. In 2019, he enjoyed institutional support from Williams and the politically connected activists in his family. However, in office he has faced criticism for his descriptions of issues and his own ward.

While some of her Council allies face a delicate situation should they side against a now-colleague, McDonald has retained significant support from political and neighborhood groups. Moreover, electing more women to office in the city—beyond School Committee—remains a priority for activists.

Ward 4 consists of the city’s Hill neighborhoods and the McKnight section.

Though he did speak about giving Ward 3 residents a voice, Campbell did not lob any bombs at Edwards. Still, Edwards could be difficult to beat. The president of the Maple Heights/Six Corners Neighborhood Council, he has been broadly popular and has cultivated support from community activists and labor. Though his bids for state office found less success, Edwards has easily dispatched challengers since first winning office in 2009.

Campbell will have one advantage his predecessors did not. Chairing YDMA, a statewide organization, while hailing from the commonwealth’s occident could avail him of resources and advice the average first-time Springfield candidate does not have. Indeed, speaking to WMP&I, he said his YDMA work had been a factor.

“Leading all these caucuses and chapters on their different initiatives has given me some of the tools… that I believe would be useful being a councilor,” he said.

Springfield City Hall

More setting their sights on City Hall… (WMP&I)

As the fact of Campbell’s YDMA office suggests, another element of these emerging candidacies is generational.  Campbell, McDonald and Ryan are all Millennials. Though this Council has its share of this generation and a few on the younger edge of Gen-X, this could change.

Ward 1 Councilor Adam Gomez and Ward 8 Councilor Orlando Ramos fall into this group. However, after winning legislative seats this year, their time on the Council will end next year. It is likelier than not their successors will predate the Reagan administration.

The significance goes beyond mere Millennial/Millennial-ish representation. Although being young at heart does count for something, the Council’s younger members have been a major source of the body’s legislative energy over the last decade.