Gomez Exits Council, Leaving Ex-Colleagues a Big Decision…
UPDATED 2/3/21 1:14PM: To include details of Gomez’s resignation letter.
Springfield State Senator Adam Gomez, who also held the Ward 1 City Council seat, has announced his resignation from the municipal legislature. In a press release his senate office issued, Gomez said he was leaving city office “immediately” so he could focus on his new responsibilities representing the Hampden Senate district.
Gomez defeated five-term senator James Welch in the Democratic primary last September, beginning the next phase in his meteoric rise in Valley politics. What would become of his tenure as councilor for Ward 1, which covers neighborhoods in the North End and downtown, had been unclear. His departure from City Hall means the Council will fill the seat for the remainder of 2021.
“The residents of Springfield’s Ward 1 deserve someone who can serve them fully,” Gomez said in his statement. “While I will continue to do so on a State level, I believe it is in the community’s best interests that I announce my resignation from the Springfield City Council effective immediately.”
After this story posted, the Springfield City Clerk’s office confirmed receipt on Wednesday of Gomez’s resignation letter. As it was dated Tuesday February 2, Gomez’s last official act as a councilor was likely signing a letter to US Attorney Andrew Lelling urging he seek a consent decree to force changes at the Springfield Police Department.
The Hampden Senate district consists of two-thirds of Springfield, parts of Chicopee and all of West Springfield.
This move is not a total shock, although it came nearly a month after Gomez took office in Boston. The election of Springfield councilors to any higher office other than mayor was once rare. Yet, Gomez’s election and that of colleague Orlando Ramos to legislative seats suggests this is no longer true.
There is now precedent for Beacon Hill-bound councilors to both resign to take office and to serve out their terms. In 2007, Angelo Puppolo resigned his Council seat to become the rep for the 12th Hampden district. However, in 2017, now-Rep Bud Williams of the 11th Hampden district, opted to finish his last year as a councilor. In a text, Ramos confirmed he plans to serve out his Council term.
That history may not easily translate to Gomez’s position. Senators represent four times as many people as reps do and, being a smaller body, senators’ workload is commensurately greater.
Unlike in Puppolo or Williams’s cases, there is no obvious successor. Under city charter language that dates to 1965 (and updated in 1992), the next highest vote recipient in the preceding election fills a vacancy. This section was written when the Council was all at-large. When Springfield reinstituted ward seats, which are necessarily one-on-one contests under the city’s top-two electoral system, it did not alter succession rules. Thus, a loser of a ward race can fill a vacancy.
That only happened once when Amaad Rivera filled Ward 6’s seat in 2011 after Keith Wright resigned. In 2019, E. Henry Twiggs passed away before completing his final term as the councilor for Ward 4. With barely more to the Council’s term, the body ran out the clock rather than seat the runner-up from 2017.
However, Gomez had no opponent in 2019. A write-in candidate could hypothetically take the seat. Springfield Election Commissioner Gladys Oyola said only write-in candidates who win as many votes as signatures needed to get on the ballot—in the Council’s case, 100—can take a seat. There were only 17 write-in votes in the last Council election for Ward 1.
Instead, the succession process will default to a relic from the original 1961 charter. In an email, Oyola confirmed nobody from 2019 will qualify as the “next highest vote-getter” from the last Ward 1 election.
“The Council will have to fill the seat and it has not happened since the language was added,” Oyola emailed. “It was almost certain that the council would one day have to fill a vacancy by appointment due the adoption of ward representation.”
While technically possible for at-large seats, it was and is unlikely to cycle through all runners-up. There can be as many defeated candidates as the total number of at-large seats on the Council.
Though there have been efforts to change this, Springfield has no mechanism for special elections other than for mayor. By contrast, a city like Newton allows special council elections and currently has two pending due to vacancies.
In an interview Council President Marcus Williams discussed the Council’s next steps, but also thanked Gomez for his service. They both joined the Council in 2016.
“I just want to commend Councilor Gomez for his five years in office representing the constituents of Ward 1 and the constituents of Springfield,” President Williams said.
The formal appointment gears will take time to begin moving. The City Clerk’s office must first receive Gomez’s resignation. Then it will convey the resignation the Election Commission, which will officially verify no statutory successor exists. Only then, can the Council legally act to fill the seat.
Williams said beginning Monday the Council will accept letters of interest and resumes from prospective Ward 1 appointees. The application period will be open for two weeks. However, Williams said Council staff will keep the materials confidential until that two weeks have passed.
“It is certainly my responsibility at this time to fill this seat, but doing it is in an intentional way that is transparent for everyone,” Williams said of the process.
Before the Council votes for an appointee, the process could take several directions depending on the volume of applications.
For example, the Council used a hiring subcommittee in 2019 to select a new city clerk. Should a stampede of would-be appointees occur, a Council subcommittee could cull the herd. After that, or if a slimmer candidate pool forms, the Council may conduct interviews in open session. Holyoke, whose Council has filled several vacancies in recent years, usually lets candidates present themselves before the body chooses an appointee.
The roll call will feature councilors stating the name of their preference. In Springfield, seven votes will be necessary to secure the seat.
Because Gomez was widely believed to be retiring from the Council anyway, a race in Ward 1 had been developing. No candidates have opened a campaign account. School Committee member Maria Perez and former councilor Zaida Luna may be eyeing the post. On Tuesday, The Republican reported that Perez would seek the Council’s appointment to the Ward 1 seat.
City Hall sources say some councilors prefer a caretaker serve out Gomez’s term, allowing the regularly scheduled election to play out. The appointee could enjoy some benefit at the nominal incumbent. Williams was reluctant to discuss whether the appointee should promise not to run in the regular election.
“I don’t know if that’s a legal thing I can say,” he said. “I will not be rolling this process out with that stipulation.”
Councilors could still ask appointee candidates about it in session. Only the appointee’s word could bind such a commitment, though. Filing for the regular Council election will close this summer, well after the remaining councilors fill Gomez’s seat.
For now, Williams said prospective candidates seeking the appointment can send their materials to the Council’s clerks. Paperwork may be emailed to Council clerks Kelley Mickiewicz or Susan Kacoyannakis or sent via US mail to Springfield City Council, 36 Court Street, Room 200, Springfield, MA 01103.