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Springfield to Have One Ballot Lap in 2021, Ward 1 Candidates Waltzing in…

Springfield City Hall

A quiet if not completely mute election year in Springfield ahead. (WMP&I)

Barring any signatures challenges, the midterm ballot in Springfield looks ready to go and two prominent open races will want for competition. Moreover, the field will be thin enough to avoid the need for a preliminary. Still, a full complement of contenders will challenge at-large councilors and half of the ward Council seats will have races. One district School Committee seat and the two at-large seats will also be competitive. The mayor is not up this year.

The biggest surprise came in Ward 1. Gumersindo Gomez, whom the Council appointed to complete the term of his son Adam, opted not to return his ballot papers. That he pulled papers at all was something of a reversal from a stance he had taken in the run-up to his appointment. He teased a shift toward running during the Council’s selection hearing. Now School Committee Maria Perez, whom the Council passed over in favor of Gomez, is on the glidepath to the municipal legislature.

Perez claimed she had no advance notice of Gomez apparent opt out. However, she cited her 41 years of community activism as preparation for what may be her inevitable arrival at the City Council.

“I know there’s a lot of work ahead, but I’m ready for it,” Perez told WMP&I.

As of posting time, Gomez did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Not only Ward 1’s council seat will experience the absence of a contest. The district School Committee slot Perez is vacating has only one candidate. Joesiah Gonzalez, who sought an at-large Committee seat in 2017, faces no opposition for her seat. Perez’s district also includes Ward 3, but there will be a Council race there.

Ward 1 is one of the city’s most diverse areas, but it also has great concentrations of poverty. It includes downtown and the North End neighborhoods.

The lack of the preliminary is rare, but not unheard of. Preliminaries are required whenever there are more candidates than double the number of seats up for election.

There was no citywide preliminary in 2013, though two ward Council seats had preliminary elections. There was also no mayoral contest that year.

The last time the city had no preliminary at all was 1999 according to Election Commissioner Gladys Oyola. That year, mayor Michael Albano was unopposed and only 14 candidates filed for the then-all at-large nine-member Council. Only five candidates filed for the three at-large School Committee seats up that year. Before 2009, only half of the six Committee seats were up every two years.

The Council today has five at-large seats and eight ward seats. In addition to its two at-large seats, the School Committee has four district seats, which each cover two wards. Post-ward representation, the entire Committee goes up for election together during what are now midterms during the four-year mayoral term. The mayor has served as the Committee’s seventh voting member since at least 1961.

Maria Perez just after hitting a Staples “that was easy” button. (via Springfield Public Schools)

With the ballot’s closure, the City Council now has little risk of losing women representation this year. It could even more than double. In addition to Perez, the open race for Ward 8 features two women, Zaida Govan and Lisa Thompson. Jynai McDonald is seeking a rematch against Ward 4 Councilor Malo Brown.

There are currently two women at-large councilors and they, like their three male counterparts, are seeking reelection. Councilors Sean Curran, Justin Hurst, Jesse Lederman, Kateri Walsh and Tracye Whitfield will all be on the ballot. Challenging the incumbents this year at-large are Juan Caraballo III, Debra Fletcher, Juan LaTorre, Michael Lee and James Ryan.

Barring a late-entering write-in campaign, at least two women will be elected from the wards. Incumbents are generally favored at-large, suggesting Springfield could finally raise the number of women it elects to the same council. Moreover, women of color should also increase. Whitfield is currently only the third woman of color to serve on the Council in the city’s history. Aside from Walsh, all women running for Council this year are nonwhite.

Beyond wards 1, 4 and 8, Lezlie Braxton Campbell is challenging Ward 3 Councilor Melvin Edwards. Fresh off his umpteenth campaign for something last year—an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination for Hampden Register of Probate—Robert Collamore will challenge Ward 6 Councilor Victor Davila. Collamore had been collecting signatures at-large, but he switched to the ward race. He has sought the seat before, unsuccessfully challenging Ken Shea in 2017.

Ward 2 Councilor Michael Fenton, Ward 5 Councilor Marcus Williams and Ward 7 Councilor Timothy Allen are seeking reelection unopposed.

While the School Committee will have a competitive race with three candidates for its two at-large seats, only one district race will have a contest.

Both at-large incumbents, Denise Hurst and LaTonia Naylor, are seeking reelection. Their opponent will be Cary Curley, a former attorney for the city. Curley, nee Szafranski, is the cousin of WMP&I editor-in-chief Matt Szafranski.

District incumbents Barbara Gresham, Chris Collins and Peter Murphy are all seeking reelection. Would-be contenders for Gresham, who represents wards 4 and 5, and Collins, who represents wards 6 and 7, did not qualify for the ballot. However, Murphy will face Ayanna Crawford, who is currently the aide to State Rep Orlando Ramos. Ramos is also the outgoing councilor for Ward 8.

What a difference 4 years makes. In 2017 Joesiah Gonzalez failed to advance beyond the preliminary. (via Twitter/@Gonzalez4School)

As for the district covering ward 1 and 3, Gonzalez indicated that lacking opposition will not change his plans for the election.

“The rigor of my campaign and Get Out The Vote efforts will be no different with or without an opponent in this case,” Gonzalez said in a message.

In addition to working with Superintendent Daniel Warwick and the rest of the Committee, he indicated outreach would be key during the campaign and beyond.

“It is my goal to engage with Voters, and young people sharing with them my disposition to serve and effectuate change that will better serve our families, and students in Springfield Public Schools,” Gonzalez said.