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Ready for Some Preliminary Action in the Ward 5 Special Council Race?…

Ward 5 Springfield

5/7 of the Ward 5 field–Click-Bruce, Coakley, Colins, Lee & Moorhouse–at the Aug 3 debate. (WMPI&I)

In only days, Springfield will hold its first ever special election for City Council. A large field has formed, but between people’s focus on summer and the city’s historically anemic turnout, Ward 5 voters could be spare at the August 16 preliminary. Aside from some press coverage, candidates only have their resources and Focus Springfield debate last week to alert Ward 5 residents they to vote next week on August 16.

Nevertheless, with seven contenders, the special election has become perhaps the most competitive preliminary since ward representation returned in 2009. The candidates themselves, who span the breadth of Springfield’s socio-political strata, have identified a range of issues to emphasize. With most attention on campaigning, there has been little time for sniping with a few exceptions.

Ward 5 lies north and east of Watershops Pond (aka Lake Massasoit). It encompasses parts of Pine Point and much 16 Acres neighborhoods, except areas between Plumtree and Wilbraham roads.

The seat is open following the resignation of Marcus Williams in June. City officials learned in the wake of his exit that the legislature had approved and the governor had signed a home rule petition that ordered vacant ward seats be filled by special election.

Aside from a few late spring civic association meetings, there have been few candidate cattle calls. However, most of the field did attend a Focus Springfield forum earlier this month. Mayoral aide Lavar Click-Bruce, Springfield College program director Nicole Coakley, retired labor leader Ed Collins, retired corrections officer Michael Lee and communications professional Ellen Moorhouse all attended.

WMP&I editor-in-chief was among the media panelists at the debate along with WAMC’s Paul Tuthill and Reminder Publication’s Managing Editor Mike Dobbs, who moderated.

Hospitality professional Lamar Cook and community activist Edward Green could not attend the debate, although he did record a profile.

Election officials have taken advantage the near-simultaneous state primary on September 6. The two Ward 5 candidates with the most votes on August 16 will advance to a general election on September 13.

Ward 5 Springfield

Is Ward 5, in green hues, getting pumped for the preliminary? We’ll see. (via Springfield City Hall)

Coakley said many voters she has encountered were not familiar with the Council let alone the special election. Although she lamented the city has not pulled all available levers to alert residents about the election, Coakley was optimistic.

“I am feeling positive about it. I have been out knocking on doors, doing some phone-banking to check in with voters,” she said in an interview.

She has also been notifying people about the election on social media. “A lot on Instagram a lot on Facebook and it’s getting the word out.”

Collins said his campaign has pumped out several mailings to Ward 5 voters, yet he was reaching out in other ways.

“Continuing with the phone-banking but putting a little more emphasis on standouts and visibilities,” in the final days he said.

However, some Council aspirants recognized voters would be hitting the polls a lot.

“We’re talking about asking city asking people to vote three times in the space of the month,” Moorhouse said.

Still, The Republican reported that already 450 mail-in ballots had come back to the Election office. Not quite 1900 voters turned out in the low-drama 2021 municipal election. It is not unreasonable to imagine multiples of that 450, which itself could grow, could vote in person Tuesday.

Lamar Cook

Lamar Cook (via Facebook/Cook campaign)

In the candidate profiles on Focus Springfield, several issues came to the fore. Click-Bruce, Cook and Lee all mentioned crime and/or gun violence in some form.  In the debate, Lee followed up to mention that his mother had heard gunfire outside her Forest Park home on too many occasions. The issue is quite close to Cook, as well.

“It is something that personally affected myself. My brother was murdered here in Springfield five years ago,” he said in his profile. Cook noted that beyond the personal, concerns about crime affect where businesses and families choose to locate when they move to the region.

In his profile, Click-Bruce, who also works on constituent issues in the mayor’s office, also said he was hearing concerns about crime from constituents.

“We want to make sure our residents feel safe, but also when they’re traveling in their car, when they get to work,” he said. Click-Bruce proposed expanding the C3 policing program to the 16 Acres part of the ward.

Because he has enjoyed support from the mayor and other city grandees, especially within Springfield’s Black political circles, Click-Bruce is widely perceived as a frontrunner in the race. Consequently, during the August 3 debate when candidates could ask each other questions, many contenders asked him about his running for this office while working for Mayor Domenic Sarno. Click-Bruce committed to resigning his position in Sarno’s office and assured he was not campaigning while at work.

Other candidates discussed other priorities. In both of her Focus Springfield appearances, Moorhouse discussed being a good steward of the budget and pressing for a dog park. Specifically, she said it was one of many matters the city should attend to if it wanted to attract more young residents like herself.

Nicole Coakely

Nicole Coakley has said she would eye better ARPA oversight on the Council. (still via YouTube/Focus Springfield)

Coakley has campaigned on better oversight and deliver of grants from the American Rescue Plan Act. In both the debate and her profile, she mentioned assisting resident seek ARPA grants,

“I found a lot of our seniors here did not even know they could apply for ARPA funding,” she said on Focus Springfield.

In an interview Collins also said there was a missed opportunity on ARPA in terms of an issue he highlighted in his Focus Springfield profile.

“Snow plowing I’ve been hearing about long before this race came along. There was a real fall off in the last two or three winters,” he told WMP&I. He observed that roads like his—Tinkham—used to get plowed with dump trucks. Now it was usually  pickups with plows. The quality of plowing as well as street maintenance was unacceptable Collins said.

“With all this ARPA money, come on!” he continued.

Collins wryly observed that he did not get into the race because of issues like that. Rather, he explained, “There’s far too much jockeying and political grandstanding with thoughts with what’s going to happen in the next mayoral election than what’s good for the city.”

Ed Collins

Collins didn’t jump into the race because of bad street care, but it has resonated. (via Facebook/Collins campaign)

Echoing some comment his rival made during the debate, Collins said the mayor was not wrong about everything. Yet, he was also the one during the debate who said there has to be a mechanism to allow the Council to pursue legal action to enforce ordinances. Collins panned the mayor’s refusal to implement the Police Commission after the Council overrode his veto.

Earlier this year, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled the mayor had to implement the ordinance. However, that suit only began when the Council secured pro bono legal counsel.

All of the candidates have been wary about overpromising, some explicitly. For the most part, as behooves a ward race, the conversation has centered around quality of life issues. Moreover, they have all been quite deferential to each other, praising each other for fighting out this midsummer election.

“I am not going to sell them a fake American dream. I am a realist,” Coakley said. She added, “Don’t vote because you know me. Vote for me because I am the candidate to get the job done.”

The bonhomie made a recent turn in the campaign all the odder. Over the last couple days, a robocall went out to Ward 5 voters bashing Moorhouse as a “left-wing, anti-police supporter of [Attorney General] Maura Healey and [US Senator] Elizabeth Warren.”

“What a waste of resources,” Moorhouse said. “I’ve made the commitment from the beginning to run this campaign as positive and pro-city as possible.”

Ellen Moorhouse

An attack robocall takes aim at–against Moorhouse!?!? (via Twitter/@voteforellenm)

Other candidates have disclaimed involvement and available evidence does not suggest direct involvement from another camp. The call might need an authority line in its script for any campaign to be involved. Campaigns cannot coordinate with a third-party group if one is behind it. Odder still, the attention may only benefit Moorhouse.

As for the substance in the robocall, Moorhouse, who is not enrolled with any party, brushed off its allegations. She pointed to a letter The Republican published last year that called for reform and nothing radical. However, city taxpayers deserved answers when the city is paying out for cases of misconduct.

“Do I think there are things that needs to be fixed, absolutely,” she said. “At some point, we can do it better at the table.”

Warren does not face voters again until 2024. Healey, however, is a candidate for governor. Her campaign had no comment on the robocall. Neither Warren nor Healey have earned less than 56% of any Ward 5 precinct in a general election and have exceed 90% in some precincts according to state election data.