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A Ramos Return to City Hall? State Rep Joins Springfield Mayoral Fray…

Orlando Ramos

Ramos with House colleagues in 2021 and he was just getting to know them… (WMP&I)

And then there were three…

On Thursday, Springfield State Representative Orlando Ramos joined the unusually large field of heavy hitters trying to unseat Mayor Domenic Sarno. A two-term rep and before that a four-term ward councilor, Ramos will try to leverage his 10 years in elective office during the race. Yet, already in the race are two of his former Council colleagues, Justin Hurst and Jesse Lederman.

Springfield is fully in the throes of its most energetic mayoral race since at 2011 and possibly long before. Growth of the field could excite a soporific electorate into municipal consciousness, but it also complicates the challengers’ bids. Ramos’ entry was expected. Yet, entering later—ostensibly due to duties on Beacon Hill—means he must maneuver around Hurst and Lederman’s early moves, never mind the pull the incumbent naturally possesses.

“I’m a State Representative, union carpenter, and a proud girl Dad,” Ramos said in a morning statement on Facebook, (re-)introducing himself. “I was born and raised in Springfield by a single mother who worked as a cashier at Walmart. She sacrificed so I could graduate from Putnam, become a carpenter, and purchase my first home.”

In a press conference on Wednesday outside Putnam Vocational High School, explained how the school had prepared him for life. At that moment insider were students, as he had been, learning a trade.

“They will pursue a career in their chosen trade The question is what are we doing as a city to provide opportunity,” he said.

Then, taking on a populist tone, Ramos turned to the current mayor.

Orlando Ramos

Ramos on Thursday outside Putnam where he learned a trade. But is mayor his vocation? (still via YouTube/WWLP)

“If we’re honest with ourselves, Domenic Sarno has changed. He is out of touch. He is not accountable to the people and he is beholden to special interests,” Ramos told reporters. While acknowledging Sarno’s 16 years of service, he said it was time for something new.

“I’m running because I want to be mayor for every resident of this city and not just the elite and not just the special interests,” Ramos said.

His Facebook statement included even more fire, said the mayor “is not accountable to the people” and turns a blind eye to crime, police misconduct and rising costs.

Sarno has not formally announced his reelection, but for now the Connecticut River is likelier to dry up than he not appear on a ballot this year. Hurst, an at-large councilor, announced last November. Lederman, also an at-large councilor and now Council President, announced this month. Also running is Springfield psychiatrist David Ciampi.

Ramos did not outline his platform in detail, although by implication taxes, costs, police accountability and a fairer distribution of economic opportunities will feature prominently. Still, announcing for mayor as a top-tier candidate puts him closer to the corner office than he was a decade ago.

A former carpenter, union official and Senate staffer, Ramos almost found himself in the purgatory of perennial candidates. Twice he ran for and lost Council races in Ward 8, which includes Indian Orchard and parts of the Boston Road, East Springfield and Pine Point neighborhood. Both times he fell to John Lysak before finally defeating him in 2013

Ramos toyed with challenging Sarno in 2019 but demurred. Rather, he opted to run for state rep the following year. The 9th Hampden, which then draped across the city from Atwater Park to 16 Acres, was open with the retirement of then-Rep and onetime mayoral candidate Jose Tosado. One of Ramos’ opponents in the Democratic primary was Hurst’s wife, Denise Hurst, an at-large School Committee member.

Like most non-federal candidates that year, the shroud of the coronavirus subsumed the 2020 campaign. Ramos made the tactical decision to grind out votes with shoe leather as he had in his successful Council campaign. He won. Redistricting subsequently streamlined his district to include all of Indian Orchard, Ramos’ historic base—though he now lives near Pine Point. It now has almost none of the Acres where the Hursts live.

On the Council, including two years as President, Ramos had been critical of the mayor. Both police misconduct and quality of life issues were an emphasis. For example, he has pressed the city upgrade and accept private ways. Although not especially prominent during the push for the original Police Commission ordinance, Ramos, as chair of Public Safety, junked an attempt to repeal it (with Hurst and Lederman’s votes). He has also brokered an agreement on police use of facial recognition software.

Ramos had crossed swords with Pearl Street while on the Council. That included misconduct, but also on more bureaucratic matters. (WMP&I)

Reflecting his union roots, Ramos also filed bills to regulate tax incentives for developers. Labor was seeking assurances that tax breaks could be clawed back if recipients violated wage and hour, building codes or health and safety rules. The push has been largely successful. However, he was not the only advocate of such rules. Indeed, labor may not settle on Ramos as their preferred mayoral candidate.

For example, on Wednesday, Lederman collected the endorsement of the United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 1459. Sarno has an at-best chilly relationship with organized labor. Yet, many unions may stay out until the September preliminary when voters narrow the field to two candidates.

Another X-factor will be whether or how the city’s diverse electorate Balkanizes. As the only Puerto Rican candidate in the race, he could activate the plurality of city residents who identify as Latino. Ramos has never eschewed his heritage, but his political background has been less reliant on the historical Latino power base in the North End. Nor is it clear Hispanic votes have been decisive in the competitive elections he has won.

Ramos did ask Then-former rep and now-Hampden Register of Deeds Cheryl Coakley-Rivera to swear him in as President in 2018. However, that was part of a broader message of diversity. There was a specific recognition of women at a time when the Council was still drowning in testosterone.

Ramos Coakley-Rivera

A dude took the oath as Council President, but Ramos centered women at that ceremony. (WMP&I)

Aside from some establishment figures backing Sarno, many prominent Springfield Latinos could stay out pending the preliminary. Both Hurst and Lederman have ties with Hispanic leaders and/or groups that reach out to that community in Springfield.

One understated asset only Ramos enjoys is he will have a job no matter what. Hurst and Lederman must surrender their council seats to run for mayor. Ramos’ term in the House runs until 2025. He does not face reelection until 2024. The House ended pandemic-era remote voting. But Ramos would not be the first rep to balance a day job in Boston with a local campaign.

Many reps stake their name—and reelection—on goodies in the budget and bonding bills. Ramos is no different here. His campaign announcement touts millions for traffic improvements and smaller grants for veterans and water quality.

Massachusetts State House

Beacon Hill: friend of foe for Ramos’s bid? (WMP&I)

On the legislation front, the bills he has filed echo his Council tenure. He teamed up with Boston Rep Jay Livingstone to exclude biomass from renewable energy grants—as the one in Springfield had sought. Last session he filed several bills on labor and unions. One bill would water down the bar on public employee striking.

More importantly, Ramos’ time on Beacon Hill has given him access to donations that he can now apply to a mayor’s race. As of January 31, he had the second largest campaign war chest, slightly ahead of Hurst, if miles behind Sarno. The extent to which this fundraising undercuts his populist message will no doubt be fodder for the campaign.

Ramos’ House tenure, while brief, could be a double-edged sword, too. Neither Hurst and Lederman nor the mayor will have to answer for any unpopular votes—or in actions—over the last two years on Beacon Hill.

Of course, all that lies in the weeks and months ahead, along with more of Ramos’ platform.

Like Hurst and Lederman, Ramos’ main objective is to advance beyond the preliminary as Sarno is quite likely to do. It is all but certain their critiques of the incumbent will sharpen as the race proceeds. But it appears Ramos has calculated that swinging for the fences—and at Sarno—right away will help him stand out and leap ahead his fellow mayoral aspirants.