Analysis: What If Domenic Sarno…Exited This Amazing Mayoral Race?…
With the sportsbook now open at MGM Springfield, the easiest bet is whether Domenic Sarno will run for reelection. The most prominent political figure in Springfield not named Richie Neal, Sarno is rolling in campaign cash. Various powers that be know their ox will go ungored and frankly there is little else for him to do right now. He is running.
But what if…what if he bows out? Although after 16 years Domenic Sarno faces his most competitive election in over a decade, his absence from the race would be its own storm. Were the gods to sideline him for whatever reason, the heavens would open up and balloon the field ever further. Still others would pause and contemplate a run. It could come equal to the stampede that greeted Boston with Tom Menino’s exit in 2013.
In a normal world, Sarno would be on retirement watch anyway. Sarno already surpassed Daniel Brunton as Springfield’s longest serving mayor. Countless frontline officials across the country quit after staring down the coronavirus. Although Springfield fared somewhat better than some communities at peak pandemic, it was easily the biggest challenge ever as a public official.
Nevertheless, Sarno has given every public indication that he will seek another term. This despite his reasons for carrying on are less obvious now than even in 2019 when they were as clear as Bondi’s Island sludge.
The race would start would four contenders already. Three experienced pols, at-large Councilor Justin Hurst, Council President Jesse Lederman and State Rep Orlando Ramos, as well as psychologist David Ciampi are already in. Their entrances have made the field the most crowded with top-tier candidates since at least 1991.
However, the next question is not necessarily who joins next but where does Sarno’s support go? Not his voters, but his donors.
Sarno cannot redirect his campaign funds to an heir. While state campaign finance law technically allows candidate committees to give to PAC without a cap, outright financing a new political action committee is verboten. If retiring suddenly, the mayor could return donations and ask they go to somebody else specific, but many could easily advise Hizzoner to pursue an obscene activity alone.
The mayor’s donors probably fall into two categories. Those who need Sarno and those who give to everybody and/or give to anybody in power. Grandees at institutions like Baystate Health and MassMutual fall into this category. Aside from unions and issue groups like the Environmental League of Massachusetts, large employers do not use PACs or the like to influence Springfield area elections. Their leaders just donate, but usually without any zeal.
With Sarno in, such affiliates are likelier than not to give to him than not if the status quo were benefiting them. But this is not a hard devotion. If Sarno were suddenly out the picture, institutionalists and their affiliates to give to everyone would scatter.
On the other hand, monied interest with specific investments in his reign—developers, downtown landowners, city contractors and Peter Picknelly—would begin looking for a Sarno alternative. The preference would be a candidate who would imitate his rule, but none may emerge. They may settle for a Splenda version of Sarno who will not be as reliable but could protect their interests.
Putting aside where the money would go Sarno’s exit, unless it came after June 2, the last day candidate can take papers out, would spark interest immediately. Many of Springfield ambition class would rule mull a bid and beg off. They would need more time to consider and assemble a campaign. As Sarno’s exit remains less likely than a Loch Ness monster sighting in Watershops Pond, they will not run.
But some names that envision themselves a municipal ruler would be primed to jump in. State Reps Angelo Puppolo and Bud Williams would start the race with brimming campaign war chests. Puppolo has contemplated other offices before and Williams ran for mayor in 2009. Impossible to discount would also be Hampden Register of Deeds Cheryl Coakley-Rivera.
Coakley-Rivera briefly considered a Council run in 2017 but ran for Register instead the year the incumbent, Don Ashe, died. In addition to her own local call list, Coakley-Rivera could potentially tap national Latino/a and LGBTQ donor networks to fund a race. If she demurred, State Rep Carlos Gonzalez might consider getting in.
However, it is unlikely they would run against each other. The impact of running in a race with Ramos already in would come up, too.
Beyond that level, the possibilities have a broader range. Could Ward 2 Councilor Michael Fenton, who toyed with a mayoral run once get in? What about at-large Councilor Sean Curran, also a former state rep, or at-large School Committee member LaTonia Monroe Naylor, one of the city’s less-renowned political talents?
At this point, the possibilities are also considering former pols. Former at-large Councilor Tim Ryan, son of the late former mayor, might consider himself an heir to his father’s legacy. Former Council President and State Rep Jose Tosado, who ran against Sarno in 2011, might also stop twice to think about it.
One Sarno successor could be his former chief of staff, Denise Jordan. City political chin-scratchers had long believed the daughter of the late Ray Jordan, a state rep who gained state and national influence, would make a play for the seat if and when it opened.
Then there are people entirely outside politics entirely. Springfield politicos and communitarians alike have begged former Baystate Board member Victor Woolridge, who has a long career in business, to run for office. So far he resisted, but in the meantime Woolridge has built up a lengthy volunteer resume. Could a sudden mayoral vacancy intrigue him? Moreover, there are many figures like him across Springfield.
How such a race would play out is anybody’s guess. While Boston’s recent open mayoral contests did not play out shockingly, a recent open race nearby did. Few would have guessed that Joshua Garcia, the late mayoral entry in Holyoke’s open race nearly two years ago, would survive the preliminary let alone stomp to victory in the general.
For that reason, it is impossible to game out how a speculative field would play out. That said, there is one piece of Boston evidence worth incorporating. Voters may credit the early birds. Boston Mayor Michelle Wu had jumped into the race when it seemed likely, if not certain that now-outing Labor Secretary Marty Walsh would seek reelection. Now-Attorney General Andrea Campbell may have also enjoyed that premium, too, but her base split with another candidate.
That could privilege Hurst, Lederman and Ramos in a field that would almost certainly explode with a Sarno retirement. While some Sarno stans might hold grudges, many voters like gumption.
Yet as the field grows, the necessary to move beyond the preliminary shrinks. That helped Garcia in Holyoke or Wu’s general election opponent Annissa Essaibi George. With its relatively cheap advertising rates, perhaps the only upper limit of candidates would be how many could raise the money to get on TV before WWLP, WGGB and Comcast cry uncle for want of available ad slots.
Of course all this is just speculation. Sarno is in. The bigger questions for now are how he will run, not if. Still, the last few years have had plenty of surprises, even in and around Springfield. But if…IF… you catch Nessie paddling by Springfield College, buckle up. The city’s wildest election will be barreling toward a political typhoon.