Briefings: …And Here Come the At-Large Springfield Council Candidates…
As Springfield begins hurtling toward its most competitive mayoral election in perhaps a generation, it may be easy forget the implications down ballot. Not since 1991 have two sitting city councilors given up their seats to run for mayor. Two open at-large Council seats were rare even when the body was only at-large. It has been rarer still since ward representation, occurring only once in 2017.
the exits of Councilors Justin Hurst and Jesse Lederman to run for mayor leave their seats open for others. A swarm of candidates will eventually materialize as happened in 2017. Although, only a few have filed with state campaign finance regulators or confirmed their plans. With no open races in the ward seats, at-large may be where the City Council action is in Springfield’s elections this year.
Several candidates who ran in 2021 have active status with the Office of Campaign & Political Finance. However, only Juan Latorre has made outward moves he is running again. On Tuesday, newcomer Thomas Oakley, who filed several weeks ago, declared his candidacy.
The only other city office, School Committee member, is not up this year.
When the Council only had at-large seats, a seats usually opened up every cycle. Running against eight people every two years that you work with—as was the case then and still is for the five at-large councilors—can be taxing. Even after at-large seats shrunk to make way for ward seats, retirements were common.
The appeal is unsurprising. At-large seats can be steppingstones for higher office, especially mayor. Not only are Hurst and Lederman at-large councilors, but Mayor Domenic Sarno served on the Council when all seats were at-large.
Some candidates simply have a citywide orientation. This has only become truer as the city has diversified not only overall but within neighborhoods. While ward councilors do consider themselves stewards of the whole city, too, some of the civically minded—yet still ambitious—may find themselves more comfortable at-large.
Still, for the moment, the field is a bit spare.
Latorre confirmed in an email to WMP&I he will be seeking an at-large seat again. When he ran in 2021, there were no vacancies, complicating his bid and that of other at-large Council aspirants. That will not be a problem in 2023.
Even before the rumor mill kicked into overdrive about Hurst and Lederman’s mayoral bids, many believed there would be a vacancy this year. Indeed, among the 2021 challengers, Latorre, a telecom engineer, had been making the rounds at political and public events for months. He held a fundraiser last August, too.
Oakley, an education nonprofit executive, has not run for office before. In a press release Tuesday, he said his priorities would be transparency, broadband access and business support.
“The challenges before the people of the city of Springfield have never been greater,” Oakley, promising to stoke unity not division in the city. “I seek to continue serving Springfield residents by bringing my experience, leadership, and fresh perspective to the Springfield City Council.”
Beyond Latorre and Oakley, only one other new candidate has organized a Springfield campaign committee in the last year. Veronica McNair filed with OCPF in September, yet it is not clear she will run at-large or in her ward. She did not immediately return an email requesting clarification.
Although the first seat opened in November, it is still very early. There is plenty of time for more candidates to emerge as they almost assuredly will. Plus, political chin-scratchers in the city believe at least a couple ward seats will have competitive races. Nevertheless, throughout the city’s history, the at-large seats have been the most coveted. This will remain the case in 2023, despite competing for attention with a simultaneous and booming mayor’s race also on the ballot.