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Lederman Is in for Mayor, Ensuring Springfield Its Most Rollicking Race in Decades…

Jesse Lederman

Lederman singing a mayoral tune now. (WMP&I)

The race for mayor of Springfield shifted into a higher gear with the entry of a third top-tier candidate Jesse Lederman, the Council President and three-term at-large councilor, declared his candidacy in a Tuesday morning press release and video. Although the race already had enough candidates to require a preliminary, Lederman’s entry means three prominent pols will be in the first-round of this contest for Springfield’s highest office.

Lederman joins Council colleague Justin Hurst and incumbent mayor Domenic Sarno in a race that also includes psychologist David Ciampi. With these three electeds running, who may yet be joined by another top tier candidate, Springfield will have perhaps its most fraught and hard-fought mayoral contests in over a generation at a key moment in its history.

“I’m running for Mayor to build an accessible, responsive, and professional local government that can meet the needs of all our neighborhoods,” said Lederman said in a statement.

In his release, Lederman went on to say that Springfield needs to do more to secure its future. Echoing his past campaigns’ emphasis on the various pieces that make up the city’s whole, he said Springfield needs a local government  that brings economic development, affordable utilities, housing and education to every neighborhood.

“We’ve delivered real results for all of our neighborhoods by bringing people together and standing strong,” he says in his video.

The campaign will host a formal kickoff at the Basketball Hall of Fame on March 1.

A UMass-Amherst graduate, Lederman, 28, would be the youngest mayor since Thomas O’Connor took office in 1958 at age 32. He and his wife, Emila, live in the McKnight historic district not far from where Lederman grew up.

Sarno has not formally said he is running, but has given every indication he will. The earth is more likely to spin off into the sun before Election Day than Sarno is to retire this year.

Kristen Clarke Sarno

Sarno with Justice Department officials announcing a consent decree. The mayor has claimed progress on police reform, but he has been an impediment as often as not. (via Springfield City Hall)

As the incumbent Sarno will have little choice but to argue things are hunky-dory. But Springfield sits at more than just the crossroads of New England. Neither the economy nor tax bills have thrilled residents, especially after the administration encouraged sky-high expectations from MGM.

Police reform remains, at best, a work in progress. However, the mayor resisted a new Police Commission even after the commonwealth’s highest court ordered him to comply with ordinance.

The mayor enjoys a massive cash advantage—he closed out 2022 with $300,000 in the bank—and can work the levers of government to curry favor with voters. Yet, this will be by far the hardest race he has run since beating back the challenge of then-Council President Jose Tosado in 2011 and the late Antonette Pepe, a School Committee member. During intervening elections, Sarno would claim he was too busy mayoring to campaign, a tactic that may not be tenable this time.

Both Hurst and Lederman will have resources, name recognition and a message. The field may not even be complete. It remains possible that State Rep Orlando Ramos could enter the race. Earlier this month, Ramos released a statement saying he was putting off a decision a bid until the legislative session was further along.

The contest will only get more interesting if it mirrors 1995. That year incumbent Robert Markel faced several prominent challenges including Council President Michael Albano, former mayor Charles Ryan and Councilor Hurst’s father Frederick Hurst. Albano and Ryan advanced making Markel the first incumbent Springfield mayor to lose reelection before the general in nearly 40 years and first since Springfield municipal races became nonpartisan.

That earlier mayor to lose was Daniel Brunton. A 12-year incumbent and the longest-serving Springfield mayor until Sarno took that title in 2020, Brunton lost to O’Connor in 1957.

Lederman can draw on his activist background and neighborhood omnipresence and try to outwork everybody else. A protégé of the late E. Henry Twiggs, a local civil rights figure, Lederman got his start opposing the now-all-but-dead biomass plant.

In 2013, Lederman signed on as a campaign staffer for US Senator Ed Markey in 2013. Later he worked for Treasurer Deb Goldberg and 2014 gubernatorial aspirant Don Berwick’s campaigns. He eventually succeeded Twiggs as chair of the Democratic city committee. During Markey’s 2020 showdown with then-Congressman Joe Kennedy, III, Lederman was major surrogate in and around Springfield.

Lederman ran for Council in 2015 but came up short. When a pair of seats opened in 2017, he snagged one of them. In office, Lederman introduced legislation on several matters including housing, short-term rentals, the environment and government transparency.

Environmental issues became a cornerstone of Lederman’s political identity, mentioned in detail in his launch video. Most prominent was biomass, which included fights on multiple fronts from the Council itself before Lederman was a member to the courts. The state ultimately sounded the death knell.

“When they told us the biomass waste incinerator polluting our air was a done deal, we stopped it,” he says.

Lederman Markey

Lederman with Senator Markey other local officials near the proposed site of the biomass plant in 2021. (WMP&I)

In addition to pushing to seal up gas leaks, his release notes he advocated for energy efficient street lighting. Most recently, he pushed through an order that will let Springfield choose greener sources of electricity.

While such legislating gave Lederman credibility in policy and political circles, what will likely anchor his mayoral bid are his outreach endeavors. As he has in prior bids, Lederman is centering neighborhood support and development. His release highlights initiative like directing revenue from cannabis sales to the areas adjacent to pot retailers.

That manifested most publicly during the second year of the pandemic. Then-Council President Marcus Williams appointed Lederman to a COVID-19 oversight committee. After Williams resigned to move out of state in 2022, Lederman, by then Council Veep, became president.

Lederman began a year-long term as Council President last month. In his remarks before a packed Council chamber, he appeared to be reintroducing himself to Springfield residents.

In entering after Hurst, Lederman will face some challenges. The former has been fundraising longer and some anti-Sarno parts of the city’s reform element have already drifted to Hurst. Thanks in part of Twiggs’s mentorship, Lederman, who is white, has a strong base in the Black community. However, that base could split between him and Hurst. Hurst, who is Black, would be the first mayor of color in Springfield, which is itself minority-majority.

Hurst’s political career had been moving toward a mayoral campaign crescendo for several years. Lederman had been keeping his options open although he had been laying the groundwork for a mayoral run for months.

Some in the city’s political peanut gallery thought he should wait another four years when, improbably, Sarno might retire. Putting aside that only God or the voters could ever bench Hizzoner, an open mayor’s race would likely make this one look tame by comparison. It is a presumption Hurst and perhaps Ramos may be making as well.

For now, Sarno is an anvil-heavy favorite to survive the preliminary. Only if Lederman also makes it will he face the tougher challenge of convincing voters to turf the mayor. Therefore, the preliminary is the immediate challenge. Hurst has placed first in the last several at-large Council contests, although Lederman did come close last time.


Lederman on the trail for Council in 2017. (WMP&I)

Still, to make the showdown with Sarno, Lederman will need to capitalize on the political good will he has accumulated. Moreover, he must leverage every ounce of activism and organizing he has honed since those first, years-long battles against a wood-burning power plant developers had planned for Page Boulevard. An ardent backer since that project’s earliest days? Domenic Sarno.

The incumbent is not mentioned in Lederman’s release. However,  Sarno, who took office in 2008 is implicitly present. The release calls for a “fresh perspective” to move the city forward.

“Today, I say to residents all across our city: Let’s write Springfield’s next chapter, together,” Lederman says in his release.