Once Obscured, Sarno Reelection Campaign Begins to Bloom Openly…
Four challengers. Four announcements. Four kickoffs. Organizing meetings on social media.
The opposition to Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno has been busy. They have little choice to be otherwise. While Springfield has a rich history of turfing its mayors—four since the active phase of the Korean War ended—the challengers have a Herculean task ahead. That includes battling for one of the two winning spots in the preliminary. Sarno is likely to take the other. With this dynamic, it is no surprise that aside from squirreling away campaign funds, Sarno has barely campaigned.
That may be changing. Fitfully but notably, the incumbent has begun to heave himself onto the stump. Formal announcements and ads may still be months away, but Hizzoner has opened his money spigot. Teensy amounts have even gone toward engagement with the electorate, if on a rudimentary level.
Campaign finance and social media ad records show that the mayor is spending more and early in the 2023 cycle than he did in 2019. Quaint, if syntactically imperfect ads, have already appeared on Facebook and Instagram. His campaign bought a new website domain. The mayor has also begun dropping more cash for media services and doing so earlier.
Sarno’s campaign could not be reached for comment.
In past reelection bids, Sarno’s strategy has been to ignore his underfunded opposition before capping the electoral season with a blitz of ads and mailers. In 2019, he ran a social media campaign as almost background to a much larger convention barrage of television ads. Of course, the mayor’s most potent weapon was his incumbency. Then and now, that allows Sarno to either move the levers of government to impress the public or capture press attention.
Perhaps this earlier reach into his campaign wallet is partial recognition that something dents his incumbency advantages now this time. Three of his opponents, at-large Councilor Justin Hurst, State Rep Orlando Ramos and City Council President Jesse Lederman hold public office. In addition to broadcasting their visions in announcements and kickoff remarks, they have levers, however smaller, to pull as well.
This past Monday, Hurst put a resolution before the Council to lower fares on the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority. It was a modification of an earlier free-fare proposal. The week before, Lederman announced working groups to make policy recommendation for the city’s future. Ramos has plugged his vote on a supplemental state budget earlier this month. All are official actions that double as attention for their mayoral bid, which are rolling out platforms, too.
Psychiatrist David Ciampi is also running for mayor.
None of this will compare to the spotlight the mayor can attract more often, but it is a departure from the last two cycles. That may be why the mayor has already begun spending down his monster campaign war chest.
The mayor’s 2019 digital vender, a New York firm called Colure Media, Inc., states on its website the object was Sarno “Needed to stand out in the primary election and then win general election.” That about sums up his digital campaign that year. Data from Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, shows that that Sarno did not post any Facebook ads until July 30 in 2019. (Facebook as of this posting still lists Colure as the manager of Sarno’s Facebook page).
This year, Sarno has already put up two paid ads running on both Instagram and Facebook. The total buy is a pittance, $200 to $400 according to Meta’s ad library and no ad is running as of this post. However, Sarno’s February campaign finance report records authorization for $3000 in social media, which could extend well beyond Facebook and Instagram.
Just his posts on Facebook and Instagram are more active. The two accounts appear to be linked and appear to have had their old posts wiped. Artefacts from 2019 posts used as ads appear in Meta’s library. Since then, the Sarno campaign has posted five times. He paid to promote two posts, which have become his Meta ads from this year.
These posts tout his time as mayor, even reaching back to the storms of 2011. The storm post also mentions the 2012 gas explosion and the pandemic. It concludes with a corny—or hackneyed—“A Mayor Who Really Cares.” Ostensibly, other mayors would not have cared when their cities faced hardships. None are prospective save posts that refer to a St. Patrick’s Day event at the John Boyle O’Reilly club Sarno had sponsored.
This activity alone could be overstated. But it comes amid other earlier and bigger spending compared to 2019. The mayor’s Facebook and Instagram pages tease “stay tuned” as does his website. Sarno’s campaign secured a new domain sarnoformayor2023.com, which somebody registered on February 18.
While public Internet records do not show who bought the domain, it may have been through Horgan & Associates. David Horgan, a videographer and ad buyer Springfield area pols often use (he has occasionally done press relations, too), received the $3000 that Sarno’s campaign spent on social media. Another $8000 went to Horgan to “Create Special Media Accounts” and “posting running ad.”
The description is vague enough that it may include production of ads. The Federal Communications Commission has no records of television or radio ads this year yet, though. Plus, Horgan received $2000 for filming in December—when Sarno had his six-figure fundraising spree—and the mayor has already paid his principal media vendor four times when he spent by now in 2019. Indeed, four years ago, Sarno’s only payment to Horgan by March 2019 was for filming at MGM’s opening in 2018.
Throw in the thousands Sarno has spent on food and event space for his fundraiser and closed door events and he is well ahead of his 2019 activity.
Over the past month, there had been some brief speculation, including on this blog, that Sarno might not actually run. However, any nod to reason had suggested otherwise. His uptick in spending preceded the Springfield Election Commission’s announcement Thursday that he had secured enough signatures to appear on the ballot.
Sarno is the last of the four major candidates to qualify for the election. Ramos, Hurst and Lederman—in that order—beat him onto the ballot by a week or more. The challengers have more to gain from the quick media hits of getting on the ballot. Still, the mayor’s leisurely certification of the necessary 500 signatures was odd as he went to the trouble of pulling papers the day they became available.
The brisker startup of the campaign machine this year indicates Sarno knows he cannot get away with claiming his too busy mayoring to avoid campaign as in past cycles. However, more questions remain. Aside from loyal staff inside City Hall, it is not clear whom Sarno will rely on for guidance. The hidden hand of Charlie Kingston perhaps, but is that enough?
The true test of Sarno’s campaign will not be in how much TV and mailers he buys or how well he bigfoots his opposition with the machinery of city government. Sarno has the money to run a modern 21st century campaign like candidates for federal, state or Holyoke office do. Whether he does or not may decide his fate.