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Springfield Council Race Already At-Large Enough for a Preliminary…

UPDATED  2:45PM: To include comments from Springfield candidates.

Springfield Council chambers

Two laps before the finish line this year in Springfield. (WMP&I)

The mayoral race in Springfield will not be the only one with a preliminary in 2023. Earlier this month, the city Election Commission certified incumbent at-large Councilor Sean Curran and 2021 runner-up Juan Caraballo for the ballot. They were the 12th and 11th candidates to turn in enough signatures for the at-large race. For that race, a preliminary becomes necessary once 11 people (twice the number at-large seats plus one) are on the ballot.

On September 12, voters will whittle the list down to 10 candidates for the November 7 general election. The Commission announced the certification of candidates on Facebook.

Two of the Council’s five at-large seats are open as incumbents Justin Hurst and Jesse Lederman retire to challenge Mayor Domenic Sarno. As in the past years, the open seats are enticing both high-minded communitarians and ambitious pols alike and fast. A mix of new faces and 2021 runners up briskly pulled papers, returned signatures and filed with the state Office of Campaign & Political Finance.

Last year had no preliminary as all at-large incumbents ran again. But April is somewhat early to be certain the 2023 field will be this big. Candidates still have the first week of June to turn in signatures. Still, at-large retirements summon a stampede of Council hopefuls because of the opportunities.

All but two Springfield mayors in the last half century previously served as at-large councilors. Before 2010 the Council was entirely at-large, making this the only city office of influence on policy excluding the mayoralty. Since the dawn of the 21st century, several councilors have also sprung into legislative office from the Council.

While many expected the mayoral announcements of Hurst and later Lederman, their formal declarations prodded the field to replace them. Thomas Oakley announced the day Lederman declared in February. Juan “Jay” Latorre, who ran in 2021, had made his intentions clear by the middle of last year. The election office has confirmed both have turned in enough signatures to appear on the ballot. On February 28, Oakley became the first challenger to do so. Incumbent councilor Tracye Whitfield had returned her papers just before Oakley the same day.

Latorre was certified on March 20. However, ahead of him were Kim Rivera, Drew Keaton El, Lynell Gasque and Nicole Coakley. Both Coakley and Rivera have run for Council seats.

Rivera, the mother of former councilor Amaad Rivera, unsuccessfully challenged then-incumbent Ward 6 Councilor Ken Shea in 2015. Coakley ran in the special election to succeed Marcus Williams who resigned last year. Though Coakley placed 5th in the preliminary and did not advance, she left a positive impression on Springfield political handicappers.

Springfield Politics

The line to join the ranks of Springfield electeds has grown rapidly this municipal election year. (WMP&I)

Curran and Whitfield had left little doubt they would seek reelection. The city commentariat had speculated that incumbent councilor Kateri Walsh might hang up her Council chamber sparring gloves. However, on March 27, the Election Commission certified Walsh for reelection.

The next name on the list had been in the ether for some time. Former City Councilor and Election Commissioner Brian Santaniello had filed with OCPF in March and City Hall watchers had been eyeing his run before that. The city office certified him on April 5. Santaniello had contemplated a comeback in 2017, too. Incidentally, that year also featured two at-large retirements.

After Santaniello, the Election Commission certified Gerry Martin, a senior at Assumption University, on April 11. Martin, who attended city public schools, appears to be the youngest candidate in the race. Although he was an infant when Santaniello was last on the City Council, Martin is not entirely new to city politics either. He managed the School Committee campaign of Cary Curley, who unsuccessfully challenged the incumbent at-large councilors in 2021.

Curley is the cousin of WMP&I editor-in-chief Matt Szafranski.

In a statement to WMP&I, Martin said quality of life and ensuring the city remains a place people can begin their lives were priorities.

“I want to develop all the communities of Springfield to achieve economic success, safety, and easy avenues toward a successful education,” he said. “I want to bring a fresh face, dedication, and enthusiasm to the Springfield community.”

However, Caraballo’s certification on April 14 officially crosses the preliminary threshold. With Curran as candidate 12 as of last Friday, the odds of enough withdrawals cancelling the prelim are long.

Compared the mayors race, the Council preliminary will likely cull proportionately fewer people from the field. (State Rep Orlando Ramos and Psychologist David Ciampi are also running for mayor). The Reminder reported earlier this month that a handful of other potential candidates have pulled but not returned their papers.

Still, the odds are that the incumbents will survive as will the 2021 candidates. Historically, Council aspirants that ran and lost in a recent cycle—Caraballo and Latorre placed fifth and sixth in 2021 respectively—have a very good chance of winning later attempts. That still leaves five spots to advance to the general election. Moreover, the mayoral race will define turnout in both rounds of the election which could alter the traditional arithmetic of the Council election.

Among ward races, none have shown any inkling of competitiveness save Ward 6. Incumbents in the other wards are likely to run for reelection without opposition.

Incumbent Ward 6 Councilor Victor Davila is facing challengers. Last week the Election Commission certified Shanequa Fryar. Technically, Fryar is the first in the ward to get on the ballot. However Davila has confirmed he is running. However, Humberto Caro has also filed with OCPF.

If Caro turns in his papers along with Davila, Ward 6 will also need a preliminary to shrink the field to a two-person contest in November.