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Fenton Set to Reclaim Presidency in Springfield City Council’s New Term…

UPDATED 7:08PM: To include detail from Fenton’s comments to WAMC.

Michael Fenton

Guess who’s back? Back again… (still via YouTube/Focus Springfield

After a seven-year interregnum, Ward 2 City Councilor Michael Fenton is poised to resume the role of Council President in 2024. Fenton, who joined the Council in 2010, served three one-year terms from 2014 to 2016. Largely moderate, if historically reform-minded, as president Fenton shepherded several bills to passage including the initial attempt to revive the Police Commission.

Fenton will be seizing the gavel again under circumstances that both echo and depart from the first time he took the dais. Then, as now, Springfield was coming off a momentous election that included turnover on the Council. In 2013, a midterm year, two councilors lost their seats. This time much of the action was in the mayor’s race although there is churn on the Council, too.

“I am humbled by the support of my colleagues and thankful for the trust they have put in me.” Fenton said in his announcement statement.

The Ward 2 Councilor announced he had support of 10 other councilors. Along with his own vote, that gives Fenton two more votes than necessary to secure the presidency. In his statement, he counts the support of at-large Councilor Sean Curran and Kateri Walsh, ward councilors Maria Perez, Melvin Edwards, Malo Brown, Lavar Click-Bruce, Victor Davila and Timothy Allen and at-large Councilors-elect Jose Delgado and Brian Santaniello.

Fenton won his seat for Ward 2, which covers Atwater Park, East Springfield, Hungry Hill and Liberty Heights, in the city’s first election for ward councilors in half a century. He took office as the body’s youngest member and as a law student. Since graduation, he has practiced law at Shatz, Schwartz & Fentin, a prominent firm in downtown Springfield. As a councilor, he has chaired many of the body’s prominent committees, including Finance, and several special panels as well.

Springfield Ward 2

Ward 2 as Fenton will represent it beginning in 2024. It has changed only slightly despite two rounds of redistricting since he first won. (via Springfield City Hall)

During his tenure as president, Fenton oversaw the implementation of MGM’s host community agreement and passage of key legislation. Among bill that passed were the casino ethics ordinance, strengthening residency requirements for city workers and and the revival of the Police Commission.

“I look forward to working with old friends and new members of the Council to push forward an aggressive year of business for the City Council,” he said.

Fenton’s statement did not elaborate on any specific policy goals. However, he assured that “fairness” above all else would prevail in his new presidential term.

“The law will be enforced and we will conduct orderly business on behalf of the citizens of Springfield who have entrusted us to lead this city,” he continued.

In an interview with WAMC Northeast Public Radio, Fenton suggested that public safety would feature prominently, given its prominence in the mayoral contest. He also said there was work to do on holding MGM to its commitments.

The emphasis on “fairness” did not appear to be a dig at Fenton’s four successors as president since 2016. Indeed, in his WAMC interview, he praised the outgoing president, Jesse Lederman as an “innovative and productive leader” for the Council. Lederman is leaving the Council, having retired to unsuccessfully run for mayor.

However, it does appear to allude to changes since he stepped down the presidency. Four of the at-large seats have turned over (or will) by January. Wards 1, 4, 5, 6 and 8 have also seen one or more new councilors over the last seven years.

More significantly, the durable supermajority on the Council that had restrained Mayor Domenic Sarno, if briefly, has atrophied and decayed. That has had the effect of Fenton sliding toward the mayor or abstaining from direct involvement in policy initiatives that garnered the most profile.

Michael Fenton

Back for more, eh? Fenton as outgoing president in 2016. (WMP&I)

Instead, he has focused on more technocratic ordinances and pressed MGM from his perch atop the casino oversight committee. Still, Fenton had maintained his opposition to the biomass plant and supported the suit to enforce the Police Commission ordinance. Both stances were fully in opposition to the mayor.

Fenton’s announcement was something of a surprise. It comes a little over a year after he lost the Democratic primary for Governor’s Council to Tara Jacobs, a North Adams School Committees member.

Many Council watchers had their eye on Edwards, the current Vice-president and councilor from Ward 3. Whatever changed on that front, their relationship is such that neither would compete against the other for the presidency. Edwards’s support also amounts to a blessing.

At-large Councilor Tracye Whitfield was looking for votes for president as well. However, with only one other vote not committed to Fenton, that path would be closed.