For the first time since Springfield abolished its old system of government and ushered in a strong mayor-council government, and possibly ever, the city will hold a municipal election without the mayor on the ballot. Boston is the only other city in Massachusetts with more 100,000 that has a strong-mayor government and its mayor, too, serves four years.
The lack of that top contest is already believed to depress turnout further, but it may also have a material impact upon the races that will happen. It seems quite possible that for the first time in over a decade, none of Springfield’s at-large seats will be vacated inviting a new member to join the Council.
This has been the pattern for several elections now transcending even the introduction of ward representation. In 2003, Timothy Ryan stepped down and once and again Councilor Kateri Walsh took the open slot. In 2005 Dan Kelly declined another run and Bruce Stebbins took his place. Two years later, Domenic Sarno ran for mayor and Patrick Markey took his seat. In 2009, while the number of at-large councilors was reduced to five from nine, there were five retirements, including Bud Williams who ran for mayor. Thomas Ashe took the fifth seat while Williams staged a comeback in 2011 when Tosado sought the mayor’s office that year.
Papers for election will not be available until later in the spring and announcements, informal to the extent that they exist, are often not made until at least then. At-large candidate Ernesto Cruz, likely sensing the need to built up name recognition and a campaign war chest, is the only declared candidate so far. However, he is hardly alone in the race.
Campaign reports and events show that the election is very much on the minds of Springfield politicians. Last week, Ashe held his annual St. Patrick’s Day fundraiser (which WMassP&I attended). The money will be a welcome boost to Ashe’s campaign account which was largely depleted after his unsuccessful bid for Clerk of Courts. The fundraiser did not bring him up to the level of some of his colleagues, but it should provide enough seed money to grow further. That may not entirely matter. Ashe can draw support from both local sources and elsewhere At that fundraiser was Guy Glodis, the former Worcester County Sheriff (and Ashe’s former boss) and a one-time Auditor candidate, who could probably help out Ashe further if the need arose.
Indeed most of the at-large councilors have several thousand dollars in their campaign accounts. Given that the average campaign consists primarily of direct mail and last minute ads in the Republican, that is the bare minimum to compete. Besides Ashe, Jimmy Ferrera, Tim Rooke, and Bud Williams have all been fundraising over the past non-election year. Ferrera and Rooke, however, spent a considerable amount of their contributions. Some was on other campaigns and donations to charities throughout the year.
By comparison, Kateri Walsh has raised nothing since January 2012 all while spending down the contents of her campaign account to nearly nothing. She entered 2011 with a pittance as well, and raised $13,000 and she could surely do so again although she was also fundraising through 2010 even as she spent her funds. However, rumors have swirled from multiple sources that Walsh may call it quits after a decade back at City Hall while her husband is said to be ill. Those rumors have been countered by other sources who say she is not going anywhere.
Another name floated for an at-large seat is Justin Hurst, the scion of the Hurst political/publishing family. His campaign account was not closed after 2011, although it has shown no activity since then.
Ward 1 Councilor Zaida Luna recently deposited $1300 in unitemized contributions into her account. Any contributions given by one individual that total up to less than $50 in a given year need not be itemized. However, Luna did receive at least one $100 contribution from Rooke’s committee that she did not itemize.
In stark contrast to last election, Luna may be sitting in the most contested seat this year. Numerous sources inside and out of City Hall suggest that District School Committeeperson Norman Roldan will challenge Luna. According to the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance, Roldan has not filed any paperwork yet. As a school committee member, he only needs to file with the city, but if he runs for a Council seat, he must begin filing with the state.
Were Roldan to enter, it would signal a full split between Luna and the New North Citizens Council, the civic association/social service group based in the North End. Roldan is an active member and another member, Jose Claudio, is said to seek Roldan’s seat.
Ward 2 Councilor Mike Fenton and Ward 3 Councilor Melvin Edwards are also by all indications running again. Fenton held a fundraiser last year that raked in a substantial sum. Edwards changed his campaign back to municipal shortly after his unsuccessful challenge to Senator Jim Welch in the Democratic primary and has geared up his online presence since. While anything could change, no names are in the ether as potential challengers.
Likewise, Ward 4 Councilor E. Henry Twiggs has $4000 on hand and is unlikely to face a challenge. However, Twiggs has faced difficulties with his health leaving open the possibility that he may not run again. Ward 5 Councilor Clodo Concepcion raised almost no money in 2012, but he had $8700 leftover from the 2011, enough to possibly scare off challengers in a ward that, given its voting patterns, could easily be competitive.
In Ward 6, the incumbent councilor there, Ken Shea, has raised nothing since the end of the 2011 election. Unlike Concepcion, Shea ended last year with little more than $1200. That number has gone down in periodic bank filings since. The lack of fundraising activity has prompted questions of whether or not he will seek reelection. Shea was widely seen as a candidate meant to knock off then-Councilor Amaad Rivera, who opted to run for at-large instead of contest Ward 6’s seat. Shea was elected without opposition.
Rivera is said to be eying his former seat although he, too, has yet to raise any money. Were Shea to step down, it is a sure bet that other candidates would emerge including the Mayor Sarno’s former communications director Tom Walsh. Walsh was mentioned as a write-in candidate in 2009 by those dissatisfied with both candidates running as the time.
Ward 7 Councilor Tim Allen has only about $5000 in his account as of the latest filings. Allen faced no opponent in 2011, which is somewhat surprising given the ward’s high political participation. Four out of five at-large councilors live here. Allen may not escape a contested race this year, but while his campaign account may not be bursting at the seems it should provide sufficient seed money to grow larger if need be.
Finally in Ward 8, the rumor is that the Indian Orchard-Pine Point based district will face a repeat of the last took election with incumbent John Lysak facing off against Orlando Ramos, a License Commissioner and Welch aide. As of the latest filings, Lysak had only about $300. He had more at the start of the year, but spent about $700. Ramos, ostensibly, is in a similar situation. His latest reports show a bit less than $400 in the bank. He raised money in 2012, but spent down much of it on unitemized expenditures.
The money chase is not a perfect analysis of whether or not incumbents are running or challengers will arise. Moreover, it is early. As the deadline to get on the ballot approaches, there may be more signs as to who is gearing up and who is not. Beyond the deadline we will know, of course who is on the ballot. However, the campaign finance reports will remain a crucial way to seeing who is getting the money they need to compete.