UPDATED 9:07PM: As originally published, this post failed to note WMassP&I Editor Matt Szafranski served as moderator/part of the media panel for the Holyoke candidate debate referenced below.
Note: WMassP&I will not be making ANY endorsements for the preliminary this year.
There is no election that is too costly to be worth doing, but to be, fair financially cash-strapped cities Holyoke and Springfield, which will hold its preliminaries shortly, got off easy compared to other communities. Boston has a massive preliminary for nearly every office on the ballot on top of a slew of two-part special elections for the State Legislature.
Election fever has not exactly passed over Western Mass. The special US Senate election happened here too obviously, but unlike in Boston for example, only one special State House election will hit Holyoke and one only the primary will require a separate election day. Springfield had a casino election, but that was paid for by someone else.
As far as municipal preliminaries go, the mad dash to broom Alex Morse necessitated a citywide preliminary. In Springfield, this is not only the first time that the mayor is not on the ballot, but it is also a year when there is no citywide poll. Voters will not go to the polls in ¾ of the city September 17. In 2009, the last time there was no citywide preliminary, the result was reversed with only ¼ of the city not needing a preliminary.
Preliminaries in wards only are a function of the reintroduction of ward representation and Ward 1 and 5 will hold a preliminary to slim their candidates lists down to two for the November general. Turnout for the November election had long been anybody’s guess, but turnout predictions in those two wards are downright impossible.
The two wards are very different both in socioeconomically and in appearance. Ward 1 is heavily urban compromising downtown north of Union Street, the North End and Brightwood. Ward 5 consists largely of 16 Acres north of Wilbraham road, excluding the Eastfield area of Boston Road. It reaches into Pine Point and the Hill neighborhoods. The southeastern section of 16 Acres is not in the ward.
What is fairly certain is that turnout would be low anywhere—probably laughably so—it is not for lack competitiveness. Ward 1 will feature incumbent Zaida Luna, Jose Claudio, a New North Citizens Council luminary, Steven Daly a member of the Amoury-Quandrangle Association and Mike Rivas an activist in the ward. Ward 5 will feature the incumbent Clodo Concepcion as well as Michael Belanger and Kyle Burns.
Generally speaking, given the voting behavior in minority-heavy places like Ward 1, turnout there could be nearly microscopic. Four years ago when the race was last competitive, there was no preliminary. However, the sheer volume of candidates each with their own partisans will have to kick up turnout at least a bit even if Ward 1 has recently been the second lowest-turnout ward.
The candidates have, to some extent, been visible. Both Claudio and Rivas have held standouts armed with signs and Luna has gotten some press over a liquor store in her neighborhood. However, neither of these tactics alone will drive up turnout generally. Rather, their intention is the boost name recognition when those voters that do show face the ballot. Complicating matters further and thereby undermining turnout the competitiveness should push, is the limited digital outreach the candidates have engaged in. Both Claudio and Daly have a website. Rivas is on Facebook. Claudio utilizes all social media platforms, but not to any advantage over his rivals. Luna has no apparent digital outreach.
Finally, campaign finance reports through the end of August reveal almost no expenditures beyond sign design and fundraising costs, suggesting the candidates are not spending the money on voter outreach either. Only Daly has spent money on postage, suggesting that a direct mailer may be in the offing.
By its nature, Ward 5 may turn out a bit more, but not much. Divided between higher-turnout 16 Acres and more middling Pine Point and the Hill neighborhoods, it usually ranks somewhere in the middle of the pack. In 2009, when there was a preliminary, it ranked ahead of Ward 8, but behind Wards 2, 6, & 7 in terms of turnout. Even that years may be an outlier as the race featured candidates from across the ward like Concepcion himself, former City Councilor Carol Lewis-Caulton and AWAKE head DeJuan Brown.
This year the situation is quite different as the most recognizable is clearly Concepcion’s. Still, Concepcion may be a bit fearful as he has pulled strings to aid in his reelection. His colleagues have actively and visibly backed him and the mayor went so far as to rename the Greenleaf Community Center after him in a big ceremony. Concepcion will almost certainly survive the primary, but if that fear is not groundless it could portend well for turnout as his opponents push to get a spot on the November ballot.
In Ward 5 there is also a great deal more outreach spending. Concepcion has invested heavily in printing and postage suggesting a strong push to reach voters, even during the preliminary. Burns has not spent much beyond signs, but he has begun to tap the digital advertising realm with ads on Facebook. Belanger has yet to file any reports with the state.
Holyoke is an entirely different matter. With a five-way mayor’s race turnout will probably be above average for that city. To whose benefit it will redound is impossible to know, but it is quite easy to figure what is driving it: Anti-Morseism Morse’s short mayoralty has sparked passionate opposition both coherent and less so, which is probably what drove four challengers to charge onto the ballot.
Also competing are Dan Boyle, Jim Santiago, Dan Szostkiewicz and Jeff Stanek.
Higher(ish) turnout and better than abysmal press coverage clouds conventional wisdom about who will move past the preliminary (which would suggest the highest name recognition award goes to Morse and former mayor Szostkiewicz). Since so many people ran rather than the “ReMorse” crowd getting behind one candidate, opponents’ energies will be divided among the challengers giving the eventual winner less of a mandate to take on Morse alone (assuming he advances). Adding to the mix is a wide variation of digital and social media engagement among the candidates.
That could be wrong, too. Not being able to read voters’ minds, the anti-Morse vote could naturally flow to just one or two candidates, expanding the base upon which that challenger can build. For the sake of argument, if Morse tanks in the preliminary, all bets are off and the city’s politics will go batty in the general.
The only other contested at-large race is for Clerk, which itself probably cannot raise turnout any higher than the mayor’s race could. Louise Bisson, Dori Dean and Brenna Murphy McGee are running in that race. Although this, too, is unlikely to independently boost turnout, all candidates are engaged in social media with both Dean and McGee posting regularly and sporting decent followings on both Facebook & Twitter.
Ward 4 in Holyoke, where only one of its candidates saw fit to respond, let alone attend a debate organized last week seem poised to have relatively low turnout. Hispanics represent a large chunk of the voting population there. Given that group’s historically low turnout, turnout in that race seems unlikely to meet the citywide numbers despite the hard work of candidates like Jossie Valentin (who did show up at the debate/forum) both in person and digitally. John Lecca and L. Dorothea MacNeil are also on the ballot.
Holyoke campaign finance reports are not as readily available as Springfield because records are filed with the city and not the state Office of Campaign & Political Finance. However, several candidates have bought ads on Facebook, which have appeared on area users’ screens.
Obviously the general cannot really begin until after the preliminary. In Boston where everybody and their brother is running, thoughts of the general are impossible until the preliminary culls the herd. In Hampden County by comparison, even though many races lack a preliminary, those that do not can clog the other races a bit. After September 17, it will be clear whether the political floodgates open up or candidates rest on their laurels.