Briefings: Is Victory within the Ken of Ward 2 Challenger?…
UPDATED 8:47AM: To reflect a correction. Gilet grew up in Nanuet, N.Y., not the Bronx.
SPRINGFIELD—Standing only yards away from a success his opponent highlights on the trail, Kency Gilet formally launched his Council bid with an eye toward better connecting residents with City Hall. In a cozy side room of an East Springfield watering hole, he promised to deliver a bit of nostalgia as well as a city that delivers for its children.
A therapist and East Springfield, resident, Gilet never mentioned his opponent, incumbent Michael Fenton at the kickoff even at Rory Fitzgerald’s bar on Page Boulevard. Rather he kept focused on biography and proposing change at 36 Court Street. But whether that will be enough remains to be seen.
“Take a huge step to turn Springfield back the way you remember,” he declared.
Appeals to nostalgia are nothing new in Springfield politics, but Gilet’s promise to not be a “rubber stamp” may not create much of a contrast. Gilet is Fenton’s first challenger since joining the Council in 2009. However, Fenton has his own reputation for bucking the system. Lonely 12-1 votes on fiscal issues and other matters define part of his tenure on the Council.
Instead Gilet’s more promising tactic may be arguing that this part of the city gets in sufficient attention.
“A long time since East Springfield residents feel like we don’t have a voice,” Gilet said.
Still, that argument, could be a challenge. Across Page Boulevard, the CRRC plant is rising and will soon produce railcars for Boston and other cities’ transit systems. While principally a state project, it is among the signs of progress in Ward 2 Fenton has pointed to.
Ward 2 includes the Atwater Park, East Springfield, Hungry Hill and Liberty Heights neighborhoods. It roughly runs between the Chicopee border and I-291 from Bay State Medical Center to Roosevelt Avenue.
In his speech, Gilet said he was on the fence about running, but, he said, his wife told him citing his work as a therapist, “You’ve been helping people in the past for years.”
“I realized at that point I really had to run,” he said.
The son of Haitian immigrants, Gilet grew up in Nanuet, N.Y. and came to Springfield for a job in 2013. His family bought a home not far from his kickoff. In an interview with WMassP&I, he indicated that the low participation of parents at his children’s PTO led him to get more involved. He worked on Lillian Gray’s unsuccessful bid to unseat Ward 7 Councilor Timothy Allen.
A not uncommon Council meeting spectator, Gilet was asked what he felt the Council needed to do differently. He said the body should engage social media more. It could reach more people that way and possibly “drive up engagement.”
There is one aspect of the race that could yet develop. Although Springfield city elections are nonpartisan, Democrats traditionally dominate City Hall.
Gilet, a Republican, did not play party up in his remarks—nor did Fenton, a Democrat, at his kickoff—but partisanism may seep in. West Springfield’s former mayor Gregory Neffinger, a noted area right-wing figure, attended and some supporters at Gilet’s kickoff were sporting Trump pins.
Though rare, Republicans have found success in Springfield politics. However, figures such as John Lysak, Anthony Ravosa and Bruce Stebbins ran and governed as moderates. Gilet has done little to conceal his conservative views.
How much party matters may depend on the tone and tenor of the race in the coming months.