Preliminary Glimpse Favors Lederman, Ryan in Springfield…
UPDATED 9/21/17 11:28AM: To include a quote from Ryan.
SPRINGFIELD—Amid anemic turnout, voters in the 413’s largest city narrowed its unusually large at-large fields for City Council and School Committee. Incumbents seeking reelection romped in their races, leaving most of the action among who those who lived to fight another day in the general election.
Longtime councilors Timothy Rooke and Bud Williams retired this year and appointed School Committee member Norman Roldan passed on seeking a full term. That prompted a flood of strong candidates in both races to fill the vacancies on both panels. On Tuesday night, Council candidates Jesse Lederman and Timothy Ryan and Committee candidate Jimmy Ferrera placed right behind the incumbents. That could give them momentum going into November 7.
The preliminary election eliminated three of 13 Council candidates and four of eight Committee hopefuls. While Ferrera, Lederman and Ryan placed well enough to win in a general, it is no guarantee of ultimate victory. In the city’s last nine-seat at-large Council election in 2007, Kateri Walsh placed 10th in the preliminary only to rebound to fifth by November.
Mirroring their 2013 performances, political power couple Councilor Justin Hurst and Committee member Denise Hurst topped their respective tickets. Behind Justin Hurst were Thomas Ashe, Walsh, Lederman, Ryan, Tracye Whitfield, Kelli Moriarty-Finn, Victor Davila, Ernesto Cruz, and Jynai McDonald. Council aspirants Marilyn Felix, Kelvin Molina and Willie Thomas were eliminated.
LaTonia Monroe Naylor and Ryan Hess who placed third and fourth in the Committee race behind Denise Hurst and Ferrera. Lamar Cook, Joesiah Gonzalez, James Anziano and Michael Koscmiersky were eliminated.
Turnout was only 5.39% or 5,726 voters according to unofficial tallies. While pathetic, it follows historic turnout patterns for at-large preliminaries without mayor contests. In raw voter totals, it is just below 2009’s figures and just above 2007’s.
The relatively small margins separating those inside the winners’ circle and outside all, but ensures a hotly contested race all the way to the finish line. Whitfield’s strong sixth leaves room for her to overtake Ryan, a former city councilor. The same is true of Naylor’s Committee placement behind Ferrera, also a former councilor. Moreover Tuesday’s low turnout figures will improve, if marginally, by November, adding thousands of voters who could sway the election.
Still, a performance like Lederman’s is a good sign. In 2015, he ran at-large and placed sixth as all five-incumbents won reelection. He topped the challenger field that year providing a solid foundation for his bid this year. Recent history has favored repeat at-large candidacies, especially when a vacancy occurs.
“I am deeply humbled and grateful for the show of support we received in the Preliminary Election today,” Lederman said in a statement early Wednesday morning. As he had in remarks to supporters Tuesday night, he lamented the poor turnout. But he struck more optimistic note for the Fall. “I am hopeful that through continued hard work we can also improve the voter turnout in the General Election, and involve more people in the democratic process.”
Ryan benefited from name recognition, too—his own. He served on the then-all at-large Council from 1994 to 2003. His father, Charles Ryan, was mayor from 2004 to 2007 and for a time in the 1960’s as well. But the younger Ryan’s reputation from that earlier Council service could be his biggest asset going forward.
In a statement Thursday, Ryan called for a robust debate schedule to gin up turnout in November.
“The community needs to do a better job enlightening and engaging the voters, he did. All forms of local media from print to the lowliest blog, “have a significant role to play in helping to focus on the relevant issues and hearing answers from the various candidates to pertinent questions.”
Ferrera’s second place showing in the Committee race is somewhat surprising. Four years ago, voters defenestrated him after a rocky two-year Council Presidency. However, as a Committee candidate, he has stuck a decidedly softer tone, emphasizing how teachers had an impact on him.
Half of the ward-based seats for both the Council and Committee are contested. However, only Wards 2, 3 and 4 required a preliminary as did the district Committee seat for Wards 4 and 5.
Ward 2 Councilor Michael Fenton was confronting his first contested election since he first won his seat in 2009. He earned 537 votes outpacing his nearest competitor by 53 points. Ivelisse Gonzalez, a 2015 mayoral candidate, missed the second spot on November’s ballot by 8 votes. Kency Gilet will be Fenton’s opponent in general for the seat representing Atwater Park, East Springfield, Hungry Hill and part of Liberty Heights.
In Ward 3, incumbent Melvin Edwards secured more than 61% of the vote. Yet, turnout there was particularly bad. Only 386 votes were cast in the ward, which covers the South End, Maple Heights/Six Corners and part of Forest Park. Kevin Dumpson beat out Matthias Galvin for the right to advance.
Though he outran past his opponents, Ward 4 Councilor E. Henry Twiggs only won 41 % of the vote. The Bay, McKnight, Old Hill and Upper Hill-based ward will now choose between Twiggs and Robert Kelly, who won 24% of the preliminary vote. Lorenzo Gaines, Larry Lawson and Candejah Pink were eliminated.
Barbara Gresham, who represents Ward 4 and 5 (parts of Pine Point and 16 Acres) on the School Committee, grabbed a comfortable 57% of the vote. In November, she will face Stephanie Murchison-Brown, who placed ahead of Giselle Vizcarrondo.
Springfield was not the only city in Western Massachusetts city holding preliminaries. North Adams selected its general election candidates for mayor today. Thomas Bernard and Robert Moulton, Jr. will move on to the race to replace Richard Alcombright who opted not to seek reelection this year.
Chicopee, which is experiencing one of its sleepiest election cycles in recent memory, had only one race, a preliminary for Ward 1’s School Committee seat. Yet, the results shocked. Incumbent Dana Cutter fell, leaving the Fall contest between James Tanhauser, Jr. and Trina House-Labonte. Tanhauser dominated the meager turnout with 52% of the vote.
Holyoke holds preliminaries for mayor and city council next Tuesday. Agawam will hold theirs on October 10.