Endorsements on Parade: Effective Council in Springfield 2017…
Springfield has a unique opportunity with so many open seats, all at-large, in this year’s election. It represents a paradigm shift away from the pre-ward representation Council. With nearly all of the (incorrect) institutional memory about the Council’s weakness fading, there is a real possibility the body could move into a more assertive position in the city.
Without any further ado…
This race features incumbent Michael Fenton facing off against newcomer Kency Gilet. For nearly his entire eight years on the Council, Fenton has been noisy—in a good way. His dogged review of city finances and more transparent government has never gotten stale.
Gilet’s campaign has apparently focused on, among other things, families. At face value, it’s a vague pitch. Beneath the surface…well, better not to speculate. Gilet has worked hard, frenetically campaigning across the city. But his argument for how he would be superior or how he would do better than Fenton is, at best, unclear.
Fenton has, in our view, delivered for Ward 2, which includes Atwater Park, East Springfield, Hungry Hill and parts of Liberty Heights. His efforts are combination of public and behind the scene machinations. His unprecedented three years as Council President were met with some real reforms and strengthening of the body after decades of atrophy.
The choice is clear, Michael Fenton for another term as Ward 2 Councilor.
Incumbent Councilor Melvin Edwards face Kevin Dumpson in this race.
Admittedly, this blog knows Edwards and it knows where he stands on a number of issues. Recently, his efforts have been focused on the Green Committee, developing legislation to help Springfield lessen its impact on the environment. He is a reliable vote for progressive issues from police oversight, transparency and fair employment practices.
Dumpson, we do not know and to find anything about him is difficult. In today’s day and age, a lack of meaningful engagement with social media is telltale sign for us. Ward 3 is one of the city’s poorest and it needs candidates who are pushing to inform as much as advocate.
For us, Melvin Edwards for reelection as Ward 3 Councilor.
Henry Twiggs is a titan within the black community, which represents a sizable amount of Ward 4’s electorate. Robert Kelly, a community activist is challenging Twiggs. He could represent a serious challenge to Twiggs who did not get 50% of the vote in the preliminary.
We are intrigued by the notion of a dynamic new voice in this race. Certainly, Kelly appears to be in the race to win. He has hammered on issues of crime and touts his work as a youth mentor.
But we are not sure that is enough to overcome Twiggs’s background. A criticism leveled at him relates to age and health. In our estimate, there is nothing we have seen at Council meetings to give us the right to consider either as a cause against reelection. Rather, he has remained a champion of not just progress ideologically, but general improvement, in the function of the City Council. Moreover, on some of the most dicey issues, he has been a pivot point of compromise.
We are not prepared to part with him yet. Another two years for E. Henry Twiggs from Ward 4.
Two years ago we endorsed incumbent Ken Shea’s opponent, not out of malice, but because he and his opponent were evenly matched. The need to have more women on the Council served as a tiebreaker. That simply is not the case this year as he faces off against perennial candidate Robert Collamore.
Collamore’s guerilla campaign of mass sign placement across Forest Park is more odd than effective. Nothing about his campaign is clear or coherent. Even its existence is only confirmed by his campaign finance filings. (He’s reported no expenditures, where did those signs come from?) He is not easily reached and he has run for multiple offices before. A red flag, to be sure.
We have not agreed with all of Shea’s votes. However, we are confident in his ability and willingness to prepare for meetings and address issues with thought and consideration. Some complain Shea, a lawyer, speaks with too much legalese. They’re right, but that’s not a disqualification. To our legal antennae, we can decipher conviction in his votes and his positions.
Moreover, he, like Kateri Walsh, has taken an active role in pushing for better rail service for the city. This is not something the city can do itself, but we need more, not fewer, councilors rationally broadcasting the city’s interests beyond its 33 square miles.
We support Ken Shea for another term as Ward 6 Councilor.
The at-large race truly presents a conundrum. In our estimate, there is no combination of winners that would be bad for the city. All ten of the candidates in the general election could bring something unique and special to 36 Court Street. That said, we make our recommendations…
We supported Lederman’s unsuccessful at-large campaign two years ago. He may not have won then, but from the seeds of that campaign have been a stronger one this time. In terms of organization, Lederman does not appear to have a peer. This is essential if he is to keep his promise to remain plugged into the neighborhoods. Downtown development is great, but it’s been a work in progress for 50 years. More attention is needed in the city’s neighborhoods that are feted, but otherwise neglected.
More importantly, Lederman, a public health and environmental activist, will bring a willingness to engage with policy. Our vision for the City Council is an activist one. That’s difficult with few specialized staff—the existing Council staff do great work, but their role is not policy—but it is not impossible with councilors eager to engage.
In that way, Lederman is an obvious choice. We recommend his election for at-large City Council.
Whatever political machinations keep Thomas Ashe atop the Public Safety Committee, it has not been for naught. His committee has been active over these years, usually producing at least one significant public safety initiative or another each term. Despite generally hewing to the mayor’s line on many issues, he has not used his position to bomb efforts he ultimately opposed such as the police commission.
In his interview with us, Ashe highlighted several new policies within the Police Department he wants to continue monitoring. These are no substitute for revision of police oversight, but they are important. In our estimate, Ashe retains ties to public safety brass and rank and file. With the Council in a period of transition, these connections, however he votes in the end, will have a value.
If reelected, Walsh will become the Council’s senior stateswoman. While the role carries no inherent power—except presiding over meetings if the president and vice-president do not—institutional memory is important. Walsh never clung to the notion, at least in our years of covering her, of Council impotence meaning her experience is compatible with this blog’s vision for a robust municipal legislature.
More practically, Walsh has been adept at keeping pace with a few issues that are in vogue, but not dominating the conversation. Here that means the arts economy and greater advocacy for the city outside its borders, namely for rail. Walsh said she would consider legislation to revive a creative economy office in the city. This important because such an office needs structure and direction of an ordinance, not the fickleness of a mayoral order.
As for rail, Walsh traveld to Boston to testify on behalf of Senator Eric Lesser’s rail study. Obviously we support that, but it is important that councilors get out of Springfield more. Constituent services remain key, of course, but the city’s provincialism is one of its biggest weaknesses. If Walsh is prepared to keep this outspokenness up including and beyond rail, we will be better for it.
*Walsh and WMassP&I editor-in-chief serve on the Ward 6 Democratic Committee. However, WMassP&I’s coverage of Walsh predates Szafranski’s joining of that committee and therefore WMassP&I has made the editorial decision to offer its endorsement without any further disclaimers than this disclosure.
For several cycles, this blog has supported Hurst. His 2013 campaign exuded a dynamism rare for Springfield campaigns. We did, however, worry that had not entirely translated into office. This past term dispelled that concern.
Hurst has taken on a more public and outspoken role in the Council. We have not concurred with every challenge to city administration during Council meetings. But broadly speaking, this has been a positive development both for the institution and for issues like police accountability.
This blog has a position of firm agnosticism when it comes to employee residency, but have no quarrel with Hurst’s increased emphasis on this issue as well. We would add that his observations that residency could help direct jobs to the city’s underclass is a correct one. A challenge in the new term, however, will be finding compromise on this issue to move it from rhetoric to reality. We trust Hurst can.
And now, our conundrum.
Victor Davila has grown as a candidate over the course of this election, projecting a strong positions on blight, social justice and small-d democratic values. He has shown a command of several other issues and could do well in this position.
Moreover, Springfield has only ever had one Latino at-large councilor before. This demographic is woefully underrepresented and Davila could fill that void.
Meanwhile Jyani McDonald has displayed a wide-angle lens view of the city. A recognition of the interconnectedness of issues, a holistic approach in other words, is incredibly refreshing. With a background in politics, community activism, workforce development and small business, she checks numerous boxes.
But more than that, McDonald has discussed a desire to help mentor future leaders, namely women. Only two women of color have ever served on the Springfield City Council and too few women generally. McDonald would not only be a prime councilor, but great role model for Springfield women in politics and out.
How can we endorse two people for one seat? Well, this blog has a conflict. Unlike Walsh, this blgo did not cover Davila our editor-in-chief and Davila began to serve on the Ward 6 Democratic committee. In our recollection we cannot recall such a direct conflict. In the past we have abstained from races where conflicts have arisen, but that is not an option here given the nature of the race.
Rather, because we find Davila and McDonald neck and neck we offer both. Each, respectively, would each also provide much needed representation of Latinos or women. We leave it to voters and readers to determine, which the Springfield City Council would benefit more from.
Again, our endorsements in this race cannot be taken as a condemnation of the other five candidates, Ernesto Cruz, Kelli Moriarty-Finn, Tim Ryan and Tracye Whitfield. Anything but. They all have gifts that could better the City Council. It is rare that Springfield enjoys such excellent choices and as such we are certain whoever wins will serve the city honorably and well.