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Our One Hundredth: A Little Lowell Lovin’…

With the field more or less set, Democrats vying for their party’s nomination to challenge Scott Brown debated for the first time at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell this evening.  The debate was moderated by UMASS-Lowell Chancellor and former representative Martin Meehan with questions from a student panel.  Having six participants, the word debate seems a little silly.  It was almost like a candidates forum, but with poorly enforced time limits.  In any event it was an opportunity for the candidates to introduce themselves to a wider audience.  We will do no less, but start with a couple of points.

With Elizabeth Warren very far ahead of the others in the polls, the former White House adviser had the traditional benefits and risks of frontrunner status.  Her goal was not to screw up.  She did that very well.  The phrases we have heard for three weeks now were, to those who have been following, a bit old.  However, her best moments were clearly the least scripted ones as on military service and immigration (her son-in-law is an immigrant).   If by the next debate she can talk about the middle class without repeating any of the phrases in her announcement video, she’ll be just fine.
The other detail has to do with the implicit attack on Warren for receiving money from political action committees, namely the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and EMILY’s List.  While both groups are left-leaning national groups based in Washington, neither are beholden to corporations or moneyed interests like Karl Rove’s PAC’s.  The PCCC may seem to be an example of the uncompromising left, but by all accounts they, like MoveOn.org (who also support Warren) began from the grassroots left.  EMILY’s List is an organization dedicated to electing Pro-choice Democratic women and had similar humble roots in the mid-1980′s.  It has been behind the election of most Democratic women senators in the past 25 years, beginning with Maryland’s senior Senator Barabara Mikulski.
Finally this “debate,” as said, was really more a showcase than anything else.  Although Bob Massie and Alan Khazei jabbed Warren’s PAC money, the rest of the debate was civil and the candidates were largely in a agreement on the issues.  As the Twitterverse commented, the debate possessed something much of the GOP Presidential debates lacked: sanity.
Now, the Candidates!
Tom Conroy: The state rep turned Senate candidate appears to have stuck to basic liberal Democratic ideas.  His sell was that he beat a popular Republican in his State Rep district.  It is important to note, however that a State Rep seat has about 40,000 people in it.  Population of Massachusetts? 6.3 million+.
Marisa DeFranco:  The Twitterverse said she was gunning for the Mike Capuano vote.  She talked about not “capitulating.”  While the Democrats have done their fair share of that, some things, like the Health Care Law, which some saw as a “capitulation” has been staunchly defended by Capuano.  DeFranco’s argument about being from Essex County, a place Scott Brown largely won, also seemed weak.
Alan Khazei: Khazei emphasized his work with creating non-profits almost ad nauseum, but it was clear that he had what it takes to take on Warren past the convention and onto the primary.  Little, if anything distinguished him from Warren, but he did sound like he was trying to sound like he was just like her…only better.  His distinguishing remark, he enjoyed smoke pot at least once in his life.
Bob Massie: There is no doubt that the man has lived an impressive life, but it felt like much of his argument was “You don’t know what you’re missing.”  The hits on Warren for PAC money was mostly from him and his evocation of Ted Kennedy, seemed misplaced.  To take back the people’s seat, which Brown has used like a commode, we cannot wax nostalgic about Teddy.
Herb Robinson: The engineer who essentially called himself the Democratic counterpart to Scott Brown’s everymanhood had some laughs, but seemed largely devoid of anything special.  He seemed nervous and struggled through many answers.
Elizabeth Warren:  See above for more, but did a very good job.  Expectations were sky high and, well, frankly her supporters would not be disappointed and her detractors would not be either.  If today was the introduction, now she needs to start sharpening her message.  That is extremely tough this early in the calendar and incredibly risky, but to keep the momentum, she’s got to keep them interested and keep them coming back for more.
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Take My Council, Please: Fear & Loathing in Springfield…

(WMassP&I)
The Springfield City Council meant to bring some measure of finality to the budget process and a provide a measure closure to the acrimony that has bedeviled the City Council and the Mayor’s office.  Between a canny move by at-large Councilor Jimmy Ferrera and a procedural gaffe, that effort fell apart descending into more acrimony and less fiscal responsibility.

Among the boilerplate disposed of by the council was the formal receipt of grants for the redevelopment of Union Station and the adjacent Hotel Charles site.  Allegedly, the project is moving forward.  An ordinance on livery vehicles was referred to committee and a first step was made for an ordinance that provided clarifying language to the city’s vicious dog ordinance.  Various property transactions were also approved and an authorization to pay bills from previous years was sent to committee.

The council received a report from finance officials that said the city was on track in its budget spending.  Planning and Economic Development Chair Ward 7 Councilor Tim Allen also announced that the city will likely expend more than $106 million in tornado rebuilding and recovery costs.

Councilor Fenton (Facebook)

However, by far the most interesting part of the meeting came from an item that was not even on the agenda.  Ward 2 Councilor Mike Fenton, the Finance Committee chair, brought an item out of the committee to fund tiered furloughs, terrace mowing and an extra position at the animal control center.  However, the actual measure was one sent up by the mayor at the last meeting which would do all those things, but add $100,000 to the police department budget above the mayor FY2012 budget and provide money for bulk pickup.  It is unclear what the bulk-pickup referred to as there has been no apparent cessation of bulk pickup in the city.

The finance committee had been wrangling with the mayor for weeks to get the tiered furloughs without being forced to accept essentially rescinding the more than $2 million in cuts the city had ordered for FY2012.  Administration officials had essentially been claiming that the council had cut terracing mowing and police overtime.  While the former was caused by an indiscriminate 5% cut from other-than-personnel-services accounts led to the reduction of some services like terrace mowing and animal control, police overtime was never at issue.

Fenton, after he offered his changes to the mayor’s appropriation, called on the mayor to “be genuine to the principles of government.”  City Council President Jose Tosado, a challenger to the mayor this November, also chastised the mayor for playing games with the council.  Finance Director T.J. Plante snapped at the council for not alerting him or the administration about the finance committee meeting that preceded the council meeting.  However, the meeting was properly and publicly posted and Fenton reminded Plante that he had apologized for not extending a personal invitation, an apology impliedly had been accepted.  Throughout the back and forth between the council and Plante, the finance director remained evasive and indignant at the council’s deliberations.


Councilor Ferrera (Urban Compass)

Nevertheless nobody saw Ferrera’s move to amend Fenton’s order to include the police overtime and bulk pickup funds anyway.  Confusion ensued as Fenton tried to withdraw his motion to stop the process.  However, the clerk announced that Ferrera could just as easily pull the item back from committee.  City Clerk Wayman Lee said the vote for Ferrera’s motion could proceed because the item had been in the committee for long enough.  However, the clerk miscalculated the days.  Thirty days must pass before “any” councilor can pull an item from committee.  Not nearly as much time had passed since the measure was sent to committee initially.

Members of the council, fearful of appearing to oppose a measure that would ostensibly benefit the police department, fell into line and voted for the measure by a wide margin.  Fenton permitted his original motion for the tiered furlough, mowing and animal control to pass as well, which was approved overwhelmingly.

(WMassP&I)

The entire show was a sad display of the fear, incompetence and opportunism that still, apparently runs wild through the city council.  The council did not cut the police overtime budget.  In fact, the mayor offered a smaller number in this fiscal year than last and now wanted the council to add more to the budget.  Additionally troubling is that police overtime will do nothing to correct the city’s crime problem.  The problem is not enough cops on the beat, but a broader more systemic social problem that no amount of policing can correct by itself.  Problems like poverty, poor education and a lack of jobs play a far bigger role than policing alone.  Sadly, addressing those problems thoughtfully and intelligently because impossible without the wise fiscal stewardship the city requires.

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Manic Monday Markup 10/3/11…

…And the World:

Hot on the heels of an announcement by the Greek government that it will miss deficit reduction targets, largely due to contraction of the Greek economy, Great Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne has announced new measures to aid the British economy.  Although Great Britain is not in the Eurozone, its economy would sustain a painful blow, perhaps greater than any felt in the US, if the Greek debt crisis spirals out of control.  Osborne, echoing statements made by US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, called on Europe to take the swift and decisive action necessary to curb the crisis, including recapitalizing weak European banks and begin the process of an orderly Greek default.  Osborne and the rest of the British government have been under increasing pressure to act in the face of a weakening economy in Britain and an unpopular austerity program that may have contributed to the country’s economic doldrums.

 The Feds:

After mass arrests as Occupy Wall Street protesters attempted to cross the Brooklyn Bridge this weekend, a parade of demonstrators at the sister-protest Occupy Boston, marched through downtown Boston without incident.  Meanwhile the White House tries to maneuver the difficult politics presented by the protests.

FEMA has been funded…finally.

The State of Things:

A new poll out today has Scott Brown ahead, but in a statistical tie with Consumer Advocate Elizabeth Warren.  The poll, commissioned by the Boston Herald, showed Joe Kennedy II and Gov. Deval Patrick as ahead of Brown, which indicates that the more well-known Warren gets, the better her numbers could become.  Warren also polled well ahead of other Democratic candidates for the nomination.  Fundraising totals expected to be released soon could further an exodus from the race that began with Newton Mayor Setti Warren’s exit.  Additionally, US Rep. Niki Tsongas of Lowell, endorsed Elizabeth Warren at an event in Lowell today.  “Elizabeth is a fighter for middle class families. It’s her life’s work,” Tsongas said in a Warren release.  Tsongas, the widow of the late Sen. Paul Tsongas, is the first member of the state’s congressional delegation to endorse in the senate race and only the fourth woman to represent Massachusetts in Washington.

Speaking of Lowell and the US Senate race, the seven remaining contestants, er, candidates for the Democratic nomination will meet tomorrow in the Bay State’s fourth largest city at the UMASS campus for their first debate.  WBUR has a primer on the candidates.

City Slickers:

The Springfield City Council meets tonight.  Before the evening meeting the finance committee will meet to discuss the measures needed to formally put the city’s budget into balance.  Committee Chair Mike Fenton and his colleagues have wrestled with the mayor to come to an agreement.  The mayor has been accused of moving the goal posts and undermining the council’s authority to slim down the budget.  The full council meeting agenda appears to be mostly boilerplate although reports on tornado rebuilding and some ordinances could ignite passions.

In early 2010, Springfield officials led a rescue of Titeflex’s facility in East Springfield.  The plant had been threatened with closure due to high costs, but a TIF implemented helped save the plant.  Now the facility and the company are seeing sunnier times, the bad economy notwithstanding.

Twitter Chatter:

A story enveloping Twitter as elsewhere is the release of American Amanda Knox following her successful appeal before an Italian court of her conviction of killing her roommate.  Knox and her boyfriend were both convicted of the 2007 murder and the case caught international attention for obvious reasons.  To only add to the international flavor of the tragedy, the victim was a British citizen.  The news prompted this tweet from Boston.com blogger Garrett Quinn, which wins the tweet prize.

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Manic Monday Markup 9/26/11…

…And the World:
The United Kingdom sits in an odd position in the world.  Like the United States and the rest of the West,  Great Britain’s economy has been languishing and the risk of the sovereign debt crisis are acute given London’s place in the financial world.  However, Britain could use its currency to its advantage, but Conservative Premier David Cameron is uninterested in taking that path.  Consequently, the burden of proposing, if not passing, measures that could lift Britons out of their economic malaise has fallen to Edward Miliband the leader of the Labour party and of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.  Miliband who scored the top post in a party election coup that bypassed his brother David, has laid out proposals that will appeal to the “law-abiding silent majority” as the Guardian put it.  Essentially, Miliband seeks to appeal to those hard-working Britons who do the right thing by pointing out that badly behaving newspapers, banks or, yes rioters, will be give no quarter in a Miliband government.
Vladimir Putin will run for president of Russia again extinguishing the hopes of Russia’s liberals that a freer society may develop.  Although handpicked by Putin, Russia’s current president Dmitri Medvedev was seen as a possible stepping stone to a more democratic state.

The Feds:

Despite an agreement to fund the government at certain levels through the end of 2012, shutdown politics have resurfaced in Washington.  Republicans want to cut a program that encourages the production of electric cars to fund disaster relief, but the Democrats, pointing out the traditionally accepted “emergency” nature of disaster relief want a clean extension.  Democrats have a bill pending before the Senate that funds the disaster relief without requisite cuts and funds the overall government through mid-November.  However it is unlikely to overcome a Republican filibuster even though 10 Republicans supports $7 billion of disaster spending without any offsets only last week.  Okay, never mind.  Deal reached that included NO offsets for disaster.  It passed 79-12.  Latest brinksmanship? Advantage, Dems.

While the GOP debates continues to be a slug fest between our own Mitt Romney and Texas’ imploding savior Rick Perry, the behavior of the audience at the debates has been getting news, too.  President Barack Obama pointed this out himself at a fundraiser on the West Coast.  For the record, that makes it 3 inappropriate outbursts from audiences: cheering 235 people executed on Rick Perry’s watch; cheering letting an uninsured individual die; and booing a soldier (who happened to be gay).  It’s four if you count SNL’s car crash that burst into flames.

Speaking of gay soldiers, DADT is history.


The State of Things:

Elizabeth Warren got a boost from a video posted by an attendee of one of her house parties wherein she laid out in simple, yet unequivocal terms why we all, including the rich, contribute for the benefit of society.  While wildly praised by the left and desperately denigrated by the right, a writer on Boston.com offered a “conservative” yet supportive assessment of her premise.  The video came on the heels of a recently release poll that showed Warren actually ahead of Scott Brown and miles ahead of other Democratic challengers for the nomination.

Meanwhile, the right, in particular, have been hyperventilating of late in light of Warren’s quite successful campaign splashdown.  Politico, which is owned by, at best, right-leaning interests, has published stories sourced, in part by Cong. Patrick McHenry, remembered for calling Warren a liar in a committee meeting.  Radio personalities like Rush Limbaugh have called her a “parasite” while anti-Warren trolls have attempted to plaster her Facebook wall with similar claims and the righty standard “moonbat.”  However all of this belies what must be a real terror the right seems to feel regarding Warren.  The Harvard elitism charging is not sticking so far and kvetching about Socialism just does not bring in the crowds in Massachusetts the way it does elsewhere.  The above mentioned video is a real problem for Republicans because it has the potential to spread, it is easy to understand and above all, in Massachusetts, torpedoes the claims of Warren’s can’t relate to the rank and file.

City Slickers:

Hot off the wire.  The former Westinghouse plant on Page Boulevard near I-291 is being eyed by gaming interests from Pennsylvania as the site of the casino promised for Western Mass.  As the likelihood of expanded gaming in Massachusetts only trend stoward certainty, apparently Penn National is considering the East Springfield site.  This blog has never supported the expansion of gambling, if for no other reason that it will be bring much of the problems of gambling, particularly the drain on those least able to afford it, without the attendant benefits.  We have written before about how the move to replicating the success of gambling in Massachusetts is virtually unlikely and will only siphon money off other recreational enterprises in the commonwealth.  There are any number of problems with a development of this kind at that location from infrastructure to the impact on the poor.  Sadly, as has been common throughout this casino debate, everybody from Deval Patrick on down, has been quick, too quick, in fact to see Casinos as an ATM machine.  The facts just don’t bear that out.

Twitter Chatter:

Hat tip to David Dayen at Fire Dog Lake for tweeting about the FEMA/Gov’t shutdown compromise.  We nearly published the above strike-out text.
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Too Human…and Yet We Play God…

Troy Davis was executed at 11:08 EDT today.  His trevails through Georgia’s justice system and the federal courts had lasted twenty years after he was convicted and sentenced to death based on eye witness testimony alone.  He was accused of killing an off-duty police officer, Mark MacPhail in Savannah in 1989.  His case became a cause celebré as several of those same witnesses recanted their testimony and serious doubts were raised about whether or not Davis was in fact guilty.  There was evidence that police procedure had corrupted the process. 
In the end a last minute appeal to the US Supreme Court was rejected.  Apparently, the court found that there was nothing new in the record before them to justify a stay, having already granted one in years past.  Federal law limits the appeals from state courts the Supreme Court may take.
It should come as a surprise to nobody that this blog opposes capital punishment.  Life without parole is sufficient punishment for the most violent offenders in our system.  The finality of the punishment is also troubling as any system can be proven wrong.  And lastly it does not bring the dead back.  No victims’ families will ever be made whole knowing their loved one’s killer has been ejected from this mortal coil.  For those reasons and others, there has always been a small sense of pride that Massachusetts has consistently rejected reinstating the death penalty despite numerous attempts in recent years.
There are countless other problems with the death penalty from its disproportionate impact on minorities communities to near blood-lust that some supporters cheer with frightening fervor.  It is painfully ironic that so-called small-government types, who trust government to do almost nothing, have no problems with the state taking a life.  Further it is a great hypocrisy for any Christian (your Editor-in-Chief deems himself to be one) to cheer or to demand the state’s imposition of the same punishment the Romans imposed on Christ.  The attempt by some “pro-life” individuals to justify their position by claiming some death penalty opponents sanction abortion exposes an intellectual dishonesty and a lack imagination.  If nothing else, there is no doubt about the viability of a death row inmate.
Pietá by Luis de Morales
We will close this by offering the passages from the Bible from Christ’s death.  No, Troy Davis is not Jesus, however, notably like Jesus, Davis may be innocent.  Christ’s was the only execution by man that the God of the New Testament ever approved because it was the vehicle for salvation.  Executing any of our fellow men today will bring salvation to nobody.
Matthew 27:50 “Then Jesus cried again wtih a loud voice and breathed his last.”
Mark 15:31 “In the same way the chief priests also mocking him among themselves and saying ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself.’”
Luke 23:34, 46 “Then Jesus Said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.’” || “Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Having said this, he breathed his last.”
John 19:30 “When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”
Romans 12:19 “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mind, I will repay, sayeth the Lord.’”
May God have mercy on our souls.
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Springfield 2011 Preliminary Results…

The results are in for the Springfield 2011 Preliminary.  Turnout was expected at about 10%, but ended up being nearly 15%.  Still abysmal, but above average for past Springfield races, very probably influenced by the presence of the city’s first mayoral primary in many years.  The turnout exceeded the roughly 9.5% of 2009′s preliminary which featured several competitve ward races.  Only one ward race is contested this year in Ward 8, but there are only two candidates and therefore no preliminary.
Mayor:
1. Domenic Sarno: 8,254 60%
2. Jose Tosado: 3,170 23%
3. Antonette Pepe: 2,269 16%
4. Write-in: 19 0.09%
Sarno surged beyond expectations tonight.  While this post is not intended to play pundit, his showing well-exceeded expectations.  We had assumed that he would clear a high forties plurality, but ultimately he socked both Tosado and Pepe, which sets him up quite well for the general.  With the majority plus that Sarno gleaned it makes it hard to really stack Tosado’s triumphy over Pepe.  However, her earlier attacks on Sarno do give Tosado some room to criticize the tornado response.
City Council (Due to Top 5 ranking percentages are omitted)
1. Thomas Ashe: 6,885
2. Tim Rooke: 5,955
3. Kateri Walsh: 5,642
4. Bud Williams: 5,117
5. Jimmy Ferrera: 5,087
6. Justin Hurst: 4,245
7. Amaad Rivera: 3,179
8. Miguel Soto: 2,398
9. Charles Rucks: 2,327
10. Joseph Fountain: 2,111
11. Bruce Adams: 2,036
12. John Stevens: 1,557
13. David Ciampi: 1,374
14. Write-in: 149
No surprises here, really.  All of the incumbents got into the top 5, although the shocker is that Tom Ashe surged to number one.  Conventional wisdom would have put Tim Rooke there and others suggested he (along with Jimmy Ferrera) were the most likely to fall out of the top 5.  That Bud Williams clawed into 4th is no surprise given his name recognition.  Moreover that Justin Hurst, the scion the the well-known political family and Amaad Rivera topped out the bottom five is also not surprising given name recognition.
While these results could presage the actual votes in November it is important to remember history.  In 2007, Pat Markey, who was making his first (and to date only) bid for City Council placed quite high in the preliminary (by our estimate 2nd behind Jose Tosado).  By the general election he ended up with 7th place, which earned him a place on the council.  Jimmy Ferrera and Bruce Stebbins placed behind him, but also got seats on the council.  Likewise Morris Jones placed in the top 9 in the preliminary, but failed to make the cut in the general.  Kateri Walsh did not even place in the top 9 in 2007 preliminary, but ended up fifth in the general.  So the council could be in line for a shake-up.  Ferrera’s slide to the bottom of the top may leave him the most like incumbent to get the heave-ho if anybody at all does.
We’ll find out what it will all mean in six weeks.
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Manic Monday Markup 9/19/11…

…And the World:

On Friday Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to submit to the United Nations Security Council a formal request for full membership of Palestine.  That is the area controlled by the Palestinian Authority, the West Bank, would become a nation in the eyes of the UN.  Full membership would give Palestine the ability to seek redress before International Courts and, in theory, give them a firmer hand in negotiating with Israel.  But full membership is out of the question as the United States has promised to exercise its veto on the Security Council.  If the council bid fails, the Palestinians will likely move to the General Assembly, which can approve lesser-recognitions by a simple majority vote. Israel likes neither option and the United States, while in agreement with Israel, is just as concerned posturing itself in opposition to self-determination of an Arab people.

Meanwhile, the sparks continue to fly in the Knesset, too.  Opposition Leader Tzipi Livni lashed out at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who will speak to the UN general assembly this week.  The former Israeli Foreign Minister excoriated the Prime Minister for his “stupidity” that has left Israel isolated and possessing only the United States as a reliable ally.  While Livni and her party, Kadima, are not blameless for failing to secure peace during their reign, it does seem clear that Israel’s current leadership have only itself to blame for bringing low a country, like Israel, that is richly deserving of more.  New Israeli elections, the only way out of this mess, are not seen to happen soon unless Netanyahu’s coalition disintegrates.

The Feds:

President Barack Obama has drawn a line in the sand saying that he WILL veto a plan produced by the Super Committee on deficit reduction that does not raise revenue, but cuts benefits for the elderly and poor.  “We are not going to have a one-sided deal that hurts the folks who are most vulnerable,” the President said only moments ago.  The president has drawn a stark contrast to Republicans who oppose any revenue increases, although Speaker John Boehner did appear to leave the door open to higher revenues by closing loopholes alone.  While the president’s position appears to be one of setting a stronger bargaining position, it could either bear fruit or effectively serve to contrast Obama from his opponents on the campaign trail.  In any event, it is not, as Politico suggests, about cementing the Democratic base, but really winning the middle too, as poll after poll shows the public is with him on this.
Among the presidents proposals to raise revenue was the “Buffet Rule” after billionaire Nebraska financier Warren Buffet.  Buffet noted in a famous New York Times Opinion piece that he pays less in taxes as a percentage of his income than his secretary, in part because much of his income is made in “unearned” income on capital gains.  Essentially the Buffet rule would create a new minimum tax rate for the wealthy ostensibly to prevent the use of tax breaks and/or a reliance on investment income to shield the wealthy from pay a rate equal to–let alone higher than–the average rate paid by most Americans.  Republicans predictably are jumping in front of the rich to protect them calling the whole thing class warfare.  However, it is worth noting here and here that that Republicans have engaged in class warfare themselves against the poor and the middle class for decades.  As Warren Buffet himself said, “there’s class warfare alright, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”  The link is a great read by the way and written by conservative Ben Stein.  Yes that Ben Stein.

The State of Things:

The casino bill moves onto the Senate having passed the House last week.  The lightning speed at which the bill moved through the House will likely be contrasted by a more meandering path through the Senate.  Senate President Therese Murray has promised not to stifle opponents of the gambling bill and allow the process to operate fairly.  While still expected to pass the Senate, this pace may permit more changes that will improve the bill that may involve a more vigorous conference process to reconcile the House & Senate versions of the bill.

Elizabeth Warren joined the race for the United States Senate last week with a whirlwind of press attention both nationally and locally.  At least one of her opponents, Alan Khazei, tried to bait Warren into rejecting PAC money, referring indirectly to the support Warren has received from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and EMILY’s list.  Meanwhile Public Policy Polling  tweets suggests Brown’s appeal shows signs of wear while Elizabeth Warren takes edge in Democratic primary.

City Slickers:

Tomorrow is preliminary day in Springfield and odds are that one of Mayor Domenic Sarno’s challengers will be sorted out.  However, it remains increasingly unclear who that will be.  While Tosado appeared to score a coup with the Springfield Patrolmen union endorsement, there was some consternation by some rank & file police.  However, that squawking could just as easily allies of the mayor or Antonette Pepe trying to deflate Tosado’s endorsement.  The Springfield Intruder appears to be taking the position that Sarno’s administration has been too corrupt or inept to justify another four years in office.  Among its evidence is the increasing payroll discrepancies that have resulted in no consequences, like termination, for the city’s finance director T.J. Plante.
Whatever tomorrow’s results it will likely have very low turnout.  Seldom would we so wholeheartedly agree with the Republican, but their admonishment to voters that complaint about their choices for candidates would be well-served to actually show up and vote tomorrow.  Indeed, while doubtful, as Maureen Turner notes today that then-incumbent Springfield Mayor Robert Markel was knocked out of office in a 3-way primary with Charles Ryan and Michael Albano.  Yes, the following January Michael Albano took office as the mayor of Springfield.

In a related item, WMassP&I will not be endorsing any candidate for mayor in the preliminary.  Our reason is simple.  Due to real world scheduling problems, partly of our making, we could not interview all candidates and therefore feel ill-equipped to make an endorsement.  Even an interview we had with Jose Tosado could not be posted due to scheduling crunches unrelated to this blog.  For this, we apologize.

Twitter Chatter:

The above mentioned PPP tweets referred to above include other gems like Romney’s crummy approval rating in Massachusetts and that 64% of gay marriage opponents admit it has had no impact on their lives.  Yet still we ask ourselves how much do they care?
The White House staff and by extension Pres. Obama win this week’s tweet prize with the roll out of the president’s plan to reverse the decades of tax cuts and breaks for the rich that have not yielded job creation.   First up, quoting the President:






Then from earlier today, White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer answers the claims that establishing fairness in tax code is itself “class warfare”.

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Mayoral and Debated Analysis…

Tuesday night’s debate at American International College among School Committeewoman Antonette Pepe, Mayor Domenic Sarno and City Council President Jose Tosado would be the last time that three mayoral candidates would appear on the same stage together.  On Tuesday, the voters of Springfield, or at least the ones that show up, will select two candidates that will advance to the general election in November.

Because all of the candidates, but especially the challengers, knew that they may not be up on that stage again, all took the steps necessary to try to make their final case to the voters.  Both Tosado and Pepe, as challengers, hammered the mayor for perceived failures.  Tosado stuck to charges that the mayor left the council out and failed on issues of policing.  Pepe spoke heavily to school issues, but also more pointedly attacked the insider culture at City Hall.  Sarno, meanwhile, parried the attacks (mostly) calmly and by highlighting some city accomplishments.

The debate itself consisted of questions from reporters and the candidates themselves and was moderated by Walter Kroll, the President of the McKnightr Neighborhood Council, which sponsored the event.



In his opening statement, Tosado, making light of the fact that the candidates had earlier debated at AIC, reminded voters, “I’m still Jose Tosado.  He noted his personal history in the city and his work as a regional administrator with the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health.  Throughout the debate it was patently clear that Tosado had a real grasp of the issues.  Although, the council president did struggle to fully answer questions and frequently ran up against the time limits for answers.  As a member of the council, he could claim directly that Sarno shuts out the council or avoids giving them information.

Pepe by comparison was undaunted by attacks that her experience was limited and her temperment too mercurial.  Playing off her opening about getting into politics after working in the schools and raising a family, she fended off charges that she had never managed a budget.  She implied that as President of the Paraprofessionals Union (and with her husband as head of a family) she knew enough to tackle the city’s finances.  More importantly, however, she brushed off the charge that she could not work with others and collaborate for the sake the city.  Specifically, she cited some of the successes on the School Committee, like school uniforms, but also work with her fellow challenger, Jose Tosado on the joint Council/School Committee subcommittee.

Sarno remained cautious only lashing out at his opponents sparingly, though when he did it was among his weaker moments.  The mayor name dropped the tornado frequently, knowing full well that his performance within popular perception, if not univerally so, has been widely applauded.  Still, he also tried to disarm his opponents by chastising negativity.  However, if voters dig at all deeper (or listen to Tosado or Pepe) they would find the mayor’s claim of a good relationship with the council is, at best, embellishment.

On substance and policy much of the debate appeared to center on crime, education and the general administration of the city.  As important as economic development is, and all the candidates acknowledged it, it took a back seat to the other issues.  Lip service was paid to lower the commercial property taxes, but little substance was offered to initiate a lower rate.  Both Sarno and Tosado took credit for lowering the city’s property tax levy last year, an event that though historic (it had not happened since 1983) was brought on by a falling levy ceiling with an assist from reserves more than fiscal restraint.  Ultimately, improved economy was seen possible only through a reduction in crime. 

Pepe did criticize some economic developments like the Asylum building demolition, the School Department relocation and the sale of the old HQ.  Sarno dismissed concerns about the school department’s old building noting that the alternative bid called for far more public subsidies.  Tosado shot down Sarno’s boasts about progress on some projects like Union Station, which have been in development for decades.


On crime, both Pepe and Tosado said that new approach was necessary.  Tosado emphasized that deployment was the city’s biggest problem, noting that the department had more police per capita than Boston, but higher crime rates.  (Tosado would letter allege in an interview with WMassP&I after the debate, that even these stats are manipulated, we’ll bring you the interview piece tomorrow, hopefully).  Pepe called for more community policing and the use of the city’s ward councilors to work with wards and their crime (and other) problems.  Sarno touted recent police academies and ticked off decreases in several crime categories.

On education the mayor featured recognition by The Washington Post of Central High School, seen here.  However, both Tosado and Pepe clung to attacks on the increasingly disliked Alan Ingram, the city’s School Superintendent.  Pepe generally moved past the school superintendent to paint an image of wider cronyism and neoptism in the city.  At one point, she state that her department head would be vetted without their names or addresses in order to avoid such favoritism in a Pepe administration.

There was some unity among the candidates.  Neither Tosado nor Pepe disputed apparent progress on the drop in teen pregnancy in the city, but both vowed to improve further.

The knives did come out, toward the end, when Pepe took aim at one of Sarno’s strengths: the tornado.  Specifically she dismissed the actions of the city instead citing insurance people have on their homes and property and the kindness of residents of the city and beyond.  Sarno, clearly offended by a charge that his “success” was a show, told Pepe, “You don’t know a damn thing!”  It was not the mayor’s high point in the debate, but it might have left Pepe looking petty had she not followed up.  She noted that architects that used to have offices in a South End building not demolished, were suing the city for destroying their property.  The mayor did not rebut the charge when he made his closing statement.

It was easy to see that Tosado and Pepe each made a calculation to avoid attacking each other too strongly.  Their target was the mayor and siphoning votes off from the mayor would be each’s best chance to advance.  Indeed only Pepe’s pointed question on Tosado’s own fiscal stewardship on the council prior to the arrival of the Control Board seemed even remotely hostile to the longtime councilor.  Mostly the two only had positive things to say about each other, with Tosado even aiding Pepe when she was charged with being too divisive.

Sarno stayed safe.  Whether Pepe’s attack on the tornado response earns her votes or not, it could give either her or Tosado more liberty to critique the response in a general election campaign.  Without the tornado as a bulwark, the race become a tossup against either of them (we assume that Sarno will advance past the primary).  Sarno also claimed by way of an attack on Tosado, that the council had cut police overtime, a false statement.  Cuts made by the council in June had no impact on the overtime budget.  The mayor reportedly submitted a smaller overtime budget for FY2012 than the year before and that is the source of the difference.

If there is a winner in the debate it appears to be Pepe, but if she does not advance then whatever benefit that win would have got her would go to Tosado.  The council president would then face a mayor who remains damaged by Pepe’s attacks, but without having actually done the attack himself.  However the kindness Tosado and Pepe showed each other also makes it impossible to know which of the two is likely to move on.  Tosado’s historically good performance in City Council races gives him an edge.  Yet, Pepe has maintained her slot on the School Committee despite often seeming to be a pariah, no small feat in Springfield.  The mayor meanwhile, may need to take stock about how best to handle a debate in a one-on-one setting against an opponent who fact-checked all his statements.  Then again maybe he might need to start updating his resume Tuesday, but that seems unlikely.
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Take My Council, Please: Transfer Me the Money…

(WMassP&I)

The jockeying to preserve the city’s reserve fund reached a critical vote yesterday leaving the confrontation between the mayor and the council at a standstill.  The items in question that reflected the mayor’s policies took up precious little on the council’s agenda, which as per usual was loaded largely with the typical minutiae of approving grants and funds for specific projects.  Additionally, there was movement on new revenue measures taken against tax delinquents and other housekeeping.

The Library Department was formally given money from grants for literacy, technology and education programs.  Health and Human Services accepted money for gyms at schools throughout the money to provide free fitness to city children.  Other grants went to the police department, elder affairs, and the fire department.  Moneys were also accepted from donors to repair a playground destroyed by the tornado.
However, the real action that night was in facing the mayor’s proposal to transfer $8.9 million from the city’s reserve account to the general budget.  Approximately $7.6 million is necessary to cover the city’s remaining budget hole, leaving the council wondering why the discrepancy.  They were treated to the reason in the mayor’s supplemental budget, which would essentially reverse much of the more than $2 million in cuts the council made in June.  Those cuts were decried by the mayor then.
In a finance subcommittee meeting, some departments hit particularly hard by the cuts appeared to be gaining leverage with the council, but certainly not enough to equal the $1.3 million the mayor wanted restored.  The largest cut was an indiscrimate removal of 5% from the city’s Other Than Personnel Services line items.  It could have affected a whole host of city services from terrace cutting to gasoline for city vehicles, but fundamentally how those cuts were expressed was ultimately at the discretion of the mayor and his department heads.


Prior to the council vote Chief Administrative and Financial Officer, Lee Erdmann, intoned the ratings agencies and state financial officials in urging the council to pass the money transfer now.  These ratings agencies would include Standard & Poors whose downgrade of US debt has been largely ignored by the marketplace.  These fears and others rattled some councilors as the financial transfer failed 6-6, short of the nine votes necessary under the law (Councilor Tosado was running late from a mayoral debate).  That indicated approximately three councilors had flipped from the average 10-3 votes in support of cuts back in June.


Councilor Fenton (Facebook)

The fear, expressed by the fiscal hawks on the council, was that the mayor was using the need for a financial transfer as a way to backdoor extra money into the general fund.  The transfer would need the two-thirds vote one way or another and the transfer for the budget hole is not in dispute.  However, if the council approve a larger than needed transfer, the mayor would only need simple majority votes to approve supplementals that could negate the council’s cuts.

Before the actual vote, Ward 2 Councilor Mike Fenton, noted that he and other councilors had been through several meetings with Erdmann to no avail.  He said we could not come to agreement that the council could find acceptable.  That would prompt Ward 5 Councilor Clodo Concepcion to stand, after the vote, and complain that he never asked somebody to negotiate for him.  Of course Concepcion certainly could have shown up to any of the finance committee meetings held since the budget was passed and, anecdotally, he did not.
After the measure failed and the council moved onto another, smaller appropriation, Fenton also the Finance Committee Chair, spoke about the importance of preserving the reserve funds, briefly noting that it be used only for emergencies like the hurricane, capital expenses or the plug holes only when absolutely necessary.  However, the next appropriation, which included a revised furlough program to distribute furlough days based on an employees pay (the less you make the less furlough days you must take), was not clean.
The second appropriation included money for a whole host of other departments and items beyond the furloughs.  The council wanted to just vote for a specific item, but following a confab between the City Solicitor and the City Clerk, it was determined that the council would either need to go through a laborious budget-like line by line process to strip out everything by the furloughs or vote the entire item down.  A motion to refer the matter to committee failed on a 6-6 vote leaving the council.  Erdmann offered the council an assessment of what from the appropriation was the furlough alone, but before that got very far Tosado entered the chamber and Ward 7 Councilor Tim Allen called for immediate reconsideration.  After some grumbling from Concepcion, the council voted to reconsider the motion to committee, sending the package to the finance committee.


(WMassP&I)

On the reconsideration Tosado voted yes, but some councilors switched their votes, oddly.  In any event the item went to committee where it will no doubt be dissected and torn apart by committeemembers.  Another measure for CitiStat, whose future remains uncertain after the council essentially defunded it was also sent to committee.  The council made a strong stand today showing it remains serious about being taken seriously as a part of the city’s government.  The city has a strong-mayor system and nobody denies it.  However, it is not a unipolar system and many on the council, most of whom are by way of ward representation freshman, remain insistent that they be respected.

In tonight’s mayoral debate, Domenic Sarno said he had a great relationship with the council.  The mere fact of the measures before the council and their defeat should be proof to him otherwise.  (BTW dont miss our debate write-up tomorrow!)
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Our One Hundredth: She’s In…

Prof. Elizabeth Warren (Facebook)
Western Mass Politics & Insight has learned from Talking Points Memo, the Huffington Post and David Bernstein at the Boston Phoenix that consumer advocate, Harvard Professor and Presidential Adviser Elizabeth Warren will announce  her campaign  for US Senate tomorrow in Boston.  Warren will face a slate of Democratic challengers for the nomination and the right to challenge sitting US Senator Scott Brown in 2012.

WMassP&I can also independently confirm via Warren’s spokesman, that she is indeed running and will visit Springfield, in addition to Worcester, Framingham, and New Bedford after greeting commuter tomorrow morning in Boston.

Warren’s statement of her intentions is as follows:

“The pressures on middle class families are worse than ever, but it is the big corporations that get their way in Washington,” said Warren, who in recent weeks has been in kitchens and living rooms listening to people all across the state. “I want to change that.  I will work my heart out to earn the trust of the people of Massachusetts.”

Warren gained national attention in the early days of the fiscal crisis when she was named to the oversight board for TARP, the financial bailout passed by Congress in 2008.  Warren, who had been a  consumer advocate and champion of the middle class for years, later advocated for the establishment of a consumer advocacy institution to protect customers of financial services.  The oversight authority sought had existed within the Treasury and Federal Reserve , yet the lack of interest or coordination across these agencies left consumers out on a limb.  During the years when easy credit built up the economic bubble, consumers were ultimately only left with a heavy debt load.  Warren was successful in her effort to convince Pres. Barack Obama on the need for the agency and with his support, the agency became part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act passed in 2010.

Over the past year Warren has served as an adviser to the president and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner working to set up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  The agency officially opened in late July, but without Warren at its helm.  Forty-four Republicans promised to filibuster the confirmation of anybody nominated to head the agency unless the president agreed to weaken it (a rare and possibly unprecedented move).  Consequently, Obama nominated Warren’s 2nd in Command Robert Cordray, the former Ohio Attorney General.

Over the last several weeks, Warren has engaged in a listening tour that took her from Fall River to Pittsfield.  A posting on Blue Mass Group appeared ostensibly written by the consumer advocate touched off a flurry of speculation.  It was further fueled by Warren’s decision to hire two former staffers of Governor Deval Patrick as advisers to her exploratory campaign.  Warren then formally announced an “exploratory” committee.  
Perhaps a hint that may have otherwise go unnoticed came this morning when former Cong. Joe Sestak, the Democratic nominee for US Senate last year in Pennsylvania announced his support for Warren’s campaign on DailyKs.

Now, the exploratory part has been dropped.  The Twitterverse is aflame with Warren Announcement News.  We will have further developments as they become available.