“I Am Not a Committee!”…

**This post has been updated to reflect additional reporting and council committee statistics and to replace broken links to pictures.**

The Post Title is a quote from Princess Leia
Played by Carrie Fisher (Wookiepedia)

Inaugurating a new city council in Springfield is more than just one day. It is a process that in its way takes several days from the fanfare of the inauguration itself to the first formal meeting where several pieces are discussed. Somewhere in the middle the committee assignments are doled out by the City Council President, who in 2012 is at-large councilor James Ferrera. A former Associated Press reporter based in Boston once described former Massachuetts Senate President William Bulger’s philosophy as this: government is to be used to help your friends and screw your enemies. Despite Ferrera’s claims to the contrary, it appears he did just that in assignment committees.

A reshuffling of committees and their chairs is not unusual. As decentralized as the council presidency is compared to, say the Massachusetts Senate presidency, it does retain one prominent feature. The council president selects the committee chairs and the councilors who serve on those committees. Often committee chairmanships are doled out to those who support the president’s nomination. It is not uncommon for committee heads to have their chairs pulled out from under them either because somebody else has found favor with the president or because it is simply time to share. However, in recent years a council president-elect has not gone this far. Continue reading


Another Battle for the Senate…& Iowa…

We have some pretty big Massachusetts political news bubbling up from the streets of Springfield, but first a quick word on Iowa.  Willard Mitt Romney should have stayed away.  Yes, he won by eight votes, but unlike the polls that raised up and slapped down anti-Romneys before, the effective tie Rick Santorum secured means Romney will be spending valuable time and money batting him away for weeks to come.  Santorum has a heavy lift garnering money and supporters, but with Michele Bachmann out and Rick Perry effectively so, Romney will have to slog through a probable South Carolina loss and a possible a Florida defeat, too.  By Michigan, he should be alright, but he will be damaged and he will still not be the best candidate to lead a fractured GOP into the general election.  
Nevertheless, Democrats should remain nimble.  They have spent a great deal of time sharpening their spears for Romney, but they should at least prepare for the unlikely possibility of a Santorum challenge, if for no other reason that he could be a possible Vice-Presidential nominee.

Councilor Melvin Edwards (Facebook)
Now onto the local political fun.  WMassP&I has confirmed that Springfield Ward 3 City Councilor Melvin Edwards will challenge James Welch in September’s Democratic Primary.  Sources close to councilor say he will make a formal announcement within a couple of weeks.  Edwards was elected in 2009 in the city’s first Ward elections in decades and was unopposed in November’s municipal elections.  He was sworn in Monday for another two year term.

Although Edwards’s ward in 2009 featured meek turnout, he won with 62% of the vote.  Since joining the council Edwards has usually been among the more fiscally vigilant bloc of the council.  His ward, which includes the South End and Six Corners sustained heavy damage from the June tornado.  Indeed, Edwards himself recounted his own harrowing experience during the twister at a council meeting following the storm.  Edwards was among the early supporters of at-large Councilor Jimmy Ferrera’s bid for council president which many saw as an attempt to smooth over their otherwise less than ducky relationship.  Edwards has on more than one occasion sparred with Ferrera often to the latter’s embarrassment.

The opportunity for Edwards to challenge Welch came about from redistricting.  Seeking to avoid the embarrassing violations of the Voting Rights Act during redistricting after the 2000 census, Beacon Hill’s redistricting committee significantly rebuilt Welch’s district to make it minority-majority.  Agawam was dropped from the district, while several minority portions of Springfield extending as far as Indian Orchard were brought in.  Minority communities in Chicopee were also drawn into the district.  Whiter parts of Springfield, particularly in Forest Park were deposited into Gale Candaras’ District as well.

Rep. Ben Swan (Facebook)
According to other City Hall sources, Edwards had been planning to mount a challenge against Representative Ben Swan, an invincible fixture of Springfield’s African-American community for decades.  Over the last ten years Swan has faced several challenges and has turned back all of them from young up and comer Lorenzo Gaines to the oft-criticized Chelan Brown.  Edwards’s challenge to Swan may have met a similar fate, but redistricting scrambled the edges of Swan’s district ejecting Edwards’s precinct while preserving its historic heart in Mason Square.

While Edwards certainly faces long odds against Welch, he does face some advantages.  First of all Welch is only a freshman senator, which entails less incumbent strength than usual.  Second the change in the district’s complexion complicates Welch’s reelection.  Forget for a moment that the district is minority majority.  Thousands of people who were not in Welch’s district before are now his constituents.  To them, he is not an incumbent.  Finally, since Linda Melconian retired from the same seat in 2004, Springfield has not had a Senator from the city itself.  That could play well to residents who may want representation closer to home.  
Sen. Jim Welch (Facebook)
In the same vein, the district is now Springfield heavy.  Under the old map, Springfield was split about 50/50 between Welch and Candaras’ districts.  With each senate district containing about 150,000 people (incidentally Springfield’s historical population over the last thirty years), Springfield was about equally weighted by its neighbors.  For Welch’s district, which already included many of Springfield’s lower turnout minority communities, this weighted the influence to Agawam and West Springfield.  Now with Agawam gone, the tables are turned and the district overwhelmingly consists of Springfield residents.

Edwards has also been known for gleaning considerable crossover support.  Among his prominent supporters during the 2009 campaign was conservative Bill Dusty.  Although Edwards had the benefit of a nonpartisan municipal election in that race, he could draw upon that appeal to draw in unaffiliated conservatives in a primary election, which will almost assuredly be a more important election than the general.

Ultimately the biggest X factor is what will turnout be.  The Primary this year is bizarrely on a Thursday to avoid a conflict with a holiday.  Why legislators did not simply move the date to another Tuesday is not clear, but with poor turnout on normal primary days, a Thursday election may throw off supporters from either side, but especially Edwards’s.  However, with enough organization and enthusiasm could counter those additional hurdles.  If he can secure that ground game and sufficient financial support we could be in for a hell of a race.

New Government, Old Faces…

The Mayor’s Procession Line (WMassP&I)
In a tasteful, but crowded ceremony at City Hall, Springfield swore in its City Council and its Mayor Domenic Sarno for another term.  Sarno will be serving the city’s first four year term following enactment of a ballot question in 2009 that extended the mayor’s term.  The School Committee is on a different election calendar and therefore members of that body neither faced the voters last November nor needed to be sworn in.

Typically, the city’s inaugurations are held in Symphony Hall, however the city still put on a show which included typical guests like Cong. Richard Neal and speakers on behalf of the Massachusetts Senate and House.  State Senator James Welch and Representative Angelo Puppolo spoke on behalf of their respective bodies.
Also in attendance were Sheriff Michael Ashe and District Attorney Mark Mastroianni.
The invocation was provided by Our Lady of Mount Carmel’s pastor, Robert White while City Clerk Wayman Lee administered the oath of office to the council.

Cong. Neal in December, 2011 (WMassP&I)
Congressman Richard Neal offered words of support on behalf of the United States House of Representatives.  He waxed somewhat nostalgic about his own service as mayor of the city and as a councilor remarking that he had taken office in that same chamber some thirty-four years ago.  Neal also emphasized the continuity between the council and the public service careers that began as members of that body.

Welch, in his first speech before Springfield’s organizational meeting as one of the city’s state senators, offered an anecdote about how his mother told him to say “hi” to mayor Sarno as evidence of the mayor’s personable demeanor and its benefit to the city.  He also insisted the area have no more storms.  The legendary weather events that plagued the Springfield area played a prominent role throughout the ceremony.

Puppolo, by contrast, offered more direct praise to Sarno, a former colleague of his.  When Puppolo resigned from the council in 2007, Sarno was still a councilor.  Puppolo conveyed his sense that Sarno had the respect and confidence of both governor Deval Patrick and House Speaker Robert DeLeo following the June tornado and October blizzard.

Sarno w/ Judge Mary Hurley (WMassP&I)
Former Mayor and current Chicopee District Court judge Mary Hurley administered the oath of office to Mayor Domenic Sarno along with City Clerk Lee.

In his remarks before the audience, Sarno struck a notably humble tone, noting that the decision by residents to enact a four year term for the mayor was made for a reason.  Specifically, he said that residents were likely looking for more vision and a capacity to limit the short-term impact of politics upon the mayor’s office.  
Sarno set out five pillars for his term.  He used a similar metaphor in 2010, but the pillars themselves differ from that speech.  Public safety, public education, job creation, citywide revitalization and fiscally responsible delivery of government services formed the basis for the mayor’s policy objectives over the next four years.  Sarno went on to note the extraordinary weather and also thank Gov. Patrick and Cong. Neal for their work and commitment to the city during its recovery.

Likely mindful of the public and not-so-public spats he has had with councilors as well as among councilors and residents, Sarno quoted President Kennedy saying “Together we have been partners in adversity.  Let us also be partners in prosperity.”  As the white mayor speaking before a largely white audience of a decreasingly white city, these words perhaps took on greater meaning.  Sarno closed by noting the rebuilding efforts in the city, fueled by unprecedented citizen participation, and asked residents to contemplate, somewhat Kennedy-esque, what they can do for the city of Springfield.

The 2012-2013 City Council From Left Clodo Concepcion, Melvin Edwards
Michael Fenton, E. Henry Twiggs, Kateri Walsh, Zaida Luna, Bud Williams
Jimmy Ferrera, John Lysak, Tim Rooke, Thomas Ashe, Ken Shea, Tim Allen
After the mayor’s remarks, the City Council began its organizational meeting.  Normally, this process is carried out away from the limelight as the main ceremony is held at Symphony Hall.  However, the combined nature left a captive audience to watch both the formal selection and swearing in of the council president and vice-president and the more mundane, if practical lottery that designates where councilors sit in the chamber.

Following a prayer led by the Reverend Talbert Swan, the council nominated and swore in at-large Councilor Jimmy Ferrera and Ward 8 Councilor John Lysak as president and vice-present respectively.  Judge William Boyle swore in Ferrera.  The added attention also gave Ferrera the chance to give a speech himself.  Although the television cameras had already bailed to film Sarno in a press gaggle, Ferrera gave a rather familiar generic boilerplate speech outlining his goals.  Some seemed overdue if not already implemented (putting city’s expenses online) or givens for an at-large councilor like himself (conducting a listening tour).  Others seemingly implied powers that the city council does not really possess.  However, an ad hoc casino committee is not outlandish, if a bit early even though no casino licenses have been doled out yet.

Councilor Ferrera (Urban
The overall flavor of Ferrera’s speech suggested a Council Presidency stronger and more meaningful than the position actually is.  At-large councilor Tim Rooke once recalled that the Council Presidency entailed greater de facto powers than it does presently including the right to represent the council before the press and elsewhere, excluding members dissenting from the way a measure passed.  Today, the presidency is largely confined to assignment of committees and moderation of debate at meetings.  Indeed the president must relinquish the podium to the Vice-President or the next senior member if he or she wishes to participate in debate.  
Councilor Lysak (WMassP&I)
Interestingly, the decentralization of the council presidency in Springfield is in contrast to the centralization of power within presiding offices of state legislative bodies across the country.  Part of this is due to the absence of political parties in municipal government.  However both that factor and resulting diminution power of presiding officers on the Springfield City Council makes for a better run body like the small city council and empowers councilors with greater independence.

Puppolo and Representative Ben Swan offered additional remarks to the city council, but by that time much of the crowd had begun to spill out seeking refreshments in an adjacent room.  Others waited patiently during the remarks and while Vanessa Ford sang God Bless America, having sung the national anthem at the top of the program.

Manic Monday Markup 1/2/12…


…And the World:
Fresh protests broke out in Europe, not so over German-imposed austerity or the alleged break down of democracy, but against a more explicit break down of democracy in Hungary.  The ruling party has used its 2/3 majority to make historic changes to the constitution inhibiting the independence of the press and the judiciary.  An measure was recently passed to weaken the independence of the Central Bank.

In Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron has said his country can only secure “some protection” from coming debt storm.  While Cameron received plaudits at home for refusing to go along with a new Euro treaty, the poor state of the British economy continues to haunt him going into 2012.  Cameron and his Conservative Party do not face reelection until 2015, unless his coalition partners the Liberal Democrats call it quits and force a no-confidence vote.
The Feds:

Iowa beckons!  Romney looking good, but ever paranoid.  Ron Paul looks to New Hampshire already, while Rick Santorum hopes Iowas love him as much as he is sure God hates homosexuals.  Certainly his surge may prove the former.  Should Santorum score a coup and come in first in Iowa, it could end the certainty Romney has enjoyed for sometime.  While a Romney nomination remains the most likely, a longer primary battle is hardly something Romney wants to live through, especially with a touch fight in South Carolina expected.

Over the weekend, President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act, which included some chilling detention provisions for non-Americans and Americans alike.  However, President Obama issued a lengthy signing statement that could calm some short-term fears among civil libertarians.  Essentially the president promised to maintain due process for prisoners consistent with the American legal tradition and history.  The fear of course is not that Obama would actually indefinitely detain Americans (although many do fear just that), but rather with this law on the books a future president would do just that.

The State of Things:

Lots of swearing-in goings on this week.  While Springfield swore in its City Council and mayor for another term, Boston also did the same.  That city council only welcomed one new member, Frank Baker, who replaced Maureen Feeney, a one-time city council president.  Baker’s election was something of a surprise as his opponent was backed by the politically powerful mayor, Tom Menino.
Tomorrow, Agawam, Holyoke, Northampton, West Springfield will swear in their municipal governments.  Chicopee also swore in its municipal government today.

WBUR in Boston documents how, despite a rosier economy in the Bay State than the nation, the income gap is widening here in Massachusetts.  Not an altogether surprise considering the disparity between Boston and other regions in the state.  However, even on a micro level, there is immense disparity between say Beacon Hill and Mattapan, both neighborhoods of Boston.

City Slickers:

Springfield swore in its City Government today.  Mayor Domenic Sarno began the city’s first four year term for mayor.  The Springfield City Council welcomed former councilor Bud Williams as an at-large member and Ken Shea as the new councilor from Ward six.  At-large councilor Jimmy Ferrrera was sworn in as president and Ward 8 Councilor John Lysak was sworn in as Vice-President.  Until our report is up, enjoy the Republican’s fairly decent write-up.

Twitter Chatter:

We will leave you with this tweet from the Boston Globe’s Politics Desk.  In the story by Globe Reporter Matt Viser, linked therein, we find Mitt Romney engaged in a bit of irony.  A Mormon rallying his troops in a dance hall?  Hmmmm.  It may be wrong to dislike Romney for being a Mormon, but it sure may lead to awkward headlines like this.

The Year in Springfield, 2011…

With another year under Springfield’s belt comes another edition of the Year in Springfield.  In its 375th year of existence the City of Homes suffered through one of the most erratic year of weather on record which brought a range of immense destruction and gross inconvenience.  Politically, it was also a tumultuous time from Springfield City Hall to Beacon Hill to the steps of Harvard University.

The year 2011 opened in Springfield with an eye, as in other places, to Washington, where a cadre of increasingly nihilistic “citizens” took their place in Congress and in state capitals across the nation.  While the boat rocked in Massachusetts with a shrunken, but still massive Democratic edge in the State House, Governor Deval Patrick took the oath of office once more. 

However, America was rocked only eight days into January when Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head, by quite literally a madman.  Early accusations pointed to tea party extremism, but ultimately mental disease and not right-wing anarchy drove the young man to shoot Giffords and twelve others while murdering six.  Gifford suffered a traumatic shot to the head, be saved by the quick thinking of her intern of five days.

Cong. Gifford w/ her Mother weeks

after the shooting (PK Weis via Facebook)

President Barack Obama, given his first significant opportunity to play the healer-in-chief gave a stirring speech at a memorial service attended by Arizona’s Senators, its governor with Obama has frequently clashed, Giffords’ husband, Mark Kelly and Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who oversees the Ninth Circuit within which the slain judge, John Roll, served.

The event took on somewhat of a local relevance when Congressman Richard Neal held a press conference after the shooting noting that he had known Giffords and had raised money for her ahead of what had been a difficult reelection in 2010.  However, he also urged that parties take down a notch the vitriol and anger that had become pervasive in politics whether Loughner was driven by politics or not.

Also in January Amaad Rivera took office as the Ward 6 Councilor following the resignation of Keith Wright.  He took office because the city’s succession law is only written with only at-large councilors in mind and fills vacancies with runners-up.  Technically, Rivera was a runner-up even though he lost the 2009 election.  The chorus of dissent included this blog and came to a head on a vote for eminent domain as part of Forest Park Middle School renovations.  Rivera invoked Rule 20, the council’s parliamentary motion to delay the project to the shock of other councilors.  While we would settle our differences with Rivera, many remained incensed over the use of Rule 20, ironically including some who would encounter similar anger over its usage.

Councilor Amaad Rivera (WMassP&I)

However, the focus on Rivera would lessen as he became one of a super-majority of councilors that opposed a wood-burning biomass plant.  The special permit had been granted in 2008 by the last council on a 7-2 vote.  All ward councilors and two at-large councilors, including Jose Tosado who voted for the permit in 2008.  The Callahan Family, owners of Palmer Renewable Energy and like-named paving company poured money into experts who dismissed, often condescendingly, the health concerns raised by opponents.  Against the din of protests and threats of legal action the council revoked PRE’s permit on a 10-2 vote.

The nation received another jolt in May when a very late Sunday night Presidential address announced the death of Osama bin Laden.  President Barack Obama, following a week of further birth certificate antics and a successful skewering of birther-in-chief Donald Trump at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner, ordered the covert operation.  Bin Laden had been hiding in a compound in Abbottabad, the home of Pakistan’s version of West Point.  Crowds of largely of twenty-somethings, who had grown up in the age of terror, rallied across the country.

Massachusetts’s “model” Republican seemingly entered his second year seemingly impervious after initial fears that the Republican wave he started barely washed upon Massachusetts.  Scott Brown released a lurid biography which included a claim of childhood molestation at a Cape Cod camp.  However, Brown, whose media access is more carefully controlled than Coca-Cola’s secret recipe, mistakenly claimed to have seen photos of a dead Osama bin Laden, which had already been exposed as a fraud.  The impervious Brown construction has never fully recovered.

On June 1, the heavens opened up and series of tornadoes scarred the landscape of Hampden County.  From space it looked as though a great talon had dug itself into the ground Westfield and dragged itself east through West Springfield and Springfield, Wilbraham and Monson.  The devastation was particularly bad in the South End, Maple Heights, Six Corners and East Forest Park sections of Springfield as well as in downtown Monson.  The freak storm attracted reporters from media outlets like the Los Angeles Times and of course area politicians who vowed to help the city and region rebuild to varying degrees of credibility.

Damage in East Forest Park (WMassP&I)

The tornado also proved to be among the most prominent nails in the coffin of those who would challenge Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno for office.  While anecdotal evidence paints a more blurry picture, the media and conventional wisdom suggested that Sarno acted admirably and competently during the worst natural disaster to hit the city in decades.  He had, in fact, an incredible amount of help between state and federal disaster relief agencies.  The Federal Emergency Management Agency had already faced pummeling tornadoes in Alabama, Missouri and Mississippi, and regained respect six years after Hurricane Katrina.

While Congressional Republicans and President Obama squared off on the budget in Washington, the same was happening at 36 Court Street.  A cabal of City Councilors sought to slim down Sarno’s budget to protect the city’s reserve funds ahead of tougher budgetary times ahead.  A process that normally took weeks dragged on for month as councilors and the mayor struggled to control costs with declining revenue.  Added revenue from the state helped end the debacle.

From Boston to Washington Democrats had a problem.  Scott Brown was seemingly popular and Massachusetts bench offered few strong challenges.  Brown had already vanquished Martha Coakley.  Deval Patrick doesn’t seem interested in running for anything again and Ted Kennedy’s Widow took a pass.  The result was several candidates who could have the potential to challenge the Barncoat Bomber, but not with only a year and a half to prepare. 

Elizabeth Warren speaking in Chicopee (WMassP&I)

Meanwhile, Elizabeth Warren was setting up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in Washington.  Rumblings began as early as the beginning of the year that Warren, a Cambridge resident and Harvard Law Professor could be a contender for the Democratic nomination.  Even as she worked to get the CFPB up and running, Warren faced constant and consistent opposition from Senate Republicans forty-four, Scott Brown excluded.  Obama would not nominate Warren to head the agency and Warren returned to Massachusetts.  Then a posting on the Liberal blog Blue Mass Group ignited the embers of a campaign.  Warren met with Democratic activists across the state as she contemplated a Senate run.

Even as some in politics sought to burn the house down from within, fire began to creep up from the streets.  Protesters in the Middle East would peacefully overthrow two dictators and forcibly oust others.  However, the protests would not be confined to Arab world.  With anti-labor governors taking the helm in the Midwest, protests that dwarfed some of the largest tea party rallies of yesteryear countered union-busting legislation.  Republicans in Wisconsin and Ohio were successful in passing their draconian bills, but it provoked massive backlash and would ultimately prove a dress rehearsal for protests later in the year.

Union Seals of Communication Workers of American & Int’l

Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the striking Verizon

unions (wikipedia)

With public employee labor under pressure in Middle America, it was only a matter of time before private sector labor unions would feel the pressure.  Employees of Verizon’s landline business including several thousand in Massachusetts held their first strike.  It was one of the largest industrial actions in the United States in recent memory and was precipitated by the bad-faith negotiations of the company and its unrealistic demands.  Although the contract remains unsettled, the strike is thought to have been a disaster to Verizon who faced picket lines that turned away customers at the non-union wireless stores.  Workers returned after two weeks on strike with an extension of the existing contract.

After a summer of debt ceiling negotiations, the White House seemingly caved to Republican pressure and agreed to a compromise.  A Congressional “super committee” that included our own John Kerry sought further cuts, but was doomed to failure.  Meanwhile, after protests around the world for better economic justice and democracy, activism came the United States.  Occupy Wall Street encampments set up in hundreds of US cities.  While Occupy Springfield, MA never really got off the ground, Occupy Boston would become one of the longest lasting occupations.  Even as the encampments shut down when the fall dragged on, the movement is widely accredited with changing the conversation of the country from austerity and debt to a discussion of job creation.

Two years after the introduction of ward representation, interest in ward races was minimal at best.  Only Ward 8 incumbent John Lysak faced an opponent on the ballot, indeed the same one he defeated by a hair in 2009.  Six other ward incumbents faced no opposition and the ward 6 seat, vacated by Rivera for a run to an at-large seat, only had one balloted candidate, Ken Shea.  The at-large vacancy came about as Jose Tosado made a run for mayor.

At Sarno’s Kickoff Event (WMassP&I)

Tosado as well as School committeewoman Antonette Pepe vied against Sarno in the September Preliminary.  Pepe took on a far more populist approach directly challenging the mayor even on the tornado.  Tosado offered a much more measured approach attempting to channel general dissatisfaction with the city’s progress.  A sign of Sarno’s strength came in the preliminary when he scooped up well more than half of the votes.  Pepe was defeated and enforsed Tosado.  After struggling to gain traction for much of October, the death knell for Tosado’s bid came when an October storm knocked out power for much of the city.  The mayor suspended his campaign to greater effect than when Tosado did the same after the June tornado and won a lopsided 72% of the vote amidst a dismal 22% turnout.

In the same election, all at-large incumbents running maintained their seats including Counilor Jimmy Ferrera who had connections to the burgeoning Probation Department scandal.  Amaad Rivera failed in his bid secure the open at-large seat falling behind former Councilor Bud Williams who secured the open seat and Justin Hurst, who claimed sixth place.  While many ascribe Rivera’s loss as evidence of citywide disgust, that simple explanation belies a more complicated situation complicated by interplay with the mayoral race, virtually zero debate or campaigning among candidates and some miscalculations by the Rivera campaign.

November also proved surprising reassuring for the American left.  Anti-union, anti-voter and allegedly anti-abortion measures appeared in Ohio, Maine and Mississippi respectively.  An anti-union bill in Ohio was shot down by voters in a lopsided vote leaving the formerly confident Republican governor a blithering mess.  A same-day registration law was vetoed by the people in Maine, but the shocker of the evening came from Mississippi, which beat back a personhood amendment that would have defined a fetus as a person.

Mayor-elect Alex Morse (center) w/ Gov. Deval Patrick &

Lt. Gov. Tim Murray (Facebook)

Locally, Holyoke cast out its incumbent mayor for a young newcomer.  Alex Morse takes the helm in Holyoke in only a few day’s time.  Since his election, Holyoke attracted unprecedented national media attention and Morse scored a visit to the White House.  “You’re not an overachiever, are you?” was the President’s reported comment to the 22 year-old Morse.

Even as Springfield sorted out its elections, state leaders released maps for new Congressional and State House and Senate districts.  Massachusetts was due to lose one Congressional seat and it was widely feared that the hammer would fall on the regions’s two congressional districts.  The evidence that this was the fate of the 413 came when John Olver, a twenty year veteran of Congress announced he would retire despite earlier promises to run.  This led the Redistricting Commission to split the difference and meld Western Massachusetts with a Worcester based district.  Elsewhere, longtime Congressman Barney Frank announced his retirement citing the new district lines.

State legislators did not get off any easier, however.  James Welch took on much more of Springfield’s minority communities to create a new minority-majority district.  The new district is expected to draw Ward 3 Councilor Melvin Edwards into the race according to certain City Hall Sources.

Rising from the political ashes, Martha Coakley came out swinging against banks for their behavior amidst the foreclosure crisis.  While Coakley had safely secured reelection last year, some questioned her relevance after losing to Scott Brown in early 2010.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth Warren made her bid official in September.  Attracting a flurry of media attention as Warren crisscrossed the commonwealth, attracting largely friendly crowds from Boston to Springfield.  Warren faced overflow crowds and raked in more than $3 million in a few weeks time.  Her primary opponents fell one by one.  While some felt a tougher primary would make her more battle-tested, Warren ably rebuffed attacks from Brown’s camp and Karl Rove’s SuperPAC’s American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS.  In recent polling she has topped Brown and has been in a statistical dead heat with the incumbent since her campaign became official.

Before calling 2011 a year, the Springfield City Council still had a few more fires to put out.  Acting on the advice of the city solicitor the city’s building commissioner issued a building permit for the biomass plant.  Drawing angry rebukes from the 10 councilors that revoke the special permit earlier in the year, the council stood ready to appeal the building permit until Kateri Walsh invoke Rule 20 herself in an effort to delay the vote.  While the delay was successful, it did not stop the vote to appeal which passed.  Instead it provoked a backlash against Walsh, who became subjected to scrutiny from several news outlets because of the hefty campaign cash the Callahan family had given her.

Mr. President? Councilor Ferrera

(Urban Compass)

Meanwhile, Jimmy Ferrera, the only at-large councilor from the old council setup never to be Council President secured the votes necessary to become President in the new year.  This came despite his connections to the scandal-ridden Probation Department and his failure to achieve a critical task appointed to him at the beginning of the year.  Ferrera had been charged with drafting legislation to correct the error, but only ever produced a proposal that would change nothing and even this was never voted on.

Also in the latter half of the year the Massachusetts General Court and Governor Deval Patrick finally passed a bill legalizing casinos in the state.  The law came after years of debate and consternation between proponents and opponents, but also in-fighting among opponents.  The final legislation approved three casinos in three different regions of the state.  Local proposals included sites in Holyoke, Palmer and on Page Boulevard in Springfield.  While the idea of millions invested into Springfield and other towns has spurred great interest, more measured assessments of casinos’ possibilities has brought, at best cautious support, for many of the proposals now that one of them has become inevitable.

Without a doubt 2011 was a huge year in Springfield both as a city and as a component of the wider commonwealth and nation.  Whether the subject was weather or politics Springfield and Massachusetts had loads of it.  For all of the ups and downs 2011, many hope for a less bumpy 2012, but with one-time governor Mitt Romney queuing up to snag the Republican nomination for President, that may only be a pipe dream.


Tardy Tuesday Takedown 12/27/11…

It is the last Manic Monday/Tardy Tuesday of the year people!  Yes, we know it is Wednesday, but technical difficulties were, well, a problem.  Enjoy

…And the World:

Several weeks ago the decision of Pakistan’s president Asif Ali Zardari to seek medical treatment abroad led many to think a coup in the country was already underway.  Zardari has since returned, but the fears about a military takeover appear to have not totally faded.  Pakistan, which has had several coups before, has a civilian government only officially controls the country’s military and foreign policy.  Incredible power remains in the Pakistani military and intelligence community, effectively denying Pakistanis a true democracy.  Zardari is the widower of the former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto who was assassinated four years ago today and gave an impassioned speech on behalf of the democratic process to mark the anniversary.

The Feds:

Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson is apparently going to retire long after Democrats were supposedly assured that no further retirements were in the pipeline.  His retirement likely means this seat will be a Republican pickup, but that may have been the case anyway given Nelson’s unpopularity in the state and unlikely chances of pulling a Harry Reid.  It makes the Democrats’ job of holding the Senate that much harder.

President Barack Obama nominated two qualified people to the Federal Reserve, but qualifications are rarely enough for this particular Senate minority.
The Washington Post considers how the wealth gap between Congress and the voters may lead to changes in attitudes among members of Congress.  Thought to consider when current Congressman Kelly lays out his case against some programs, it all comes down to what comes out of his pie.  No consideration for what others have tried to attain, but could not.  Moreover, there’s no way to validate or consider his story about people passing on a job before their benefits cut out.  Also, worth noting, unemployment is paid by employers (sort of) and he already thinks he is overtaxed.  The sort of is that most economists, labor experts and business experts agree that while unemployment taxes are PAID by the employer, they are essentially earned by the employee’s labor.  In other words, the only reason why the employer pays it is because their worker is productive enough to compensate for the contribution to unemployment on the off chance the job does not pan out and he needs the unemployment later.

The State of Things:

Sears announced it was closing 100-120 stores (which may include some K-Mart stores, which it also owns) after a lackluster holiday season.  The company has suffered from unremodeled stores for years and increasingly dis-satisfactory customer service.  The reason why this is a state story and not a national one (it is) is the potential impact especially in the Springfield area.  There are three Sears in Western Massachusetts, one each in Holyoke, Lanesboro and Springfield.  The one in Enfield is also nearby and more important to the Springfield area economy than the Lanesboro one.  From a broader economic perspective closure of the Springfield location could be devastating to the Eastfield retail area which is still searching for tenets in the former Circuit City and JC Penny locations.

Scott Brown isn’t scared!  He says voters will have a clear choice next year between a reformer with a solid record of looking out for the middle class and him.

City Slickers:

Springfield held a hearing on the proposal to severely restrict entertainment at establishments that serve alcohol.  The only supporters at the day before Christmas Eve hearing was the police, but even their arguments seemed flaky at best.  Virtually all other attendees were in opposition.

Reminder! Next Monday is Inauguration Day for Springfield’s Mayor and City Council.  We’ll be there!  But you can be too.  Love or hate some of the electeds (you know we do), its a simple way to participate and when you hear what politicians have to say you can call them out more easily when they artfully place their feet in their mouths!

Twitter Chatter:

No twitter chatter this week.  We’re thinking about the Valley Tweet of the year.  It is a tough task since even we do not read all Springfield area tweets.  So PLEASE, email us your suggestions to  We’ll include the winner in our annual “The Year in Springfield!”

The Annual Xmas Posting…

When Mary and Joseph came to Bethlehem to take part in the Census, they had no place to stay.  However, the couple needed some place to stay not only for practical reasons, but because Mary was about to give birth.  Traditionally, the birth of Christ in a stable with the manger as his bassinet is a mark of Christ’s humble birth.  However, it is also a telling parable for the trials that many in our world face.  Mary and Joseph had to take extraordinary, and dare we say undignified measures, through no fault of their own.

In this time of (hopefully) peace and joy, it is important that we remember the less fortunate among us.  Poverty is not a character flaw nor, incidentally, is it necessarily part and parcel to hard times or simply being in need.  “There but the grace of God,” sums up the sentiment quite nicely.  Please remember the need and poor in these trying economic times.  However, do remember them at other times, too.  Certainly at Christmastime we should think of them and be generous, but basic human needs and human dignity are present in all season.  Please consider giving to a local charity like the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts or another like noble cause.

We at Western Mass Politics & Insight wish you a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year to you and yours!

Take My Council, Please: Good Night & Good Luck…

The Springfield City Council closed out the year on a high and uncharacteristically brief note.  Most of the measures were largely uncontroversial approvals of grant money and donations.  An informal caucus was held at the end to select the Council’s officers for next year.

Budget officials announced that the city finances were officially in balance after the council approved reserve funds to fill the budget hole.  Funds were accepted to repave a portion of Sumner Avenue after gas main work, renovate Hubbard Park as part of the UniFirst land swap, and fund health and library programs.

Ward 1 Councilor Zaida Luna unexpectedly withdrew her motion for reconsideration of tax incremental financing for the F.W. Webb project slated for a parcel of the city’s Memorial Industrial Park off of Roosevelt Avenue.  The project has been criticized for creating painfully few jobs while costing the city hundreds of thousands in potential tax revenue over ten years.  With Luna’s withdrawal, the prior acceptance of the financing stands.

The council also gave final approval to an ordinance establishing site assignment fees.  The fees would be used for projects such as the biomass plant, but would have applications beyond the legally uncertain power plant.  Councilors also offered a resolve to encourage the state to push up MCAS testing by several weeks to compensate for lost class time due to the October snowstorm and subsequent eight days without school in Springfield.

Council President Jose Tosado (WMassP&I)

Finally at the end of the meeting, councilors recognized Council President Jose Tosado who, having declined to seek reelection to pursue a mayoral bid, will be leaving the council in January.  Councilors offered a proclamation and a plaque recognizing him for his ten years of service to the council, numerous assignments to council committees and service on the School Committee. 

At an informal caucus after the meeting, councilors made official what had been declared weeks ago.  At-large Councilor James Ferrera was voted Council President.  Ferrera’s acceptance of the presidency and recognition of Tosado and at-large Councilor Kateri Walsh’s vice-presidency were executed without any blatant gaffes on his part.  Ward 8 Councilor John Lysak was elected vice-president.  Ferrera’s election was unanimous and included Ward 6 Councilor-elect Ken Shea and once and future at-large councilor Bud Williams.  The unanimity had been a surprise as several councilors were thought to object to Ferrera’s nomination.  Ferrera has been known for his often gratuitous motions, insipid questions and pained understanding of basic council procedure and city business.


Speaking to WMassP&I after the meeting, Tosado said it “feels pretty good,” becoming a civilian again.  For now he intends to focus on his family and full time job at the Department of Mental Health, but will remain involved in the community.  As for any future political activity, Tosado only offered a “Stay tuned.”

For our part, we have in the past been suspicious of Tosado, but in the nearly year and a half since we started “Take My Council, Please,” we have found him to be an imperfect, but diligent member of the council.  It will be strange to cover the council without his fairly effective administration of meetings.  However, as he heads back into civilian the life, we at WMassP&I wish him the best.


Manic Monday Markup 12/19/11…

…And the World:

The leader of one of the world’s most closed regime, Kim Jong-il, died.  The bizarre dictator of North Korea, with whom the United Nations and its southern neighbor are technically still at war, died of a heart attack Saturday.  While the fact that it took until today for intelligence agencies in South Korea, China and the United States is considered a failure, the biggest concern is how stable the Korean peninsula will remain.  Kim’s son, Kim Jong-un, is his successor, but his standing in the autocratic regime unknown with other media sources saying he is simply unprepared for the trials that North Korea faces.  Clips from North Korean state television showed sobbing news announcers in stark contrast to feelings in the free speech-allowed South.

Tomorrow Mariano Rajoy will be sworn in as the Prime Minister of Spain tomorrow as his country faces the brunt of Europe spiraling debt crisis.  In an address to the Spanish parliament today he promised to cut sixteen billion euros, possibly more, to help get the country’s deficit down.  While Spain has relatively low debt its economy has strained to grow and suffers from more than 20% unemployment which makes it difficult for markets to trust Spain to control its debt.  Still, Spain has been perhaps unfairly punished by markets in comparison to Greece or Ireland’s fiscal failings.

The Feds:

House Speaker John Boehner voiced surprising opposition to the deal Senate leaders cut on Friday to extend the payroll tax for two months yesterday on Meet the Press.  Republicans were expected to vote tonight to reject the Senate bill and then appoint a conference committee to force the Senate to negotiate a package.  However, late-breaking news this evening has the GOP controlled House would vote tomorrow.  The delay is proof that Republican House leaders fear Democrats could vote en masse to support the measure and secure passage with the help of Republican defections.  Democrats would only need about twenty-six Republicans, perhaps fearing the electoral consequences, to pass the bill.  To keep that from happening, Republicans will simply keep the measure off the floor.

AT&T announced it was ending its bid to acquire European-owned T Mobile wireless.  The deal had been opposed by both the Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission.  There was great concern that if AT&T bought the smaller wireless company the United States would face an effective duopoly of AT&T and Verizon Wireless.  While the company decried the government’s opposition, the move it likely to be praised by consumer groups.

Pressure mounts on Lowe’s Home Improvement stores for caving to the pressure of a nothing hate group in Florida to pull ads form the TLC show All American Muslim.  Since the chain pulled it has attracted considerable criticism including from Cong. Chris Murphy of Connecticut who is running for the open senate seat of our neighbor to the south.  Since Murphy made his comments and implored the chain to be “better than this” approval of bigotry, his Facebook wall has been bombarded with angry “supporters” of Lowes relying on, at best, spurious evidence of malevolence inherent in all Muslims.  In closing his speech on the floor of the House of Representatives, Murphy said,
“This is America.  And while we’ve never been perfect in living up to our founding ideals, we’ve gotten pretty good at calling out bigotry when we see it, and stamping it out before its mark becomes indelible.  This can be one of those moments.”

The State of Things:

Last week area legislators and Gov. Patrick’s Secretary of Transportation Richard Davey released millions in relief money to Springfield and other area communities to cope with the costs of the June 1 tornado.  Moneys were appropriated for tornado relief earlier this year while Davey’s department fronted cash to communities to repair road infrastructure damaged by the storm.  The DOT will be reimbursed by federal highway authorities after all disaster paperwork is complete.

As casinos move forward in Massachusetts, State Treasurer Steve Grossman offers some interesting words and a desire to get this process, since it is now a done deal right and not merely the same tacked on effort that characterizes other states’ implementation of casino gambling.

City Slickers:

Longtime congressional aide Kevin Kennedy becomes Springfield new Economic Development Director.  Check out our post on the appointment, but in the interest of not being totally self-absorbed here is NEPR’s report.

The Council held its last meeting of the year and Council President Jose Tosado bid farewell…for now anyway.  Grant money was also accepted and next year’s officers informally selected.

The Springfield Intruder notes, correctly, that Mayor Domenic Sarno’s spin on this year’s tax rates belies that fact that many tax payers will see a tax increase and tax rate reductions from last year have been effectively reversed.  The city raised tax rates for businesses and residents to provide the necessary revenue called for from property tax revenue in the budget.  Last Friday’s tax setting meeting at the council was heavily criticized for its time and overly expeditious posture.

Twitter Chatter:
Not much time left for this terribly late Manic Monday.  The absurdity of House Republican actions on the Payroll Tax and the real impact it will have on people is best summed up by House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi.  This crisis is manufactured.  While a temporary measure is not ideal, it allows political leaders to cool off before figuring out how to pay the rest of the year’s tax cut extension.  The Republicans already said they wanted a bunch of poison pills in their tax cut extension.  Washington needs a time out, but not one that hurts real people in the meantime.

WANTED: Economic Development…Director, too…

From Left, Kevin Kennedy, Mayor Sarno, Cong. Neal

Today was a busy day for Springfield political news.  The Springfield City Council held its last meeting of 2011 and with that the last meeting of the 2010-2011 council.  However in the morning Mayor Domenic Sarno and Congressman Richard Neal held a press conference to make an economic development announcement.

Since the departure of John Judge earlier this year, the city had been without a director for Economic Development.  Chris Moskal had been serving in that role on an interim basis.  However, today a permanent replacement was named.

Longtime Neal staffer, Kevin Kennedy, was selected to head Springfield’s Economic Development team.  Sarno, in making the appointment, also announced that Moskal would be named the executive director of the Springfield Redevelopment Authority.  He praised  Kennedy as somebody who will “get the deal done” in terms of economic development in the city whether the project is large or small.

Cong. Neal w/ Mayor Sarno (WMassP&I)

Neal spoke very highly of Kennedy noting that the Springfield resident had been a staffer of his for 26 years.  Kennedy has worked with Neal since the congressman had been the city’s mayor and played roles in development projects of the 1980’s like Monarch Place.  Neal mentioned a letter from Springfield-based US District Court Judge Michael Ponsor praising Kennedy for his efforts in making the new courthouse on State Street a reality.  Kennedy has in recent years been Neal’s Scheduler and a key district aide.

Kennedy’s own remarks reflected a desire to pursue economic development in the city on all levels.  His top two large scale priorities were the implementation of Rebuild Springfield, the city’s post-tornado redevelopment effort and Union Station, a project that has eluded city planners for decades.  However, Kennedy also expressed an interest in smaller projects like CVS’s redevelopment of its Forest Park store and the UniFirst land swap enacted last week.

Speaking to reporters after the formal announcement, Kennedy spoke about the need to building “capacity” at the economic development office.  By capacity, Kennedy explained, the city needs to develop a team that can handle the myriad economic development opportunities across the city.  He is somewhat optimistic about the city’s outlook given the pent-up demand and unique opportunity rebuilding after the tornado offers.  More  bluntly, he described the city as having only one direction to go, impliedly up.

Kevin Kennedy at center (WMassP&I)

Asked about the prospect of a casino in Springfield, Kennedy offered perhaps the most cautious words of any city official so far.  While he said the city should pursue a casino project, he warned that it should not become a citadel.  If it became that, “it won’t be a long-term benefit.”  He offered Towersquare as a parallel, which, when built in 1973 as Bay State West, “sucked all the businesses” out of downtown, only to collapse as a retail venue itself.  The proposed casino on Page Boulevard could become such a “citadel.”  He suggested downtown as a better location for a casino where it could be integrated with the MassMutual Center and other downtown amenities.

Because Union Station has been an elusive goal of Neal’s both as mayor and a member of the House of Representatives, Kennedy was also asked about that project.  Construction is set to begin within the year, but it has been a torturous path.  Kennedy emphasized that projects like Union Station have to be practical.  The current plan calls for office space principally for the transit agencies set to serve it along with traveler oriented retail.  Prior plans were far more ambitious, perhaps unrealistic.

However, many of the projects Kennedy has worked on and will work on were public endeavors.  For Springfield to succeed, Kennedy explained, private business will need to step up to the plate.