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The Primary Numbers: Hampden Senate…

The task of redistricting often leaves in its wake many choices, chances, trials and opportunities. In Massachusetts, we suffered from the lost of a seat in Congress, and enlargement of the remaining seats to fill the space. However, with the annual federal reapportionment come the state redrawing of districts.

The Hampden District, which incumbent Senator James Welch represents, shifted away from Agawam and reached into the heart of Springfield to add another minority-majority district to the State Senate. Having learned the error of past voting rights lawsuits, the state responded properly to the changes afoot in Springfield and its neighbors. Those changes also drew a challenge from within the city, Ward 3 Councilor Melvin Edwards. In part, the campaign has turned on how the commonwealth’s third largest city lacks a resident in the State Senate.

Like some other races this cycle, the winner of the Democratic nomination for the Hampden Seante seat will in all likelihood be the victor in November and be the next senator.

Since we have begun our coverage of the Springfield City Council, we have gotten to know many Councilors, but Melvin Edwards is one of a few that stand out. We have found him to be dedicated and real and unafraid to call out the nonsense. At the same time, we had the opportunity to see James Welch rise from the House to the State Senate. The two houses on Beacon Hill are different bodies and we have seen a change from an anonymous representative of a random Springfield precinct to a member of the Springfield community.

Sen. Welch (WMassP&I)

This has been an agonizing decision, based not on personal issues or prejudices, but real analysis, and in due respect to this true consideration, we would hope that whether you agree or disagree, you read on. In light of the challenges and trials not only Springfield, but its neighbors and the whole region face, we support the re-nomination and reelection of James Welch.

A central argument in this race has been Springfield’s lack of a resident state senator. It is an argument that takes on more than one dimension. About 70% of the city in the district, and that section of the city makes up about 70% of the district. We are very sympathetic to this argument. Springfield is often a city that we see forgotten, by both residents and outsiders alike. However, Springfield is not merely a forgotten city. It is the beating heart of a broader, forgotten region both in terms of Hampden County and Western Massachusetts. The cardiac arrest that strikes Springfield resonates quickly in its suburbs, which have a particular interest in bringing back the city’s pulse.

Despite broader challenges we face as a region and solidarity in moments of rebellion against Boston‘s neglect, the region is often a place of provincialism. Too often the cities and towns of Greater Springfield fight and tussle and try to outdo each other in what often feels like a race to a top that is really only slightly higher than the bottom.

That charge of provincialism has been levied against Welch in favor of West Springfield, and perhaps at the beginning of the term it may have been true. However, we have seen growth. Whether it was the added reach east into Springfield or a sober recognition of the city’s importance (it along with Chicopee elected Welch’s successor in the House, Mike Finn), Welch has become a bigger and bigger part of Springfield’s political scene. Perhaps it was redistricting, but he has taken a bigger interest in Springfield than his predecessor and mentor of sorts, Stephen Buoniconti. As Buoniconti fell from grace, Welch stepped out from the former’s shadow.

Councilor Melvin Edwards (WMassP&I)

We do believe that Melvin Edwards would be a great senator and he would being diversity to a largely pale body. He has called out some of his colleagues on the floor of the Council for their nonsense. His votes are, on balance, in the best interests of the city, not the power brokers behind the throne. Indeed, he would be greatly missed if he left the Council.

However, his argument that Springfield needs a resident state senator has not spurred a broader discussion of the issues. There are reasons for that and both fateful and capricious factors are to blame. This leaves us with only the residency argument. Like legal tests in a court decision, we then shift to whether or not Welch has been good for Springfield.

We have not agreed with all of Welch’s votes. Namely we point out the Three Strikes legislation. Indeed, Welch would be wise to step a bit back from like legislation now that his district is more urban than before. Alone, however, it does not disqualify him.

At the same time, Welch has secured legislation that could have a legitimate, positive impact on the city. In particular, he and the city’s delegation obtained a waiver in law to the Massachusetts School Building Authority’s rules governing school construction reimbursement. Now the MSBA has the authority to cover all of the tornado rebuilding costs of damaged schools not covered by FEMA. Additionally Welch has sponsored legislation to spur economic development in tornado affected regions.

Cong. Neal w/ Sen. Welch (WMassP&I)

We admit a soft spot for libraries and Welch counts among his proudest achievements his work on behalf of West Springfield’s libraries. Why should we care about Westside libraries? During a past interview with us, Welch marveled at the strong neighborhood identities in Springfield. Coupled with a past commitment to libraries in his home town, we can reasonable expect Welch to work to save Springfield’s libraries, now that they have been threatened once again after a nine year respite.

It is a problem that Springfield does not have a resident senator. We cannot help, but return to that. In the end, to borrow from F. Scott Fitzgerald, Springfield is a city, after all and not a universe. Whether it is casinos, transportation, social ills, these will require regional understanding and cooperation. Otherwise, suburbanites who deem themselves safe from the rot they think is in Springfield will awake to see mold in their own midst whether taking the form of crime, economic stagnation or decaying infrastructure.

We also worry aloud about the impact of Edwards leaving the Council. That is not to say we do not expect bigger and better things from Edwards in the future. Yet, succession in Springfield remains a mess. Frankly, not knowing who his successor would be, we are much more comfortable with Edwards in City Hall fighting the good fights that need fighting there. In our estimate, Springfield as well as Chicopee and West Springfield’s voice in Boston is safe for another two years with Senator James Welch.

Our endorsement, however, comes with an admonition as well.  We will be watching closely.  The composition of the district is such that Welch could easily face challengers again before he either moves on or the district is redrawn in 2022.  Springfield needs many things as do Chicopee and West Springfield.  Should Welch prevail tomorrow, we expect him to rise to the challenge and hope he prove us right.

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