2013 An Election Odyssey: No Luna Eclipse This Year…
This is a fourth post analyzing the election results of the 2013 election.
As much as the elections at-large and in Ward 8 last month in Springfield captured attention because of their upsets, in a lot of ways the lessons derived from them tell some familiar lessons. Higher-tech versus exclusively old school campaigns can gain an upper hand in the City of Homes for example. Other lessons are more controversial or in dispute such as whether the shift to a minority-majority council means something surface-level or something more.
However, amidst the navel gazing about the racial composition of Springfield’s elected, we forget that an endangered incumbent won her race while a cohort of her booted another incumbent off the School Committee. In neither race would the outcome have shifted the visage of the bodies involved.
Ward 1 Councilor Zaida Luna stood virtually alone against a wall of opposition. Almost every organ of the establishment was trying to leverage itself against her reelection and install Jose Claudio, who works for the New North Citizens Council. Claudio, a somewhat charismatic grandfatherly figure with ties to both Mayor Domenic Sarno and the man Sarno beat six years ago Charlie Ryan, seemed inevitable. A few goofs and political missteps by Luna raised doubts even among her strongest supporters.
And yet, in the end Luna, who had no digital presence, a minimal legislative record, and a leaflet’s worth of words spoken over four years on the Council, prevailed. Not only that, Rosa Perez, whom some suspect was a plant to split the opposition against Norman Roldan, the Ward 1/3 District School Committee member, easily thwarted Roldan’s efforts to win reelection. By way of reference Ward 1 consists of Brightwood, Downtown and the North End, although the city recognizes this area as Memorial Square.
The battle within, among and for the Hispanic community is quite different from that of the black community of Springfield. The black community’s fault lines fall along the bases of prominent elected or Democratic party leaders. The citywide Hispanic community, particularly Puerto Ricans who make up the overwhelmingly majority of Latinos in the city, is more fractious and more complicated.
There is New North, which is most closely associated with Rep. Cheryl Coakley-Rivera and Herbie Flores, both political insiders. Although officially a neighborhood council/social service agency, because the area the council (not the sister social service agency) serves is probably among the city’s most Hispanic areas, it has adopted a role as a Latino-oriented organization.
Then there is a legacy of support that formed a key, but not exclusive part, of Jose Tosado’s base. This support consists of business owners and earlier generations of Puerto Rican residents. Many, though not all, of these individuals have moved on from the North End, but remain in the city.
There is an emerging power growing out of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center and Ernesto Cruz, who unsuccessfully sought a Council seat last year. The PRCC, at one time left to wither on the vine by its political opponents, has clawed its way back to relevance organizing many key cultural events like the Puerto Rican parade. And finally there is Luna, who has her own well of supporters and well-wishers, many of whom she had met and/or aided in her capacity as a social worker.
Then there are groups and organizations that transcend neighborhood and, to some extent, race and make political choices more carefully like Neighbor to Neighbor and SEIU Community Action, whose Springfield branch is currently in transition. New North is not the only neighborhood council either and others in the ward have their influences, although not in as overtly political ways.
For all of that, though, human nature is an overriding force. Voters who do not know the candidates well may pick the name with which they can identify, something that can help a lone Hispanic candidates amid a ballot full of Hibernian names (this can work with any combination of races or ethnicities). Both Cruz and Tosado (as a Council candidate) gleaned a substantial number of votes from Latino precincts.
Luna’s reelection is a second chance for the well-intentioned but not very political Ward 1 Councilor. It is unclear whether the establishment backed Claudio because of her alliances with less well-regarded councilors or because of turf wars over the seat. New North’s detractors have accused the organization and its people of believing the seat belonged to them. Of course, New North could easily lodge similar complaints against its skeptics who largely backed Luna, either enthusiastically or grudgingly.
Nevertheless, it is impossible to argue that individuals associated with New North have sought the seat. In 2009, the first ward elections in fifty years, Gumersindo Gomez had the group’s support, although sources say Luna did not strike them as objectionable then. In 2011, Maria Perez, now a New North program director, launched an unsuccessful write-in campaign against Luna. Then Claudio ran in 2013.
Outside of the Latino community, complaints seem more definitively about the quality of her representation. Armoury-Quadrangle resident Steven Daly, who ran as the only non-Latino, non-North End resident (although fellow challenger Miguel Rivas technically lives in the distinct neighborhood of Brightwood), endorsed Claudio after failing to advance beyond the primary. Many neighborhood councils have political activists as members, most engage issues, rather than politics overtly. That would suggest Daly’s concerns about Luna effectiveness as a councilor is substantive. Although, it is impossible to know for certain.
That all may not matter as much as “What’s next?”. Luna’s closest ally on the Council is gone and she is essentially back to where she was when Jose Tosado departed. Without an ally, the question becomes who will fill that void. She’s not especially close to the other returning incumbents. Searching for more surface level connections, It seems unlikely that she and Ward 5 Councilor Clodo Concepcion would develop a bond. Both are on very different wavelengths. Ward 8 Councilor-elect Orlando Ramos is a possibility but it is unclear whether he endorsed Claudio, although many in his political circle did.
Whatever happens, Luna needs to be a bit more of an activist on the Council. Her behind the scenes constituent services, while clearly effective at building a base, may not be enough to force changes in city government she herself says are needed and deliver for the least of the city’s residents.
At the same time, she has not done her and her constituents any good by joining the extreme end of policy debates. She opposed changes to the residency ordinance ostensibly because they failed to revoke existing waivers. Putting aside the efficacy of ordinances that failed to become law, she did little to find common ground with efforts to reform and damaged her standing with some colleagues.
On some level, residency is a bad example. Freighted with politics as it is, particularly for unemployed and underemployed populations like those in Luna’s district, a less extreme position so close an election may have been risky. However, other moves like the one against Christopher’s package store, whether just or not, seemed to carry less political benefits for her than for other politicians involved and that alienated her from some in Tosado’s base, despite the former councilor’s steadfast endorsement.
Luna is not, contrary to some criticisms, a fool. Her intent is clearly good and she is keenly aware of her ward’s the problems, a very intended byproduct of ward representation. However, in four years she has made more vocal enemies than is usual for a complained of ineffective Springfield official.
The reality is that Luna should take this near-political death experience to heart and make a move. It does appear, even now and amidst some poor politicking, that Luna’s interest is about her community at least as much as it is about herself.
Next week, when Luna is sworn in again she will join newcomer School Committee Member Rosa Perez and Rep. Coakley-Rivera as the only Springfield electeds from the North End and/or Ward 1. Perez is an unknown quantity and obviously Coakley-Rivera, a veteran legislator has cache. Nevertheless, Luna’s status as both the rare women and Hispanic elected official in the city can give her access and visibility in a way many others lack, but for their establishmentarian links.
The Luna Bloc, as we shall call it, lacks the same political underpinnings as the other Latino organizations jockeying for power. Obviously it is political in that it seeks to keep Luna in office, but beyond that its ambitions, for now, are simple and Luna does not try to sell it to other pols looking for votes. However, it seems here to stay and can probably continue to count the Tosado Crowd and PRCC/Cruz as allies, even if she and they do not always see eye to eye.
She has already beat back the establishment in an all-out push this year after four years of essentially being careful. Throwing money and insiders’ influence at her was clearly not as effective in Ward 1 as it is elsewhere in the city. Where then is the risk in being a bit more dangerous and actually upsetting the powers that be when they already perceive a host of slights?
To execute for her constituents, however, she may need to move beyond her comfort zone of constituent services and really delve into the processes and potential legislation that affects where resources are allocated.
Luna’s future and tenure on the Council is one matter, but the squabbles and battles among Hispanics serves to underscores an important point. As long as the various sides are busy fighting each other, the city’s substantial (and hardly monolithic, but largely Puerto Rican) Hispanic population remains divided and unable to exercise substantial political power over city affairs.
To be frank, there are problems with lumping a whole ethnic group into one category. It is not done so casually with Caucasians or Americans of Irish ancestry, for example. More to the point, these kinds of internecine battles within a group are unique to no community of interest. Yet, Latinos, as one such group do on the whole suffer a substantial share of the city’s social issues and the source of the problem if partly borne of political apathy, is most certainly not congenital.
Still, perhaps ironically, the situation mirrors the three-way nature of Puerto Rico’s politics, divided among pro-independence, pro-state, and pro-status quo parties. While the overarching question of self-determination is important, it can often blot out the sun from other substantive day to day issues. Crime, a lack of economic opportunity and social ills are rampant for many on the island. The battle among groups in Springfield over turf sometimes seems to reflect the same reality and outcome.