Springfield Politics Go Bragh? At a Few Events, Yes…
UPDATED 3/24/15 8:47PM: For a Correction. A previous version of this post incorrectly identified Don Ashe as the Register of Probate. He is the Register of Deeds.
UPDATED 3/23/15 2:25PM: With expanded comments from Aaron Saunders.
SPRINGFIELD—Like many old industrial cities, the Irish have a prominent place in the political establishment. Thus, a holidays like St. Patrick’s Day become an opportunity for more than a reason for inebriation across the population. Politics are never far away from the holiday.
While the holiday is well-celebrated in the Pioneer Valley, outside of Holyoke parade happenings, few seem to use St. Patrick’s Day as a means to bridge the gap in our civic culture between the governed and the governing. One exception may be Thomas Ashe’s St. Patrick’s Day fundraiser held this past Friday. A low requested donation seemingly fosters a crowd that extends a bit outside the region’s relatively tiny political circles, thus drawing pols to the fundraiser as well.
“It’s just $20, not really looking to raise a windfall of money,” Ashe, an at-large councilor here, said.
Ashe noted he is not the only other elected official or even the only Ashe to hold such an event. Hampden Register of Deeds Donald Ashe (no relation) holds a St. Patrick’s shindig at, like Councilor Ashe, the John Boyle O’Reilly Club—or simply “The Boyle” to those in the local political know.
Last year both drew a phalanx of politicians competing for the countless open statewide and local races. Democratic candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, treasurer and attorney general appeared at the councilor’s. This year, being a municipal election year, the crowd was decent, but there were fewer pols. One ward race was fully represented, however. Ward 6 Councilor Ken Shea attended as did Kim Rivera, who has filed state paperwork to run for Shea’s seat this year.
Low-key and yet decorated green for the season, the sounds of Irish music on guitar competed against the din of conversation. The crowd was a mix of pols from within the city and without, but also many individuals who may have known Ashe going back to the old neighborhood perhaps not just those who attend everything political in Springfield.
The Greater Springfield area is not without big-time events that can bring in pols and luminaries from outside the region. US Rep Richard Neal’s annual fundraiser at the Everett Barney Estate and Sheriff Michael Ashe’s clambake are both held in the city. Longmeadow Democrats’ breakfast is a must-attend in state election years. But few distinctly city-centric political events like this exist except Councilor Ashe’s fundraiser and the City Democratic Committee’s annual dinner.
Ashe, speaking to WMassP&I the day before his fundraiser at City Hall, agreed that there are too few events that can draw people into the political process, especially in a social context.
“There ought to be more of this across the city, in different areas,” he said, “particularly on the ward level.”
Ashe lives in Ward 7, the city’s modern-day political epicenter, but he hails from Ward 2’s Hungry Hill and that ward’s rep, Council President Michael Fenton emceed the fundraiser. The two have partnered on issues and politics, including hosting two events here for Steve Kerrigan, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor.
Speaking briefly to recognize the elected officials, union leaders and other prominent people in attendance, Fenton led fundraiser attendees in a rendition of Happy Birthday for Ashe before turning things over to the guest of honor.
“I used to be the young kid on the block,” said Ashe, who turned 49 two days before. An elected member of city government for nearly fifteen years now and active in politics for longer, he joked, “Thank God for Ken Shea!” Shea, who served with Ashe on the School Committee and later on the Council, did not catch the quip. When the crowd egged Ashe on to repeat himself, he only said he was honored Shea could attend, prompting a few more laughs.
With Springfield councilors and candidates, reps and senators and dozens of others, both current and former residents in attendance, the fundraiser had a solid Springfield flavor to it.
It might be odd that aside from Don and Tom Ashe’s St. Patrick’s events at “The Boyle” that there are not more overtly Hibernian-inspired political events inspired in March. Given the gravity of the Holyoke St. Patrick’s parade, others are not so surprised.
Aaron Saunders, a selectman in Ludlow and no stranger to the events at the John Boyle O’Reilly Club include Ashe’s fundraiser, said the countless dinners, parties, events and ceremonies that surround the parade usually attract most area pols. The parade was held this afternoon.
“With so many St. Patrick’s Day events over the course of February and March, there is not much oxygen left in the room for purely “political” events,” Saunder said.
“Every Marshall’s Reception, Colleen event, or award winner recognition becomes a place that attracts civically and politically involved people,” he added. Both Neal and Sheriff Ashe regularly host a big after-parade event at the Holyoke Boys & Girls’ Club. In big election years like 2014, local and statewide pack the place.
The influence of the parade was inescapable even at Councilor Ashe’s fundraiser. Springfield’s Colleen Court was on hand and Eric Devine, the Springfield contingent’s parade marshal, was as a celebrity bartender pouring drinks for Ashe’s guests.
During the interview, Ashe suggested that rather than long speaking programs, he prefers to mirror sheriff’s model of brief introductions and then letting people enjoy themselves. “You don’t have to own the event and control every minute,” he explained.
Ashe’s fundraiser is a social event, too, but how the number of non-politicos on-hand may be anybody’s guess. Yet mixing it with the holiday did seem to make it more relatable if principally among folks that Ashe has gotten to know over the years.
Of course one class of attendees may have been there no matter what. Relatives greeted guests and Ashe’s son, also Thomas, who goes to college in New Jersey, made the trip home just to attend.
For family, politics, the holiday and Ashe’s birthday, all with one stone.