Growing Field Suggests a Brewing Battle for 36 Court Street…
UPDATED 7/26/15 1:11AM: For grammar.
SPRINGFIELD—What looked like a dull election season now seems primed to be a more spirited affair as additional challengers pile onto the race for mayor and City Council. As of 3pm Thursday, the second to last day to pick up nomination papers, as many as seven ward races could be competitive, a packed mayoral preliminary seems likely and one might happen in the at-large Council campaign.
While the 2013 ballot, held half-way through the mayoral term, had a few spirited races, this year has the potential to be different. Despite insistence by many political observers that the city is on the up and up, the ballooning field for all offices could indicate a growing unease with the direction of the city, if not quite enough to dislodge officials en masse…yet.
The mayoral field continues to grow, but has not attracted any established pols. Mayor Domenic Sarno will hardly go unchallenged, but the likeliest heavy hitter to challenge him, Council President Michael Fenton, is seeking reelection to the Ward 2 seat instead. Election officials certified Fenton for that race last week.
Still, the field of mayoral aspirants has already grown well beyond Sarno and early challengers Johnnie Ray McKnight and Salvatore Circosta, all of whom will be on the ballot. Newcomer Beverly Savage has also been certified and both Michael Jones and Invelisse Gonzalez have turned in signatures, too. More mayoral candidates could turn in signature sheets by the deadline.
Signatures for all city races must be turned in by next Tuesday, July 28.
The later start may disadvantage the newest candidates. Most handicappers would argue either Circosta or McKnight seem best positioned to survive primary and battle Sarno one-on-one in November. The mayor is widely expected to advance to the general election.
In the Council election, ward races have drawn the most attention. The election in Ward 1 got a jolt just today. Election officials confirmed that longtime New North Citizens Council figure and former School Committee member Norman Roldan withdrew and Adam Gomez had stepped forward to oppose incumbent councilor Zaida Luna. Masslive first reported the Ward 1 shakeup.
New North has long targeted Luna, who is outside the political orbit of the institution, a major establishment Latino bloc in Springfield. Roldan lost his School Committee seat by a catastrophic, nearly 2-1 margin, wounding his electoral credibility. Gomez, 32, has ties to New North, but has also developed a voice independent of the organization. He is not yet certified for the ballot.
Also notable is the emergence of an opponent to Ward 7 Councilor Timothy Allen. Lillian Gray will provide Allen his first challenge since thumping the late Michael Rodgers in 2009. The Election Commission certified Gray for the ballot last week.
The other ward races remain in flux, but no less competitive. Incumbents in Wards 3, 4, 5, 6 and 8 have will all be the ballot. Challengers have pulled papers to run against all five, although so far only Kim Rivera in Ward 6 has secured a place on the ballot.
Of those incumbents, Ward 8 Councilor Orlando Ramos has the best chance to run unopposed. While he has not addressed the race publicly, former councilor John Lysak’s legal troubles could derail his planned comeback.
Ward 3 Councilor Melvin Edwards is likely to face Yolanda Cancel and Marcus Williams is sticking to his bid against incumbent Ward 5 Councilor Clodo Concepcion, which WMassP&I first reported in March. Ward 4 Councilor E. Henry Twiggs is taking potential challenges seriously, creating a Facebook page and announcing an August 1 kickoff. Larry Lawson II, said to be the son of a perennial candidate by the same name, and radio personality Victoria Rowe have pulled papers. If either or both are certified, Twiggs would face his first challenges since become Ward 4’s councilor in 2009.
Councilors Edwards and Concepcion faced opposition in 2013. Rivera is Ken Shea’s first opponent in Ward 6 since he joined in the Council unopposed in 2011.
At-large, the story is still unfolding. Eight candidate including all five incumbents—Thomas Ashe, Justin Hurst, Timothy Rooke, Kateri Walsh and Bud Williams—have been certified for the ballot. Only three more would force a preliminary for the at-large seats.
“We have a pool going,” one election official joked as to whether an at-large preliminary would happen.
Jesse Lederman has been running since early this year and for much of the period since has been the only viable challenger. Rumor that one incumbent might decline reelection—Rooke was most frequently mentioned—were not enough to draw more candidates who have the reputation and resources to win.
With the entrance of Alexander Sherman, a Republican activist in the city, that may have changed. Politically involved for some time, Sherman is known in political circles and his roots in the high-turnout East Forest Park neighborhood are a helpful boost. His campaign in the 2009 preliminary gained little traction, but Sherman would be in a good position if an incumbent stumbles.
“Simply put, I feel that I could address those issues facing our community and bring about a positive difference in this city,” Sherman said of his campaign in a message to WMassP&I.
Also certified the past week was Kenneth Pooler. Like Sherman and several ward challengers so far, Pooler has not filed with the Massachusetts Office of Campaign & Political Finance. City candidates must do this before they raise or spend money for their campaigns.
Candidates like Lederman and Rivera who have begun raising and spending money, however low voters’ interest may be at the moment, have been laying the groundwork for the fall campaign.
Assuming Springfield’s elections become as competitive as they appear, the next question is whether these campaigns reflect actual discontent with City Hall among residents. If so, there could be boon to any candidates or candidates who tap into it.