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Analysis: Albano (Finally) in for Sheriff, Faces Rough Path Ahead…

UPDATED 12:28PM: To reflect a correction. Albano was elected to the Governor’s Council in 2012, not 2010.

Michael Albano in 2012. (via Facebook)

Michael Albano in 2012. (via Facebook)

It finally happened.

Michael Albano, ex-Springfield mayor and current 8th District Governor’s Councilor, after resting on the pot for some time, announced on Rep. Ben Swan’s radio show (and via YouTube) that he was a candidate for Hampden County sheriff. The declaration surprised few as Albano had been making noises for months about seeking the seat incumbent Michael Ashe is vacating .

Because he is a sitting elected official and former mayor of Hampden County’s largest city Albano could be a top tier candidate for the Democratic nomination. He faces Nicholas Cocchi, an assistant superintendent at the Ludlow jail and Jack Griffin in the primary nomination. James Gill, another Sheriff’s Department employee, is running as an independent.

Cocchi has emerged as the frontrunner by virtue of the support and resources he has attracted since announcing two years ago.

Nicholas Cocchi announced for Hampden Sheriff nearly two years ago. (via Twitter/@nickforsheriff)

Nicholas Cocchi announced for Hampden Sheriff nearly two years ago. (via Twitter/@nickforsheriff)

But the field could still be forming. Political observers note the absence of any public endorsement from Springfield itself, suggesting a city candidate could yet emerge. That would likely harm Albano more given his name recognition—for good or ill—among city voters.

Despite being the former mayor, Albano’s path to the sheriff’s office is not as clear as a resume like his might suggest. Having fallen from grace among the city and region’s establishment and always attracting the hairy eyeball from the city’s reform element, Albano will have to rely on his charisma and diehard supporters to win.

A rising star in Springfield area politics in the 1990’s, a corruption investigation and the city’s subsequent state bailout left Albano’s reputation in tatters. The federal probe into countless Albano staffers and appointees left the city’s traditional political infrastructure heavily exposed politically if not criminally. When Albano was played off the stage by the onset of the city’s fiscal crisis, many assumed he would be gone for good.

Governor’s Councilor districts. The 8th district in red covers Western Massachusetts. (via wikipedia)

Over the years, Albano would blame an FBI conspiracy for the corruption investigation and state cuts for the city’s fiscal crisis.

Albano resurfaced in 2012 to secure Western Massachusetts’s Governor’s Council seat. He defeated Westfield School Committee member Kevin Sullivan and former Chicopee City Councilor Gerry Roy in the Democratic primary and faced token opposition in the general election.

However, Albano’s has shown interest in the sheriff’s office for some time. His website for his sheriff’s campaign was registered the day after the election in 2010 two years before returning to elected office.

Since joining the Governor’s Council, whose duties are larely confined to confirming judges, Albano has gone out of his way to remain visible. A churn of YouTube videos, public comments on issues outside his office’s jurisdiction, teases about potential campaigns and other actions had been met by a mix of indifference, mockery and more than a little breathless coverage from the media.

Hampden County (via habitatspringfield.org)

Yet, running this year may prove more difficult for Albany than in 2012 Albano’s faces changing tastes among Hampden County voters who have preferred candidates familiar with the offices they seek.

Two district attorney races and recent contests for Clerk of Courts and Register of Probate went to individuals who had served in those offices, often recently. There were other factors, but it does appear Hampden County voters prefer individuals with experience working in these particular, somtimes esoteric offices.

That favors Cocchi (and Gill) over Albano. As Cocchi has emphasized continuity with Ashe, Albano has been trying to poke holes in the current sheriff’s legacy. For example, he rushed to offer support—somewhat subtly and often through allies—to North End residents opposed to the placement of the Western Massachusetts Correctional Alcohol Center in their neighborhood.

The worst of fiscal woes date to Albano's mayoralty, but he blames state budget cuts. (WMassP&I)

The worst of fiscal woes date to Albano’s mayoralty, but he blames state budget cuts. (WMassP&I)

Albano has liabilities, too. Already heretofore unidentified individuals have launched a “Stop Albano” website that underscores the former’s mayor’s role in the fiscal and public trust calamities that befell Springfield at the dawn of the 21st century.

Web registration data does not indicate who is behind this endeavor and nothing has been filed with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance (these activities may not yet trigger reporting requirements).

Even among the declared candidates, many more aspects of the race must firm up before the state of the race comes into focus. At the moment Cocchi leads the money race with about $58,000 as of the mid-January report. Albano had almost $33,000 in his campaign account and Griffin had $433 as of January 15.

Both Albano and Cocchi have lent money to their campaigns.

The primary is scheduled for September 8, a Thursday, to avoid placing the primary on the day immediately after Labor Day and to comply with federal law on absentee ballots for overseas voters.

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