Briefings: Ending Hampden Sheriff’s Bid, Jack Backs Ashe…
Events rocked the Hampden Sheriff’s race once again Friday as Jack Griffin, a retired substance abuse specialist with Connecticut’s prison system, abruptly withdrew from the Democratic primary race and endorsed Springfield City Councilor Thomas Ashe.
Councilor Ashe’s entry alone shook the race up creating a new space between Ludlow House of Correction Assistant Superintendent Nicholas Cocchi and Governors Councilor and ex-Springfield Mayor Michael Albano. What seemed like a predictable battle over the legacy of incumbent Sheriff Michael Ashe earlier this year has transformed into an increasingly complex and competitive affair.
While a definite player in the race, Griffin had mostly distinguished himself for promising opiate addiction epidemic and his folksy, self-described non-politician mien. His boutique candidacy had potential depending on the strength of the recovery community’s influence—it was certainly helpful, but not conclusively decisive in Boston Mayor Martin Walsh’s 2013 win.
Ultimately more banal issues felled his efforts. Griffin told The Republican, which first reported he was dropping out and endorsing Ashe, he lacked the resources to seriously compete. In his campaign finance filing for the first half of June—the latest period for which his competitors’ reports are also available—Griffin had slightly more than $4000 in the bank. Albano, Ashe and Cocchi had approximately $72,000, $25,000 and $32,000 respectively.
Griffin’s realness, a liability but also an asset in politics, bolstered the sincerity to his endorsement. Griffin told The Republican he did his homework before backing Ashe.
Aside from whatever raw support he can give Ashe, Griffin’s exit also removes the only other Springfield resident in the Democratic sheriff primary. While both Albano and Cocchi have supporters in the city, Ashe has consolidated key parts of the Springfield’s electorate, which represents a substantial portion of the turnout in countywide Democratic primaries.
With just over two months before the oddly placed Thursday September 8 primary—moved to comply with federal absentee ballot laws—the race dynamics could change too.
With his three-year start, Cocchi, the erstwhile frontrunner, has been mostly fending off Albano. While Ashe did present another hurdle for Albano, by attacking Sheriff Ashe’s record, if questionably, he perhaps maintained the hope potential Cocchi voters would swing to the governor’s councilor instead. In short, Albano and Cocchi have been fighting a pitched battle over Sheriff Ashe’s legacy—who is not related to Councilor Ashe.
Supporters of Cocchi has dinged Ashe on occasion, but have largely ignored him as has Albano’s kettle of supporters. Ashe’s consolidation may make both Albano and Cocchi’s strategy untenable.
As for Griffin, his campaign’s earnest touch did two things. It underscored the huge role the opiate crisis now plays in American and Massachusetts politics. All sheriff candidates, including independent James Gill and Republican John Comerford, have promised to vigorously tackle the issue even beyond Sheriff Ashe’s generally good record on it. Still, a candidacy like Griffin’s, built around addiction, might have been impossible to fathom only a few years ago, especially one for a law enforcement office.
Secondly, Griffin had the grace to depart when the odds became insurmountable. Though not especially unique, Springfield and Pioneer Valley politics is littered with also-rans whose innumerable attempts have decayed into nothing more than vanity candidacies.
By getting out early and with dignity, Griffin leaves himself open for a credible return to politics if he so desires.