Courting 36 Court: Ashe Eyeing Policing Changes in New Term…
Courting 36 Court Street is a series of quick interviews with Springfield’s at-large candidates. **All interviews are edited and condensed for length.**
Three of five current at-large councilors predate ward representation. Two of them are retiring. Thomas Ashe started just as the new council format began, which means he’ll be among the more senior members next year if reelected. A desire to oversee changes at Pearl Street are part of why he says he wants to stay on the Council.
WMassP&I: What made you decide reelection this year?
Thomas Ashe: From my vantage point, I see the city moving in the right direction in so many ways. A lot of the projects are on the 50-yard line, some at the 75 or the 25 and some are knocking on the door. I really want to see some of them go through. [Another] interest over the years has been public safety. I think we’ve done some really good work around that.
And I just I enjoy the work. I enjoy working with people and I take particular delight in really good things going on, like this [new East Forest Park] library and numbers going down in crime. Twenty percent across the board. That spurred my decision to stick with it.
WMP&I: Last time you were running for reelection, we were talking about the pawn shop ordinance. What in the last term would you see has been big in the public safety committee?
TA: I think this C3 model has really taken hold. It engaged people in neighborhoods to become a part of the solution as opposed to, once we got away from community policing, people became less involved, pointed fingers more. Once they take ownership of it, we see the benefits. People are not afraid to stand up, be heard, make phone calls and be part of what I think is kind of a movement. The more we expand it, the more people see police in a positive vein as opposed to what we have seen nationally. I think that the training we’re doing at the academy level is really paying off. We’re doing a lot of things [other] municipalities aren’t doing.
WMP&I: What are some things you’re seeing at the academy that are different from the past and what you see in other municipalities?
TA: De-escalation for one is a training model that hardly anyone else is using. That means more “hands up in the air” from the officers’ standpoint. More verbal commands that are less confrontational by nature. John Barbieri and the mayor often describes the force as “peace officers.” That idea has really taken hold. Officers come out of the training academy knowing they’re not expected to go out there to use their billy clubs. I think that’s what the public wants. We’re seeing the benefits of that [and of] policy for officers to stand up [and] be tall when they see something wrong going on [within the department]. Almost like a whistle-blower statute. A lot of good things are coming out of training.
WMP&I: Now you’re seen as being both close to the top of the police department but also to the rank & file. How’s the rank & file responding to some of these changes?
TA: It varies to some degree. You get some folks who’ve been there a long time and see things in a traditional way, less apt to adopt to new measures. But a lot of those folks are moving on, retiring. It’s the new officers and the younger ones that we hope to impact the most. I think we’re doing a pretty good job at doing that.
WMP&I: When the new council is sworn in, assuming you are reelected, you’ll be one of the more senior statesmen. How have you seen it change over your time there?
TA: It has certainly had a fair amount of turnover from eight years ago when I first started. That breeds new ideas and new perspectives. That’s healthy in government. We’ve got a nice balance of veteran people and some of the young guys like Michael [Fenton] and others that were new to it [who] now really understand how government works. Certainly, there are issues that we’re separated on, but that’s natural. I see it as a Council that’s not opposed to speak its own mind, but also one that knows how to work together when they have to.
WMP&I: You’re going to have at least two brand new colleagues come January. What advice would you give the folks running at-large in such a large city?
TA: Be able and willing to go out there and wear out shoes. You have to get out and be part of the community and understand every neighborhood is unique and has its own needs. Be willing to forge partnerships and alliances. I think is a big part of it. There has to be an element of trust when you run citywide. People have to be able to say “I know he doesn’t live in this neighborhood, but, you know what, he’s around and he’s visible and he or she listens.” That’s important in gaining that trust. You have to knock on doors, talk to people, come back and talk to them again. You’ve gotta be around, not just for ribbon cuttings, but for seemingly unimportant things. Building trust takes some time. It’s not easy first time out for a lot of people.
WMP&I: What are some unique Springfield establishments you like to spend your time at, spend your money at?
TA: Like this place you mean?
WMP&I: Yeah, like Nathan Bill’s.
TA: I can name a couple of spots. One on Hungry Hill that’s near and dear to my heart is City Line Cafe. The Boulevard Cafe is another one. That I…
WMP&I: That’s on Page Boulevard, right?
TA: …Page Boulevard. That was under a former name [from when] I remember being a little kid going there with my father. The John Boyle [O’Reilly Club] is another one. But again those are places where it’s more of a social thing. When you’re going in, you know people there. You know you’re going into a place like that, as an elected, you’re going to get asked questions. You’re going to get confronted people who don’t agree with certain things and that’s part of it.
That’s part of this business of government. That’s good. It’s a great way for people to understand what the pulse is and what people are concerned about. A lot of times you hear things for the first time at the City Line or other places like that, “What? I didn’t know that!” It’s nice to have a drink, but it’s also nice to hear people out and find out what’s on folks’ mind.
WMP&I: Over the course of your political career, have you modeled yourself after any particular political figure.
TA: Maybe more style-wise. You look at people who have been around and been successful at this like [Congressman] Richie [Neal] and see how they act, convey themselves in public and the homework that they do. The younger guys like Michael [Fenton] and [Ward 7 Councilor] Timmy Allen do their homework and they know what they’re talking about. Just little cues like that. Picking up things over the years from people, not just in government, but people I grew up with. I’m sure a lot of it was subconscious, but you do pick it up.
WMP&I: Is there anything else you’d to add before we close.
TA: Not that we didn’t cover. It’s a great privilege and great honor to serve and I never forget that.
Interview conducted at Nathan Bill’s Bar & Grill on 9/13/17