Briefings: Denise Jordan Departs, Shaking up 36 Court Street…
An enduring presence in Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno’s retinue is leaving. Denise Jordan, Sarno’s chief of staff, has accepted a position as executive director of the Springfield Housing Authority (SHA). Jordan’s exit after more a decade as the mayor’s top aide leaves a gap in Sarno’s office. It also does little to calm speculation about Jordan’s own aspirations.
The daughter of former state rep Raymond Jordan, her role deviated from that of a typical chief of staff. That at least partly reflected Sarno’s office structure, which relied heavily on outside advice. Still, her departure represents perhaps the most significant staff changeover since Sarno became mayor.
The SHA, an independent entity that operates public housing in Springfield, unanimously voted to hire Jordan, according to The Republican. Outgoing director William Abrashkin, who set the agency right after the Asselin family looted it, offered praise for the choice.
In a statement, Sarno lamented Jordan’s departure as “my and our city’s loss, but the SHA’s gain.” He went on, calling her a confidant throughout the city’s highs and lows. “She will be sorely missed and I wish her the very best and I know she’ll do a fantastic job for the residents, staff and initiative programs for the SHA,” he said.
Her nebulous role as chief of staff complicates full assessments of her experience relative to her new role. However, City Hall insiders have attributed plenty of managerial functions to her over the years. Moreover, her prior career as a civil rights officer for the Massachusetts Department of Health and Human Services certainly fits the SHA. Housing issues frequently intersect with civil rights.
Nonetheless, Jordan has been something of a Rorschach test for city politicos. Given her father’s towering role as the city’s first black state representative, some viewed her appointment in the context of logrolling. The elder Jordan’s support boosted Sarno’s challenge to then-mayor Charles Ryan in 2007. That has, in turn, fueled debate about her own political ambitions. A few good years as the SHA’s leader could help in that regard.
Others saw Jordan as a moderating force in the mayor’s inner circle. Perhaps her occasional absence from the mayor’s most controversial tirades signaled dissent.
Whether the result of watching her father’s political activities or simply being an educated black daughter of the city, she offered key perspective unlike any other in Sarno’s orbit. Plus, Jordan was more than once deployed to bridge gaps between the city’s communities of color and City Hall.
But these descriptions, assembled from denizens and watchers of 36 Court Street, rob Jordan of some of her agency and person. They come through the lens of experiences, opinions, agendas, and biases of those who worked with Jordan.
The fact is despite otherwise appearing regularly at the mayor’s side—as opposed to off-camera with other staff—she was something of a cipher to those outside City Hall. Now out of the mayor’s shadow, that could change.
The question of who replaces her is also critical. At this point, it is the stuff of wild speculation. Sarno values loyalty and, for the most part, reciprocates. Longtime aide Darryl Moss or the mayor’s former communications director James Leydon are possibilities. More than a few have reached toward the political realm, pointing to a longtime ally of the mayor: Councilor Thomas Ashe.
Were Ashe appointed, he would likely resign from the Council, granting Tracye Whitfield, the 6th place finisher in the 2017 election, his seat. Whitfield’s ascension would double the women on the Council to two, while adding only the body’s third woman of color ever.
In the final analysis, Jordan’s move has the potential to reverberate into Council politics—and well beyond.