Analysis: A Subtext Inauguration Army Couldn’t Be Held Back…
UPDATED: 1/1/2020 3:53PM: To note the passing of the mayor’s father.
Cities around the Pioneer Valley inaugurated their governments elected in last November’s election. For many communities, it heralded a new start. On Monday, Chicopee and Westfield both took on new mayors with varying degrees of change on the Council. Holyoke swore in its first Council and School Committee elected without the mayor on the ballot.
Meanwhile, Springfield once against swore in Domenic Sarno, now the city’s longest serving, seemingly eternal mayor.
Among Valley mayors up for reelection last year, only Easthampton’s Nicole Lachapelle and Agawam’s William Sapelli faced no opposition. They, along with their respective Councils and School Committees, were also sworn during the past week.
Despite the scrambling lower-turnout midterm Council elections provide, the real action was in the cities with change at the top—or standout status quo endurance.
Chicopee inaugurated John Vieau, the former Council President. It marked the first time somebody not named Richard Kos or Michael Bissonnette was mayor—save Richard Goyette’s troubled, lone term—had served as mayor in over 20 years.
Kos served 13 years as mayor over two tenures starting in 1997, before retiring last year. That opened the door for Vieau and a minor scramble for the seat. The anti-status quo ether eventually settled around Chicopee Comp Vice-Principal Joseph Morissette who became Vieau’s principal opponent.
As a first-time candidate, Morrissette could not overcome advantages a long-time pol like Vieau had. Vieau takes over at a time of flux for the Second City of Western Massachusetts. Chicopee has begun to reckon with shifting demographics and longstanding urban subtleties that have long defined its neighbors Holyoke and Springfield.
Aside from Lucjan Galecki, who took Vieau’s Council seat, all Chicopee councilors and School Committee members returned to office.
Westfield’s inauguration marked the end of a more rollicking city election. Incumbent Brian Sullivan had retired and resigned in November for another job. City Council President Ralph Figy had been acting mayor.
The elections scrambled the Council, but made Don Humason mayor after a photo finish win over police captain Michael McCabe.
Humason’s challenge will be the transition to an executive role. Before becoming mayor, he had been a State Senator and State Rep. In total he spent 17 years as a legislator and many before that as a legislative aide. To succeed, Humason will need to leverage others’ experience as much as his own.
That well of experience is deep. Among Westfield’s new councilors is former mayor, Richard Sullivan, Jr. Sullivan left the post in 2007 to join Deval Patrick’s administration, serving, in various capacities, until the very end.
In Springfield, the inaugural speeches laid out, if unintentionally, the state of city politics. The mayor and councilors took the oath at Symphony Hall for the first time in a decade. School Committee members were not up for reelection in 2019, but also attended.
Other than an unusual, but compelling display of emotion while discussing his parents, Mayor Sarno’s speech was typical. In a near-conversational delivery, he often paused to recognize people and faux-chat with them. Despite saying it was not a laundry list of accomplishments, he listed accomplishments—though few concrete plans for the city’s future—and acknowledged the history he had made .
“I am the longest serving mayor in the city of Springfield’s 384-year history,” he said. “The significance of my long tenure of office is not lost on me.”
Still, Sarno dialed back some of the rhetoric and bravura from inaugurations past—the 2016 ceremony, held in Old First Church, included a video pep rally for the city. This time Sarno asked residents to perform some service. He heaped praise on virtually everybody present and several who were not, including Congressman Richard Neal, Governor Charlie Baker and the late Councilor E. Henry Twiggs.
Weird. Watching Domenic Sarno's inauguration speech & he acknowledged @RepRichardNeal with regards "from Washington" & his regrets for not being there.
…But Neal wasn't in Washington. He was in Chicopee for @john_vieau's swearing in as mayor there.
— Matt Szafranski (@MSzafranski413) January 9, 2020
“Notice I didn’t even mention the tornado,” Sarno said in a knowing moment of relative humility.
Toward the end Sarno choked up recalling his parents and their immigrant story. The mayor’s mother, Clara, passed away two years ago. Sarno’s father Alfono’s, was absent due to a battle with cancer, the mayor said. He passed away Thursday.
Later, on the other side of the Campanile in City Hall, the Council reelected Justin Hurst as president. The at-large councilor dedicated much of his speech to his returning colleagues’ work during the last session, while welcoming newcomers Malo Brown, Sean Curran, and Victor Davila.
Hurst underscored the body’s potential, “so long as you have a dedicated city council that is willing to put into the work.”
In a well-executed subtweet of perhaps this very blog, Hurst countered media chatter that the Council and the mayor cannot get along. The president noted the city executive and legislative branches had accomplished far more in tandem than in opposition.
Rather, the emphasis was on what cooperation can do, and Hurst played down his own role.
“This speech today is not about me and what I did last year or plan on doing this year,” he said.
In both speeches, unity was on offer. Still, there were slight nods to disagreement. While praising his colleagues’ work, Hurst urged Councilor Adam Gomez and Orlando Ramos not to compromise civil liberties while pursuing a ban on police facial recognition software. Sarno opposes the ban.
In brief remarks, Gomez, who was elected Vice-President Monday, highlighted two recent legislation accomplishments that faced mayoral opposition. Last January, the Council passed the Welcoming Community Trust ordinance over the mayor’s veto. Last month, the Council backed continued resettlement of refugees in Springfield, which the mayor opposes.
“A lot of the things we put forward is to protect people, not to harm them,” Gomez said.
The mayor’s remarks, too, had have had a dig at the Council.
“It is imperative we take advantage of every opportunity,” he said. That may be a reference to councilors’ move to curb, if not kill a reconstruction project in the Forest Park neighborhood.
These were the exceptions. Overall, the city’s political edges were sanded down, if only for a day.
Elsewhere in Western Massachusetts, West Springfield, like Holyoke, swore in its first Council elected without a mayoral contest before voters. Northampton did too, but it has had midterm elections before. Elsewhere in the 413, Linda Tyer and Tom Bernard were sworn in for new mayoral terms in Pittsfield and North Adams respectively. Greenfield installed its new mayor, Roxanne Wedegartner, as well.