Our One Hundredth: Love is a Battle (for Spring)field…
UPDATED 1/28/20 11:27PM: A prior version of this post incorrectly omitted Rep Jose Tosado from Sen. Markey’s endorsements.
SPRINGFIELD—In a swing through the Western Mass last Sunday, Newton Congressman and US Senate candidate Joseph Kennedy, III snapped up the endorsement of six members of the City Council here. Not to be outdone, the man Kennedy aims to beat, incumbent Senator Ed Markey, released his own list of Springfield fans, including five councilors and several state legislators.
The back and forth has become something of a feature of the campaign. The scion of the commonwealth’s most prominent political family and the incumbent who, as a rep, was among the House’s most artful legislators, have traded dueling endorsements announcements for months. January was Springfield’s turn.
Last Sunday, Kennedy announced he had the backing of Councilors Adam Gomez, Victor Davila, Justin Hurst, Orlando Ramos, Kateri Walsh and Tracye Whitfield. While introducing Kennedy, Hurst, the City Council President, emphasized a theme Kennedy’s Senate campaign.
“You can’t possible know the issues a city or town faces if you are not present,” Hurst said at town hall Kennedy held here after endorsing Kennedy.
Leaders of Springfield:
Thank you for your kind words today and endorsements. Grateful. pic.twitter.com/XbCOdjE5Jb
— Joe Kennedy III (@joekennedy) January 19, 2020
The Markey camp has pushed vigorously back against allegations of the senator’s local scarcity. While Kennedy’s town hall was happening, Markey’s camp put out its own endorsements from the Council, including Timothy Allen, Malo Brown, Sean Curran, Melvin Edwards and Jesse Lederman. Lederman has taken a particularly prominent role among city electeds, campaigning with Markey across the city over the last few months.
Two councilors have not publicly declared a preferred candidate. Councilor Michael Fenton confirmed his neutrality for now. Councilor Marcus Williams did not respond to a text message.
Markey’s release restated endorsements from state legislators who represent Springfield, including Senator James Welch and Representatives Carlos Gonzalez, Thomas Petrolati, Jose Tosado and Bud Williams (Longmeadow’s Brian Ashe, who briefly represented part of Springfield once, was also mentioned). The release also trumpeted local party luminaries like former Democratic Party Vice-Chair Ray Jordan and Longmeadow Democrats’ Chair emerita Candy Glazer. Springfield Congressman Richard Neal endorsed Markey last year before Kennedy’s challenge emerged.
Senator Eric Lesser, who represents about a third of Springfield, has endorsed Kennedy. At the time, Lesser linked East-West rail to Kennedy’s commitment to be present in Western Mass.
One notable endorsement nobody seems to want is that of Mayor Domenic Sarno. Sarno’s embrace could easily asphyxiate electorally given his stance against refugees, Police Department investigations and Trump-nuzzling.
Both candidates had been lobbying Springfield Councilors for the past few weeks and months in effort to show strength ahead caucus season begins. At caucuses, Massachusetts Democrats elect delegates to the state party convention, which will endorse a nominee for the primary.
The net effect of any individual councilor’s endorsement is hard to fully assess. Councilors can offer perspectives and advice, but not all are influence-rich.
“Councilors and local elected officials in general have their finger on the pulse of their communities,” Lederman said in an interview.
As for his support in the Senate, Lederman, pointed to Markey’s consistency on issues, dating back to when he was in the Massachusetts State Rep exiled to the hallway after standing up to leadership.
“I know that’s the same guy now. I know that I feel comfortable that he’s taking the votes in the best interests of the people,” Lederman said.
Lederman also worked as a field staffer for Markey’s campaign in the 2013 special Senate election.
The Senate candidates’ Council nods echo the campaigns’ themes, too.
“I submit to you today that adhering to the wait your turn mentality makes you as much of a problem,” Hurst said in his introduction of Kennedy. “Residents in Western Mass can’t afford to wait any longer.”
“Been waiting three years to say this,” Kennedy said, taking the mic. “Mr. President, you’re the man.”
From there Kennedy addressed the modest, but full crowd, laying out his background and taking questions on a range of topics. He addressed childcare, investment & disparities in minority communities like Springfield’s and Donald Trump’s child separation policy at the border. He stopped to compose himself as he described meeting a child at a detention facility.
Kennedy, who speaks Spanish, learned she had family in Boston. “She had asked us to put us her in luggage to take her back,” he recalled.
He also mentioned local topics like the elevated asthma rates in Springfield. The pitch that reached across all of them was the emphasis on presence, which included a laugh line.
“I will go to more Dunkin’ Donuts across this commonwealth than you can possibly count,” he said early in his remarks.
Yet, Kennedy has also promised to leverage the power of Massachusetts’s historically influential Senate seats to help Democrats across the county and deliver in Washington. That creates tension with his vow of ubiquity, to show up throughout the commonwealth. In an interview at a subsequent stop last Sunday in Holyoke, he acknowledged the challenge.
“So, it’s a big job, and you should be ready and willing to be busy, too,” he said. There were many ways to keep people engaged back home, Kennedy continued. Part of it is bringing stakeholders from across the state together, but also involving residents in the work of Congress.
“You can invite some of those community members down to Washington to participate in roundtables, in hearings, be witnesses so that that is a two-way street and to recognize that you can help influence national policy,” he said.
That, too, is the kind of attention Springfield and the 413 like.
Kennedy has been able to exploit some of the lesser known divisions in Springfield’s establishment, especially among its Latinos—hence his endorsement from all three Hispanic councilors.
Still, Markey has otherwise run away with support among Springfield’s political grandees, both among establishmentarians and the city’s often outsider progressive activist community like Lederman.
Back in November, Markey supporters packed the living room of former State Party Vice-Chair Ray Jordan. Jordan, Springfield’s first black legislator, remains a key political figure among the city’s active black electorate.
Earlier this month, he was in Springfield for a roundtable with State Rep Gonzalez about the response to the recent earthquake on the island. He has been active on the conditions there since Hurricane Maria.
Moreover, Markey debuted a more biographical section to his stump in Springfield at last year’s State Democratic Convention. He described his family’s immigrant story, his rise and his mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s. He’s connected that story to one that could resonate today with Springfield’s immigrant communities.
“This background and where he comes from, born in Malden,” Lederman said, “this is a working class guy that comes from a community similar to ours.”
In that speech, an in many since, he described going back to Lawrence triple-decker where his father grew up. A Dominican family was living there now.
“The accents were different, but the aspirations the same for that family as existed for the Markeys,” he said.
Despite Springfield’s famously soporific turnout, its relatively large and can play a key role in Democratic primaries. For example, Springfield will likely represent about a fifth of the primary turnout in the ongoing congressional race. However, as each senate candidate has hooks in many and perhaps all of the city’s tectonic plates, it is too early to make assumptions about the race’s outcome here.
As with the rest of the commonwealth, the battle for Springfield has only just begun.