Springfield Area Rep Races (Remember Those?) Continue to Brew…
by Michael Lachenmeyer
Despite the novel coronavirus, campaigns for State Rep in Greater Springfield go on. In the 7th and 9th Hampden Districts, competitive races have begun to take shape as ambitious local leaders attempt to earn a ticket to Beacon Hill. While campaign finance reports for May will be out sometime next week, there has been plenty of campaign finance among all candidates through the last report in April, in addition to the candidates’ growing digital presence.
When State Rep José Tosado announced that he would not seek reelection late last January, a mad scramble started across the 9th Hampden District. Within weeks, three contenders for the vacant seat emerged, each of them representing different factions within Springfield’s Democratic establishment.
The 9th Hampden District covers a geographically and racially diverse section of Springfield and Chicopee, including most of 16 Acres, East Springfield, and Atwater Park, in addition to sections of Pine Point and Indian Orchard.
Tosado who has a background as a mental healthcare professional and served over ten years on the Springfield City Council has represented the 9th Hampden distirct since 2015.
Ward 8 City Councilor Orlando Ramos could take a route to Boston that mirrors Tosado’s and his former colleague Bud Williams, now a state rep for the central part of Springfield. First elected to the Council in 2013 with the help of organized labor, Ramos, a former aide to State Senator James Welch, has been at the center of several recent public policy fights in the city.
Ramos has brawled with Mayor Dominic Sarno on a range of issues from police oversight to refugee resettlement and served as Council president in 2017 and 2018.
By conventional measures, Ramos has some advantages. At the end of April, the City Councilor had $6,705 in his campaign bank account. Much of that was $8100 he transferred from his City Council campaign account plus another $3,800 raised this year.. Between February and April 2020, Ramos spent approximately $5,513 on his campaign, according to records made available by the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance. Ramos is also believed to have raised several thousand dollar during May which will appear in the next report.
This money was used on everything from a paid canvasser to a consultant for Facebook ads and mailers. As of April 30, of the three candidates in the race, Ramos had been the first to attempt electioneering on such a scale. For example, the Facebook ad library indicates he has posted no fewer than 16 different ads. The full buy is not clear at this time as each ad is only described as costing less than $100.
Yet, Ramos is not the only candidate in the race with a connection to the Springfield City Council or a long history of public service as an elected official. Just days after Tosado made his announcement, School Committeewoman Denise Hurst jumped into the race. Though, Hurst began making moves to seek the seat as soon as news broke of Tosado’s retirement.
Hurst is a three-term at-large member of Springfield’s School Committee, where she’s served as Vice-Chairwoman of the organization and Chairwoman of the Curriculum and Programs Committee. She is also the Vice President of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees.
Hurst is also the wife of current Springfield City Council President, Justin Hurst. Councilor Hurst is the scion of one of the city’s most prominent political families. Since their elections, the Hursts have become a formidable force in Springfield city politics in recent years.
In this race, Committeewoman Hurst has emphasized a number of issues from equitable funding for education to economic development. According to available campaign finance reports which go through April, she has raised $4,425 for the race. As of April 30, she had $2,140 on hand, having spent her money buying access to Votebuilder, building her website and securing campaign materials.
That said, OCPF records indicate she has raised another $3800 in May that will appear on the next report. She has also begun advertising on Facebook according to the social media giant’s ad library.
If this was a regular election season, perhaps the conventional advantages Ramos and Hurst have could be too great to overcome. However in a year of vast upheavals wrought by a global pandemic, these advantages may not be as pronounced. Canvassers cannot canvass, and candidates cannot hold events.
Several weeks after Ramos and Hurst got into the race, Sean Mullan announced his intention to run for the seat. Mullan is currently the Chairman of the Springfield Ward 2 Democratic Committee and a resident of Atwater Park. The neighborhood is home to many influential figures and has historically had an outsized role in city politics.
Mullan has focused his platform on community empowerment and support for small businesses.
Of the three candidates as of April 30, Mullan has been the only one to purchase a subscription to Zoom, the essential communication tool in the age of quarantine. Mullan had $3,945 on hand, having raised $5,705 and having spent approximately $1759.69. Additional OCPF records indicate he has raised another $1800 since May 1.
Meanwhile, in the 7th Hampden District, another race has been shaping up. In mid-February, State Rep. Thomas Petrolati, a 33-year incumbent, announced that he would not be seeking reelection this year.
The 7th Hampden District consists of Ludlow, chunks of Chicopee and the Indian Orchard neighborhood of Springfield and, despite its name, much of Belchertown in Hampshire County.
This announcement also prompted three candidates to jump into the race. However, unlike the 9th Hampden, one of these candidates is a Republican.
Ludlow School Committee member James “Chip” Harrington began his career as a Democrat. He jumped across party lines in 2016 and lost to Eric Lesser, who had beaten Harrington in the Democratic primary in 2014.
Harrington was the first with a campaign website and an active Facebook page with regular updates for supporters and a campaign video. Although Harrington’s has not raised money yet finances yet, he registered with OCPF on May 14, he will have some advantages despite the district’s historic Democratic tilt. Experience and name recognition from years in town politics could make him a force in a race could be within reach for the GOP anyway.
Across the aisle, another member of the Ludlow School Committee Jake Oliviera has a primary to fight against a Ludlow attorney named John DaCruz. Compared to Harrington, the two Democrats have been quieter, in small part due to COVID-19.
Oliviera has registered his campaign with OCPF and raised a bit over $5,500 dollars. The most recent campaign finance reports do not show much spending yet. However, Oliveira’s social media and website have just gone up recently
Like Hurst, Oliveira has broad contacts from his work on Massachusetts Association of School Committees, including a stint as its president. Oliveira, who turns 34 this year, has campaigned on bringing a new generation of leadership to the district.
According to his campaign finance reports. DaCruz has purchased some campaign literature and developed campaign social media pages. The candidate, a former Ludlow Select Board member, has some money leftover from a 2012 bid for county office and has lent himself some funds to jump start his campaign. His only recorded expense so far is campaign materials.
Sources say DaCruz’s announcement plans were put off by the pandemic, but expect that he will begin more activities as lockdowns ease.
The primary election is on September 1.
Editor-in-chief Matt Szafranski contributed to this article.