Peering into the Crystal Ball to Reveal Springfield Politics in 2021…
UPDATED 12/7/2020 8:07PM: A previous version of this post incorrectly identified Williams as vice-president this year. He was vice-president in 2019.
The conclusion of the 7th Hampden House race means an end to the 2020 cycle in the Pioneer Valley. However, part of that district, Ward 8 in Springfield, may not need to wait that long for politics to ramp back up. As one of two ward seats whose incumbent won higher office this year, Ward 8 will likely see a lively contest to represent the city’s northeast corner.
Such ward contests will be just one part of the Springfield political landscape unfolding next year. The mayor is not on the ballot, but the School Committee is. Just as notably, the Council Presidency remains up in the air as no fewer than three councilors jostle to lead the body through 2021.
Ward 1 Councilor Adam Gomez and Ward 8 Councilor Orlando Ramos were successful in their elections to the legislature this year. Gomez will represent the Hampden Senate district next year while Ramos will become the state rep for the 9th Hampden district.
Neither plan to vacate their Council seats immediately. However, both have told confidantes they do not intend to seek new terms on the Council.
Of the two, Ward 8’s race is more developed. Consisting of the Indian Orchard and Boston Road neighborhoods and parts of East Springfield and Pine Point, the ward’s demographics mirror Springfield’s overall diversity.
Zaida Govan, a community activist and Indian Orchard Citizens Council president, is planning to run. In October, she filed with the Office of Campaign & Political Finance.
In an email, Govan confirmed her bid, but cautioned she has not formally announced.
“I want to see someone in his seat in the city council that loves Springfield and will work to ensure that Ward 8 is in the minds of City Hall, DPW and the Parks department,” Govan emailed.
That echoes sentiments Ramos has expressed regarding city departments’ attentiveness to their oft-forgotten part of Springfield. Indeed, as a longtime supporter of Ramos’, Govan is set to have the rep-elect’s support.
“In considering a run for that seat I believe that I would make a good city councilor based on the work that I’ve been doing in Indian Orchard and Ward 8 these last few years,” she continued.
However, Govan is not the only one eyeing the seat. Just before Mayor Domenic Sarno defenestrated him under questionable circumstances, Darryl Moss, Sarno’s former aide, advised supporters, to “Prepare to vote for me.” Moss had given no indication what he would run for.
As a resident of Ward 8, a Council run is more than plausible, though. In an interview with WMP&I last week, Moss confirmed plans to run for office but was noncommittal about which seat.
“I have organized a campaign team. We’re still assessing our options,” he said.
Moss articulated interest in running for mayor when the office is up again in 2023. Given that, he said, a citywide Council bid might be a better fit. However, Moss admitted the open seat in his backyard is tempting.
“I have strongly considered the Ward 8 seat,” he said. Moss expects to make a decision in the new year.
The Council seat may not be the only hyperlocal contest affecting Ward 8. All six School Committee seats—two at-large and four elected by the wards—are up in 2021. Ayanna Crawford, an activist and consultant, may run for the district Committee seat Ward 8 shares with Ward 2.
Unlike the Council seat, that School Committee seat is occupied. Peter Murphy, an attorney, confirmed that he intends to seek reelection in 2021. Murphy has held the seat since the city’s first ward representation elections 2009, fending off Govan in the last two elections.
Crawford did not reply to an email requesting comment. She too has backed Ramos during political career and he will likely return the favor for her, too.
The Ward 1 race is foggier. The ward consists of the North End neighborhoods of Memorial Square and Brightwood as well as downtown. Outside of residential areas in downtown’s historic quarters, the ward is largely Latino.
Thus far, the field has not advanced beyond the rumor mill. Among those churned out are Zaida Luna, Senator-elect Gomez’s predecessor in the Council. Although he bested her in the 2015 election, Luna had historically outworked her opponents. She did not return an email inquiring into her interest in a comeback.
Another name floated is Maria Perez, the School Committee member for Wards 1 and 3. The North End activist group Women of the Vanguard, of which Perez has been a member, had been expected to field a candidate for Ward 1’s seat. Were Perez to run, she would vacate her Committee slot, prompting another race.
Other ward contests are possible and the at-large race always attracts challengers. However, it is easier to win an open seat. No at-large incumbents have telegraphed retirement plans as of yet.
One major contest with implications for 2021 is happening now: the battle for the Council presidency.
Ward 3 Councilor Melvin Edwards, Ward 5 Councilor Marcus Williams and current Council President Justin Hurst, an at-large councilor, are all in contention to lead the Council in 2021. Presiding at meetings and appointing committees are the gig’s principal responsibilities.
Over the last decade, the Council has taken an increasingly relevant policymaking role in the city. While Council presidents have cultured this trend, individuals councilors have taken much of the initiative in recent years.
Of the three, Edwards has served the longest, holding his seat since ward representation’s resurrection. One major endeavor of his has been the Responsible Employer Ordinance. Representing the South End and Maple Heights/Six Corners, neighborhoods the 2011 tornado hit hard, rebuilding has also been a central focus.
In an interview, Edwards said he was recruited to seek the Council presidency as the most senior councilor of color. He did not say who suggested he run, but he appreciated the trust these colleagues had in him.
Edwards has not aggressively campaigned for the post, prompting the occasional need to aver that he remains in the race. However, he promised fair and steady leadership that could work with the mayor while being not more than first among his Council equals.
“I just said I would be honored to serve,” Edwards said. “If I am fortunate to be picked by councilors, I am not more powerful than them.”
Having sought higher office before unsuccessfully, Edwards added he had no ulterior motives in becoming president. “I have no aspirations for higher office,” he said.
Williams confirmed his interest in the presidency in a statement, saying he has been working on gaining support “for quite some time.” Elected in 2015 and representing parts of Pine Point and much of 16 Acres, he is more outspoken than Edwards. However, he, too, has delved into granular issues like grants as well as broader issues like diversity in city employment.
Williams was the Council’s Vice-president in 2019.
“I’ve had the opportunity to witness and learn from three past Council presidencies, including current President Hurst’s, and it would be an honor and a privilege to serve in this capacity,” he texted, referencing Hurst, Ramos and Michael Fenton’s tenures.
The Ward 5 Councilor signaled an intent to maintain the Council’s legislative pace.
“I look forward to helping conduct business of the Council, working across all aisles with my colleagues, to maximize the productivity of the body,” he continued.
In a texted statement, Hurst did not deny interest in remaining president. But he played the contest down.
“Honestly, I’m really just focused on finishing up the business of the City Council during an extremely difficult year for everyone,” he said. “If it is the will of this body to have me serve another term, then I will do so.”
Serving three presidential terms—while Council terms are two years, councilors elect a president annually— is not without precedent. His penultimate predecessor, Fenton, served three years, partly at the behest of colleagues at the time. City Hall denizens say the pitch for another Hurst term centers on his steering the Council through the COVID-era, especially since conditions will not appreciably change until well into 2021.
In any event, Hurst said there will be a smooth transition to whomever the next president to ensure the Council maintains its pace.
“We are blessed to have a talented City Council where all of us are capable of leading and I’m proud to serve alongside each and every one of them,” he continued.
Historically, by this point in the calendar, someone has proclaimed enough votes to secure the presidency. With some exceptions, when the time Council actually votes, as a courtesy, the roll call is unanimous.
This time, the vote appears evenly divided according to (virtual) City Hall sources. Unless somebody bows out, nobody may be able to claim victory until the Council holds its year-end caucus. An overly contentious battle could bleed into January when the Council formally reorganizes.