When City Councilor Tim Rooke mentioned to me a couple of days ago that John Verducci-Springfield's most famous hot dog vendor-was going to be interviewed by the "Today" show about his scuffle with City Hall, I wondered if Rooke was pulling my leg. While "Wienergate" has clearly captured imaginations across the city, would it hold the same appeal for viewers in, say, Dubuque?
Apparently "Today" thinks so. It's no joke, Rooke assures me. Indeed, yesterday, fellow Councilor Jimmy Ferrera-one of Verducci's ardent supporters-told me he'd recently spoken to the displaced vendor, who told him that both "Today" and FOXNews were interested in his story. According to Ferrera, "Today" was planning to interview Verducci next week, and Verducci has asked the councilor to join him on air.
On its most basic xlevel, Verducci's story has an irresistible David-and-Goliath appeal: For years, the vendor has served the last-night crowd on Worthington Street from a metered public parking spot-until last week, when the Springfield Parking Authority, at the direction of Mayor Domenic Sarno, told him to shove off. The mayor contends the cart is a threat to public safety, by encouraging bar-hoppers to loiter in the area after last call, and says the city's gotten complaints from a number of nearby businesses. Verducci accuses the mayor of pushing him out at the request of one particular business: Izzo's, a nearby Italian restaurant recently opened by Sarno's cousin.
That little-guy-versus-the-establishment angle has a lot of public appeal in Springfield, a city that knows what it's like to be kicked around. And, this being Springfield, Verducci's case also has a lot of political appeal to rivals eager to kick around Sarno, who's had a rocky time during his first term. Leading that charge is state Rep. Cheryl Coakley-Rivera, who gave such an impassioned speech on behalf of Verducci at a recent City Council meeting that at least impressed observer said he expected her to begin weeping.
Meanwhile, buoyed by the wave of public and political support he's received, Verducci decided to engage in a bit of civil disobedience last night, setting up shop-at Coakley-Rivera's urging-in a Worthington Street parking spot to sell dogs to a crowd of supporters and City Block concert-goers.