Acai berry peddlers exempted, my most devoted correspondent over the past week has been City Councilor and mayoral candidate Bud Williams, who filled up my inbox (and, lest I sound like I’m boasting, the inboxes of reporters throughout the Springfield area) with a number of campaign press releases, ranging from the reasonable to the ridiculous.
Actually, let’s add an asterisk to that “reasonable.” After all, Williams’ soundest suggestion—that he and incumbent Mayor Domenic Sarno agree to a mutual spending limit for the upcoming election season—only seems reasonable until you hear the proposed cap: $99,000.
To be fair, that amount sounds almost restrained compared to the money spent during the last mayoral election, when Sarno spent about $127,000 to defeat incumbent Charlie Ryan, who spent $135,000. (According to their most recent campaign finance reports, Sarno currently has $70,000 in his war chest, while Williams has just under $60,000.) What’s ridiculous is the notion that Springfield mayoral campaigns run into six figures—a situation that makes candidates increasingly dependent on, and beholden to, donors, and makes people looking to do business with the city feel added pressure to get out their checkbooks when the fundraiser invitations start rolling in. While the addition of ward representatives to the City Council will, it’s hoped, free at least some council candidates from the pressures of fundraising, there is, unfortunately, no such fix for mayoral candidates.
In addition to the spending cap, Williams, in an open letter to Sarno, has challenged the mayor to a series of debates “before each of our neighborhood councils.
“This will give our citizens a first understanding of where we stand on the critical issues facing our city; and for each of us to articulate our vision for Springfield in the years ahead,” wrote the creatively punctuating Williams, who added that these neighborhood debates would be in addition to any organized by local media or other organizations.
“I stand ready to debate any time; any place; and, under any conditions,” Williams wrote.
This, too, is a reasonable idea with rather implausible implications: As Springfield Republican reporter Peter Goonan pointed out in a recent article, there are 17 official neighborhood councils and civic associations in the city. A debate before each, with a few media events tossed in as well, would find the candidates averaging two debates a week between now and the Nov. 3 election.
Sarno has yet to respond to Williams’ letter. Indeed, through the early days of the campaign, the mayor has generally not rushed to respond to his rival’s prolific flow of press releases. That could be a sound strategy; Sarno wields the power of incumbency, and by not responding to every of Williams’ jabs, he’s keeping the challenger from setting the agenda. Presumably, too, the mayor, known for his gentlemanly public demeanor, is not eager to get dragged into nasty campaign fights.
At the same time, however, by letting his challenger get in some free licks, Sarno risks looking weak—and risks reminding voters of his indecisiveness when it comes to certain controversial matters in the city, from settling on a future for the Longhill Garden apartment complex, to restoring library services in Mason Square.
Williams, meanwhile, enjoys the particular power that comes with not being the incumbent: the freedom to slam the sitting mayor for any number of decisions or positions that Williams has not had to address himself. Instead, he can snipe from the sidelines, his finger in the wind of public sentiment.
Consider, for instance, another press release that attempted to steal some of Sarno’s thunder when city workers cleaned up of a particularly crap-filled vacant lot on Orleans Street. While the administration clearly hoped the clean up would be seen as an example of its commitment to going after negligent property owners and other scourges on quality of life in the city, Williams took the opportunity to declare that the dumping—on Orleans Street, and at plenty of other sites across the city—was the result of the controversial $90 annual trash fee instituted by the city in 2007. Earlier this year, Williams and council sidekick Jimmy Ferrera had sponsored a resolution calling for the trash fee to be rescinded, saying the fee would lead to an increase in illegal dumping.
The trash fee is, of course, a touchy subject for Sarno. During his own mayoral campaign two years ago, he vowed to get rid of the fee, which had been instituted under the Ryan administration. Not long after his election, however, Sarno changed his tune and announced that the city did, in fact, need the revenue the fee would generate. Williams now hopes to appeal to those voters who are still sore about the trash fee—never mind that he’s offered no suggestions for how the city could replace the $4 million in revenue it now gets from the fee.
The dorkiest of Williams’ recent campaign announcements has to be his way-too-late-for-relevancy proposal to bring Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates and Cambridge Police Sgt. James Crowley to Springfield for a kiss-and-makeup session tied, inexplicably, to Michael Jordan’s induction into the basketball Hall of Fame next month.
“It is my belief that such a gesture by the Hall would be a great compliment to the induction ceremonies and showcase Springfield as a city where diversity is celebrated,” Williams wrote in a letter to Hall CEO John Doleva. “The legendary Michael Jordan is not only an ambassador for basketball but serves as a role model for all of America. The Hall of Fame, as a national shrine, has a unique opportunity to assist in bringing our country together with the presence of Professor Gates and Sergeant Crowley at this special event in Springfield.”
Why, exactly, does Williams think Gates and Crowley would want to troop out to Springfield for the event (other than the fact that meeting Michael Jordan is no doubt a cooler way to spend a few hours than drinking beer with Joe Biden)? Could it be that Williams has a more self-serving agenda in mind? “I stand prepared to assist the Hall of Fame in any possible way,” the candidate wrote to Doleva—including, presumably, jamming himself into lots of photo opps with Jordan.