With Election Day just two weeks away, the campaign to get mayoral aide Tom Walsh elected to the City Council as a write-in candidate is heating up.
Neighbors of Walsh launched the effort last month, shortly before the Sept. 15 preliminary. Over the summer, Walsh had considered running for the Council’s Ward 6 seat, but in the end opted not to, saying he would instead focus on his work as Mayor Domenic Sarno’s communications aide. (Walsh told the Advocate at the time that Sarno didn’t pressure him to drop out of the race, although there’s some degree of speculation in the city’s rumor mills that the mayor’s campaign did not exactly relish the idea of one of his staffers running his own campaign.)
That didn’t prevent a group of Ward 6 residents from launching a last-minute write-in effort for Walsh at the preliminary election—with limited, but impressive, results. While Walsh did not finish among the top two candidates that day—Amaad Rivera and Keith Wright did, so their names will be on the ballot on the Nov. 3 general election—Walsh came in a close second in his precinct, 6A.
Now, with more time to plan and campaign, his supporters are aiming for a stronger finish next month. In a recent press release, the group urged voters in Ward 6 to write in Walsh’s name on the ballot, and also urged voters city-wide to write him on for one of the five at-large Council seats. (The group can be contacted via email at: email@example.com.)
Walsh told the Advocate he’s "humbled" by their efforts but doesn’t intend to campaign himself.
The press release outlines Walsh’s background: He’s a graduate of city schools and an attorney, and he serves as co-captain of the Forest Park Neighborhood Crime Watch and as a board member of the Forest Park Civic Association. Prior to working for Sarno, he worked for a Hartford insurance firm, was an aide to state Rep. Cheryl Coakley-Rivera and worked for Springfield political consultant Tony Cignoli.
The release is also filled with testimonials to Walsh’s work ethic, integrity, and all-around good-egginess—some more persuasive than others. In the former category are supportive statements from a number of residents and community activists, including Susan Poole, a member of the Forest Park Civic Association, who said, “We couldn’t do better than Tom Walsh. He is committed to making this City a better place to live and work. He fights hard for what he believes in and he makes sure he does his homework so he knows what the issues are. He knows the purpose of government is to serve the people.”
“Tom Walsh is the kind of politician that other politicians wish they could be,” added Gil Perron, former president of the East Springfield Neighborhood Council.
In the lukewarm category is this offering from City Councilor Bud Williams (who also happens to be running for mayor against Walsh’s boss): “Williams stated that he has contacted Walsh on several occasions and has ‘always received an appropriate response,’” according to the campaign release.
Williams’ inclusion in the list of endorsements (or perhaps, in this case, semi-endorsement?) underscores a strange-bedfellows aspect of Walsh’s candidacy: Williams has come out against the controversial plan to redevelop Forest Park’s Longhill Gardens into a mixed affordable/market-rate housing development—a plan that’s backed by Sarno. The issue has led to splits within the neighborhood, and perhaps within the mayor’s office. As Bill Dusty of the Springfield Intruder noted last month, a “No Longhill Gardens” sign sat on the lawn of the house where Walsh lives with his mother. Indeed, part—although certainly not all—of Walsh’s base seems to come from opponents of the project. (Walsh declined to comment on the Longhill Gardens issue when asked by Dusty.)
Another surprise backer of Walsh’s is City Councilor Tim Rooke, who’s been a fierce critic of Sarno. “[Walsh] is the type of candidate that would serve not only Ward 6 well but the entire City,” Rooke said in the campaign release. “I may not agree on many issues with Mayor Sarno but I can tell you we agree on one thing, Tom Walsh is a good candidate!”
If Walsh does win the seat he could legally retain his job in the mayor’s office, although, by law, he couldn’t accept both his City Hall and his Council salaries. In reality, however, it seems likely he would resign his job in Sarno’s office, given the potential for conflict of interest if a city councilor also reported to the mayor.
From a purely selfish point of view, I’d hate to see Walsh leave his communications job. After Sarno took office in January of 2008, the Advocate quickly became persona non grata in the mayor’s office (perhaps it had something to do with the less-than-flattering headline that ran on the newspaper’s cover after Sarno’s surprise victory over Charlie Ryan). After months of silent treatment from his office, however, Sarno extended an olive branch to the paper, inviting me to come by his office for coffee and a chat—an invitation, I couldn’t help but notice, that came right around the time Walsh took over the press aide job from his predecessor, Azell Murphy-Cavaan.
Since then, Sarno has been the gentleman I remembered him being during his years as a city councilor. And Walsh has been great to deal with, quick to return calls and emails, answer questions and provide requested information—which, coupled with his general good nature, has made him popular with local reporters.
Of course, those are pretty good traits in a city councilor, too.