So the voters have spoken—at least, the 22 percent who showed up at the polls—and their message, apparently, is a simple one: We’re pretty happy with the way things are.
Incumbent Mayor Domenic Sarno, of course, held on to his seat handily, with 72 percent of the vote. While challenger and City Council President Jose Tosado fared better than he had in the Sept. 20 three-way preliminary race—he won 28 percent of the vote yesterday, up from 23 percent in September—his numbers have to be disappointing to supporters, who saw him as the candidate with a new vision for the city. Interestingly, Tosado, the numbers would suggest, didn’t pick up much of the vote that went to the third candidate in the preliminary, School Committee member Antonette Pepe, who had won 16 percent of the vote in September and endorsed Tosado after her elimination.
So why did Tosado—always a top vote-getter in City Council races—fail to ignite voter passion? It’s not that his campaign didn’t have a solid platform; his website and campaign literature were full of detailed plans on education, public safety, economic development. Rather, it seems, his campaign lacked a solid campaign, an effective way of getting that message out to residents. Then again, maybe residents heard his message, and rejected it.
Because the mayoral and City Council terms are concurrent, Tosado had to give up his Council seat to run for mayor. That means we won’t get to see Tosado press for some of the ideas he articulated in his mayoral campaign on the Council. It also means the Council will lose one of its strongest critics of the incumbent administration—something a healthy city government always needs. (Not that Sarno will be shy on critics, with veteran at-large Councilor Tim Rooke leading the way.)
Voters also showed themselves uninterested in change on the City Council, re-electing all four incumbents who were on the ballot (Rooke, Tommy Ashe, Kateri Walsh and Jimmy Ferrera), as well as the one ward councilor (Ward 8’s John Lysak) who faced competition this year. Even the “new” faces are far from new: Ken Shea, who won the uncontested race for the Ward 6 Council seat left vacant by incumbent Amaad Rivera’s decision to run at large was a long-time member of the School Committee. And the at-large seat left vacant by Tosado was filled by former City Councilor Bud Williams, who left the Council in 2009 to run a failed mayoral campaign. (Williams’ mayoral campaign, in fact, actually fared better than Tosado’s; while Williams ran a decidedly weaker campaign, he won almost 30 percent of the vote in 2009, compared to Tosado’s 28 percent yesterday.)
One of Mike Albano’s most reliable go-to guys, Williams is an opportunistic pol, who flipped-flopped on crucial issues like ward representation and needle exchange and who, infamously, admitted to sometimes “dozing” during Council meetings. By putting him back on the Council, voters missed an opportunity to inject some new blood into the group—not that the field of challengers was all that inspiring (although I was especially disappointed not to see Charles Rucks, head of Springfield Neighborhood Housing Services, catch the attention of more voters.)
The only incumbent not to win re-election was Rivera, and that loss will carry an asterisk in the record book. Rivera did not lose the Ward 6 seat he now holds—although, given his rocky relationships with many of his Forest Park constituents, he very likely would have. Indeed, perhaps mindful of this, Rivera had opted instead to run for an at-large seat, which, he said, would have allowed him to focus on some of the larger, city-wide issues he’s interested in, such as foreclosure prevention, economic equity and environmental justice. His loss means the Council loses one of its most progressive voices, while gaining, in Williams, a guy who sat mutely on the Council while the city’s finances collapsed.
Finally, while this is a Springfield-issues blog, I can’t resist a nod to Alex Morse, who upset all kinds of political apple carts in Holyoke yesterday by beating incumbent Mayor Elaine Pluta. Morse’s victory in Holyoke could have implications for the entire region, given his opposition to a casino in the city. It also makes you wonder: where are the similarly bright, energetic new leaders here in Springfield?