Problems of Succession

If Ward 3 City Councilor Melvin Edwards wins his race for the Hampden Senate seat this fall, it will be a nice victory for Springfield, giving the city its only hometown member of the state Senate. (Neither of the two incumbent senators who represent the city live in Springfield: Gale Candaras lives in Wilbraham, while Jim Welch, against whom Edwards will compete in the Sept. 6 Democratic primary, lives in West Springfield.)

But who would take over Edwards’ City Council seat? While Edwards would not be legally required to step down from the Council, it’s expected that he would do so, as others in his situation have done in the past—most recently, Angelo Puppolo Jr., who resigned his at-large Council seat when he was elected to the House of Representatives in 2006. He was replaced by Jimmy Ferrera, who had finished 10th in the race for nine at-large seats in the previous Council election.

Edwards, like Puppolo, would be leaving the Council mid-term. But unlike in Puppolo’s case, there’s no obvious replacement for Edwards, as Matt Szafranski writes on his Western Mass Politics and Insight blog.

The problem, Szafranski writes: although the Council has had ward representation since the 2009 election, the city has yet to figure out how to fill mid-term vacancies, despite the fact that it grappled with that very problem last year, when Ward 6 Councilor Keith Wright resigned his seat for family reasons.

As in the cases of at-large vacancies, Wright’s seat was filled by the next-highest vote-getter in the previous election, Amaad Rivera—a decision that didn’t go over well with some in the ward. While some of that controversy was Rivera specific, some of it was about the process. As Szafranski writes, going to the next-highest vote-getter might make sense in an at-large race, where there are numerous candidates. But in a ward contest, which has just two candidates, “the next highest vote-getter is necessarily the loser of the general election,” he writes—a problem that has led some to call for special elections to fill mid-term vacancies. (Complicating matters in Edwards’ case, because he ran unopposed in 2011, there isn’t even a next-highest vote-getter to take his seat if he does resign.)

At the time of Wright’s resignation, there was some talk on the Council of fixing the ward-succession problem. But nothing came of it. Now, with the city facing the possibility of another ward vacancy, what will happen should Edwards leave?

The somewhat surprising answer, reports Szafranski: the rest of the councilors would appoint a successor, according to Gladys Oyola, secretary of the Elections Commission.

That’s hardly an ideal solution, Szafranski writes: “With the Legislature adjourned, no legislation is likely to get through and change this before the decision could get kicked to the Springfield City Council. Still it remains troubling that over a year and a half after Rivera’s ascension to the Council caused such a stir nothing has been done. Springfield is too big a city to place such decisions into the hands of serendipity and caprice and whatever the turnout, it should not be forsaken because democracy is too expensive.”

Author: On Springfield

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