State Rep. Cheryl Coakley-Rivera had barely finished confirming that she is, indeed, leaving office for another job before she named the person she’d like to see succeed her.
Coakley-Rivera, who’s held the 10th Hampden seat since the 1998 election, announced yesterday that she is resigning to take a job as assistant clerk in the Hampden Superior Court Clerk’s office. She also announced her endorsement of Carlos Gonzalez, head of the Massachusetts Latino Chamber of Commerce, a one-time political foe.
In the fall of 1998, Gonzalez, then an aide to Mayor Mike Albano, and Coakley-Rivera engaged in a fierce battle to be the Democratic nominee for the state rep seat, which had opened following the death of incumbent Tony Scibelli shortly after the September primary. In the end, the Democratic ward committee chose Coakley-Rivera, whose family—most notably, her late mother, Barbara Rivera, long-time head of the New North Citizens’ Council—has been a formidable political force in the North End for decades.
But Gonzalez isn’t the only one to jump into the race. This morning, Sal Circosta, told the me that he, too plans to run for the seat, as an Independent.
Circosta called Rivera’s immediate endorsement of Gonzalez “a slap in the face to democracy” and suggested that the incumbent should have stepped back from the race to succeed her and instead let voters lead the way. “I hope the people of Springfield in the 10th District see that. It has politics written all over it. That’s politics as usual in this area,” he said.
The 28-year-old Circosta, who ran unsuccessfully for the Ward 3 City Council seat last fall, is a member of the city’s Community Police Hearing Board. He’s also a member of the Army National Guard, runs education programs at St. John the Evangelist in Agawam and works for his father’s roofing business. He formerly owned a bakery café at the X, where he hosted regular community forums, before closing shop late last year.
If he’s elected, Circosta said, his top priorities would include improving the quality of life in the city—he noted, in particular, conditions in the North End, with its poorly maintained streets and many boarded-up buildings—as well as economic development. The large amount of investment coming to the 10th Hampden—renovations to Union Station, plans to rebuild I-91, not to mention MGM’s proposed casino in the South End—creates major opportunities for the district, and a major responsibility for its state rep to make sure projects are done well and benefit residents, he said. He also spoke of the need to attract and retain more businesses, including “mom-and-pop” operations, and to attract more young professionals to the city’s downtown.
What effect does Circosta think a casino would have on the city? “There’s a sense of unpredictability with it, just because it’s such a unique proposal and a unique city,” he said. “There are going to be naysayers out there, and I understand that. I’m a very cautious person. I want to make sure decisions are made for the best of the people, not for the best of a big company.” That includes making sure businesses or residents who are displaced by the project receive the support they need to relocate, he said.
It also means working to make sure the casino wouldn’t be a “little dome in the city,” but rather part of a larger economic plan whose benefits are felt throughout Springfield. “I think the city needs to be doing her part in making sure that we invest, just like MGM is going to invest, that we don’t become servants to MGM, in a sense,” Circosta said.
“I’m an outsider. I’m not in politics,” he continued. “I work at a church; I work for my dad’s roofing company hauling shingles up roofs in 90-degree weather. I’m not sitting in the air conditioning talking about who owes whom a favor. … This backdoor, old-boy machine network politics is not going to work for me. It’s completely unfair to my constituents.”
It remains to be determined if a special election will be held or if the 10th Hampden seat will remain vacant until the regular election in November.
In the meantime, it’s hard to imagine that others won’t join Circosta and Gonzalez in the race. Yesterday, in a story about Coakley-Rivera’s announcement that nicely recapped her time in office, Matt Szafranski of Western Mass Politics & Insight speculated about other potential candidates, naming Ward 3 City Councilor Melvin Edwards, Ward 1 Councilor Zaida Luna and City Hall attorney Anthony Wilson on a short list to watch.