I can’t say I’ve always understood the decisions made by the Springfield electorate. Electing Mike Albano to multiple terms, even over such superior candidates as Charlie Ryan (in 1995) and Paul Caron (in 2001)? Robotically returning the same batch of tired (with some exceptions) incumbents to the City Council and School Committee election after election? Ousting Ryan from the mayor’s seat in 2007 for longtime Councilor Domenic Sarno?
Fast-forward two years, though, and I say cheers to the voters for returning Sarno for a second term. It was a decisive victory, with the incumbent taking 70 percent of the vote over his challenger, veteran City Councilor Bud Williams.
Sarno’s first two years in office have been far from flawless. Some of the bumps in his administration have had to do with specific, important decisions (really, why didn’t the city seek competitive bids for a new School Department headquarters?); others have come from side skirmishes that were allowed to erupt into major battles, like the mayor’s embarrassing face-off with “the Hot Dog Guy.”
But many of Sarno’s missteps have had more to do with what it’s now fashionable in political circles to call “style.” Appearing a bit overwhelmed during his early days in office, Sarno adopted a bunker mentality, holding city councilors, the media and others in the city at an unhealthy (and politically unwise) arm’s length. Over his time in office, however, Sarno appears to have relaxed, making himself generally more accessible to the media, for instance, and inviting the City Council to more actively participate in this year’s budget process.
Interviewed by the Republican at his campaign headquarters last night, Sarno said that the strong support he got at the polls “means the world to me.” I believe that, and I believe that Sarno takes the job of being Springfield’s mayor very seriously. Whether or not the voters gave Sarno the “mandate” he claimed last night, or simply saw him (as much of the political chatter in recent weeks described it) as “the lesser of two evils,” they’ve entrusted him with an important responsibility, once again.
I hope in his second term, Sarno overcomes what, in my opinion, has been the most frustrating aspect of his first term: an apparent unease with making, and sticking with, tough decisions, which leaves him looking, in turn, evasive, or wishy-washy, or simply afraid of the significant power that comes with the office. Springfield needs a strong leader, now as always. And there are promising signs as Sarno settles into the job, from the growth he’s shown in his governing style to the recent economic development activity in the city.
As for Sarno’s challenger, Williams’ campaign—like his career on the Council—smacked a lot more of political calculation than sincerity. On the campaign trail, Williams mostly complained about anything and everything Sarno has done in office, and offered little in the way of vision or concrete plans. While voters had elected Williams to the City Council for an inexplicable eight terms, this around, they were not buying what he had to sell. Perhaps after 16 years they finally had enough of his flip-flopping on crucial issues, such as ward representation and needle exchange. Maybe they noticed that Williams’ interest in other key issues—the Longhill Gardens development, the restoration of the Mason Square branch library—only kicked in as Election Day approached. Maybe they saw the risk of putting in the corner office someone so closely connected to the Albano administration. Or perhaps they just had their fill of an elected official who admitted to “dozing” during Council meetings.
The strong rebuff he received from voters aside, Williams insists he’s not going away; according to the Republican “Williams said he will probably run for mayor again in 2011.”
If he does, he’s likely to find a more crowded field, thanks to voters’ approval yesterday of a ballot question that will change Springfield’s mayoral term from two years to four. Supporters of that change hope the longer term will attract more, and more qualified, candidates for the seat, such as businesspeople who might be willing to step out of the private sector for a four-year term, but would be unwilling to do so for the revolving door of a two-year term. The job could become even more appealing if efforts to increase the mayor’s salary (currently, $95,000 a year) are also successful.