Monday, July 9, 2007
Woman of the Year Leaves Town
In January when I chose my Man and Woman of 2006 I made two easy choices: Springfield Mayor Charles V. Ryan and Springfield blogger Heather Brandon. While the choice of Ryan was obvious, I explained my choice of Brandon as follows:
Lovers of Springfield have been repeatedly delighted over the past year by the musings of Heather Brandon in her blog Urban Compass. Her writing ranges from the wonkish to the deeply personal, but all of it is united by a common theme: a passionate desire to spark a new renaissance in our Valley's largest city. When Springfield makes a comeback, it will be because of people like Heather.
Of course that assumed that Heather had a future in Springfield, but apparently not. As of the first of this month, Heather and her family relocated to the Connecticut capitol of Hartford. I won't get into what I heard were some of the reasons for her departure, the personal details don't matter. What is unfortunate is that whatever the circumstances someone like Heather should have been able to make it in Springfield, and if she and her family couldn't do it, that is a very depressing statement not just about Springfield's present, but about its future. Middle-class young people with families are exactly the sort of residents Springfield needs to attract and keep. Few could be expected to make the degree of commitment that Heather did, taking time out of her busy day almost every day to write about the city and the things going on both good and bad. No one could have tried harder, and if Heather's family couldn't make it in Springfield, who can?
Happily Heather has committed to trying to keep writing about Springfield from her new location out of state. The best hope is that her blog becomes an enlightening compare and contrast exercise between Springfield and her new environment. With Heather's talent, she will continue to shine wherever she lives. But it is still hard to spin her exit in a positive light. What can be said about Springfield when even its Woman of the Year has to leave town?
A glimpse into what is behind at least some of the For Sale signs in Springfield was offered at the recent Control Board speak-out through this tale of woe told by Springfield property owner Ann Schielke:
(Transcript by St. Sheila McElwaine) - Good afternoon. It’s an opportunity I wish to address to the Eastern half of our state, because when you’re elected, you represent all the people. I’ve called members of the city council. I have called numerous police departments, etc. I have been violated in the worst possible way. A piece of property I own in Springfield was entered three different times. They took all the plumbing, all the electrical wires, attachments to the boilers, the hot water heaters. They ripped down ceilings to get to steam piping. They took every bit of furniture that my son, who came from the Midwest to be with his father because he had a horrible stroke, and we thought it was too dangerous for him to stay there, but he left his belongings there, and nothing is left of any value. They then attempted to go into the little annex. They got into the barn the following week-end. They are now attempting to get into the annex. They put a hole through the walls, and the only thing that’s stopped them was the radiator—temporarily.
I spoke to the police department and they have been most cooperative, at least Deputy Chief Fitchet and one of the lieutenants and some of the patrolmen who helped me secure the property as best as we could. I have spent dollars now, and it’s going to be thousands of dollars. [Shouting] Where is the police protection in this city? Where is the monies to pay them? We talk about schools—we need safety on the street!
There’s a property across the way where young people congregate smoking and just eyeing anybody who comes to my property. I hired a gutter man to hang some gutters, and two boys from across the street came over and they said, “What are you white guys doing in our neighborhood?” They didn’t do the work; they got in their truck, and they said, “Lady, we don’t want the job.”
What are we going to do in Springfield? They knock down fences. I had as many as three locks on every door and four doors to get into the property and they demolished everything. Did anybody see it? No. The property across the street is supposed to be closed up at 9:00. I go by each day—10:00 they’re still open, 10:30, 11:30. After 11:30, they finally close. [Shouting] Their permit is for 9:00 in the evening. Where are the rules and laws of our city? And why isn’t the Eastern Massachusetts government protecting the people here who voluntarily stay behind when there was a giant exodus to leave Springfield? I was patriotic with my family; I stayed behind, and now I’m being “whooped.” I’m going to leave the rest up to you, because you are intelligent gentlemen and I’m sure you can find a solution, perhaps a fund to fund people like me who, in their retirement years, are faced with thousands of dollars worth of repairs. Not only that, people don’t want to rent in the neighborhood anymore because its gone down so far. It’s a pity. Thank you.
The Control Board members just sat there in stone faced silence. I mean what could they say? Of course all is not gloom in Springfield. When I was in Pine Point last week I was happy to see that a new store has opened in the location of the old Jeanette's.
Hopefully this new venture will be blessed with the same five decades of success as its predecessor. On the other hand, I still notice signs like this every time I go to Springfield.
The new Control Board members need to understand that fast, decisive action is needed if this exodus is to be reversed.