The Baystate Objectivist

The Baystate Objectivist

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Sarno's Team

A few thoughts.

Yikes, a whole week has passed since Thanksgiving! Yet strolling along near Amherst College today I came upon this turkey still advocating in its own self-interest.

Did you have a happy turkey day? No matter what may have been lacking in your Thanksgiving, it was probably at least a little better than mine, which was spent in rehab where there was no visitors allowed.

For some reason all this week I've been writing about drugs and sex. Well enough about my drug addictions and sexual obsessions! Today let's really dive into the gutter and talk politics instead. Springfield politics, no less!

Long before I was addicted to drugs I was addicted to politics, beginning from about the age of twelve. Yet this year I was completely missing in action concerning the politics surrounding our Valley's municipal elections. Is that any big deal? I am not such an egomaniac that I believe any race would have turned out differently had I been on hand, but I do think that sometimes I add a little spice to the campaigns through my observations in this journal. For that reason I feel as though I sort of let people down by not being around during the homestretch of Campaign 07, disappointing people who may have hoped that I would raise some issues or swing a few votes their way. If so I apologize. Certainly I would have liked to have done what I could to keep Charlie Ryan from losing the Springfield mayoralty to City Councilor Dominic Sarno.

Six or seven years ago Councilor Sarno was marching in a Columbus Day parade in Springfield's SouthEnd and I asked to take his picture. Here's how it came out.

More recently I saw him down at a shindig at the old Chestnut Junior High School and took this snap.

Sarno's a nice guy, and photogenic too, but I would feel better about his election if I could say that I ever heard him speak on an issue like he felt it in his gut. I also wish he wasn't one of the boys who sat on their hands during the Albano years. I especially wish he understood what was to be gained for Springfield to have two more years of healing time under Charlie Ryan.

But those are all topics I'll write about another day soon. Today I want to impress upon you the most important thing to remember about mayoral transition teams:

They don't mean much.

The real decisions that shape a new administration are almost all made privately behind closed doors, oftentimes before the election is even over. No politician ever begins their term starting completely from scratch; always there are ideas, however vague, about what their administration will look like, what it will do and who will be hired to do it. The transition team at best gets to fill in some of the details or point out a few personnel and policy oversights. Any mayor who would turn over the major decisions about the make-up of their administrations to a committee wouldn't be worthy of the job.

So why have a transition team at all? There are still a number of useful roles it can play. At the very least it makes the new mayor look like he's doing something during that awkward time every newly elected office holder must fill between early November when they are elected and January when they are sworn in. A transition team helps to keep the new mayor from sinking beneath the media radar screen and thereby spoiling the momentum of their electoral victory.

A transition team is also a wonderful faux patronage tool. Every campaign has people who have played a role in the candidate's victory which should be acknowledged, but whom you don't really want to give anything of real value to after election day. A seat on the transition team can be just the trick.

Transition team members get their name in the paper and their face on TV and there are those who participate in politics as much for ego as power. The transition team members get to hang around City Hall a bit and are often given minor roles in putting on the inauguration ceremony. In this way those folks that you don't want to hire or whose advice you don't intend to follow can none the less be kept on the reservation if you just give them the ego boost of putting them on the transition team. All you have to do is listen to their advice (while thinking of something else) accept any written reports (which will end up in the trash) and then usher them out the door after the inauguration, never to really bother with them again until re-election time. Fully a third of any transition team consists of such people.

Being a Democrat, Mayor-elect Sarno must bow before the altar of biological diversity, and thus it is no surprise that the co-chairs of the transition team are a white male and a black female. The white male is a former school committee member named Nick Fyntrilakis.

In the 1990's Fyntrilakis was regarded as one of the wonder boys of Springfield politics, right alongside people like Raipher Pelligrino. However, while Pelligrino trashed his reputation and destroyed his political career by diving into the ethical swamps of the Albano Administration, Fyntrilakis had his career sidelined as the result of the actions by those around him. In particular Fyntrilakis was hurt by his mentor, the once popular conservative State Rep. Dennis Murphy. When Murphy decided to shed the inconvenient ethics requirements of public office in order to really get into the swing of things during the Albano era he resigned his seat and anointed Fyntrilakis as his heir.

But it wouldn't be that simple. Instead of Fyntrilakis, subsidized housing baron Raymond "Papa Ray" Asselin wanted the seat given to his otherwise unemployable son Christopher, and thus began one of the nastiest state rep races in local history. The campaign degenerated into a mud-slinging free for all which I described in 1999 in The Baystate Objectivist as follows:

Not since the state representative career of Valerie Barson crashed and burned in 1996 has a local politician committed political suicide in a more spectacular fashion than Dennis Murphy. Once regarded as the fastest rising star in Valley politics, today Murphy couldn't get elected dog catcher after he betrayed the voters of his district by dumping them for a lucrative consulting job. While that by itself might have been forgivable, the heavy-handed attempt he made to rig the election to replace himself in favor of his chosen heir Nick Fyntrilakis was widely denounced as dirty politics at its worst. What followed was a long-running farce that resulted in a court case, innocent voters being dragged into court and even charges that some citizens participated in the election from their graves.

In the end, not only was Murphy's political career in ruins, but his heir Fyntrilakis had been humiliated and defeated, the judge in the election fraud case, Tina Paige, had her credibility badly damaged and the citizens of the district were left totally disillusioned with the political process. The irony is that before his self-destruction Murphy had been an outstanding State Representative, but now his legacy is one of failure and disgrace, a tragedy of his own making.

That campaign became part of the array of accusations that were looked into by the Feds in order to put Papa Ray in prison, where he now resides. His son Christopher is also behind bars. Dennis Murphy has disappeared into the grey fog of the lobbying profession, while Fyntrilakis, who declined to run for re-election to the school committee, landed on his feet with a position at Mass Mutual. Interestingly (and perhaps hypocritically) in the past many now in the Sarno camp harshly criticized the Ryan Administration for being too close to Mass Mutual.

Yet despite his less than glorious departure from the political stage, Fyntrilakis could still prove a solid pick. He was a half-sensible school committee member on a body rarely known for having any sense at all, and despite the sleazy scene from which he came, Fyntrilakis' own integrity has never been questioned. The problem is he's been out of the spotlight for so long it's hard to know exactly where he's coming from these days. It will have to be seen whether Fyntrilakis will prove to be a wise choice.

More problematic is the co-chair Denise Jordan. Although her background is an undistinguished one in the fuzzy civil right/diversity field, she is not the problem. What is disturbing is the apparent political rehabilitation of her father, the once infamous scandal plagued retired State Rep. Ray Jordan. The elder Jordan is too controversial himself for an upfront role in the Sarno campaign, although many were shocked by Jordan's prominent appearance at Sarno's campaign kick-off. It was nearly as disturbing as seeing the oily dealmaker Charlie Kingston serving that night as greeter. When both myself and The Valley Advocate made a stink about their presence both Kingston and Jordan disappeared from sight for the remainder of the campaign. Whether Kingston will re-emerge from under a rock remains to be seen, but the appointment of Denise Jordan to such a prominent role is a disturbing suggestion that the connection with Ray Jordan remains troublingly close.

Will Sarno's relationship with the elder Jordan receive the close scrutiny it deserves in this media market? When Mike Albano was mayor the now imprisoned Frankie Keough used to stop by every morning at City Hall to consult with Albano, prompting speculation that Keough was actually the unofficial mayor. Even when Keough finally went down in a hail of indictments you still couldn't get the local media (aside from myself and The Valley Advocate) to report on the Keough/Albano connection. How can the public be expected to judge the politicians when the media doesn't even tell the voters anything about the relationships between the players?

There are other transition team members worthy of comment.

• Public Safety: Chairman William M. Bennett, of Longmeadow, Hampden County district attorney is an obvious and mostly meaningless choice. He's there primarily as a figurehead. Thomas F. Fitzgerald, associate professor of criminal justice at American International College and a former Springfield police chief is a good pick. He got eased out of the chief job when he proved a little too honest.

• Education: Chairwoman Teresa E. Regina, of Springfield is the former interim-assistant superintendent of Springfield public schools. She was controversial as former Superintendent Peter Negroni's number two person and chosen heir. Negroni was a slick charlatan from New York City whose salary soared as the test scores plummeted. The resurrection of his disciple Regina is not a good sign. Philip J. Mantoni a former Springfield schools principal is a good pick. Sophie Jeffries of the Early Childhood Centers of Greater Springfield is an affirmative action appointment. Elizabeth Cardona, educational specialist of the Springfield public schools is a bureaucrat while Kevin L. McCaskill, principal of Roger L. Putnam Vocational High runs a dysfuncional school and notorious patronage nest. Barbara A. Campanella, vice-president of Western New England College is the best pick of the motley bunch.

• Finance: Chairman Joseph D. LoBello, of Longmeadow, former president and chief executive officer, PeoplesBank; is an obvious choice. A city with Springfield's finanical status needs all the bankers it can get, and this committee is chock full of them.

• Economic Development: Chairman Russell F. Denver, of East Longmeadow, the president of the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield is a likeable guy, but what has he ever really done? Carlos Gonzalez, president of the Mass. Latino Chamber of Commerce is another affirmative action pick, while Paul D. Lessard, president of Lessard Property Management and Francis J. Cataldo Jr of C&W Realty are longtime inside players. Arlene Putnam, general manager of Eastfield Mall should be able to give useful testimony on the importance of good law enforcement while Judith Matt, president of the Spirit of Springfield should be given a retirement watch rather than this appointment. Joseph Sibilia, chief executive officer of Meadowbrook Lane Capital is a creative choice, but Richard M. Brown, president of the Pioneer Valley AFL-CIO is just another union hack. Paul C. Picknelly, president of Sheraton Springfield-Monarch Place is someone, like his father before him, who cannot be left off of any committee that matters.

• Human Services: Chairman Joseph L. Roche of Longmeadow, leads a committee of predictable players from the human services field. Conspicuous in his absense however is Springfield's best known anti-poverty activist Kevin Noonan, but then Noonan is a notorious Ryan man.

In total this is not a group to cheer much over, but considering that it's only a transition team there is no need to be overly critical. The real test of Sarno's leadership will come when he starts making appointments not to voluntary committees like this but to actual paying positions with real authority. Will we see the return of the Albano hacks, or will Sarno take the city in a new direction? The success or failure of Sarno's mayoralty will depend on how he makes these choices.

Yesterday at noon at UMass there was a table set up outside the Student Union with students passing out information about the genocide in Darfur.

Nearby some students were lying on the ground as if they were dead, or at least dead while holding a poster.

Ever notice that all these third world hellholes have the same thing in common? They all have socialist governments.

Speaking of terrible governments, it would be a beautiful thing for the suffering people of Iran if someone would overthrow their evil Islamic socialist regime. But should the United States invade them to do it? Northampton is a town with a lot of peacers, so it is no surprise that many would oppose such an attack. But this household is going a little too far.

Inside the Campus Center there was a table set up for passing out condoms and sex education material. Many students appeared interested in discussing sexuality with the young lady behind the counter, and if I were straight I would too.

The condoms were free for the taking, as well some reading material and candy.

The closeness of the condoms with the candy reminds me of an old New Yorker cartoon which showed a person with a condom wrapper in their hand and a frown on their face with the caption indicating they were saying, "This gum tastes terrible!"

I strongly advocate that you should practice safe sex, with emphasis on the word practice.

I advise practicing and practicing and practicing!

You can never get enough practice.

Finally, Springfield native and renowned astronaut of inner-space Dr. Timothy Leary (below) remarked near the end of his life that "LSD will become unnecessary in the age of computers."

What he meant was that computers would be able to create alternative realities with such vividness that no mind-altering substances would be required to experience different worlds.

1 comment:

LarryK4 said...

Glad to see you have hit the ground running. Welcome back!