Ever since I've returned to the "real world" the question I keep hearing from people is "What do you think about the defeat of Charlie Ryan for mayor of Springfield?" It is a logical question, especially since over the years I've championed Ryan's mayoralty as a key component of Springfield's chances for a comeback. Many people assume that I must consider Ryan's loss to be a major disaster for the city of my birth. Well, the truth is I do see it as a disaster, but not necessarily a permanent one.
First of all, let's consider some of the reasons for Ryan's defeat. Of course any political earthquake of that magnitude is like a glass onion, what you see looks different from every angle. But in general I would list the major causes of Ryan's defeat as follows.
The Trash Fee - This unpopular measure was a sleeper issue that had more impact than it should have. It had the greatest influence on the least informed voters, those who ignore City Hall except when something happens that costs them money and then they are suddenly filled with outrage. Ryan's opponent, City Councilor Dominic Sarno, cynically exploited this issue by running TV ads that falsely implied that the mayor has the authority to rescind the fee. In actuality, the fee was imposed by the Financial Control Board and cannot be removed without their permission. The mayor, whether it be Ryan or Sarno, is powerless to remove the fee, although I suspect most of the voters who supported Sarno on that issue thought he could. Sarno seemed content to allow voters to falsely assume that if they elected him the trash fee would go away. All Sarno can do now is politely ask the Board to remove the fee, after which the Board can (and probably will) politely refuse.
Fear of Crime - Crime is unmistakeably high in Springfield, but it is largely localized. Stay out of certain areas at certain hours, and don't buy or sell drugs, and most of Springfield is as calm as any suburban neighborhood. Of course a city is a city, and there are problems unique to cities that suburbs just don't have (as well as advantages that suburbs just don't have) but the idea that crime is out of control in Springfield is simply not accurate. Sarno however kept spouting rhetoric that implied that crime was rising (despite statistics showing most forms of crime in the city declining). Sarno also insisted that Springfield needed more cops (despite having one of the highest cops per citizen ratios already) and that 50 more officers should be hired, ignoring the fact that Ryan had already started an academy to train 32 more. It was also unhelpful for Police Chief Ed Flynn to announce that he was leaving for a new position. While Ryan had nothing to do with that, it still looked bad to have the top law enforcement official leaving town just as Sarno was harping on the issue of crime.
A third factor was the so-called Churchill effect. This is the political term for the somewhat common phenomenon in politics of voters removing a politician for improving conditions to the point that the electorate starts considering wider options. Winston Churchill led England safely through the darkest hours of World War II only to be rewarded by being thrown out of office in the first post-war election. Why? Because once the bad times ended, voters were anxious to try new things. They were tired of the austerity and the hardships of the war, and now that it had ended, they wanted to replace the wartime government.
So it is with Springfield. The Ryan Administration saved the city from financial collapse, fired all the crooks from the Albano era and gave the city a firm foundation from which to build a new future. Ryan played a Churchillian role in Springfield politics, stepping in to save the day when all seemed lost. But like Churchill, Ryan was a victim of his own success, as the public's response to better times was to say, "Thank you very much, now get lost."
Ryan doesn't seem too hurt by it. He never needed nor much wanted the job in the first place, and will still have more to occupy himself in the years to come than many men half his age. And like Churchill, future generations will praise him more than his fickle contemporaries did. Anyone who spends any time feeling sorry for Charlie Ryan is a fool.
But now what? Despite the somewhat dishonest manner in which Sarno obtained the mayoralty, he cannot be allowed to fail. Springfield simply cannot afford a failed mayoralty at this point. So let's hope that any embittered Ryanites can put that bitterness aside and unite behind the Sarno Administration, at least to the degree necessary to give Sarno an honest chance to succeed. A successfully functioning Springfield government is good not just for the city but for the entire region, since nothing has held back the prosperity of our Valley quite like the persistent economic dysfunctioning of Springfield. If Sarno succeeds then that means Springfield succeeds, and if Springfield succeeds then everyone who lives in our beautiful Valley will share the benefits.
Another question people keep asking me since I emerged from my two month hiatus is "How is your long lost brother doing?" As regular readers know I discovered last year that I have a brother John whom I had never met. While the circumstances under which we reunited were so amazing as to be almost supernatural, since then there has been another incredible twist. My brother has contracted one of the most deadly forms of cancer. Incredibly, his long term recovery will require stems cell material from a blood relative, meaning he discovered his family at exactly the moment when to do so would provide him with a life saving donor! Is that mind-boggling or what? But that cure is in the long term, in the short term there is another, very difficult procedure he must first undergo. The whole process has been a real challenge for all concerned. As my sister-in-law Connie wrote me recently,
Last year we were on the Mexican Riviera for Christmas; this year we are getting an infusion of Cytoxan. How life can hand you a few curves!
A little advice: Hold fast to the Lord. Treasure every day. Hug each other often. Don't put anything off until later. Do it now.
Amen. If you are unfamiliar with the details of this incredible true life saga then start reading by clicking here. This is a picture of my brother John taken last week.
Due to technical difficulties (translation: my stupidity) yesterday's post was inadvertently erased. So here's a repost, perhaps slightly different because I can't remember exactly what I wrote yesterday. The pictures are the same though. Sorry about that.
We didn't get the snow that was predicted for yesterday, since the storm swerved north into Vermont and New Hampshire territory. Instead we got what the TV weather babblers around here call "a wintry mix" of snow, rain and ice. This is what my street in Northampton looked like just before dawn.
And what, may you ask, was I doing out before dawn. Ever since I got out of rehab I've been suffering from sleep disorders. Insomnia, nightmares, on some days it seems like I'm tired all the time except when it's time to go to bed! I'm told that sleep problems are normal in early recovery. After years of just flopping into bed, more passing out than falling asleep, it will take a while for my body's natural sleep cycle to return.
I try to make the best of my insomnia by either reading or exercising. For example the other day I went for a long walk just after sunrise. It was Sunday, so downtown was deserted. This section is usually crammed with traffic, but at this time of morning you could stand right out in the middle of the street - so I did.
I decided to walk up the hill past Smith College to the neighborhood where I used to live when I was a student at UMass. I lived in this house on Harrison Avenue with some friends that included Karl Mayfield of Martian Highway fame. The house was more rundown when I lived there. Some rich person must have bought it and fixed it up, since it looks too high class today to be student housing.
Later I move a few blocks away to this house on Dryads Green. What a great place! My room was the door on the left on the upper porch. We used to grow pot on that porch in big urns and sunbathe in the nude. No cops ever bothered us, but the world was looser in those days.
This bench overlooking Paradise Pond on the Smith College campus was where I used to pick up guys sometimes.
Or more accurately, guys used to pick up me. That bench was notorious when I was a kid as a gay pick up spot. I used to sit there until someone came by and made a pass at me, which never took very long. If I didn't like the guy then I pretended to be straight and offended to force him to leave. If the guy was hot, I'd jump in the car. I can't believe I was that reckless, but nothing bad ever happened to me from doing that. Guess I was just a good judge of character.
When I was a student living in Northampton I had a job working on the city census. The office we worked from was on the second floor of this building on Pleasant Street.
Although Amherst is my soul's true homeland, I'm glad to be back in Northampton. Here I am reading recently at the Haymarket Cafe.
I do wish I was returning to Hamp under better circumstances, instead of because of the fiscal holocaust that occurred as a result of my crack-fueled downward spiral. However I believe that God is humbling me in order to raise me up, and if I just remain drug and alcohol free then everything will work out alright.