Who the hell is CityNotes? Some great new videos about Springfield have been surfacing over the past week from this mysterious person, such as this anti-subsidized housing one.
Nothing on the person's YouTube homepage tells anything about who is behind this. However if you listen to the first video, someone identifies themselves as Richard Carpenter, a Forest Park resident. It's a little weird, but I welcome it as an example of something I've advocated for a long time - the use of internet video technology for Valley politics.
What was also weird is that I found out about the video from former Springfield City Councilor Brian Santaniello, although "CityNotes" posting on Masslive and Bill Dusty had made reference to it earlier. Santaniello is a former 24 year Springfield City Councilor who now has a new website called The Dread Report.
As a politician on the internet, Santaniello is in thin company. The first website by a local political figure was Charlie Ryan in his mayoral campaign against Mike Albano in 1995. However, cyberspace was so sparsely populated in those days that the site was more of a novelty than an actual political tool. The first elected official with a real website was City Councilor (now State Rep) Angelo Puppolo. His site was more of a cyber-billboard than something you could interact with and was rarely updated, but it was still a heck of a lot more than any of his fellow elected officials were willing to do.
My website The Baystate Objectivist when it came online in 1998 was not just our Valley's first blog, it was also our Valley's first political blog. In politics I had the cyberfield all to myself for an incredible seven years, until Heather Brandon appeared on the scene with political coverage on Urban Compass. Now most everyone who runs for office locally has at least a webpage, and last year's Springfield municipal election saw a little video activity by candidates such as Karen Powell and John Lysak.
Still, the potential of the internet to revolutionize local politics has been way underutilized. At first glance, Brian Santaniello seems like an unlikely contributor to that revolution. During his nearly quarter century on the Council, he was known as a cautious insider, rarely rocking the boat and anxious to be popular. It seemed to work, he was re-elected 12 times and usually finished near the top of the field. If he rarely distinguished himself, he rarely offended anyone either.
Originally elected as a Democrat, he joined a small band of local pols who switched to the Republican Party during the era when the governor's office was controlled by the GOP. When patronage jobs proved non-forthcoming most of them, including Santaniello, switched back. He was a loyal supporter of Mike Albano, and was rewarded in 2001 by being given the job of Election Commissioner, in those days a well-paid do-nothing patronage position where all the actual work was done for you by the staff. The appointment was controversial because Santaniello's resignation from the Council set in motion a series of political dominoes bringing defeated candidates into office. As I wrote about it at the time:
And what on Earth is Springport? It's the new nickname for Springfield, modeled on that perfect specimen of ineptitude, Massport, the state agency that is notorious as a haven for failed politicians. Springfield, I mean Springport, is just such a safe harbor for those rejected at the ballot box, as amply illustrated by the recent game of political musical chairs at City Hall. I'm talking of course about the mysterious pseudo-retirement of popular Election Commissioner Jim "Deezer" Sullivan. I say pseudo-retirement because he isn't really gone; he's at home with a "bad back" collecting a full salary. Meanwhile, City Councilor Brian Santaniello has been hired for a year to fill the position, although Deezer hasn't said how long he will be gone. How nice for the taxpayers to be paying the salary of two people for the work of one.
Something about the whole setup doesn't smell right, in fact it stinks like a ruthless political power play designed to bring two of Mayor Albano's staunchest allies, Jose Tosado and Robert McCollum, into office despite their defeat at the ballot box. Why it's just like at Massport, where politicians the voters decline to elect miraculously reappear on the public payroll. Tosado, in a surreal statement, exclaimed in the paper about what a breakthrough it was to be the first Hispanic elected to the Council. Well it will be historic if and when that ever happens, but it hasn't yet. The voters had a chance to elect Tosado eight weeks ago and they chose not to. McCollum used to sit on the School Committee, until the voters made a decision to remove him. Both are only in office now because they're the beneficiaries of a shady political game. But then why should we be surprised? That's just business as usual at Massport, I meant Springfield, no . . . Springport!
During his Republican phase, I was once seated next to Santaniello at a fundraiser. Asking my age, he amazed me by being able, off the top of his head, to calculate my pension if I could get a job with city or state. He seemed really into pensions, and ended up getting one of his own, rumored to be about 30 grand a year, when he took early retirement after Mayor-elect Charlie Ryan made it clear he'd be shown the door.
But now Santaniello has resurfaced in cyberspace. His website is not really political, it is more of an advertising vehicle with all kinds of stuff designed to hit to all fields. Bill Dusty says Santaniello claims to have gotten eight thousand hits in his first two days, which is highly unlikely, and Santaniello told BusinessWest that he was getting two million hits a day, which is even more absurd. But nevermind, Santaniello is on to something.
Stripped of its pretensions, what Santaniello is creating is a cybermall, where people everywhere, but Valley people in particular, can comparison shop online. It's a bit ahead of its time, but its time is coming and Santaniello may cash in nicely in the long run by getting his foot in the door first.
But what will he write about? The first examples are not promising. For example, his endorsement of William Fitchett for Police Commissioner is pretty heavy-handed:
He strode to the microphone with a room packed with his supporters with a calmness and coolness never displayed at City Hall. Thousands watched on their televisions at home as the Acting Police Commissioner of the third largest city in New England began to lay out in great detail why he should be named permanent commissioner. Fitchet has been in this position before. Just a short time ago he was passed over for the position by an outsider from the East who who was about as dedicated to this city as some of Fitchet's critics. Make no mistake about it. Fitchet was going to make it perfectly clear he was the most qualified to lead this department forward.
Gee, did he have a halo on his head as well? Reportedly Santaniello is showing up places to gather stories and hints he may even hire writers. His website definitely has potential, but far more interesting than any news he might gather is if he would come out and get autobiographical. What did he see around City Hall during all those years? Now that's a story to draw an audience! The question is whether Santaniello is brave enough, or honest enough to tell it.
This morning I saw this poster on the bus stop advertising an appearance by a band called Mail Myself to Thoreau. Now there's a name to pique the interest of the literary minded.