The Baystate Objectivist

The Baystate Objectivist

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Ryan's 100 Days

A flashback.

R. Bruce Fitzgerald and Charlie Ryan

I recently wrote a review of the first 100 days of new Springfield Mayor Dom Sarno. That enticed me to go back and dig up this old piece I wrote for the occasion of the first 100 days of the administration of Charles V. Ryan, which occurred in April of 2004. Unfortunately, I was unable to retrieve any of the photographs from that event except the one of Ryan and Fitzgerald above.

The Ryanites had a party in the Mayor's office to officially celebrate the 100 Days and I was invited. Here is the report I filed, minus the photos, from that day.


Back in the 1960's when I was a dot of a tot, my first grade class took a field trip to downtown Springfield. I've forgotten most of the details, in fact I remember little from my early grammar school years except that I was always the shortest kid in my class. How do I know that? Trust me, as the shortest kid in the class I was always helpfully informed of that fact by my classmates, just in case I didn't notice.

However I do recall a picnic snack in Court Square and a visit to the Campanile, which was open to tourists in those days. I do remember clearly that we went inside City Hall, where we were brought into the mayor's office to meet Hizzoner himself, a then young (but to us quite old) Charles V. Ryan. We were probably in there for all of five minutes, just long enough for Charlie to say something appropriately educational and patriotic, after which we were ushered out as an aide (Lenny Collamore?) passed out lollipops. Looking back at it that was pretty good politics, since we all went home and told our voting parents what a nice mayor we had.

The 60's of course are long gone. So are the 70's, the 80's and the 90's. Even the millennium itself has faded years into the past. I thought of these things as I stood in the mayor's office yesterday, celebrating Charlie Ryan's 100th day in office as once again the Mayor of Springfield. The fact that I was even standing in that office was remarkable; just six months earlier if I had come anywhere near the mayoral chambers they would've called security. I am considerably taller than I was when I last visited Charlie in that office, and since then Charlie's hair has gone completely white, but it was still a kind of poignant reunion across the decades. As the saying goes, what a long, strange trip it's been! It was an almost perfect moment as we spoke at Charlie's desk, the only imperfection being that no one offered me a lollipop.

What Charlie was telling me is not happy news. It turns out that the figures discussed thus far of what the city needs to raise to avoid receivership, about 14 million, are now inaccurate. Ryan says that further examination of the city's financial situation reveals that he needs at least twenty million to avoid a state takeover of municipal government. I asked him if there is some way to finesse the difference. "No," Charlie replies, "a few million dollar gap you can find some way to patch over. But twenty million?" He shakes his head.

Ryan is presiding over a city that has been deeply betrayed by nearly all of its major institutions. The city was allowed to get buried in debt while its financial officers looked the other way. The city government is mired in corruption investigations and scandals. Even the Catholic Church, once the backbone of the Springfield community, has been disgraced. Crime is up, the city continues to suffer a terrible drain of citizens moving out (the latest to exit: Mitch Ogulewicz to Connecticut) and the percentage of residents in poverty continues to rise.

Is this any way for a 76 year old man to spend his golden years?

Far from being discouraged, Ryan seems to be energized by the challenges. He refers to Springfield as "my lady" and although she may have stumbled, in his eyes she hasn't fallen. Indeed the single most prominent characteristic of the Ryanites as they celebrate their 100 day anniversary is their optimism. When I ask Charlie how he would describe the 100 days personally he says "It's been fun," and that is a word I hear the Ryanites use a lot. Asking an aide how she likes working for Charlie she replies, "He's a fun boss to work for." It is obvious as he interacts with the city workers at the celebration that his employees revere him with an aura of integrity and respect that is almost palpable. If anyone is pessimistic about Springfield's future, they can't be found in Charlie Ryan's City Hall as his optimism rubs off on everybody.

It is that change in tone that is perhaps the fledgling Ryan Administration's greatest accomplishment. Fired or forced into early retirement are the lazy and dishonest department heads and employees that once fed on the taxpayers like vampires. Gone are the arrogant Albanoites who once strutted through the corridors in search of power, privilege and profit. Three decades of a political culture of self-serving corruption cannot be corrected in just 100 days, and there is still housecleaning to be done, but for the first time in many years City Hall is once again "the people's place" where all may feel welcome.

Turning away from the unpleasant subject of the financial crisis, Charlie chuckles over some posts he read the night before on's Springfield Forum. Like virtually all of Springfield's political establishment he is a regular reader, but doesn't tell me whether he ever posts on the forum, leaving it to Masslive readers to wonder whether one of the posters is secretly their mayor. As he turns to talk with other well wishers, I use the opportunity to solve an old mystery.

Back in the administration of Robert Markel there was a rampant rumor that then Springfield Newspapers publisher David Starr used to regularly enter the mayor's office by a door that allowed him to bypass the normal entrance requiring him to announce his arrival to the mayoral aides. This was allegedly done by Starr to prevent the City Hall gossip mill from reporting just how often Starr was meeting in private consultation with the mayor, thereby feeding into charges that it was Starr who was actually running the city. When Markel appeared on The Dan Yorke Show one day, Yorke pressed him to reveal whether such a hidden entrance existed and whether Starr had access to it. Markel refused either to confirm or deny it, infuriating Yorke with his evasiveness and leaving the question never answered.

So wandering around the mayor's office I saw that indeed there was a door, open for the 100 day party, that gave no indication on it of where it led to, so that no one walking past it could know that it was an entrance to the mayor's office. In other words, Starr could easily have come and gone, just as the rumors suggested, through this door without anyone on the mayor's staff knowing anything about it. So Yorke was right after all.

As the festivities were winding down, it was soon time to leave and let the mayor and his staff return to the herculean task of saving Springfield. I would call it an impossible task, but this is a bunch that doesn't accept the word impossible. Promising to return at a future date I bid the Mayor adieu - departing via Starr's secret passageway:

The final photo in the piece showed me departing by Starr's hidden exit, but I no longer have the photographs. Unfortunately, we no longer have Ryan's dynamic leadership either. Indeed, reading this account of Ryan's first hundred days sure makes Sarno's seem dull by comparison.

In the window of Northampton's India Palace I spotted this old restaurant review from the Springfield newspaper's April 11, 1991 edition. Note that it preserves a typo in the phrase "dining out." (click photo to enlarge)

It also preserves the paper's former name Union-News. Once upon a time, in the golden age of newspapers, there were two editions of what is now The Republican. One was called The Springfield Union, which came out every morning, and the other was called the Springfield Daily News, which came out every afternoon and for which I was a paperboy. In 1987, with the newspaper industry in decline even then, they were forced to cut back to one edition. Rather than decide between killing the evening or morning editions, they combined both the Union and the Daily News and christened the resulting product The Union-News.

It was a well-meaning attempt to respect the paper's history, but the new name proved clumsy and confusing. Many people called it "The Union Newspaper." When they finally decided to return to the original name the paper had in the 1800's - The Republican - no one objected or claimed to miss The Union-News.

Even this old name made new has caused some confusion. Most people refer to it as The Springfield Republican, but although it is published in downtown Springfield, technically the paper claims no allegiance to any particular city or town in its title. Many people also assume that the name suggest some relationship to the Republican Party, but in fact the name predates the forming of that political party. It refers only to the generic patriotic term, as in "to the republic for which it stands." In the era leading up to the Civil War, when the paper was founded, there was almost a fetish made of the term republican because of its relation to the concept of a united nation. That is why Abe Lincoln and friends later chose the term for the name of their new political party.

To the extent the modern paper has a political affiliation, it is owned by the Newhouse Corporation, one of the most prominent media backers of the Democrat Party. The paper almost never endorses Republican candidates, although a rare exception was made to endorse Kerry Healey over Deval Patrick for governor. Rumors at the time suggested that the paper's President David Starr had a relationship with the string of prior Republican governors that he did not have with the upstart Deval. Whatever the reason, the endorsement re-enforced among the paper's critics the false impression that they are a Republican Party newspaper.

It seems that when it comes to their name, the poor Springfield Newspapers Company just can't win for trying.

In Amherst I stumbled upon this old tree stump. How huge this tree must have been to leave a stump so large!

Trees are the true elders of our communities, and although they cannot speak they are living witnesses to our lives.


Heather B said...

Thanks for republishing your report from Ryan's 100 days. You're right about the optimism for sure.

I have a few photos showing the door to the mayor's office you were talking about. And they feature some prominent political types no less.

The room itself is a smallish conference room and has a door to the corridor labeled with a number, 219. It is typically locked, I think. On the day I was there taking photos it was being used as a kind of reception area for the governor, lt. gov and new control board members, with refreshments laid out on the table.

There is also a door on the other side of that anteroom leading to City Hall's Room 220 where public meetings take place. When control board members disappear into the door in the corner, they are slipping into Room 219 for executive session.

So that room sure has gone through some different uses over the years.

SM said...

Hi Tom,

Justice is finally done for the residents at Springfield Housing Authority's housing projects with the sale of the Asselin's ill-gotten Cape Cod home and the transfer of the proceeds back to the authority as it was originally intended.

As a professional in public accounting I know that federally funded housing programs are subject to strict rules regarding their business dealings. Misuse of these funds can result in federal criminal prosecution and did in the Asselin case.

Obviously Papa Ray and the rest of his clan knew the consequences. But the good life was too tempting for them. All they did was steal, steal and steal from the taxpayers. All of the Asselin family members convicted in the corruption scandal should all be forced to work at the most menial, lowest paying jobs for the rest of their lives.

Your website rocks, keep up the good work!

-Sam R. Moriarty