Here's another oldie from the back pages of The Baystate Objectivist - in this case an analysis of the Springfield Municipal Election of 2001. In that year Paul Caron challenged incumbent Michael Albano. Two days after Albano's victory, the FBI raided City Hall for the first time.
I had been living in Texas for most of the campaign season that year, and wrote the following election analysis some weeks after the election and the raid by the Feds that would start the Albano legacy unraveling in disgrace.
Well it's been several weeks since the elections in Springfield, and I've just returned from my annual southern sojourn to the noble state of Texas where I've been hanging out for a few months. They only have three seasons in southern Texas (warm, hot and hellish) so when my Uncle John came up for a visit to Springfield from Houston last year he wanted to get pictures of the Fall foliage, there being nothing comparable to it in the Lone Star State. One day I was accompanying my uncle to Saint Michael's cemetery in Springfield, where we were looking up the grave of a long lost aunt. My uncle noted how beautiful the leaves were in the cemetery, but as he didn't have a camera with him, and I did, he asked me to take a picture for him.
When the picture was developed the leaves sure looked pretty, but the beauty was tempered by the morbidity of having all those gravestones in the background. I found a practical use for the picture when I used it on the index page of my website in October, figuring it covered two themes at once, the fall foliage and Halloween ghoulishness. To my great surprise I got a lot of e-mails praising that picture, with many noting the odd blend of beauty and mortality. I got so carried away with all the complements over that picture that I actually sent it in to Channel 22 for their photography contest.
To make a long story short, last night it was reported on television that my picture has won! I don't know what the token prize is (a WWLP-TV22 umbrella?) but I'll let you know what it is after I get it. At the very least from now on I can accurately describe myself on my resume as "a prize-winning photographer." Actually my resume is already quite impressive, and if you read it you might even think me quite respectable, provided you didn't know me personally. Here's the winning picture:
As for the municipal election, it may seem like old news, but then maybe this is really the best time to comment on it, now that all the hoopla has died down and the passions have calmed. Frankly, the returns were so bad that I actually considered not coming back at all. Albano re-elected by a twelve-point margin? Enough already.
Then on Masslive.com (which I found to be a surprisingly effective means of keeping track of local events from Texas) I read how the FBI raided City Hall just two days after Albano's victory and so was delighted to realize that the forces of light were not down for the count after all. Of course historically City Hall keeps such poor records that even if the Feds are genuinely on to something, there may be too insufficient a paper trail for anything to come of it. Yet hope, as the poet says, springs eternal.
Some thoughts on the outcome of the races:
Not only did Mike Albano not deserve to win, he absolutely did not deserve to win by such a large amount. His margin of victory sends a terrible message, that the residents of Springfield just don't care about the possibility of corruption in City Hall, or worse, that they are simply too uninformed to understand what it's all about. A closer outcome would at least have spooked the mayor into behaving himself better, but perhaps the FBI raid following the election has done so.
Paul Caron deserves the highest praise for having the courage to make the run for mayor. His candidacy thrust him into an improbable role, that of a reformer after two decades of being as hardwired into the political establishment as any member of the Western Mass legislative delegation. He has also paid a terrible price, with his legislative district in tatters due to redistricting and facing the fallout from the lingering bitterness of those who feel he should never have entered the race in the first place without seeking the permission of the powers-that-be.
If he decides to stay in the legislature, he must run against freshman State Representative Chris Asselin, a tough fight but one that Caron would be favored to win. He may also try to move up by running against State Senator Brian Lees, but that would be much more difficult because of Lees' enormous popularity. Or finally he may run again for mayor. Then Caron's campaign slogan could be I Told You So.
There was a pathetic shortage of credible challengers in this year's crop of City Council candidates, thereby guaranteeing that there would be little change on the legislative body that critics call, "The City Clowncil." Back for two more tiresome years are Bill Foley (a would-be mayor if he can ever decide what he stands for) Brian "The Dean" Santaniello (never has anyone served so long and accomplished so little) and Bud L. Williams (a flip-flopping slumlord). Also returning is Dominic Sarno, as well as Timothy Rooke.
Thankfully Angelo Puppolo, the victim of a vicious smear campaign in the election's final days, successfully escaped defeat. So did Tim Ryan, who was targeted once again as the political establishment's most hated councilor. Predictions that Councilor Dan Kelly was in trouble after he was linked to Anthony Ardolino and gave a disastrous interview to the Valley Advocate turned out to be true, with Kelly barely surviving in ninth place.
The only change on the council was an unfortunate one, the defeat of freshman Councilor Carol Lewis-Caulton. Her election in 1999 had been something of a fluke; she slipped into an unexpected vacancy when former Councilor Barbara Garde quit suddenly after it was too late for the big names waiting in the wings to enter the race.
Lewis-Caulton quickly alienated the political establishment with her independent thinking and was targeted early on for defeat. She is replaced by Rosemarie Moriarty, a nice enough person but viewed with suspicion by many because she is a cousin of Michael Albano. But let's not be unfair (How would you like to be judged by your cousins?) and give her the benefit of the doubt until we see her in action. In any case, it's too bad she had to come on the council by knocking off Lewis-Caulton instead of Dan Kelly.
Of the other candidates, it was a shame to see new-comer Charles Rucks lose. Rucks was one of the most interesting and dynamic new voices to appear on the local political scene in a long time, but suffered from inexperience and lack of funds. Yet he garnered nearly nine-thousand votes and is now in a good position to run a formidable campaign in 2003. Let's hope he decides to do so.
Thankfully Jose Tosado lost, not because he's so bad, but because his election would have created a vacancy on the School Committee that would have brought controversial former School Committee member Bob McCollum back into office. Alas, Tosado came in tenth, which means that if a vacancy occurs on the Council in the next two years, he will take the seat and McCollum will still be restored. All that we can do is pray that all of the councilors have excellent health and that nobody gets a promotion.
But there may indeed be a promotion. If in fact Albano (ahem) moves on, then a special election will be held with leading candidates likely to come from the Council (Foley, Ryan, maybe even Puppolo). In the meantime, the temporary mayor would be (gasp) new Council President Bud Williams. Once upon a time such a scenario would have alarmed me, but I've learned to laugh.
None of the incumbents deserved re-election, but unfortunately there was no one running worth replacing them with. Nick Fyntrilakis, by default the best of the bunch, came in a strong first. The pleasant but clueless Ken Shea came in second, while the third winning seat was captured by do-nothing Marjorie Hurst. The sole satisfaction in the entire School Committee race was seeing Albano flunky Michael Rodgers soundly defeated.
Finally, Masslive's Springfield Forum is better known for its bile than its wit, but there are exceptions. Recently a writer using the pseudonym MAP71 asked why Mayor Michael Albano was nowhere to be seen at this year's balloon parade. The Mayor has been missing a number of events recently that he might otherwise be expected to attend, fueling speculation that Albano does not intend to run again in 2003. Perhaps he will step down in order to escape the looming fiscal crisis which is rumored to be the worst since Richie Neal escaped to Congress and left the cupboard bare and a pile of IOU's for Mary Hurley. In any case, MAP71 wanted to know why the Mayor was absent from the balloon parade, to which someone using the pseudonym Jayvee replied that Hizzoner was in fact present, "Mayor Albano was there!" he insisted. "He was full of hot air, as one of the balloons! You just didn't recognize him with all the "STRINGS ATTACHED".
Ba da boom!
Perspective from 2008 - The prize in the photo contest turned out to be a certificate from the now defunct Russell's 60 Minute Photo for some free film. Michael Albano completed his term despite the collapse of the city's finances and immediately sold his home in Springfield and moved to the suburbs. Although nearly all of the major figures of his administration were charged with crimes, Albano himself was never put on trial. Once again demonstrating the voter's short memory, Rodgers is now on the School Committee. The scenario I feared involving a vacancy came true as you can read here, and subsequent attempts by Lewis-Carlton and Rucks to give the voters a chance to correct their error have failed.