The Baystate Objectivist

The Baystate Objectivist

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Old Obituaries


Sometimes people die. Sometimes I write about them. Sometimes their families wish I wouldn't. More from my back pages:

Carroll Robbins

Condolences to the Robbins family for the death of Springfield Newspapers honcho Carroll Robbins. The man had his virtues, but the orgy of praise being heaped upon him is only part of the story. In this morning's paper we read, "Carroll Robbins was the very model of the news executive, a professional, trained to sort out the difference between news and nonsense, between special interest and public interest, between fact and fiction, between knowledge and guesswork," said David Starr, president of The Republican. "He felt that it was his mission to leave the community he lived in a little better than he found it. He succeeded."

Eddie Boland and Matty Ryan.

Oh c'mon now, can anyone look around Springfield and say that's true? If Springfield is a community that has been failed by its media - and its current situation proves that it has - then Carroll Robbins must take his share of the blame. For years his paper provided aid and comfort to the worst kind of scoundrels and mediocrities, foisting on the public misleading information about their bad policies. To recall the dark side of Carroll Robbins, read this Boston Globe article by clicking here. Rest in Peace Mr. Robbins, but your sins are not forgotten.

Steven Pegram

Ray Berry, Tahon Ross and Steve Pegram

I'm very upset to hear about the senseless death of Springfield mayoral aide Steve Pegram. I didn't know him well, but he introduced himself to me once at Charlie Ryan's campaign headquarters, which was then located in the old ballerina studio next to Angelo's on Boston Road. He claimed to be a big fan of this website, proving him to be a man of good judgment. Unfortunately he apparently had a darker side, with Saturday's paper revealing that he has been associated with shady undesirables such as Shannon O'Brien, Dan Kelly, Scott Harshbarger and Mo Jones.

The circumstances of Pegram's death remain a mystery as I write this, but the details don't really matter. Like a lot of people I thought Steve had a lot of potential, and it just sickens me to see it all thrown away.

Barbara Rivera

Like a lot of people, I was saddened to hear of the death of Springfield's North End power-player Barbara Rivera. Although I rarely agreed with her politics, I always considered her an authentic community activist of the kind one always hopes to see more of, courageous, blunt and bold. That was especially true in her early years when she could be counted on to be seen waving a sign and chanting slogans wherever demonstrations were underway for her cherished liberal causes. Her special contempt was for the welfare department, which she considered an elitist and unresponsive bureaucracy that played favorites with its clientele.

Ironically, in her later years that was some of the same criticism that was leveled at Rivera, that the web of organizations and social service providers she had assembled beneath the umbrella of the New North Citizen's Council had itself become insular, bureaucratic and overrun with cronyism. To her critics, Rivera herself had become what she had once despised.

The question now is what next? The North End has always been heavily rumored to be a haven for corrupt social services organizations. Some thought that there might be some action taken by the Feds last year when a daycare center intended for welfare mothers returning to work instead was discovered to have filled valuable seats with the children of the daycare employees. Who knows what to believe? But with Barbara Rivera gone and the allegedly corrupt North End network of social agencies no longer shielded by her prestige, some are hoping that that particular house of cards is about to fall.

It didn't. - TD

Henry J. Piechota

One of the most controversial individuals in Springfield has died, but you'd never know that by anything that appeared in our local media. Henry Piechota was the former auditor and budget director for the city of Springfield, the only person ever to hold both of those positions simultaneously. That remarkable dual role made him one of the most powerful unelected officials in the city's history. Part of his legacy is that when he left the budget director/auditor position, the state ordered that it be permanently separated into two distinct jobs.

He retired under mysterious circumstances at the height of Springfield's fiscal crisis of the 1980's (as opposed to the fiscal crisis of the 1970's, the 1990's and the 2000's) in a firestorm of controversy over questions about how Springfield suddenly went from what was supposed to be the "golden age" of the mayoralty of Richard Neal to the brink of state receivership. At the time he was said to suffer from a sudden, previously unknown heart condition that made it impossible for him to be questioned about the city's near financial collapse. He literally disappeared completely from the public eye.

Until his death. In a small obituary printed on page B5 of the Union-News, it has been announced that he has died. His seventeen years with the city as the man who had held the unique (and inherently conflicting) positions of the budget director (who manages the budget) and auditor (who serves as a watchdog over it) was dismissed in his obituary by a single sentence: "He was also the former auditor and budget director for the city of Springfield, retiring in 1990 after 17 years of service." You would have thought some third-rate city clerk had died for what little attention his passing received. But anyone who remembers the late 1980's, when Piechota was the subject of blaring headlines for weeks with his picture in the paper almost daily, knows why the death of so prominent a citizen received so little attention:

Because the cover-up still continues to this day.

Henry Piechota was the guy who took the fall for the financial mismanagement of the Neal Administration. It was necessary for him to disappear for a while so that questions could not be asked that there were no suitable answers to. There was nothing personal about his banishment; it was just what had to be done. It is the nature of machine politics in general, and our local machine in particular, to put the group ahead of any individual. No one person is more important than the interests of the whole. No one is non-expendable. Piechota understood that and went quietly.

Let it be a lesson and a warning to those in city politics today - to those of you who are going along to get along, who are playing the game and positioning yourselves to always be with the winners, no matter what that means, and who think of yourselves as being so goddam clever - pause a moment to contemplate the fate of Hank Piechota. Once they had used him up they threw him away, even after he took the fall for the sake of all those younger men with such promising careers. Yet all he got in the end was a single sentence mentioning that he worked for the city, in a one paragraph long obituary, in the corner of page B5.

Hank Piechota was not an evil man. When I used to see him at the Springfield Country Club he struck me as funny and smart and I know he loved his family very much. But Henry Piechota no doubt took a lot of secrets to his grave with him, and his death means that there are many questions that must now forever be filed under "Never to be Known." Unfortunately, in Springfield that's a filing cabinet already filled to overflowing.

In the UMass parking lot near the journalism department, someone has used a sticker to turn a sign into a statement.