The Baystate Objectivist

The Baystate Objectivist

Monday, September 1, 2008

Old Advocate Article

A flashback to 1997.

Here's something from the Valley Advocate about me that was published in 1997.

J. Michael Curley and Tom Devine


by Tom Vannah

By now, Tom Devine knows better than to expect big, dramatic changes in Springfield. Devine has spent most of his life in the City of Homes, and though he remains indefatigably hopeful that the "mediocrities" who populate the city's elected ranks will be cast aside by voters, that the electorate will finally wake up and break apart the self-perpetuating political machine that endeavors to control and stifle all that is good and bright in Springfield, he can still be impressed by more subtle shifts in city politics.

So Devine was somewhat encouraged by last week's election results.

"I expected a big dud," Devine said on recent afternoon, as he put the finishing strokes on the latest edition of The Baystate Objectivist, his piquant "zine" of political opinion. "It was much more interesting than I thought it would be."

In particular, Devine was happy to learn that nearly 44 percent of the 20,112 residents who cast ballots on Nov. 4 had refused to give Mayor Michael Albano their votes. Though he acknowledged that some of the blank votes were likely the result of sheer laziness - Albano ran unopposed and didn't need much support to hold on to the office - Devine believes the voters sent the mayor a message: "We're watching you, Mike Albano."

The Albano results, Devine said, don't tell the whole story. Just as important, voters had strongly supported some of the mayor's biggest critics: City Council President William Foley - "Voters gave Foley more credit for his criticism of the financial consequences of hiring 100 new cops than Albano did" - and City Councilors Tim Ryan and Bill Boyle. ("Boyle isn't really a critic, so much as an independent," Devine said. "Which makes him an enemy in Albano's mind.") He was also pleased to see City Councilor Raipher Pellegrino, a dependable vote for Albano, lose his seat.

"Pellegrino basically waited for the phone to ring and Albano to tell him what to do," Devine said. "Raipher is very pleasant, very nice. But you couldn't associate him with an issue."

More than the election results themselves, Devine took great pleasure in watching the newspaper he's used so much ink upbraiding - The Springfield Union-News - try to explain what happened. On the whole, he was impressed with the coverage, particularly a Nov. 6 piece that ran under the headline, "Irate voters send mayor a message."

"That was written by Union-News reporter Ellen Silberman, who has an extra dose of integrity. Most of their reporters let the editors decide what's important. Silberman's too smart for that, but I still don't know how she's getting away with it," Devine said, admiringly.

(She didn't get away with it for much longer. Ellen Silberman, was transferred out of the Springfield Newspapers to a different outpost of the Newhouse media empire about two weeks after this article ran. - TD)

Silberman's contributions aside, Devine was amused and heartened to see voters reject much of what the newspaper has opined over the the last two years. "The election was a major embarrassment for the Union-News, which had written devastating editorials against most of the mayor's critics," he said. The attacks on City Councilor Barbara Garvey had been particularly vicious, Devine said, and he was happy to see her re-elected, if only by the slimmest of margins. Devine, as many others in Springfield have said, believes Garvey was unusually roughed up because she tried to help a group of Springfield residents ask questions about the Springfield Library and Museums, an institution largely under the control of Union-News publisher David Starr.

"Barbara fooled with Davey Starr's favorite play pen," Devine said. "Nobody fools with Davey's toys."

For the thousands of readers who wait eagerly for every issue of the irregularly published Baystate Objectivist, who copy it, annotate it and send it around to others who might find it edifying, it may be a wonder that Starr and his editors have never tried to bring Devine in from the cold. Surely, the Union-News, with it's ossified op-ed page devoid of anything resembling local political commentary, could use a healthy dose of Devine wisdom.

But Devine isn't complaining. He started the Baystate Objectivist in 1991 with his friend Jay Libardi, who died in 1994. "It was really a lark," he said. "It was easy to notice that there were two Springfields: the official Springfield - the views reported and sanctified by the Union-News - and the real Springfield - the ideas that people talked about on the street. Pretty soon, people expected us to keep turning it out."

From print, Devine made his way into electronic media, filling in regularly on Dan Yorke's television show, which Channel 40 took off the air last year, hosting his own radio program on WNNZ, The Tommy Devine Show, and helping out on WHYN's Kateri Walsh Show.

Though he enjoys working in all media, Devine considers himself "first and foremost a writer." There are many who would take that title in the Valley, but few who deserve it as much as Devine. His work is marked by sterling prose and bolstered by a deep understanding of the city's history - knowledge that imbues his work with a sense of continuity that is missing in much that passes for local journalism. Better yet, Devine is on the street, his ears attuned and eyes alert to the nuances of social and political life in his city.

Devine is utterly unpretentious, despite his obvious intellect. Though he is regularly frustrated by Springfield's political establishment, he brings a good deal of humor to his critiques, using his wit to pierce the whale blubber of platitudes that surround city politics.

Because he will say what few others will, Devine is often relegated to the fringe of the political debate. He adopts the role with relish, regularly bashing the half-baked revitalization schemes that he believes have driven the city further and further into decay.

Yet through it all Devine remains incurably optimistic. "The only hope for reform in Springfield is to smash the stagnant machine in control," Devine said as he went back to his writing last week. "That can only be done with information. No matter how the paper and others try to block the flow, information has a way of getting out, even if it's only in a little zine."

A few new commerical developments have caught my attention. In Amherst, a new store has moved into the old Michelman Gallery. That was quick.

A new patio has been erected at the Souper Bowl Restaurant.

In Northampton, the long vacant bank building next to First Church appears to finally be gaining a tenant, at least according to this sign.

I wish somehow I could get a copy of this poster advertising the September 4th show at the Calvin by Hot Tuna.

Here's a video of internationally famous rock star and Northampton resident Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth performing locally. The only info on the location is the video liner notes which say, "The gig took place in an antique store in Florence which is part of Northampton, MA."

I said the other day that Barsie's in Amherst used to have cute bartenders. My friend Jimmy insists that this is what you call a cute bartender.

Okay Jimmy, you win.


Greg Saulmon said...

I wish Tom Vannah still wrote for the Advocate.

Jim Neill said...

Hot Tuna poster is yours for the picking up Tommy. Just come by my office at 78 Main St ste 514 (door next to NBO) and I'll hook you up.

Tommy said...

Tom V. still writes for the Advocate, but it's more nature stuff than politics. As top editor he has a lot more responsibility than he did when he first came to the Advocate, so he doesn't get to write as much.

Hey Jim, thanks a lot! I will definitely be by tomorrow or Thursday for the poster!

Andrea Murray said...

I um... I don't know what to say about the Urban Outfitters coming to Northampton. I kind of want to cry. This is why I live in Northampton at school, to get away from all the chains in Eastern Mass.