Remember last summer when someone put some grease under the nose of the statue of Calvin Coolidge in Northampton's Coolidge Park to make him look like Adolph Hitler?
That was so disrespectful, so unjustified, so outrageous - and so funny! Cal's mustache has since been cleaned off, but lately another problem with the statue has been rectified. Despite being the only resident of our Valley ever to be elected to the presidency, when alive Coolidge was pretty quiet about his accomplishments, which is part of why he was called "Silent Cal."
However, his statue should not be modest, and thus it was with dismay that it was discovered that one of Cal's honors - his service as Northampton's Clerk of Courts - had been unintentionally omitted. The problem was there was no room on the statue to add anymore accomplishments!
However the other day I noticed that a portion of the monument was wrapped in duct tape with some poles holding something in place. What could it be?
A day later - voila! The tape was removed and sure enough there was a special plaque stuck on the side of the monument listing Cal's years as Clerk of Courts.
Maybe the prestige of that extra honor will be enough to scare away the next vandal that wants to turn him back into Hitler.
I'm saddened to read in this morning's paper about the death of former Springfield City Councilor Mary Montori (above). Everyone called her "Betty" and on a legislative body often rightfully derided as the "City Clowncil" she was a person of character and strong convictions. In this excerpt from the memoirs of Mitch Ogulewicz, who served with Montori, he recounts how she once bravely defied the entire political establishment and gladly paid the price.
In January of 1985, longtime City Councilor Rose Marie Coughlin resigned from the Council after she was elected Hampden County Treasurer in November of 1984. It was a position she would hold until the Hampden County government was abolished fourteen years later. Her departure created a vacancy, which according to Council rules meant that the next closest defeated candidate in the last election had first rights of acceptance for the seat. Happy to accept was Morris Jones, a thirty year postal employee and well known Winchester Square (now Mason Square) political activist. The arrival of Jones also ended criticism from some quarters that the City Council consisted of all whites.
Jones was entering office right in the middle of a raging controversy involving the Baystate Medical Center. The hospital wanted to expand and construct new buildings, but the surrounding well-to-do and politically active neighborhood of Atwater Park was opposed, claiming that the new high-rises would spoil their view, increase traffic congestion and lower property values.
Whether the hospital would be allowed to expand was uncertain, since many Councilors, including Mitch Ogulewicz, were undecided. Politically it was a hard call, since the angry neighborhood was very politically active with high voter turnouts. On the other hand, the hospital expansion would create hundreds of new jobs and greatly enhance the quality of health care facilities in the city.
Adamantly opposed was Councilor Betty Montori, the wife of a prominent physician. In fact Montori had run for office specifically with the intent of being a “no” vote on the hospital issue. Equally determined to support the project were Councilors Bill Foley, Frank Keough, Brian Santaniello and Vincent DiMonaco. In many ways Vinnie DiMonaco was considered the leader of the pro-hospital advocates. DiMonaco was a former labor union leader, and advocated the expansion because of the construction jobs it would create and the quality medical coverage it would provide for the poor. Despite some initial hesitation, Morris Jones also joined the supporters. That left in the undecided category Mitch, Bob Markel and Mary Hurley as the swing votes who held the fate of the hospital in their hands. Because it was a special permit, a total of six votes instead of the usual five was required.
With five councilors already in support of the expansion and only one opposed, it was within the power of any of the undecideds to determine the outcome. The three Councilors met on the issue often and it was agreed that if any one of them decided to vote in favor, then the other two would vote yes also. Cynically considering the political realities, they felt that if it was going to pass, then there would be no point in voting against the project and incurring the political wrath of the unions and other special interest groups over a lost cause.
One day Ogulewicz was in his office at the bank when he received a request to meet with Bank President Karl Walzak. Mitch assumed that it was something to do with routine bank business, and was very much taken aback to discover what the real topic was. Walzak informed Mitch that he had just received a phone call from a very high ranking public figure, urging him to ask Mitch to please vote in favor of the hospital expansion. Mitch was totally surprised and asked Walzak, “Do you mean someone called and asked you to apply pressure on me to vote yes?"
The bank President stressed the fact that he was personally indifferent to how Mitch voted on that or any other issue that came before the Council. Walzak said that he merely felt that Mitch should be aware of the fact that the phone call had been made. Mitch was furious that someone would attempt to pressure him politically through his employer, and demanded to know who had made the call. At first he resisted, but finally Walzak relented and revealed the identity of the attempted blackmailer:
Mitch considered the discovery that it was the publisher of the daily paper who had applied this pressure as beyond the pale, and something that Ogulewicz couldn't overlook. He left work immediately and marched straight down Main Street to the corporate headquarters of the Springfield Newspapers. When Mitch arrived, he demanded to speak with the publisher. Ushered into the office, he found Starr was smiling and welcoming.
“Mr. Starr,” Mitch said trying to keep his calm, “I need to have a word with you.”
“Of course,” Starr replied pleasantly, “and don’t call me Mr. Starr. Call me David.”
Mitch was angered by Starr’s friendliness, which he saw as hypocritical considering the phone call he knew Starr had made that morning. It seemed to Ogulewicz indicative of Starr’s arrogant belief that Mitch’s quick arrival at his office apparently meant that Mitch was coming to surrender.
“No thank you, Mr. Starr,” Mitch said, rejecting the offer of moving their relationship to a first name basis, “I don’t want to be too friendly with anyone who puts pressure on the place where I work in order to try to force me to vote their way! Frankly, I don’t appreciate the implied threat!”
The expression on Starr's face revealed that the publisher was caught completely off-guard. At first Starr tried to deny that he had made the call, but Ogulewicz then asked why Walzak, whom he had known since they were youngsters growing up on Hungry Hill, would lie to him about such a matter. Still Starr continued to insist that he had not made the call. The conversation became very heated, with at one point Mitch’s voice becoming so loud that nearby employees gathered outside Starr’s office, concerned about the shouting they heard coming from inside. Mitch finally stormed out of Starr’s office in a rage, aware that what little friendly relationship he had ever had with Starr was now irreparably damaged.
Ironically, despite that ugly incident Mitch ended up voting for the hospital expansion anyway, eventually concluding that the medical needs of the community outweighed the resident’s objections. The other Councilors voted the same way, except for Betty Montori, and the measure passed 8 to 1. Montori suffered for her lone dissenting vote, when the Springfield Newspapers wrote a strident editorial calling for her defeat in the next election.
If Springfield could only have had more people of conviction like Betty Montori in public office, someone who was willing to stand up for what she believed no matter what the consequences, the city may never have fallen to its current state.
May she rest in peace.
Former Valley Advocate reporter and WNNZ radio host Al Giordano (above) was a friend of the late singer/songwriter Jeff Buckley. In fact Buckley's song The Sky is a Landfill is based on an essay written by Giordano. Al had this to say about Buckley's tragic death:
Jeff Buckley was a singer-songwriter with a voice of five octaves and the big heart of an authentic revolutionary. Jeff dedicated his life to telling the truth. His death by drowning in the Mississippi River in 1997 was pronounced “accidental.” Don’t believe it!
I was one of the last humans to see Jeff in New York City, on his way to the airport, to Memphis, where he was late in recording an album for Sony. The music company had fucked with him and his ability to tell the truth as he saw it. They wouldn’t let him choose his own producer. They imposed one on him: wanting to exploit his talent commercially, in violation of Jeff’s own vision.
Some months later, on the night before he was to begin recording at the gunpoint of a contract with Sony, as his bandmates were arriving by airplane, Jeff, drunk on wine, on the banks of the river where signs shout that the currents are dangerous and do not swim there, Jeff entered the river with his boots on: With his fucking boots on! He was last heard singing “Wanna whole lotta love” and then he sung no more....
Do you want to know how to kill an authentic journalist or a revolutionary? Do you want to know how to provoke a truth-seeker and truth-teller into taking his or her own life? Play a con game on him and her: that’s how.