Thursday, March 3, 2011
Our entire Valley was saddened last week by the death of Walter "Tux" Sullivan. At least no one could say he died young, passing on at the age of 99. He was a recognized expert on baseball, both local and nationally, and wrote several books on the sport.
Yet while everyone was praising the baseball legend this week, there was no media account which I saw that mentioned the one political episode in Tux's life. Therefore as so often happens in local politics, the duty falls upon me to recall what so many would prefer to forget.
In the 1990's Springfield's corrupt Albano Administration had no shortage of schemes to bilk the taxpayers on behalf of a privileged cartel of insiders, but one of the most notorious was an attempt to erect a baseball stadium in downtown Springfield. Although the whole thing was financially unfeasible, it was supported by political lowlifes because it would have provided lots of patronage jobs, shady contracts and slush fund opportunities to those with political pull. Among those who saw through the ruse was Tux Sullivan, whose staunch opposition to the baseball stadium was a major embarrassment to the Albano gang.
It was in that context that I had my only encounter with Tux Sullivan. In 1999 in a desperate attempt to stop the baseball boondoggle, activists Bob and Karen Powell held a fundraiser in order to hire a lawyer, former and future mayor Charles V. Ryan, to challenge the Albano gang and the sketchy financing schemes behind the stadium. I attended the affair with former City Councilor Mitch Ogulewicz, and by chance we were seated at the same table with Tux and some of his friends.
I recall him as being very likable, and full of entertaining stories that made him the center of attention. Indeed a Springfield Newspaper photographer wanted to get a big close-up of Tux for their morning edition. In fact the newspaper photographer had been taking photos of the gathering all night. The newspaper's presence at the event surprised us, as the paper had been stridently editorializing in favor of the stadium, and generally tried to play down or ignore any anti-stadium activity. So as Tux struck a beaming pose for the camera, with everyone turning to look at the sport celebrity getting his portrait taken by the press, as the flash exploded I noticed something that startled me more than the bright flash did:
The camera didn't seem to be pointed at Tux - but instead was turned a little to the side. The camera was actually pointed at me and Mitch.
The next morning a small article appeared in the back of the paper about the fundraiser that implied that nothing of importance had transpired. The article mostly focused on the possibility that the minor involvement in the fundraiser by then City Councilor Bill Foley was somehow improper. There were no photographs accompanying the story. Later it was reported by an anonymous caller to the Dan Yorke Show that a plain brown envelope had been delivered to City Hall that morning with photographs inside revealing who had attended the fundraiser. That City Hall would be interested in who attended was not a surprise, since that would've been standard political machine practice in order to identify those who were to be subject to future retaliation. The rumors were neither confirmed nor disproved that the photographs in question were the ones taken by the newspaper that night but never used for journalistic purposes.
In the end the stadium scam came to nothing, as Attorney Ryan successfully convinced Judge Constance Sweeney that the whole enterprise was a crooked farce. In fact Judge Sweeney accused the Albano Administration in open court of having committed felonies in order to receive funding for the stadium under false pretenses. None the less, then District Attorney Bill Bennett refused to convene a grand jury in order to investigate the judge's charges.
I've always given Tux Sullivan a lot of credit for the risks he took in so publicly opposing the corrupt stadium scam. Had he supported it the Albano Administration would have made him the biggest name in Springfield. Instead he was relegated to the level of a "non-person", as were so many others who opposed the local machine. Tux Sullivan was remembered this week for his encyclopedic knowledge of baseball, but it was his courageous character and unbending integrity that was his real legacy.
There was a big labor rally at UMass this week.
I was not surprised to see Kevin Noonan and his dog on their way to it.
Northampton Mayor M. Clare Higgins at the Haymarket the other morning.
Some interesting graffiti scrawled on the UMass Fine Arts Center.