This week former Springfield City Councilor Mo Jones died. In 1994 he appeared on the cover of The Baystate Objectivist in a portrait by Doyle the Twig Painter in which he was shown wearing a dunce cap.
Frankly Mo Jones was a crook with close ties to the Asselin Gang and the Keough Krew, but a likeable crook just the same and hardly the worst of the bunch. Like so many others in the scene, he accepted a corrupt system that already existed before he got there, and when he arrived he simply took full advantage of his opportunities. Dan Yorke, Al Giordano and I used to attack him unmercifully, which he richly deserved. One time however I thought Al went too far, as I recalled in this retrospective essay originally published in 2002:
I once had a friendly argument with former Valley Advocate writer Al Giordano over whether or not there are lines of propriety you shouldn't cross when criticizing politicians. The impetus for our disagreement was an article by Giordano that appeared in the Advocate about former City Councilor Morris "Mo" Jones. At the time Jones was the targeted enemy of the forces of Righteousness and Light (um, that means me and my friends) because of Jones' maddening tendency to flip-flop on the issues when told to do so by the powers that be.
Of course blind obedience to the local Democrat machine was hardly a vice that was confined to Mo Jones. But what was so infuriating was that Jones was actually a pretty likable guy with a fair dose of commonsense, at least for a Springfield City Councilor. That good sense would cause Jones, when initially confronted with an issue, to make honest statements that often genuinely reflected the public interest.
But then a newspaper editorial would appear supporting a different position, one that was bad for the city but good for the usual group of inside players. Invariably Jones would announce that "after further consideration" he was changing his vote, resulting in numerous one vote victories for the Forces of Darkness. A clever political cartoon of the time portrayed Springfield Newspaper publisher David Starr as pulling the strings of a puppet resembling Jones, while Starr was singing the chorus to the classic blues song, "Got my Mo Jo workin'...." Giordano, talk-show host Dan Yorke and I decided to do everything we could to insure that Jones would be defeated for re-election. (He was)
One day Giordano delivered in the Advocate a particularly hard hitting anti-Jones broadside. In that article Giordano had described Jones as "waddling into the council chambers" and giving a speech in which he "croaked like a frog." It was true that Jones was more than a bit portly in those days, which affected the way he walked, and he also had a gravelly voice that in a less politically correct age might have drawn comparisons to the Kingfish character from Amos and Andy.
Although Al's insults were funny, I wrote that I thought he shouldn't have used them. My objections had nothing to do with political correctness, I just felt that to attack him on such a personal level undermined the purely policy based reasons for why the electorate should reject Jones. I thought it looked mean-spirited.
Giordano completely disagreed. "Politics is a form of war," he said, and in his view whatever worked to bring down your enemies was both correct and necessary. If personal ridicule was an effective tool, then the serious political activist had a duty to use it. He also argued that since our enemies in the Springfield establishment were often known to stoop to any level of sleazery to win, then why shouldn't we do the same in order to at least level the playing field?
Maybe the modern history of Springfield would have been different if more of us reformers had adopted Al's tactics. I don't know, maybe we would have lost fewer battles. But whether it is effective or not, I still adhere to standards that avoid ridicule or personal attacks in my own writing. It's not that I don't have the material to work with. To paraphrase Mark Twain, Valley politics in general, and Springfield in particular, offers not just food for laughter, but an entire banquet!
I only met Mo socially once. It was at the Van Horn Spa and I was sitting at the bar talking to Charles V. Ryan when Jones happened to walk by. Charlie called him over in order to tell him something and then introduced us. When he shook my hand Mo's grip was so limp it could only be interpreted as an purposeful insult.
I let it slide. Eventually most of the people we were fighting against were led away in handcuffs. However, Mo Jones was never formally indicted, although his name did surface in the Asselin indictments. For the record, here is what was reported in the Springfield Newspapers on October 7, 2006:
In 1997, (Frank) Ware said he won $638,800 in subcontracting work from the authority, but ended up $25,000 in the hole. He testified he was forced to pay not only for labor and materials, but a $78,000 bribe to Sotirion and a $5,000 kickback to former city councilor Morris "Mo" Jones.
The alleged Jones payoff was marked "Mo" on a handwritten tally of expenses written by Sotirion, according to Ware.
In a surprising twist in testimony, Ware said: "The factor to Mr. Jones, that was put into the deal by Art Sotirion."
Yet for all the air of scandal that perpetually surrounded Mo Jones, I always liked him on a personal level. He was at least a colorful character, not like the faceless bureaucrats and corporate zombies who are looting the city today. Here is a video of Mo in action in 1988:
Speaking of Springfield, I took the bus down there this past week.
A tribute to fallen officer Kevin Ambrose across from Duggan.
Speaking of Doyle the Twig Painter, a scene from his gallery.
Ol' Pine Point.
I did not go to the Amherst Fair, but this photographer did.
Out the window of a UMass bus shelter.