Thursday, February 21, 2019
I regret hearing that longtime Springfield politico Dave Vigneault has died at the age of 82. Here's a picture I took of him years ago that the media has stolen and spread all over the place uncredited. Oh well, at least they steal from the best.
Dave was easy to get a picture of because it seemed he was everywhere, as if no local political event of any importance ever occurred that he was not in attendance. His activism was of a passionate but humble sort, I remember him setting up chairs in the Pine Point Library for a debate between Brian Lees and Frankie Keough, despite the fact that he had once been the State Representative for the Pine Point neighborhood. Dave was supporting Keough, who would later go to prison on an array of corruption charges. I was not a fan of Vigneault's political career, nor were most Pine Pointers at the end of it. Vigneault was a strong supporter of the disastrous school busing program imposed on the city in the early 70's and most of the residents of Pine Point were furious with him for it. Media accounts said he left office because he felt "burnt out" but the truth is he had by that time become unelectable.
Next to the closing of the Springfield Armory, the busing program was the single greatest contributor to Springfield's tragic decline. The resulting white flight sent people who had lived in Pine Point (and throughout the city) fleeing for the suburbs, permanently changing those neighborhoods as the city lost a big chunk of its upper and middle class taxpayers. With 20/20 hindsight we can now see that none of the Utopian fantasies of racial harmony through busing actually came to pass, while all the negatives that were predicted, like white flight, neighborhood destabilization and erosion of the tax base became all too true. Dave Vigneault's political legacy will forever be tarnished by his role in supporting that ruinous policy.
The truth is you could generally count on Dave to be wrong on nearly every issue, which apparently was true to the very end, as it has been reported that he was out campaigning for Bernie Sanders at the age of 80. Yet, even a stopped clock is right twice a day, here is Dave in front of the former Pine Point Library holding a sign for Charlie Ryan in 2005.
Some of the media coverage described Vigneault as a "reformer" but I always considered him an inside player. It takes no courage whatsoever to be a liberal Democrat in Western Massachusetts. (Yesterday I saw a student walking across the UMass campus wearing a red MAGA hat - THAT takes courage!) Vignealt was indeed fully embedded in the local political machine, and those of us activists who were working to clean up the incompetent and corrupt Democrat machine in Springfield never counted him as an ally. His posthumous statements of praise read like a Who's Who of the political elite, including none other than William Bulger (brother of Whitey) who was probably the least reform-minded Senate President you could imagine. Indeed, Vigneault actually worked for Bulger at one point. I wonder if Vigneault ever overheard Bulger taking phone calls from his fugitive brother in his Senate office, as suggested by the FBI? If so, Vigneault carried that info to his grave.
I don't think Dave fully approved of me, although he was always very nice when I would go to the polls and see him standing outside, usually holding a sign in each hand for entrenched establishment figures we true reformers were trying to throw out of office. But in the long run Dave Vigneault will not be remembered for his misguided views, or the legislative record that enraged his constituents, or the insider games he played with the power players. Dave Vigneault will be remembered instead for being that guy that was always around the scene, helping in small but meaningful ways to make the political process work. Vignealt's death comes less than six months after the loss of a similarly once ubiquitous figure in Springfield politics, Mildred Dunbar. Like her, Dave was often the first to arrive and the last to leave an event, always willing to do the unglamorous grunt work of democracy without which it cannot function. I fear we have too few activist role models like Dave and Millie today, and we still need them.
Meanwhile, I took a video out the bus window the other day, just as a protest was forming in front of City Hall over the national emergency declaration to build a wall on our southern border.