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In the Springfield mayoral election, the longtime incumbent faces a challenger who says change is long overdue

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno ( on left), a 16-year incumbent, is seeking re-election to another four-year term. He is being challenged by five-term City Councilor Justin Hurst, who is seeking to become the city's first Black mayor
composite by Western Massachusetts Politics & Insight
Focus Springfield Community Television
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno ( on left), a 16-year incumbent, is seeking re-election to another four-year term. He is being challenged by five-term City Councilor Justin Hurst, who is seeking to become the city's first Black mayor

Vote-buying allegations roil the final days of the race

Voters in Springfield, Massachusetts Tuesday will settle the most competitive election for mayor in at least a decade.

Mayor Domenic Sarno, who took office in 2008, is asking voters to give him another four years based on what he has accomplished with an administration he habitually describes as “tried and true.”

“We have a good story to tell and we’ve told that story – a proven and battle tested record,” Sarno said.

Challenging the incumbent mayor is 10-year City Councilor Justin Hurst, who says Sarno has become insular during his time in office, is beholden to big-dollar campaign donors, and is out-of-touch with the needs of average residents.

“We need to recognize the plight of the residents here in the city of Springfield especially those who are struggling,” Hurst said.

Public safety and the affordability of Springfield as a place to live emerged as top issues in what had been a surprisingly lackluster closing stretch until allegations of voter fraud on the part of the challenger’s campaign stirred the race.

City Solicitor John Payne called for a criminal investigation into allegations the Hurst campaign brought people to an early voting site at City Hall and paid them $10 for their vote. Payne’s office released to the media a video that appears to show a Hurst campaign volunteer passing out $10 bills to people outside City Hall and sworn affidavits from poll workers, who said they overheard conversations by newly-registered voters about payments.

Hurst said the vote-buying accusation is “unequivocally false” and “a smear.”

“These accusation are not only insulting to our dedicated campaign supporters but to all residents who are exercising their constitutional rights to vote against the establishment and alter the course of history,” Hurst.

In a statement released by his office, Sarno said the allegations are “very serious and upsetting to me.”

With both candidates professing public safety as a top priority, their approaches are different. Hurst extolls “a comprehensive plan” that includes hiring more police, greater community engagement with law enforcement and a local examination of the root causes of gun violence, which this year has claimed a record number of lives in Springfield – 27.

Sarno stands firmly with the Springfield Police Department despite Civil Rights abuses that led last year to a federal consent decree mandating reforms. He points out that significant improvements such as body-worn cameras came about before the feds showed up. Also, the police have taken a record number of guns off the streets.

“As I have stated before, I need the courts and some of the judges to keep these repeat violent criminal offenders locked up, out of our neighborhoods, and off our streets,” Sarno said. “I will continue to push my bail reform.”

The city’s “financial strength and stability” is something Sarno said he is most proud of.

“When I took over, the city was near bankruptcy,” Sarno said. “Now we have the highest bond rating in the city’s history with about $60 million in reserves.”

But Hurst argues that socking away all those millions in a rainy day fund has come at the expense of city residents who have seen property taxes go up in eight of the last 10 years and water rates jump 28 percent in the last four years.

“For many residents it is raining,” Hurst said.

Hurst has also sharply critiqued how Sarno has chosen to spend the $123 million the city received in 2021 from the American Rescue Plan Act. He said, if elected, one of his first actions will be to audit the distribution of the pandemic recovery funds.

Appearing at a candidate forum on Focus Springfield Community Television that Sarno declined to participate in, Hurst endorsed a term limit for Springfield mayor.

“For me, there is nothing wrong with putting a reasonable term limit in place for the mayor,” Hurst said. “The problem that you end up having and the problem we are having right now is that the longer you stay in office your circle begins to shrink.”

After participating in several candidates’ forums prior to the preliminary election in September, Sarno has claimed his busy schedule precluded him from taking part in most that have been held since.

“People know my record and I have been very-very accessible,” Sarno said.

Sarno enjoyed a huge advantage in campaign fundraising, an edge he was able to maintain throughout the campaign. It allowed him to go up on T.V. during the weeks in October when votes were being cast by mail and in-person at early voting locations. Hurst has had ads airing in the final days leading up to Tuesday, Nov. 7th.

Name recognition is not a problem for Hurst. He’s been a top-vote getter in each of his at-large runs for City Council. His wife is a longtime elected member of the Springfield School Committee. His parents are prominent members of the community.

If elected, Hurst would be the city’s first Black mayor.

Sarno has already achieved the distinction of being Springfield’s longest-serving mayor.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.