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Seeing Openings On The City Council, A Large Field Of Candidates Assemble In Springfield

City Councilors in Springfield, Ma voted 9-3 to override Mayor Domenic Sarno's veto of an ordinance creating a five-member board of police commissioners.

  This year’s municipal election in the largest city in western Massachusetts has drawn a large number of candidates.  Even in the absence of an election for mayor in Springfield, it is shaping up to be a very hot campaign season.

  Led by several community activists looking to obtain elected office for the first time and some former office-holders hoping for comebacks, 60 people have taken out nomination papers to run for either city council or school committee in Springfield.  

Election Commissioner Gladys Olyola said it appears to be the highest number of potential candidates in at least 15 years.

" Even when we started ward representation in 2009 it was not as big a race as what we have today," said Oyola.

The departure of two veteran city councilors has touched off a scramble in the race for councilor-at-large.

  State Rep. Bud Williams, who was elected to the Massachusetts legislature last year, chose to serve out his remaining term on the City Council but not run again. 

  On Friday, just before the deadline for candidates to take out nomination papers, Tim Rooke, the longest continuously serving member of the council, made the surprise announcement that he would not  seek re-election to a 12th two-year term.

" Quite honestly I just ran out of gas," Rooke said. " I've been blessed with the support of so many different people in the neighborhoods and my family and I've had a tremendous time."

Shortly after news broke about Rooke’s decision, three former elected officials went to City Hall to take out nomination papers: Former State Rep. Cheryl Coakley-Rivera, and former City Councilors Amaad Rivera and Brian Santaniello.  

Incumbents Thomas Ashe, Justin Hurst, and Kateri Walsh are running to hold on to their at-large seats.    Another former city councilor, Timothy Ryan, launched a campaign months ago.

The community activists campaigning for one of the five at-large council seats include Ernesto Cruz, Victor Davila, Jesse Lederman, Jynai McDonald, Kelli Moriarty-Finn, and Tracye Whitfield.

To qualify for the ballot, candidates must collect the signatures of 100 registered voters by 5 p.m. Tuesday, August 1st.      More than half the candidates have already had their nomination papers certified by the city’s election office.

 Only three of the eight incumbent ward city councilors will not have opponents.  Councilor Tim Allen will run unopposed for a fifth term representing Ward 7.   First-term City Councilors Adam Gomez from Ward 1 and Marcus Williams from Ward 5 will run unopposed.

Williams said he’s pleased, but surprised, to not have an opponent.

" I was not going into this election thinking I would be unopposed," said Williams. "I'll count it as a blessing at this point."

Another surprise this election season came from former Springfield City Council President James Ferrera, who lost his re-election campaign in 2013 and has turned in signed nomination papers to run this year for Springfield School Committee.

  " I thought this time I could contribute to Springfield by being a stronger voice for the School Committee," said Ferrera.

There is no mayoral election in Springfield. Mayor Dominic Sarno is halfway through a four-year term.  City councilors serve two-year terms.

   The 2015 municipal election campaign, where Sarno barely broke a sweat running for re-election against an inexperienced challenger, resulted in a 15 percent voter turnout.

The city’s top election official said a large field of candidates does not always translate to a large turnout of voters.

" It is yet to be seen," said Oyola.  "But if the interest that is driving the candidates can get their constituents to turn out then we might see an increase ( in voter turnout)."

The preliminary election in Springfield is September 19.  The final election is Nov. 7.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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