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After One Prominent Candidate Withdraws, Field Is Set For Springfield City Council Preliminary

City Hall in Springfield, Ma

      It has been an election season of surprises in Springfield, Massachusetts and voters have not even gone to the polls yet.

        A veteran politician who was an 11th hour entrant to the race for city council abruptly withdrew as a candidate, citing a potential conflict of interest with her job in the state court system. Another candidate vowed to stay in the race despite allegations of wrongdoing that might be considered fatal to a political career.

       Former State Rep. Cheryl Coakley-Rivera said she withdrew as a candidate after being advised by the State Ethics Commission that if she remained in the race she would have to give up her job as assistant clerk in the Hampden County Superior Court.

      " As much as I love the city and I want to serve I can't afford to leave my full time job right now," said Coakley-Rivera who added, " I am very disappointed."

      Coakley-Rivera took out nomination papers for the city council less than an hour before the July 28th deadline and collected enough signatures to be certified to appear on the ballot.  Her surprise candidacy followed the surprise decision by City Councilor Tim Rooke not to seek reelection to a 12th term and confirmation from State Rep. Bud Williams that he is giving up his at-large council seat after this term.

     Matt Szafranski, Editor-in-Chief of Western Mass Politics & Insight, said Coakley-Rivera would have been a frontrunner, but not a shoo-in, to emerge from a crowded field to win one of the five at-large council seats in November.

    " She would have been in a position to raise a lot of money to raise name recognition and be in a position to point to things she did as a State Representative in terms of arguing how she could be effective on the city council," said Szafranski.

     Thirteen candidates remain on the ballot for councilor-at-large after the August 17th deadline for withdrawals.   A September 19th preliminary election will reduce the field to 10 for the November 7th ballot where the top five vote-getters are elected.

    The current at-large field includes three incumbents, two former city councilors, and several local activists looking to win elected office for the first time.

     Ernesto Cruz remains a candidate despite facing a criminal charge that he allegedly assaulted a girlfriend last June and allegations of mishandling campaign funds.

     He denies wrongdoing and vowed to not let the accusations be a distraction to his campaign.

    " Just keep to the issues I'll be outlining in the days to come and just work as hard as possible," said Cruz. " People know who I am and what my character is."

     Szafranski said if Cruz is ultimately vindicated it may be too late.

      " One of the big things that changed with Tim Rooke dropping out and having two open seats is that we are going to have a lot more newcomers get through the preliminary.  These kinds of news headlines, unfortunately, are some the first things people will have heard about Ernesto Cruz and it might weigh him  down just in terms of getting out of the preliminary," said Szfranski.

     A judge’s ruling that voter registration deadlines in Massachusetts are unconstitutional will not change the requirement that people be enrolled 20 days prior to next month’s preliminary election, according to Springfield Election Commissioner Gladys Oyola.

     " The word from the Secretary of State's office is we are to continue business as usual," said Oyola.

     The registration deadline in Springfield is August 30th.

     The ACLU of Massachusetts, which filed the lawsuit challenging the 20-day registration cutoff, said the effect of the ruling is on hold while the case is on appeal.

     The Secretary of State’s office contends doing away with the registration deadline will impose an expensive burden on local officials to conduct elections.

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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