Mayor, City Council On Springfield's Election Ballot
Voters head to the polls in the largest city in western Massachusetts Tuesday to elect a mayor and 13 city councilors.
Incumbent Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno is being challenged by community organizer Yolanda Cancel. There are 10 candidates, including four incumbents, running for five at-large seats on the City Council and there are races for three of the 8 ward council seats.
Despite the number of contests on the ballot, Gladys Oyola-Lopez, the city’s election commissioner, believes voter turnout will be low.
"I am definately thinking low double digits," said Oyola-Lopez.
In the September preliminary election, just over 7-and-a-half percent of the city’s roughly 90,000 registered voters cast ballots. If absentee ballots are an indicator, turnout should improve slightly. About 500 absentee ballots have been requested – 300 more than were cast in September.
The City Council approved an election notification ordinance that required the Election Office to mail postcards to each household in the city and put up signs reminding people to vote. But it was an unfunded mandate.
Oyola-Lopez said there was only enough money in the current budget to print signs that read “Vote Today” in both English and Spanish. These will be placed at 35 intersections on Election Day.
" We went to an actual map of the city of Springfield and saw places where if we posted a sign it would be in close proximity to a polling location," explained Oyola-Lopez.
Additionally, Oyola-Lopez said robocalls will be placed to each household in the city on the eve of Election Day.
"Maybe having several different techniques might improve turnout," said Oyola-Lopez.
Sarno, a 12-year incumbent seeking a new 4-year term, has not participated in any candidates’ debates or forums. That has made it hard for Cancel, who has not raised much money, to get any traction in the race, according to Matt Szafranski, Editor-in-Chief of Western Mass Politics & Insight.
" It is very similar to what was happening four years ago when the mayor was facing former small business owner Sal Circosta, who also did not have a significant amount of resources to put up against the mayor," said Szafranski.
Turnout could be boosted by controversy involving one of the candidates for an at-large council seat.
Christopher Pohner, a retired Springfield firefighter, lost union endorsements and has weathered calls for him to drop out of the race. This after Szafranski published a report that linked Pohner to social media and message board comments that were denounced as racist and homophobic.
"These were some pretty frankly dehumanizing comments about LGBTQ people and there were some comments made on MassLive under a screen name Pohner has since admitted is his that referred to black males as 'parasitic' and referred to Springfield as 'Mudville'," said Szafranski.
The Springfield Fire Commissioner launched an internal investigation after two on-duty firefighters were seen in a photograph taken at a Pohner campaign event with a fire truck parked on the street outside the venue.
Polls in Springfield are open Tuesday from 8 a.m. – 8 p.m.