With the deadline passed for candidates to turn in nomination papers, the municipal election picture is coming into focus in the largest city in western Massachusetts. A discussion is also underway about taking steps to boost voter turnout, which in recent local elections in Springfield has been anemic.
Enough candidates have been certified for the ballot in Springfield to trigger a September 10th preliminary election that will include the office of mayor, the five at-large seats on the City Council, and in one ward, where the 10-year incumbent councilor is retiring.
Springfield Election Commissioner Gladys Oyola-Lopez said four candidates for mayor have been certified to appear on the September ballot along with 11 candidates for at-large City Council.
"We see a more seasoned pool of candidates than in years past," observed Oyola-Lopez. " I think this year is going to be pretty lively."
Four people have been certified to appear on the ballot for City Council in Ward 4 and the nomination papers of two more potential candidates were still being reviewed as of Friday. Incumbent Ward 4 City Councilor E. Henry Twiggs announced earlier this year he would not run for another term.
" E. Henry was the first person to hold that Ward 4 seat (since 2009), and now that he has decided to vacate it we are looking at a very hotly contested primary," said Oyola-Lopez.
Domenic Sarno, the 12-year incumbent mayor of Springfield, took out nomination papers on March 1st –the day the papers first became available and returned the nomination petitions a few weeks later with more than the 500 signatures of registered voters required to qualify for the ballot.
Two candidates took out nomination papers in the final week of availability, and worked through the Memorial Day weekend to secure enough signatures by Tuesday’s 5 p.m. deadline. Both have qualified for the preliminary ballot for mayor.
Yolanda Cancel, a community organizer, made the decision to run for mayor after violence hit close to her.
"The Monday I pulled papers for mayor, that Saturday by son was shot at our corner convenience store," said Cancel.
Her 24-year old son is out of the hospital and expected to recover. Since people heard her story, Cancel said there has been a groundswell of backing for her candidacy.
" They're ignited. They're fired up. I don't have to agitate them, they already are and they want true change," said Cancel.
Cancel ran for a ward city council seat in 2017, and was trounced by incumbent City Councilor Melvin Edwards.
With just minutes to spare before the deadline, Linda Matys O’Connell filed signatures in the Election Office in City Hall and qualified to run for mayor.
" I think we need to ask ourselves what direction we want to move in and have a really robust dialogue about that, which I don't think we've had in the past couple of mayoral elections," said O'Connell.
With a place secured on the ballot, O’Connell, a former journalist, activist, and League of Women Voters official, said she plans to assemble a campaign team and start fundraising.
Sarno, who is running for a fifth term, appeared to be testing some campaign lines at a couple of events this week.
"We are and will continue to be an adminstration of accomplishments with a proven track record," Sarno said at a press conference announcing the city budget. Later at a groundbreaking he said " My administration has been one of proven and continued accomplishments and we pay very much attention to our neighorhoods."
Jeffery Donnelly, a perennial candidate for elected office in Springfield, has also made it onto the ballot for mayor. As of Friday, nomination signatures for a fifth candidate, Michael Jones, had not been certified. Jones ran for mayor in 2015.
Despite a large diverse field of candidates for City Council in Springfield two years ago, the September preliminary election drew just 9 percent of the city’s registered voters to the polls.
The City Council is considering ordering steps aimed at boosting voter participation. A proposed ordinance, sponsored by City Councilor Jesse Lederman, would require a written notice go out to city households 30 days prior to a municipal election with information about the date, times, and polling locations. Robocalls with the voting date and polling hours would be placed 14 days prior to the election. Lastly, signs reading “Vote today” would be posted at street intersections near polling places on Election Day.
" There is no silver bullet that is going to increase voter turnout for a municipal election, or any election immediately," said Lederman.
Election Commissioner Oyola-Lopez endorsed the initiative.
"Do I think it will be succesful? I think it will have some effect," said Oyola-Lopez.
The city’s election commissioner estimated the mailings alone would cost over $13,000 for each election.
Oyola-Lopez said her office has a current budget of $5,000 to spend on voter outreach and education.
The voter notification ordinance is being reviewed by the council’s General Government Committee.