A retired advocacy journalist has kicked off a campaign to become mayor of the third-largest city in Massachusetts. She faces an uphill effort against a well-liked, albeit controversial, incumbent.
Linda O’Connell said she is motivated to run for mayor of Springfield because she believes democracy is broken in the city which saw just a 15 percent voter turnout for the last mayoral election four years ago.
"That's not a show of support. That's not a show of satisfaction. That's a broken system," declared O'Connell.
At a formal campaign kickoff event, O’Connell said the last decade, while Domenic Sarno has been in the mayor’s office, has seen several positive changes in Springfield, but she claims many people have been left behind and feel disenfranchised by City Hall.
"I didn't intend to run for mayor in Springfield, but I am called by you who know a city can light up the lives of all its residents, from all neigborhoods, from all communities," said O'Connell.
O’Connell was born and raised in Springfield. After college, she left the city in the 1970s for a journalism career that included co-founding the Valley Advocate. She returned to Springfield about a decade ago and began advocating for worker-rights causes and voter education.
She claims credit for helping pass a law in Massachusetts to halt discrimination against pregnant workers and for reviving the Springfield chapter of the League of Women Voters.
In an interview, she insisted her lack of municipal government experience is not a liability.
"I think it may help me," said O'Connell, who cited her experience as a manager for several large newspaper chains. " I know how to make change happen."
"I think being an insider and, shall I say protected, is not the way to move forward," said O'Connell.
During the course of the campaign, O’Connell said she plans to address issues including public safety, police accountability, education, affordable housing, racial health disparities and taxes.
" I believe we are also still concerned about why we are paying a trash fee," she added.
About 100 people attended O’Connell’s first public campaign event. It was held in an outdoor pavilion at a VFW post in the city’s Forest Park neighborhood just a short distance from O’Connell’s home.
Four people have been certified to be on the ballot for mayor. In addition to O’Connell and Sarno the others are Yolanda Cancel, a community organizer and Jeffrey Donnelly, a perennial office-seeker. The top two vote-getters in the September 10th preliminary advance to the November election.
Since defeating former Mayor Charles Ryan in an upset in 2007, Sarno has handily won re-election three times. Now in his 12th year, Sarno is on the verge of becoming the longest-serving mayor in the city’s history.
He made it known more than a year ago that he planned to run for another term. Lately, he has deflected questions about his campaign plans.
" There will be plenty of time and at the appropriate time to campaign," said Sarno. "I don't take anything for granted. We have a record of accomplishments, but right now I will continue to concentrate on the day-to-day operations of the city of Springfield."
Sarno’s record as mayor also includes a maverick streak. His outspoken opposition to declaring Springfield a “sanctuary city” for immigrants and his endorsement of Republican Gov. Charlie Baker for re-election have drawn the ire of Democrats.
The Massachusetts Democratic State Committee voted earlier this year to not invite Sarno to address the party’s convention in Springfield this September.