The city council in Springfield, Massachusetts will have two new members in January after an election Tuesday that saw a very low voter turnout.
A community organizer and a former City Councilor were elected along with three incumbents from a citywide field of 10 candidates for the five at-large seats on Springfield’s legislative body. All eight ward councilors were reelected Tuesday.
Jesse Lederman, a well-known activist with Arise for Social Justice and other organizations, was elected to the City Council two years after his first bid for a council seat came up short. He credited an aggressive door-to-door campaign for his success this time.
"Knocking on doors, talking with voters every single evening and every single weekend about what we will prioritize and what they want to see us prioritize is what I would attribute it to," said Lederman
Former City Councilor Tim Ryan will return to the council in January after a 14-year absence. Ryan, the son of former Mayor Charles Ryan, served on the council from 1994-2003 before stepping down to help raise his family.
Ryan said he is anxious to return to public service.
" I spent a lot of time since the primary going door-to-door, regular media, paid media, and there was the reservoir of good will for my father," said Ryan adding with a laugh "and maybe for me for the last percent."
The stage was set for at least two new people to be elected to the city council after longtime incumbent at-large Councilors Tim Rooke and Bud Williams decided not to seek new terms.
Incumbents Tom Ashe, Justin Hurst, and Kateri Walsh were reelected to the council in the citywide race. The only woman on the council, Walsh, who was first elected in 2004, will become the dean of the City Council.
" I think you can look at in a number of ways," she said when asked about being the longest-serving current member of the City Council. " One would be people appreciate your experience and also what a pleasure it has been to be involved in the decision-making in the city of Springfield."
Turnout was just over 10,500 voters, or just under 10 percent of the city’s 106,000 registered voters. The September preliminary election drew a record-low turnout of just over 5 percent.
The voters’ apathy is expected to renew efforts to change from the current two-year to four-year terms for city councilors, so that council elections coincide with mayoral voting every four years. Several incumbents and challengers said during the campaign they favored the change.
" I think having a longer term and having the mayor at the top of the ticket would make a big difference in turnout," said Walsh.
City Council President Orlando Ramos, reelected Tuesday without an opponent on the ballot to the council seat from Ward 8, announced Wednesday that he has secured the seven votes from his colleagues, including newcomers Lederman and Ryan, to serve a second term as council president.
"I am very humbled to have the support of my colleagues to be council president again in 2018," said Ramos. " I am looking forward to this opportunity because we have a lot of unfinished business."
Ramos said the work of a special committee he appointed to improve police-community relations is expected to spill into 2018. Also, he said he plans to create another ad hoc panel to study “ an important quality of life issue.”