Monday, August 25, 2008

Council Report Card

Of 1993.

In March of 1993 I decided to grade on an A to F scale the Springfield City Council. The cover of The Baystate Objectivist featured a drawing by Richard "The Twig Painter" Doyle showing Councilor Morris Jones wearing a dunce cap (above) and inside showed Councilor Francis Keough doing the same.

Doyle also did other unflattering portraits of pols over the years. For example former School Superintendent Dr. Peter Negroni once appeared on the cover with devil's horns.

School Committee member Allene B. Curto, a political ally of Negroni, got the same treatment in the same issue.

Later my sister Bev waited on Ms. Curto in the Tavern Inn. The School Committee member told my sister that she laughed hysterically when she saw the drawing. Some of what is reprinted here is a little dated, but not much. Sadly, in Springfield the more things change the more they seem to stay the same.

When you stop and think about it, it's a wonder that anyone is willing to serve on the Springfield City Council. The pay is laughably low (10 grand a year and all the aggravation you can stand) while you're likely to spend an amount equal to your salary just to get yourself elected.

If you win, everyone who voted for you (and many who did not) feels free to act as if they own you, every position you take makes an enemy out of someone, and all during your term people call and interrupt your supper in order to hold you personally responsible for the unrepaired pothole in front of their house.

On the other hand, life on the City Council is not without its perks. You get treated like a celebrity of sorts wherever you go, you can get your name in the paper and your face on TV almost at will, the media seeks out your opinions and a little jingle identifying you as a "newsmaker" announces your calls to talk radio. You get to watch the circus of city politics from a ringside seat, and many have used the Council as a springboard to more lucrative political offices.

And if you're lucky, you might even make a difference on an issue that matters.

The following is a brief report (complete with letter grades) on the seven men and two women who currently serve on our City Council. This brings us to yet another peril of serving the public on the Council: Some smart-alecky zine publisher may decide to give you a cute nick-name and evaluate your performance in the manner of a tyrannical political science professor.

Sorry Councilors, but this too comes with the turf.

Tony Ravosa 1989

Rebel Ravosa - If ever there was a political career likely to scare others away from public service, it is Councilor Anthony Ravosa's long, sometimes seemingly hopeless efforts to act on the public's behalf. It's hard to believe that he's only been on the Council since 1989, at times it must have felt to him like he's served since 1889. His family's name has been dragged through the mud, his business was ruined, his morals were drawn into question and his political opinions have been dismissed, denounced or ignored. Last year Congressman Richard Neal dismissed Ravosa's charges about political corruption in Springfield as "dwelling in the past." Ravosa has been a prophet without honor during a dark chapter in Springfield's history. Shame on the voters if they don't make amends by making Ravosa the highest vote getter in the Council elections next fall.
Grade: A-plus.

Wonderful Walsh - A Councilor since 1987, Kateri Walsh has gradually grown to become the most popular member of the Council. That popularity failed to follow her into her congressional race last year, where she appeared out of her depth and stumbled badly against the super-slick Richie Neal. Her most valuable role on the Council has been as a fiscal watchdog and advocate of just plain commonsense. She never grandstands or goes chasing after publicity (rare for a politician) and instead goes quietly about tending to the public's business. The secret of her popularity is that once Walsh chooses an issue, things get done.
Grade: A

Guardian Garde - With only one year on the Council behind her, it isn't clear exactly where on the political spectrum to place Barbara Garde. Yet if there is one characteristic passing consistently through the ideological mish-mash it is Garde's fierce independence. A potential swing vote on many issues, Garde is courted by all political factions with equal fervor. But it's probably a waste of time trying to call this Councilor's tune. When it comes to matters of principle, this lady don't dance.

Busy Boyle - New Council President William Boyle is something of an enigma. A protege of controversial ex-D.A. Matty Ryan and a staunch Neal supporter, some observers believed he was chosen to succeed Francis Keough as President because the establishment considers him safe. If so, that's not the way it's worked out. Since assuming the Presidency, Boyle has had the Council in a constant uproar, and none too soon. The best evidence that he must be doing something right is that the Springfield Newspapers now editorialize against him. Boyle's past ties to Ryan and Neal have made some people slow to trust him. But present actions speak louder than past deeds, and the fact is our new President is doing a good job.
Grade: B

Fickle Foley - It's hard to forgive Councilor William T. Foley for his do-nothing, go along to get along career as Council President during the former "golden age" (now called the rusty, tarnished, pockmarked age) of former Mayor Richard Neal. But his lackadaisical performance was typical of Foley, sometimes called the Council's "Great Compromiser" for his ability to appear to support both sides of every issue. Though he's got a decade long track record behind him, it's hard to find compelling reasons to either praise or condemn him. While it wouldn't be a tragedy if he were re-elected, unfortunately the same thing could be said if he were defeated.
Grade: C

Awful Albano - Few new Councilors get to a more stumbling start on the Council than newcomer Michael Albano did. A task force on crime he headed turned out to be so lame that Kateri Walsh called it "a political sham," while Valley Advocate writer Al Giordano quipped, "If brown-nosing public officials could solve the violent crive problem, this task force would have won a Nobel Prize." When the city tried to restore Forest Park by charging an entrance fee, Albano opposed it, only to look like a fool when the park underwent a renaissance after the fees were instated. He also opposed attempts to reform the running of the concession stands at city golf courses, only to have it discovered that Albano's relatives had benefited from such a stand. Albano's judgment as a member of the State Parole Board was called into question last summer, when a convict Albano voted to release was almost immediately re-arrested for rape and murder. For a time it seemed as if everything Albano did turned into an orgy of bad publicity. When Albano announced that he would donate his salary to the city and work for nothing, it seemed less like an altruistic gesture than merely adjusting his salary to reflect his true worth.

Albano is trying to present himself as an outsider, but don't be fooled. During Neal's "golden age" Albano was a loyal Neal supporter while serving on the School Committee and a prominent supporter of Michael Dukakis. The Sunday Republican on January 17 described Albano as "an acquaintance for 25 years" of now indicted deputy tax collector Charles Kingston, who Albano was quoted as praising as "a savvy individual." Is Albano really the only major figure emerging to challenge Mayor Markel in this time of desperately needed change? Citizens, we can do better.
Grade: D

Slippery Santaniello - Technically the "Dean of the Council" with nearly 16 years of service under his belt, Brian Santaniello makes a lie of the old adage that experience brings wisdom. All but invisible except in election years, when he shows a genius for latching onto popular issues he ignores the rest of the time, Santaniello is the the political establishment's loyal soldier. An example of the infuriating extremes Santaniello will go to in order to protect the status-quo was demonstrated last month during an interview with Dan Yorke on WHYN. When Yorke attempted to discuss the various corruption investigations in the city, Santaniello tried to play dumb, repeatedly asking, "What investigations?" in a snide, sarcastic manner. So arrogant and condescending was Santaniello's attitude that although the interview lasted less than twenty minutes, the entire three hour show was dominated by callers expressing their outrage over Santaniello's behavior. To be re-elected so many times, Santaniello must be doing something right. The problem is, no one can figure out what.
Grade: F

Krazy Keough - "If Frank Keough cared mor about the taxpayer's of Springfield than he does about himself, he would have voluntarily stepped aside months ago." So wrote BusinessWest in an editorial last June, discussing the year long humiliation that Keough subjected the city to when he refused to step down from the Council Presidency after he was indicted by a Grand Jury last year. The constant references, whenever Springfield was discussed in the media to our "indicted City Council President" gave Springfield a public relations black eye that a hundred Greener Pastures campaigns couldn't have fixed. Keough was insane to believe that the public would forgive such arrogance (or the sleazy real estate deals that led to the indictments). Today, Keough is probably the least respected man in city politics. As Springfield Police Lt. Richard LaBelle was quoted as saying in the Springfield paper, "This city is run by small minds, and the biggest criminals in the city wear suits and ties."
Grade: F-minus.

Jerky Jones - Competing with Keough in the negative popularity polls is Morris Jones. Try as one might to like him, it's simply impossible to forgive Jone's repeated betrayals of the public's trust. The most infamous example occurred last month over the Quinn Bill, when Jones stabbed the police in the back by switching his vote from favoring the police educational benefits to opposing them. It wasn't just the switch itself but the circumstances surrounding it.

"My word is my bond," Jones had said, solemnly pledging to the police his unwavering support, only to let the police down flat in the council chambers. Worse, Jones has refused to be interviewed on the matter, leaving it a mystery how "My word is my bond," got to be "My word is baloney."

Jones has long been famous for his sudden switches, the Quinn Bill fiasco was only the most recent and extreme example. The public never knows when Jones, no matter how fervently he appears to have taken a position, might suddenly jerk the city into a crisis with his unpredictable flip-flops. It makes one wonder whether Jones answers to unseen masters. In any case, his credibility is zero.
Grade: Z

At Raos Coffeeshop in Amherst yesterday I noticed my State Representative Ellen Story enter. I asked if I could take her picture and she graciously agreed. Dig the cowgirl shirt.

At a reading at Amherst's Food for Thought Bookstore I saw the latest in cutting edge fashion - the electric vest!

The problem is the brightness makes your friends have to close their eyes while they talk to you.

Our narratives are how the universe knows itself. When push comes to shove, it's all about trying to tell the stories.

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