By G. Michael Dobbs
Usually all it takes is one person here in Western Massachusetts to create a political maelstrom. All you need is one incumbent bowing out.
Up until recently, we had five people whose decisions have created the newest swirl. Thomas Moriarty, register of probate, decided not to run for re-election as did state Rep. Sean Curran. State Sen. Gale Candaras opted to run for Moriarty’s position. State Rep. Angelo Puppolo Jr. is among those running for Candaras’s seat – that opens his seat up. In Westfield, Donald Humason Jr.’s move to the senate has created a vacancy in his state representative seat.
All of these moves are like throwing chum in the shark tank. It creates an ever-increasing amount of excitement among the participants.
But now we have two more positions that will add to the slightly controlled chaos known as politics: Hampden County Sheriff and District Attorney.
Sheriff Michael Ashe made the announcement last week that he will not seek re-election when his term ends in 2016. That is huge.
When District Attorney Mark Mastroianni is approved to his new job as a federal judge, Gov. Deval Patrick will name someone to complete Mastroianni’s term and that will be the unofficial start of that race.
For local political junkies, when you combine all of this activity with that of a gubernatorial race, you have an abundance of riches.
All of these races will be interesting to say the least, but the one for sheriff will be, in many ways, the most significant.
If there is one kind of news the daily press excels in it is crime. Thanks to the proficient police officers who have the duty of informing the press about arrests, crime news is often the easiest stories to fill a ’paper or a newscast.
One element of crime reporting that doesn’t get in the news as often are the efforts by Ashe and his staff at the Hampden County House of Corrections.
A couple of years ago I covered a walk through a neighborhood in Holyoke that included then Police Chief Anthony Scott, Mayor Michael Sullivan, other Holyoke elected officials and Ashe. The purpose of the tour was to show both problems and progress in this neighborhood.
It was fascinating to see guys coming up to Ashe and telling him that they were on the straight and narrow. It was clear their experience while an inmate at the jail had a lasting positive influence on them.
According to the remarks made by Patrick when he visited one of the jail’s programs last year, Hampden County has the lowest rate of recidivism of the country correctional facilities in the state, so Ashe’s programs are having a positive effect.
Now you can say what you want about whether or not it’s been a good thing that Ashe has been in the sheriff’s position for the last four decades. And you can certainly debate the political power that Ashe has built during his time in public office. The Internet posters who hide behind their pseudonyms do plenty of that.
If you set those considerations aside for a moment and look at results, it’s clear the big issue is whether or not the next person in that position will be packing the gear to continue Ashe’s work. Will that person have the experience to maintain the programs that have proven to be successful?
2016 is still a long way off, but I can assure you that Ashe’s announcement has started certain hearts a-fluttering and visions of political committees raising money dancing in at least several people’s dreams.
Agree? Disagree? Drop me a line at email@example.com or at 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028. As always, this column represents the opinion of its author and not the publishers or advertisers of this newspaper.