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Primary vote: Pepe shows class, Morse shows support

By G. Michael Dobbs, Managing Editor Sept. 26, 2011 Some notes and observations for election night in Springfield: There are few people who I’ve seen face the loss of an election with more grace than Antonette Pepe. Standing in the campaign headquarters on election night last week, she said, “It was a nice time, and it was a good race. No one likes to lose, but I’m not sorry, not sad. The issues are now out there.” She interrupted her conversation with several reporters to ask a friend to cut a piece of cake — intended to celebrate a victory — for a boy who was definitely waiting for a slice. The exchange brought a smile and a laugh. Pepe is a classic outsider in a game designed for insiders. The asking of difficult questions and the challenging of the status quo has defined her time on the School Committee. For this, she has been called a variety of names and been described as “angry” and “bitter.” She has been denied information and access, but she has persevered. She has dared to not play the political game so many others do — say one thing in public, do something else in private. In many ways, Pepe is like former Holyoke Police Chief Anthony Scott. Scott came to Holyoke saying this was his last assignment and he was going to say and do what he thought best, regardless of the criticism. Pepe didn’t need to be mayor and has no aspirations for a lengthy political career. Pepe’s revelation of the $30,000 side contract undoubtedly contributed to School Superintendent Dr. Alan Ingram’s decision to resign at the end of his four-year contract. It showed the kind of quiet deals that can happen in this city and what has crippled it in the past. She declared that Mayor Domenic Sarno is “not a leader.” “He definitely doesn’t understand the finances of the city,” she added. These are the kinds of statements that stir the hornet’s nest of anonymous critics on MassLive, ones she is willing to endure as she brings issues to the public. Pepe acknowledged that it’s difficult to run against an incumbent when he is in the news on almost a daily basis and believes that press coverage was a key factor in this election. She is supporting City Council President Jose Tosado and said it was her and Tosado’s intention to support whomever made it through the primary. She emphasized she has “no regrets, no sour grapes,” and added, “I’m still on the School Committee and I’m not going to shut up.” I’m counting on that, and so are many other residents of Springfield. At the Tosado party, there was a collective sigh of relief. “I feel that we just won the Super Bowl,” Tosado said. “I’m so pleased with the turn of events.” Although Sarno received 8,254 votes compared to Tosado’s 3,170, Tosado believed the numbers are misleading, since only 14.7 percent of the voters participated in the election. Although some observers would ask if the Sarno juggernaut is unbeatable, considering his margin of victory, I have to ask if the mayor can do more than attract his base in the final election? For Tosado, attracting voters who are not Sarno true believers should be his goal. He must convince the electorate who sat out the primary his candidacy has something different and better to offer than the incumbent’s. With all of the challenges facing the city, this is a vital election, especially considering it will be the first four-year term for Sarno or Tosado. I just hope people pay attention to this race.
It may have come as a surprise to some people that a political newcomer such as Alex Morse could do as well as he did in the Holyoke run-off election for mayor, but I, for one, will say I wasn’t surprised. I’ll give myself a cigar. Morse has done a classic textbook job of old time grassroots work coupled with a savvy use of social networking. The result is the guy is positioned to face a popular incumbent. The question will be whether voters will want to stay with Mayor Elaine Pluta, who has experience and a track record or Morse who offers a new vision. It’s an interesting race.
Reader James Raschilla of Chicopee thought I was a little harsh with the city councilors who brought forth a challenge to the petitions that placed a question on the ballot about a four year term for mayor. Sorry, Jim, but wouldn’t you agree the political climate in Chicopee right now is a little charged? “Toxic” might be another word. John Vieau and Dino Brunetti did the right thing to challenge the signatures they thought were suspect. That’s democracy in action. It will be difficult in some quarters not to read something political into their motivations, though. There has been a lot of finger-pointing and the pulling of strings in town in the past few years as well as face-to-face confrontations. This always amazes me because Chicopee, in many ways, is one of the most stable communities in the region where it counts: taxes, public safety, infrastructure and business. What’s the beef? I hope the voters in Chicopee will soon have the opportunity to address this issue and others that apply to the amendment of the city’s charter. Hey, agree with me? Disagree? Drop me a line at news@thereminder.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. Bookmark and Share
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