| Debbie Gardner
SPRINGFIELD – It was billed as a “Meet the Candidates” night, with incumbent State Rep. Angelo Puppolo, challenger Donald Flannery and Hampden County Register of Deeds candidate Marie Angelides in attendance. But the 35 people who attended the East Forest Park Civic Association (EFPCA) meeting at Pope Francis Preparatory School on Oct. 10 actually got more of a refresher on how to promote issues and causes important to their neighborhood than campaign pitches.
City Councilor Tim Allen, who represents the Ward containing the tight-knit neighborhood, opened and closed the meeting by highlighting how community involvement has – and can – affect the quality of life for residents.
Citing the beautiful new school that played host for the evening, Allen noted how hard a dedicated group of neighbors, city councilors and former Cathedral students had worked on an initiative to have it built on the site of the former Cathedral High School, which was destroyed in the F-4 tornado on June 1, 2011.
The group, called at the time “Save Cathedral” must have met “50 times” Allen said, to plan neighborhood outreach, marketing efforts and other work to keep the school idea alive. “You never know how all that stuff is going to work out, and what actually made the difference, but somehow through the efforts of everybody we got this fabulous new school in the neighborhood.”
He also noted the new East Forest Park Library, which recently broke ground on a site adjacent to the Mary A. Dryden Veterans Memorial School on Surry Road, as another example of a neighborhood calling attention to a need, and working to get it filled.
The current East Forest Park library branch, located in a shopping plaza storefront on Island Pond Road, is the busiest branch in the city’s system, and the community’s involvement and use of the library was key to plans for the new standalone facility, Allen said.
Regarding the City Council’s recent vote on zoning for recreational marijuana shops in the city, Allen said the council chambers were “filled” with his Ward 7 constituents concerned about the potential siting of a shop on Island Pond Road. EFPCA member Vera Craig also rose to speak about how she had been among those who attended the marijuana meeting to voice opposition to the proposed shop, and urged other citizens to attend the City Council’s public speak out sessions to voice their opinions.
“Public speak out is held before every City Council regular meeting, there’s usually two a month,” Allen explained. “You just call up – you call the City Council office and tell them you would like to speak – and you g on a list and you go down at 6:30 p.m. and you speak about whatever your issue is.”
Allen then urged attendees to keep abreast of the upcoming Council votes on a proposed Biomass plant to be built in East Springfield. He said the issue had been successfully fought seven years ago, but was resurfacing, and with Springfield recently ranked as the worst city for asthma rates in the Northeast, a business that would be adding to pollution rates should be of concern to every citizen. He noted a special Council meeting slated at 6 p.m. on Oct. 15 as one of the upcoming biomass discussions that residents might want to attend.
He also mentioned plans for a town hall-type meeting hosted by new City Councilor Jesse Lederman at Talmadge Elementary School on Nov. 13 at 6 p.m. where residents could voice their concerns about neighborhood issues.
During the Meet the Candidates section of the meeting, Puppolo, Flannery and Angelides were each given three minutes to present their election platforms. Puppolo gave an overview of his record, including support of the Pope Francis and Library projects, the construction of the new Sgt. Sullivan Park on South Branch Parkway and his State House votes on issues such as the ban on bump stocks.
Flannery, who continually noted that he liked Puppolo, based his counter platform on his dislike for his opponent’s votes on several key issues. His biggest complaint was his assertion that Puppolo had voted yes to give legislators a pay raise, adding “Puppolo put a flyer in the Hampden-Wilbraham Times the day after the vote saying he didn’t do it.”
President Beth Hogan to suggest time for a rebuttal following the meeting. However the rebuttal did not take place. Puppolo, who had noted at the beginning of his remarks that he was appearing on his 20th wedding anniversary, left before the meeting’s end to attend a delayed family celebration.
Angelides was concise in her remarks, noting her experience both in the private sector and as a member or the Longmeadow Board of Selectmen. She stressed her intention not to take a state pension for the position, saying she felt the monies in that fund should be given to the dedicated state employees. She also made it clear she felt the position of Register of Deeds was “the last line of defense in property rights” for citizens, and praised the work of the late Registrar Donald Ashe and his staff. If elected, she said her goals moving forward were to oversee a smooth installation of new software for the department and greater sharing of property revenue with cities and towns.
Hogan closed the meeting by thanking attendees for the “great turnout” for the event, highlighting the National Night Out and Movie Nights the Association had recently sponsored and an upcoming Holiday Tree Lighting, and urging those who were not members of the Association to consider joining. “Our neighborhood is changing and we have a lot of new members and new things going on, and if we don’t stick together and work together it won’t stay East Forest Park, the best of the best,” she said.
The East Forest Park Civic Association maintians a website at https://eastforestpark.us/ which includes a link to its Next Door East Forest Park online forum.