Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Today's election in Springfield

I haven't posted much about today's election for mayor, city council and school committee, but I've certainly been watching.  The all at-large system of election has gone the way of the dodo bird, and today, we'll be electing by ward as well as at-large. 

As someone who worked with community groups and members for thirteen years to bring this about, now is a good time to review some of the goals of the campaign and see how we're doing so far.

Overall goal: to improve democracy in Springfield. 

Goal: to increase the racial diversity of the city council and school committee.  So far, so good.  Springfield went fifty years with only five people of color elected to the city council.  Now, with thirteen seats to be filled, we can guarantee a Latino/a from ward one,  African-Americans from wards three and four, and an African-American or Latino from ward five.  Candidates of color are also running strong races in wards six and eight, and three of the eight at-large candidates are also of color.  I'd say Jose Tosado, at least, is a shoe-in.  We'll see a less dramatic change in the school committee, but at least one African-American and one Latino will be elected.  (I know there's still a fair number of Springfield voters who think increasing diversity is a bad thing; they tend to be the same people who wonder why "those people" don't do more to help the community.)

Goal: to increase the number of candidates seeking office so Springfield voters have a wider choice.  30 candidates ran for 9 ward seats in September's preliminary.  If you're not already an incumbent, running an at-large campaign is expensive, daunting and difficult.  It's a rare candidate who can beat an incumbent.  Once a candidate is holding office, pretty much they're there to stay.  The only two incumbents I can think of who were not re-elected were both of color: Mo Jones and Carol Lewis-Caulton.

Goal: increase geographic representation on the city council and school committee.  We did it!  Sorry, there's just no way that our past city councils, where the vast majority of councilors came from wards 2, 6 and 7, could possibly understand the challenges of inner-city wards and ward 8.  And even 2, 6 and 7 had no direct representation.  We'll have a far better balance of concerns and solutions under the new system.

Goal: to increase voter participation.  Although some folks are already calling ward rep a "dud" because the preliminary turn-out was no higher than usual, I think today's election will show a significant difference, and that we'll see voter participation continue to increase over time.  We have a new tool in our toolbox and we have to learn how to use it.  I'm not worried.  I have the stats by ward for the last two city elections, and when all the results are in, I'll post the comparisons.

Nearly 75% of those who voted in the last city election voted for ward representation.  We're ready for change.  But ward rep is just the beginning.  To keep our city councilors accountable, we're going to have to keep our eye on them.

Question: what kind of structures would you, the voters, like to see our new councilors institute so that we can keep them accountable?

Photo from Nsub1's photostream at Flickr.

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