By G. Michael Dobbs
SPRINGFIELD Appearing at a gubernatorial candidates forum sponsored by a coalition of churches and labor organizations and speaking about topics such as binding arbitration for Springfield's teachers and further investment in the city's future, one might think that Democratic candidate Deval Patrick was appealing to traditional "liberal" values.
But don't call the party's frontrunner a "liberal."
"I don't fit in a box," he told Reminder Publications after the nearly two-hour forum at Holy Family Church on Eastern Avenue on June 14.
Patrick added that he doesn't care about labels. His goal is to "rebuild a sense of community" across the Commonwealth.
Although the event sponsored by the Pioneer Valley Project was not a Deval Patrick political event as one local television station mis-reported the candidate dominated the proceedings largely due to the other candidates either ignoring the event or not sending a representative.
And if the approximately 500 people who nearly filled the church to standing-room-only status were not Patrick supporters before the evening began, it's a fair bet they were supporters at its end.
Christopher Gabrieli did send Springfield City Councilor Rosemarie Mazza Moriarty to answer questions and Attorney General Thomas Reilly had asked State Representative Cheryl Coakley-Rivera to come in his place. A late legislative session prevent Coakley-Rivera from coming, but the Reilly camp did not send anyone else.
Fred Rose of the Pioneer Valley Project (PVP) said that Lt. Governor Kerry Healey was also invited but did not respond to the invitation.
The event was centered on what was described in the program as the city's "education crisis." The chair of the event, the Rev. Johnny Wilson, looked over the diverse audience and said there was "truly one people here tonight to save the city and its schools."
Sixteen churches and labor organizations sent representatives to the event, which was also open to the general public.
The fact that only one candidate turned up at the event was mentioned several times by speakers. Patrick sat in a seat with his name on it, next to chairs with the other candidates' names. At one point, Wilson called for Reilly to come in and a young woman brought in an empty suit on a frame to put in Reilly's chair.
The organizers wanted the candidates to answer three questions with yes or no. They were then given time to explain their answer.
The three questions were:
Did the candidates support binding arbitration for the city's long unresolved teachers' contract?
Would the candidates support state legislation establishing funding for a program in which teachers make visits to their students' homes?
Would the winning candidate promise to meet with the PVP after the election to discuss further investment in Springfield and would they support additional state aid to the city?
A scoreboard was attached to one of the columns in the church to note how each candidate answered the questions.
Prior to the questions being posed, speakers described the problems the city's schools are facing. The principal of the Homer Street School, Dr. Michael Henry, said the volunteer efforts of the school's teachers despite not having a contract - have made a difference.
Duggan Middle School Assistant Principal Mark Delude said his school wants to implement a home visitation program in which teachers make two visits a year to each of their students' homes. Delude said the visits have been shown to raise test scores and decrease discipline problems in other school districts.
Forest Park Middle School students gathered at the church's pulpit to say why they started the weekly "Black Friday" protest to call attention to the teachers' plight and how it was affecting them.
Forest Park Middle School student Ashley Janeway said that, besides the fact that teachers are leaving the system, there are not enough textbooks and work books at the school and not even enough chairs in the lunchroom.
Patrick said he would support binding arbitration. He said the situation "should never have gotten to this point."
Mazza Moriarty could not answer the question on behalf of Gabrieli because she said she had not spoken to Gabrieli on this issue. She noted that as a city councilor she had supported a local resolution calling for binding arbitration.
Patrick and Gabrieli both supported the home visit proposal.
"Active parental involvement is schools is a key to success," Patrick said.
Mazza Moriarty noted Gabrieli's record of organizing after-school programs and said he is open to "all new and innovative ways" to help students.
One the third question Mazza Moriarty said that Gabrieli would meet with the PVP and seek more state aid for the city. Mazza Moriarty said that Gabrieli intends to have an office in Springfield staffed with people who can address voters' concerns.
Patrick made the crowd gasp with his answer about meeting with the PVP after the election. He said, "No." He answered "yes" to the state aid question.
He explained he said "no," because "I can't wait until I'm sworn in."
To a standing ovation and thunderous applause, Patrick said the city "needs a partnership with a governor who believes it deserves to be saved."
Because he was the only actual candidate at the event, Patrick was allowed to speak for several minutes after the questioning.
"There are neighborhoods outside of [Route] 128," he said. "Beacon Hill is all about Beacon Hill. I will be here after the election."
He said that, besides the education reforms that were discussed that night "what we need is vision and leadership. We need a community out there like we have in here."
At the end of the event Patrick started leading the speakers out of the group, but was mobbed by well wishers.
Although the organizers mentioned that Reilly had answered their questions in writing, those answers were not read at the event. Reminder Publications requested the answers, which are as follows:
"I regret that I am unable to be here with you this evening. As many of you know, I am from Springfield and I always enjoy returning home any chance that I get.
"I am greatly troubled by the current fiscal condition of my hometown. Springfield needs a governor right now who understands what it is like to be from Springfield and who is committed to getting it back on track. Let there be no doubt, when I am governor, Springfield will be back. Together, we are going to make it happen.
"Thank you so much, and I look forward to seeing you again soon."
"I am a product of the Springfield public schools. My wife is a retired public school teacher and all three of my daughters graduated from public schools. I respect and value the work that our teachers do every day particularly in urban areas like Springfield where they are faced with multiple challenges in and out of the classroom.
"What Springfield needs right now is leadership that will bring people together, find common ground and solve problems. As governor, I will provide that leadership. I will work with the parties to help them achieve a compromise that is fair to our teachers and respects their work and their contributions, while at the same time recognizes the economic challenges facing Springfield today.
"I have provided this kind of leadership in difficult situations throughout my career, bringing together people who were not used to working together and solving problems whether in the schools of Middlesex County in the 1990s when gangs and violence were threatening the safety of our kids, or with the receivership of Harvard Pilgrim in 1999 when one million people faced losing their health insurance."
"The two most important groups of people in the education of our children are their parents and their teachers. As governor, I would support the facilitation of better communication between parents and teachers, as strong communication and partnership between parents and teachers is crucial to teaching and learning. I am not familiar with the particulars of the California state program, but I would be happy to review it and other proposals that help teachers and parents collaborate to improve the education of our children."
"Yes, I will meet with the Pioneer Valley Project to help develop specific plans to make Springfield the hub of the region, as it should be.
"I will be a governor who is committed to being a full partner with Springfield as the city works to solve its short-term crisis and to revitalize and improve its economy in the long term. My economic development strategy is a regional strategy because I am keenly aware that what works for Boston or the Merrimack Valley may not work for Springfield and western Massachusetts.
"I've just released my economic development plan for a stronger Massachusetts that, among other things, calls for a $500 million investment in the University of Massachusetts system to promote innovative university research keyed to creating jobs, companies, and economic growth in every region of Massachusetts.
"For western Massachusetts, that will mean drawing research and technology to the region. "And for Springfield, as the largest city and hub of the region, it will help create jobs and drive the economy.
"My 'Stronger Massachusetts Plan' along with other specific proposals I've developed, such as my S.M.A.R.T. Plan which focuses on improving math and science education in our schools, will make sure that our students will have the skills they need to fill good-paying jobs.
"As governor, I would also build on the work that I've done as attorney general through our abandoned housing project, to help communities reclaim their neighborhoods and create more affordable housing.
"Working with community groups like the Pioneer Valley Project and local leaders, I will provide the leadership and sustained focus that it takes to make Springfield a place where people can live, work and raise a family, just like my parents did."