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Group urges approval of mayoral four year term

Date: 10/6/2009

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD -- With the advent of ward representation, a coalition of business people, elected officials and labor officials are working to make another change in Springfield government: increasing the mayor's term of office from two years to four.

City voters will have their say on the matter at next month's election through their answer to Question One, a binding referendum question. The question reads: "Shall the term of the office of the mayor of the city of Springfield be four years?"

The change, if approved would not affect this year's election, but would come in effect for the term starting in 2011.

Proponents of the change visited the offices of Reminder Publications last week to state their case for the change. Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield President Russell Denver, City Councilor Timothy Rooke and businessman Oscar Ramos, all members of the Yes on Question One for Springfield Coalition, said there are compelling reasons to approve the change.

A four-term acknowledges a political reality in the city, Denver noted. Historically voters have always given a mayor a second term, he said. By formalizing what the voters already do, the city will have greater leadership continuity in making long-range plans.

Denver added the report from the Urban Land Institute called for greater continuity in order to address economic development challenges.

Rooke said the residents and businesses with whom he has spoken have been in favor of the move.

"They look at it as a business plan," Rooke said. Without the stress of having to begin a campaign for reelection at the beginning of the second year of the term, a mayor can make the difficult decisions the office frequently presents, Rooke added.

"I think it's a good thing," he said.

The only objection people have made is if the city elects someone whom people believe is unfit for a four-year term. Rooke said the recall process is "simple" and Denver noted that in the city's history no mayor has faced a recall election.

Ramos views the measure from the perspective of a small businessman. "With such a short term, the mayor doesn't get to address small business problems," Ramos asserted.

He noted the recent increase on the commercial property tax has been "damaging" to small business in the city. The needs of small business require "more consistency, more time."

Denver noted that an incoming mayor operates his or her first year from the previous mayor's budget, only allowing the new mayor the second year of the term to seek funding for new initiatives. That second year budget reflects the mayor's "eye towards getting re-elected," he said.

Changing the term to four years is something other cities in the state have done, including Boston, Lawrence, Lynn, Newton, Malden, Melrose, Waltham and Revere. Denver said the switch would mirror the way the state government terms have been established with the governor at four year and state representatives and state senators at two. City Council terms would remain at two years in Springfield.

Ramos said he believes a switch to a four-year term would encourage candidates from the private sector to run for mayor.

For more information or to learn how citizens can become involved in the effort to support the question, e-mail