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Political change rarely comes from challengers of incumbents

Date: 3/27/2014

By G. Michael Dobbs

It’s truly amazing how politics works here in Western Massachusetts. We certainly have races every election cycle for most seats, but too often either these contests are lopsided or non-existent.

The only time things truly heat up is when someone decides to quit and when that happens, watch out.

That’s what is happening this year. We have three people who have decided to make a career change: Thomas Moriarty, the former register of probate, and state Reps. Sean Curran and Cheryl Coakley-Rivera.

In the case of Moriarty and Curran, there was plenty of advance warnings these seats would be open and a free-for-all would ensue. Coakley-Rivera’s recent announcement that she was quitting to become the assistant clerk of courts did come as a surprise, especially to people such as myself who live in her district. We won’t have a state representative until January, something about which I’m not happy.

Since state Sen. Gale Candaras has announced she is running for register of probate, that move opens up her seat. So we now have a very active race for state senate and two races for state representative.

It’s like a game of checkers with players moving their pieces around the board.

At the same time we have the same phenomena at the state level with the governor declining to run, creating a small army of Democratic hopefuls.

Is this the only way the electorate sees any change? I would say a review of election history would confirm the greatest activity doesn’t come from challenges to incumbents but from an incumbent quitting and creating an open seat.

People may complain about an incumbent, but the conventional wisdom is that unless an elected official has done something truly awful, taking on an incumbent can be foolish.

What does that say about us? We govern by an advanced game of musical chairs?

Just wait until it’s time for the candidates who would replace Hampden County Sheriff Michael Ashe to start emerging. The scuttlebutt floating around the area says there are three prominent names interested in that job. Sorry, I’m not telling you who they are because I don’t repeat rumors in print, but I bet many of you can guess at least two out of the three.

What is the role of a city councilor?

In Chicopee, City Councilor Adam Lamontagne has been in hot water with his fellow councilors about his actions to address issues in his ward that he thought affected his constituents. His colleagues have expressed their concerns that Lamontagne is over-stepping his legal and ethical bounds and the council will be meeting to discuss a code of conduct for them.

The question is how far should a city councilor go when asked by a constituent to pursue a problem?

I’ve sat through plenty of Chicopee City Council meetings where citizens bring forth problems involving traffic, illegal parking or other concerns. The residents do this through the speak-out portion of the meeting, where the rules prevent the councilors from engaging in a discussion with the resident about their situation. Usually that kind of exchange is conducted during a hearing called by a council committee.

While they consider a set of rules governing their behavior, the council might also want to consider revising their rules about the speak-out so citizens with issues can receive some sort of assurance or advice that night.

Closed-door meetings are no way to pick a top cop

While I have absolutely nothing against the selection of Deputy Chief John Barbieri as Springfield’s new police commissioner, I do think the closed-door meetings that was the selection process were a step in the wrong direction.

We had a public process for the last commissioner and the more recently for school superintendent, so why not one for police commissioner now?

While I admire Mayor Domenic Sarno’s insistence to promote from within, he could have still accomplished that through a public process.

I think this was a misstep for the mayor and cast an unnecessary unfavorable light at the start of a new commissioner’s administration.

Agree? Disagree? Drop me a line at 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.