In the Arena: One thing’s certain, it’ll be an exciting year for local politics

For The Recorder
Friday, November 10, 2017

Someone once asked a veteran politician how much of a role luck plays in winning elections.

“Oh, I get lucky all the time,” he said. “Usually after the 50th stump speech or the 5,000th hand I’ve shaken.”

That pretty much sums up what we saw in Greenfield this week, where months of grassroots campaigning culminated in an electoral sweep that has placed the town council under progressive control for the first time in two years.

“It feels great,” Greenfield Democratic Town Committee Chair Danielle Letourneau-Therrien said. “We always hear that low voter turnout favors progressives, but this year we had a pretty good turnout (27 percent) and a great result.”

“I think this is where Greenfield is now politically,” she added.

Maybe, maybe not. But no one can argue that the progressives didn’t earn every inch of this one. They recruited a solid group of candidates — many of them first-timers — and locked in behind them, leaving nothing to chance. This all while greatly benefiting from a last-minute political implosion of a council leadership, which is about to find themselves on the outside looking in come January.

As is the case with any election, there are loads of angles to consider. Let’s look at a few.

Democratic unity?

National Democrats looking for ways to unite the Hillary and Bernie wings of the party might want to take a look at what happened in Greenfield as an example of what to do.

There were two main groups working to elect this slate — the Democratic Town Committee, which is full of Hillary Clinton supporters, and the Franklin County Continuing the Political Revolution (CPR), which was formed specifically to try to capitalize on the momentum generated by the Bernie Sanders presidential bid.

These two groups may not agree on much, but they managed to put those differences aside and hold it together long enough to get their crew elected.

Time will tell whether they will be able to repeat that in future elections.

The Morey-Walker effect

Perhaps the biggest winner in Tuesday’s election was a woman whose name never appeared on the ballot.

I think it’s apparent to pretty much everyone in the “413” that former mayoral hopeful Patty Morey-Walker is going to run again for that job, and couldn’t be setting up that run any better for herself, especially with current Mayor Bill Martin having pretty much ruled out another re-election bid.

I knew Morey-Walker planned to support the progressive slate, but I was unaware how active she was behind the scenes as an adviser and helping with strategy. I think she may have been a bigger player than anyone realized — a role I would expect will continue as this council begins to gain its bearings.

I have to wonder whether Morey-Walker will enjoy the same unified party support this slate did when her time comes, which could prove crucial depending on who else enters that mayoral field.

Who’s the new council president?

The only thing which seems certain here is that it won’t be current Council Vice-President Isaac Mass, who would have seemed to be the apparent heir to Brickett Allis had the council retained its 7-6 majority.

That job will likely land in the hands of a progressive, but who? Word is that Karen “Rudy” Renaud and Penny Ricketts both want the gig, but how far are they willing to go to get it? And if there is a contest between the two, which candidate will the conservative wing of the council choose to support?

If they are smart, these two will work out some kind of compromise before any such Hobson’s Choice has to be made.

A slim majority

By my count, the progressives will hold a 7-6 edge when the new council is seated. That’s a majority, but I would say the ability to hold it will very much depend on what issues end up on the table.

Though they do share many Democratic beliefs, I wouldn’t classify Ricketts and new At-Large Councilor Ashli Stempel as traditional progressives likely to vote in ideological lock-step. They are independent thinkers who approach things on a case-by-case basis, which could prove problematic for those looking to pursue a hard left agenda.

There will no doubt be times when all seven of these liberal councilors will fly in formation, just as their conservative counterparts have these past two years. I expect that to be the case if the Safe Cities Ordinance reappears. But even if it does, there aren’t going to be enough votes to override the mayoral veto that’s almost certain to follow.

It remains to be seen whether Tuesday’s “correction” will result in a more unified and productive council, but one thing is for certain — the next year is going to be anything but boring in a town where political drama and hi-jinks have become as common as parking tickets on downtown cars during peak shopping hours.

Chris Collins is the Franklin County News Bureau Chief for WHAI, WPVQ and WHMP Radio. He is a former staff reporter for The Recorder, and is a Greenfield native.