Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Breaking Keough

In February of 1986, the Springfield political scene was in an uproar over an article that appeared in the Springfield Morning Union by political reporter John Appleton. In that article, Appleton reported that State Representative Raymond Jordan, the only black representative from Western Massachusetts, would be facing the strongest challenge to his seat since he was first elected in 1974.

That challenger was Ogulewicz’s City Council colleague Francis Keough.

Today the district containing Mason Square (at that time known as Winchester Square) is overwhelmingly populated by minorities. In 1986 the district was about 50% white and much more diverse demographically. As Jordan himself described the district in the Appleton story, “You have half with the highest income, best educated people in Springfield, and in the other half you have the second lowest incomes and education. One half is predominantly pro-life, the other, pro-choice. One half wants no neighborhood change, the other has a burning interest in change. One half is predominantly Irish Catholic, the other predominantly black and Hispanic.”

Keough believed he could bring out enough voters dissatisfied with the status quo to bump the incumbent Jordan from his seat. There was tremendous pressure on Keough not to run, with many fearing that the contest could get racially divisive. Keough himself would charge during the campaign that Springfield Newspapers publisher David Starr had personally applied pressure on him to stay out of the race. Ogulewicz knew something about Starr’s penchant for interfering in campaigns from his own first race, when Starr had asked him to endorse an opponent.

To the credit of both Keough and Jordan, the contest never became overtly racial, although it still had plenty enough fireworks to make it one of the most colorful - and dirtiest - campaigns in modern Springfield history. Part of the reason why was because of the way the contest strained normal political alliances throughout the city. Mayor Richard Neal was especially torn, because Keough was a close friend and very active in the Mayor’s own political organization. At the same time, Jordan was the key point man for Neal in the black community. Also among those in a quandary was City Councilor Morris Jones, whose closest ally on the Council was Keough, but who had ties to Jordan going back decades. In short, everyone hoped to avoid internal bloodletting in the local Democrat Machine by getting Keough to back off, but the young Councilor, buoyed in part by his strong second place finish in the 1985 elections, was determined to move on to higher office.

Mitch was able to avoid the worst of these conflict, because he wasn’t particularly close to either of the candidates. He and Keough had formed the basis for a friendship during Mitch’s first campaign, but it had not evolved much since they were elected and had been strained by the Kerry/Bartley Senate battle. More significantly, Mitch had maintained his political independence while Keough had become deeply enmeshed in the local machine. Yet, Mitch felt he knew Keough pretty well and Frankie was also a fellow colleague on the Council. In contrast, Mitch hardly knew Jordan at all. Mitch was also attracted by the fact that Keough appeared uncharacteristically in the role of the maverick in the race by defying the pleas of Starr and the machine Democrats not to run, courageously facing their fury. So while Mitch had no great enthusiasm for Keough politically, he could appreciate the risks that Keough was taking as a boatrocker, which was the main reason why Mitch ultimately allied himself with the Keough campaign.

And what a campaign! The Springfield Newspapers immediately brought forth their heavy artillery, mercilessly attacking Keough on all fronts. Under the guise of investigative journalism, Keough’s entire real estate business came under intense scrutiny (unusual from a paper that seldom told the public anything about the personal financial activities of its public officials) as they attempted to present minor discrepancies in paperwork Keough had filed at the Register of Deeds as a major scandal.

Not all of the paper's accusations, however, were as unsubstantial. Personal friends of Keough were found to have improperly acquired absentee ballots, while Keough also took a job with the clerk of courts, meaning that he was collecting a check from both the state and city payrolls. In addition, his business partner, municipal parking clerk Stephen Phillips (brother of Gerald), had received a payraise for which Keough had both asked for and voted on. Finally, the Springfield Newspapers raised questions over Keough's involvement with developer Leo Shipiro, asking in an editorial, "Why was he [Keough] invited, and why did he agree, to particiapte in a land speculation with a millionaire real estate developer who does business in the city and might again in the future? And does that speculator really need Keough's few thousand dollars to complete the deal?"

In response, Keough made some interesting charges of his own. Jordan was President of the Winchester Square Development Corporation, a semi-public organization which controlled taxpayer’s money for economic development in Winchester Square. Keough noted that there seemed to be no new businesses in the Square, except for a new laundromat, where it turned out that Jordan himself was the owner. Keough blasted the corporation as being full of Jordan’s “cronies” such as Henry Thomas, Bobbie Jones (who would later become embroiled in a scandal regarding the land taking for the Rebecca Johnson School and whom Valley Advocate writer Stephanie Kraft once called Jordan’s “bagman”) and Willie Goodman, Jordan’s legislative assistant. There was also a fuss over Jordan's legislative aide Claire O’Brien, whom Keough charged had a no-show job. Finally, Keough pointed out that Jordan also had a lousy attendance record in Boston, missing 40% of the roll call votes in the legislature in 1985.

In short, it was an ugly campaign between two well-connected candidates, both of whom had enough skeletons in their closets to make neither of them very appealing. Ironically, there was a third candidate in the race, Reuben L. Green, but he was so overshadowed by his more famous competitors that his candidacy was never able to acquire any traction. Green was also rejected by some because of never proven charges that he had been brought into the race by Keough in order to split the black vote.

The Keough campaign was at last undone by a brutal editorial that appeared in the Springfield Newspapers just before the primary. In that editorial, the paper did everything but flat out declare Keough to be a crook, alleging in a statement dripping with innuendo that “Frank Keough came to politics a poor man and in less than three years on the City Council is wealthier than most of his constituents.”

The total effect of the editorial and the paper's earlier charges was devastating. In a desperate attempt to save himself, Keough publicly attacked both Starr and Arnold Friedman, accusing them of secretly assisting the Jordan campaign and of engaging in conduct that “violates every canon of responsible journalism.” But it was too little, too late and on Election Day, Keough went down to a landslide defeat.

Mitch learned some important lessons from this campaign. He now realized through what had happened to Francis Keough that he had not misinterpreted the meaning of the attacks he himself had undergone at the hands of Starr and company. Even a loyal water carrier like Keough, when he counteracted Starr’s wishes, had found himself tarred and feathered in the newspapers. There seemed to be no loyalties or other connections that could protect you if Starr was determined to have his way. This realization made Mitch even more determined to press on with his reform agenda to open up local politics to public scrutiny.

Meanwhile, Francis Keough took away a very different lesson from his public humiliation. In a conversation with Ogulewicz following his defeat, Keough said that he would never again rebel against the status quo, and that he would follow instructions from Starr and the other power players in the future because he had learned that resistance was futile. From that day onward, Keough was a Councilor that the political establishment could always count on to do their bidding.

1986 was the City of Springfield’s 350th birthday. The year long party was put on by the Mayor’s Office of Community Affairs (MOCCA). Everyone agreed that MOCCA and its energetic director Judith Matt had done an outstanding job in putting on a series of special events to commemorate the occasion. As a public official, Mitch was required to attend most of these festivities, and he was proud to represent the city and share the pride over Springfield’s achievements over the centuries. Yet, ironically it would be Mitch who would later look at MOCCA’s financial records, and what he would uncover would cause still another controversy to unfold.

Video from 1986:

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