Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Back in Print

The Ogulewicz Chronicles were originally published in 1999/2000 as a serial that ran more or less weekly on Tom Devine's Baystate Objectivist website. It has been out of print since 2006, but is now being re-released along with supplemental videos that were not a part of the original series. Our story begins as Mitch gets out of the service and makes his first forays into the snakepit of Springfield politics:

In the Arena

Like many who served in the armed services during the Vietnam era, Mitch Ogulewicz became increasingly disillusioned with that conflict after his return to civilian life. In fact, Ogulewicz had been skeptical of the United State’s involvement since his college days, when he’d watched the Fulbright hearings on the war on television. Following his discharge, Mitch began participating in activism involving fellow veterans who shared his opposition to the war.

One of the most prominent figures in that movement was a decorated combat veteran from Massachusetts named John F. Kerry. In 1982 Kerry was launching a campaign for Lt. Governor of Massachusetts, and it would be through the Kerry campaign that Ogulewicz was later drawn into the political arena himself.

The late Neil Phillips, father of the scandal plagued former Police Commissioner Gerald Phillips, invited Ogulewicz to meet Kerry at a fundraiser being held at the home of Attorney Stan Szlachetka. At that event, Mitch met a Kerry operative named Mike Whouley, who several days later contacted Mitch and asked him to be the Western Mass co-ordinator for the Kerry campaign. Mitch agreed, but had little sense at the time that through this volunteer work he would ultimately establish the political connections that would lead to the launching of his own political career.

Mitch’s campaign role gave him the opportunity to meet some of the Hollywood celebrities who were lending their glamour to Kerry's fundraisers. At one Boston event, Mitch met Chevy Chase and Robin Williams. Ogulewicz and his wife Cyndi even got to socialize with the two comedians later that evening. Williams impressed Mitch with his seriousness and reserved manner, which was in sharp contrast to his outrageous stage persona.

At one particularly memorable fundraiser, Mitch met the folk band Peter, Paul and Mary, while on another occasion Peter Yarrow of the same group gave a solo concert at a pre-convention party Mitch organized at Tilly’s in Springfield.

The night of Kerry’s election victory, then City Councilor (later District Court Judge) Phillip Contant told Springfield Newspaper reporter Carol Malley that Kerry’s victory left Ogulewicz in a good position to enter local politics in Springfield if he wanted to. Malley later listed Mitch among the rising stars of local politics in her political column “Perspectives.” While Mitch was flattered by the mention, he was not yet ready to take the suggestion very seriously.

Then in December of ’82 Ogulewicz received a visit from Agawam activist (later Kerry senatorial aide) Jim Shear. Mitch was impressed when Shear presented him with a complete outline of what Shear insisted would be a winning campaign for the City Council. While Mitch was impressed with Shear’s arguments that he could win, he still declined to commit himself to the campaign. Yet, after some soul-searching and discussion with family and friends, Mitch informed Shear that he would be willing to run if two conditions could be met. One was that Mitch, who had two young children at home, would not have to campaign on Sundays, leaving that day completely free to spend with his family. The other was that Jim Shear agree to be his campaign manager. Shear accepted both terms.

In January of 1983, Mitch told his friend Paul Robbins (later a well known local political consultant) about his intention to run. To his surprise, Robbins, who knew all about the political culture of Springfield through his former job as an aide to the City Council, tried to discourage Mitch from running. Robbins told Mitch he lacked the right kind of personality to get along in what Robbins described as the dishonest, petty and often backstabbing world of Springfield politics. Robbins told Mitch how he had seen Councilors fight over such things as who was receiving the most publicity, sometimes engaging in shallow, mean-spirited gossip behind one another's back. He told Ogulewicz that frankly he thought Mitch was too honest, too easy-going and not sufficiently devious to survive in the cutthroat environment of Springfield politics. Although taken aback by Robbins appraisal, Mitch refused to believe that things were as bad as Robbins had described. He thanked his friend for his advice, but chose not to heed his warnings.

In February of ’83 Mitch stood on the steps of City Hall and announced his candidacy. Coverage of the event led to an amusing media blooper when reporter Sy Becker misspoke as he was cutting to a commercial and announced the upcoming story of “the new candidate for mayor" while a photo of Mitch was shown in the background. Becker quickly apologized to the viewers when he came back from break, but Ogulewicz couldn’t help but laugh when imagining what Richie Neal, who was running for mayor virtually unopposed that year, must have thought had he been watching.

Mitch found that he enjoyed campaigning more than he had expected. For one thing, financing the campaign did not prove to be a problem. With lots of small contributors, plus the help of people like John Kerry and Neil Phillips, Atty. Tom Murphy and businessman Phil Hallahan, they succeeded in raising roughly $28,000 dollars. Much of that money was spent on a Shear inspired TV ad that remains to this day one of the most famous political commercials in Valley campaign history.

The advertisement played humorously on the wide disparity that exists between the spelling of Mitch’s last name and how it’s pronounced. The ads were simple but effective. First they showed a variety of people from different walks of life mispronouncing Mitch’s name. For example, one scene showed the late South End activist Jim Izzo butchering Mitch's name with a thick Italian accent. Then there followed a series of other people's mispronunciations, until at the end the ad showed Mitch’s then five year old daughter Kristen swinging on a swing and saying “No, it's O-gul-lev-its!” It was the perfect combination of funny and cute, and while some of Mitch's opponents complained that the ad lacked substance, it did an effective job of bringing Mitch the name recognition that he lacked outside of the Hungry Hill and 16 Acres neighborhoods.

As in all successful campaigns, there was a lot of good old-fashioned legwork. Door to door campaigning began in Indian Orchard, whose large Polish population Shear hoped would give Ogulewicz a positive reception and a psychological boost. His walking tours soon spread throughout the city, where he frequently ran into some of his opponents. In particular he kept bumping into former mayoral aide Francis Keough, who was also running an aggressive door to door campaign. The two young candidates became friends and sometimes even worked the same street, with Mitch on one side and Keough on the other. Mitch also had to attend what seemed like an endless number of coffee hours, nearly 80 in all. Mitch also got some help from his friend John Kerry.

It was an extraordinarily tough field that Ogulewicz was competing in. There were four openings on the Council, one created by Phil Contant stepping down, another by the retirement of pioneering black councilor Paul Mason, yet another by the departure of Andrew Scibelli, who was leaving to accept the presidency of Springfield Technical Community College. Richard Neal, who was leaving the Council to run for mayor against only token opposition, created a fourth vacancy. The number of vacancies brought out a large field of 24 contenders. Besides Keough, the candidates included School Committeeman William T. Foley, former School Committeeman Nick Gioscia, future School Committeeman Kenneth Shea, popular ex-cop Bobby Brown, Springfield Action Commission director Buddy Langford, Mason Square activist Morris Jones and Pine Point gadfly Al Rivers.

On September 20th, Mitch finished 9th out of the 24 candidates, with popular Atwater activist Betty Montori close at his heels. The top nine are the preferred spots to finish in the primary because under the at-large election system in place at the time only the first nine finishers are elected in the final election.

But while the ninth place finish was very encouraging to Ogulewicz, it hardly insured an ultimate victory. For one thing, the turnout in the final election would be much higher than in the primary, with many voters coming to the polls who had not participated in the runoff. Those November voters might very well have different preferences than those who had participated in the September primary.

Still, the fact that Mitch had demonstrated his ability to finish ninth was a heads-up to the city’s movers and shakers, alerting them to the fact that Ogulewicz was a potential new Councilor. That made him suddenly interesting to members of the powers that be who had previously ignored his campaign. Mitch started hearing through the grapevine that there was someone he needed to meet with at the soonest opportunity if he expected to go all the way to victory in November.

The name of that person was David Starr.

Here is the famous Ogulewicz campaign ad with out-takes:

The 1982 campaign button below from the Ogulewicz Collection is a true rariety. Do you know why?

There never was a King/Kerry campaign because then Governor Edward King was upset in the primary by Michael Dukakis. The buttons that were mistakenly made in anticipation of a King victory became valuable collectables from a campaign that never existed.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The People's Choice

Everyone kept telling Ogulewicz that he should meet with Springfield Newspapers publisher David Starr. He finally decided he would ask his friends who worked for the paper whether or not he should do as everybody kept advising him. It amused Mitch that if the meeting with Starr was so all-fired important, then why didn’t Starr just call and make an appointment to meet with him? But apparently that was not the way things worked; the unwritten rule was that it had to be the candidate who contacted Starr.

Ogulewicz consulted with Daily News Editor Richard Garvey, who was one of the few holdovers from the days when the paper had been locally owned. Mitch knew Garvey through serving with him on the executive board of the Pioneer Valley Boy Scouts. Garvey explained that ever since the media and real estate conglomerate The Newhouse Corporation had purchased the Springfield Newspapers that this was simply the way things were done. Starr, a career Newhouse employee who had been assigned to Springfield in the late 1970’s, had become increasingly active in local politics, which meant he liked to meet personally with the major candidates and advise them on political affairs. It had become known that how well you took his advice could have a major impact on whether or not you received the newspaper’s endorsement.

The Springfield Newspapers at that time consisted of three papers, the Morning Union, the Daily News (which the Newhouse Corporation combined in 1987 to form the Union-News) and the flagship Sunday Republican (whose name contradicted the fact that the Newhouse Corporation was staunchly Democrat). Yet despite the corporate takeover, in 1983 the three papers still retained a little of their original independence. In fact, Garvey assured Mitch that no matter what Starr did or did not do, Mitch could count on the Daily News to endorse him. Garvey suggested that there was little to lose in meeting with Starr and possibly something to gain, since if Starr got a favorable impression of Mitch he might win the endorsements of both the Morning Union and Sunday Republican.

Another of Ogulewicz’s newspaper friends, Don Ebbeling, agreed. Ebbeling wrote “People and Politics,” a collection of tidbits involving political personalities, sort of like today’s “Cries and Whispers” but without the anonymity or mean-spiritedness. Mitch and Ebbeling were friends who sometimes socialized after work, and like Garvey, Ebbeling believed that no harm would be done by meeting with the publisher. So Ogulewicz decided to call Starr's secretary and make an appointment.

What happened at that meeting has been the subject of controversy for nearly two decades. The encounter took place in a conference room in the Springfield Newspapers building on Main Street, three weeks before the election. It was between three parties: Ogulewicz, Starr and editor Arnold Freidman, then considered to be Starr’s right hand man. The two newspapermen wore trademark bowties daily, although it was never clear who was copying whom, or whether they were both just coincidentally bowtie afficionados. It was Starr who did most of the talking, although Freidman was feared in some quarters as the suspected author of the paper’s more aggressive, unsigned editorials. If Starr was perceived as the gentleman publisher, then Freidman had a reputation as a vindictive hatchetman.

Upon being introduced to Starr, Ogulewicz found the publisher to be charming and intelligent. David Starr was in many respects a typical liberal Democrat of his generation. He believed in a high level of government intervention in the economy, but would reject the label of socialist. He saw the government as a tool useful in acting on behalf of the disadvantaged and as a stimulus for economic development. Starr was a passionate supporter of the arts and considered being a booster of high culture a duty of the more well-off members of the community such as himself. He also believed that the media should play a role in both political and cultural advancement, and described himself as an “activist editor” who uses his paper to promote noble ends. The problem is that what Starr considered noble ends were not always universally viewed in that light. What he has called “activist” his critics accused of being manipulative and self-serving.

Yet, Ogulewicz went to that meeting with no particular positive or negative preconceptions. He had worked for the Springfield Newspapers as a paperboy for all three editions and had always had friends working there, like Garvey, whom he greatly respected, and Ebbeling, whom he considered one of his closest friends. If he had any bias toward the paper it was a positive one, and while he had heard some negative rumors about Starr and Freidman, he personally considered them as just another pair of politically active businessmen that he would have to deal with if he were elected to the Council.

At first the meeting seemed to go well. Starr asked Mitch to elaborate on his political views and why he was running for the Council. Mitch’s conception of public service as a way of giving back to the community that had done so much for him was just the sort of rhetoric that was in tune with Starr’s own strong concept of public duty. Mitch’s mainstream Democrat views were also pleasing to Starr, who was known to dislike extremism of any kind. Mitch had the feeling that he was making a good impression, until just when it appeared that the meeting was winding down, the conversation took an odd turn.

Starr asked Ogulewicz what he thought about the importance of having minority representation on the Council. This was a prominent issue that year because of the retirement of the Council’s only black member, Paul Mason. Mitch told Starr that he felt that it was important to have diversity on the Council, since that would help to insure that all aspects of the community were represented. He explained that as a white middle-class male living in 16 Acres, he could not always feel confident that he understood the day to day realities of life in the minority communities. That answer appeared to please Starr, who then stunned Ogulewicz by asking, “Would you be willing to publicly endorse Morris Jones for City Council?”

Mo Jones was a black postal worker and community activist whom the newspaper was pushing to replace Mason. Mitch was stunned and couldn’t believe what Starr was asking him to do. Was Starr really suggesting that he support one of his own opponents - in essence committing political suicide - on behalf of a candidate Starr supported?

“Uh, well, I think my supporters who have been working for me for the past year might be disappointed if I did that,” Ogulewicz replied. The expression on Starr’s face told Mitch that he had given the wrong answer.

“It is my intention,” Starr explained, “to manipulate and cajole the public into voting for Morris Jones. If you get hurt in the process Mitch, please understand that it is nothing personal.”

The meeting ended with the three exchanging polite good-byes, but Ogulewicz left the building with his head spinning. Was it arrogance, ignorance, aggression or all three that had made Starr think that he could get away with such a request? In any case, Mitch had the feeling that Starr had put him to an important test and that he had failed it.

He was right. While the feisty Daily News gave Ogulewicz their endorsement just as Dick Garvey had promised, the Starr/Freidman dominated Union and Sunday Republican did not. Mitch also suddenly found it difficult to get his press releases published, which had never been a problem in the past. He complained to Dick Garvey about it, who told him he would bring the subject up with political writer Carol Malley. Despite the fact that Mitch had dropped off the releases in person, Garvey reported back later that Malley had inexplicably claimed that she had never received any Ogulewicz press releases.

This version of events as described by Ogulewicz is contested by Mr. Starr. In a rare statement to the Valley Advocate, Starr has publicly denied making the request Mitch described, claiming that he doesn’t operate that way and wouldn’t have said the things Mitch says he did. Arnold Freidman is now deceased.

Yet despite having two thirds of the local press urging his defeat, Ogulewicz felt his campaign surging in the final weeks. On Election Day Mitch not only matched his ninth place primary position but moved up two slots to number seven. Election Night was a delirious blur of congratulations, congratulatory handshakes and congratulatory beverages. It was perhaps too much of the latter that led Mitch to get sick out the car window while his wife Cyndi was driving him home from a victory party.

A few days later Mitch’s wife told his friend Don Ebbeling about how Ogulewicz had got sick to his stomach in the middle of Catalina Drive on the way home on Election Night. A few days later, an item no doubt puzzling to most of the public appeared in Ebbeling’s "People and Politics" column. There was a paragraph stating that if anyone on Catalina Drive had found a “package” in the street in front of their house the morning after Election Day, to please return it to Mitch Ogulewicz.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Baptism by Fire

Mitch Ogulewicz was hoping that he would have a chance to rest and recuperate from his exhausting election campaign during the time between his victory in November and when he was sworn-in in January. That hope was quickly dispelled however, as he found himself thrust almost immediately into the center of his first major controversy. Ironically, the controversy stemmed from the election itself.

School Committee member William T. Foley had been promoted by the election to a seat on the City Council. This meant that he had to resign his School Committee seat, thereby creating a vacancy on that body. When vacancies occur on the City Council, they are automatically filled by the highest vote getter who was defeated. However, no such provision existed at the time for School Committee vacancies, which required a Joint Session of the Council and School Committee to choose a new member. There were no restrictions on who the Joint Session could select, and as a newly elected Councilor Mitch would be required to vote on Foley’s successor.

Voters in the election of ’83 had chosen to remove from office one School Committee member, the Rev. Ronald Peters, and replace him with former State Representative Sean Cahillaine. Yet within a week of Peters' defeat, pressure began to build for the Joint Session to return Peters to the Committee by placing him in Foley’s empty seat. Most of that pressure was coming from the Springfield Newspapers, who had pushed hard, but unsuccessfully, to elect black postal worker Morris Jones to the City Council. Since the Council’s only black member, Paul Mason, was retiring that year, Jones’ defeat left the Council with an all white membership. Now the defeat of Peters would leave the School Committee completely white as well. No sooner did the newspaper make its selection of Peters known, then members of the Joint Session began falling into line.

But not Ogulewicz. For one thing, Mitch hardly knew Rev. Peters, and he wanted first of all to acquaint himself with Peters' record. Secondly, while Mitch considered diversity on government bodies to be desirable, Rev. Peters seemed to be being treated as though his skin color was his primary qualification - that and the fact that he had a reputation for always voting with the newspaper. Finally, the voters themselves had removed Peters from his seat. Wasn’t it showing disrespect for the electorate to invalidate the voter’s decision to remove Rev. Peters from office?

Mitch went to the School Department and asked the executive secretary to Superintendent Thomas Donahue if he could examine the files on Rev. Peters voting record and the minutes of the School Committee meetings. The secretary expressed surprise at Mitch’s request, saying that no one else who was eligible to vote in the Joint Session had shown any interest in doing research on Peters’ background. What Mitch discovered in Rev. Peters’ record did not impress him. Ogulewicz discovered that Peters had shown up late or left early for 75% of the School Committee meetings, and as a result he had missed over 40% of the School Committee’s roll call votes!

In Mitch’s view, the newspaper was attempting to steamroll back into office a man who appeared to take his responsibilities as a public servant very lightly. Yet, no one on the joint committee besides himself was resisting Peters' return. In fact, Mayor-elect Richard Neal informed Mitch that the vote for Peters would occur immediately after the New Year at the Council’s second meeting and that the he wanted the vote to be unanimous. To Mitch the indifferent manner in which the position was being filled by someone who was apparently lax in their duties and seemed to be beholden to the Springfield Newspapers was completely unacceptable. He refused to promise Neal that he would help to make the appointment unanimous.

To Ogulewicz, the Peters nomination defied common sense. If the goal was to provide representation for the black community, then how well could they expect to be represented by a person who was not only under the thumb of the Springfield Newspapers, but who showed up late and left early on the occasions when he bothered to show up at all? Nor was Peters the only person interested in the seat. Western New England College Professor Elinor Hartshorn had expressed a desire to serve and was considered extremely qualified. Also, the voters had clearly expressed at the polls their desire to remove Peters from any further responsibility over the public schools, but somehow that sentiment as expressed by the electorate was being completely ignored.

Yet nothing that Ogulewicz could say could sway any of the other Councilors to reconsider Peters nomination, so it looked as though Mitch would be the only one voting against Peters candidacy. That nay vote would be a brave but futile gesture, and Mitch didn’t want his first major issue to be a lost cause. If Peters victory was inevitable, as apparently it was, then at least Mitch could try to insure that Peters would be a better public servant in the future than he had been in the past. Therefore Mitch arranged to meet with Peters at Friendly’s on Riverdale Road in West Springfield. He wasted no time in laying it on the line, if Peters wanted to be chosen by a unanimous vote, then he had better start taking his responsibilities more seriously. Once Peters assured Ogulewicz that he would clean up his act, Mitch agreed to announce that he was withdrawing his objections to Peters candidacy.

The Peters controversy taught Mitch several important things. One, it showed him the extent of the power of the Springfield Newspapers to set the agenda for the local political scene. It was amazing to Mitch how easily and how quickly his colleagues had caved in as soon as the newspaper made its opinion known. Secondly, by meeting with Peters privately he was able to work out a solution that at least resolved some of the issues that had made his opposition to Peters necessary. This taught him that in spite of overwhelming opposition, it was still possible to be effective behind the scenes. Finally, Mitch also realized something very disturbing – how little the will of the people counted for in Springfield politics. In the final analysis the public had voted to remove a politician from office, only to find that same politician being handed right back to them as their representative, like it or not.

Another matter concerning Ogulewicz as he waited for his inauguration was the role he would have to play in choosing the new City Council President. There were two candidates contending for the Council Presidency that year. One candidate was a young Brian Santaniello, while the other was Rose Marie Coughlan. Coughlan had served on the Council for years and had been prominent in the anti-busing movement in the '70's (she would later go on to be elected Hampden County treasurer, a position she held until the county was abolished in 1998). She had shown Mitch a number of kindnesses over the years, so he was happy to lend Coughlan his support for Council President.

One day Ogulewicz was visiting the City Council office in City Hall when his fellow Councilor Bob Markel (who was a college professor at American International College) stopped in. Markel and Ogulewicz began discussing the race between Santaniello and Coughlan and to Mitch’s surprise, Markel told him that the contest was over. According to Markel, a majority of the Councilors had already committed to Santaniello. He went on to inform Mitch that a long standing Council tradition required that once a person had attained a majority of the votes for President, that it was customary for their opponents to vote for the victor and make it unanimous as a gesture of goodwill. Markel asked whether Mitch intended to honor this tradition and give Santaniello his vote. Having already gotten heat for hesitating to make the Peters nomination unanimous, Mitch said that if that was the custom then he would agree to go along with it.

Just then Rose Marie Coughlan came walking into the office. Seeing her, Markel made some excuse to leave and then hurried out the door.

“What did he want?” Coughlan asked Mitch, the tone of her voice dripping with suspicion.

Mitch explained to her what Markel had said and then expressed his disappointment that she would have to withdraw her candidacy. Coughlan let out a shriek that according to City Hall reporter Carol Malley, “could be heard two floors below.” Considering that City Hall is a building made primarily of stone, that’s yelling pretty loud.

“HE DOESN’T HAVE THE VOTES!” she cried.

Coughlan angrily explained that Mitch had been sandbagged by Markel into committing to Santaniello. She accused Markel of claiming that Santaniello had the votes of Councilors who were actually undecided, and then embellishing his nonsense with a bunch of malarkey about Council traditions. Although Coughlan ran to a phone to try to undo the damage, it was too late. By the time Coughlan could contact the wavering Councilors, Santaniello had successfully used Markel's news of Mitch’s support to win all the undecideds to his side, where they remained even after hearing a last ditch appeal from Coughlan.

Although Santaniello had been favored to win anyway, Ogulewicz felt badly about his role in the derailing of Coughlan’s campaign. What Markel had done to him was undoubtedly clever politics, but was this the manner in which fellow Councilors treated one another? Did Mitch have to be constantly on guard with his colleagues, carefully scrutinizing every word they said against the possibility of some kind of political intrigue? This was not how he had imagined that interacting with his fellow Councilors would be like.

Then on December 1st 1983, Mitch picked up the Springfield Daily News and was startled to see his photograph accompanying Carol Malley’s “Perspective” column. He was even more taken aback by the headline:

“Brash Novice Has Much to Learn”

What followed was a blistering attack on Ogulewicz. Starting out by stating that “there are rules that members must honor” on the Council, she then accused Ogulewicz of having taken a “flying start toward breaking some of those rules.” Malley went on to blast him for his role in the Peters School Committee seat controversy, accusing him of “making a lot of noise” over Rev. Peters even though Peters “appears to have the votes all locked up to replace Foley.” She also blamed Ogulewicz for the ugly incident in the Council office, despite the fact that it was Coughlan who was upset and whose shouts “could be heard two floors below.” The article concluded with a suggestion that Mitch should seek guidance on future issues from Mayor-elect Richard Neal, who according to Malley had generously offered to take the new Councilors “under his wing and give them practical advice.” The real message of the article was clear: Hey Ogulewicz, stop thinking for yourself, join the herd, go along to get along and if you’re ever not sure what to do, ask Richie.

Ogulewicz was stunned. He didn’t know quite what to make of it all, so he turned to his newspaper reporter friend Don Ebbeling for advice. Ebbeling told Mitch to ignore Malley’s attacks and simply accept the fact that harsh criticism was sometimes just part of political life. “You’re in the big leagues now!” Ebbeling said. “Just stick to your principles and do what you think is right. As long as you do that, you’ll always come out alright in the end.”

Mitch felt heartened by his friend’s comments, but it was still pretty overwhelming how harshly and how soon he had come under attack. He was already a center of controversy and under siege by the Springfield Newspapers as the “brash novice” who would not obey “the rules.”

It was less than a month after the election, he hadn’t even been sworn in yet. If this was what it was like before he even took office, what could he expect afterwards?

One issue that has come up again and again in Springfield politics to this day is the enforcement of residency requirements. Here is the debate the Council had on the issue during the 1980's.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Friends of the Mayor

Of the many candidate forums Ogulewicz spoke at during the election campaign of 1983, few made a more lasting impression on him than one that took place at St. John’s Congregationalist, a predominantly black church on Union street. At first there was little to indicate that it would be anything more than a typical "Meet the Candidates" night.

Running for mayor that year virtually unopposed was Mayor Richard Neal (his opponent was William Montana, a mysterious political fringe candidate who almost never campaigned, and who didn’t seem to be able to even articulate why he was even running). Neal made a standard two-minute stump speech and then left the building. The forum then turned to the City Council candidates.

With such an unwieldy field of 24 contenders, it was difficult to cover many issues, so to give the event some focus, the candidates were asked to answer only a couple of questions of special concern to the black community. The first of those questions was an inquiry as to why so much taxpayer’s money was being spent on revitalizing Downtown, while so little was being spent in neighborhoods such as Winchester Square (now called Mason Square).

As one by one the two dozen candidates rose to give their two minute replies, the event became a boring drone-a-thon as each contender made vague promises to do more for the neighborhoods, some day, some way, details to be provided later. By the time it was Mitch’s turn, he was sick of all the meaningless blather and decided he would shake things up with a little bit of honesty.

“The reason you receive so little economic development money in comparison to the Downtown business interests," Ogulewicz explained, “ is because you don’t count.”

The audience gasped with surprise at Mitch's blunt honesty.

“If you ever expect to compete with the Downtown insiders for a bigger piece of the pie,” he continued, “then you are going to have to be a lot more active, a lot more vocal, and vote in much greater numbers than you currently do. But if you will do your part here in the community, I promise that if I am elected I will do my part in City Hall to make sure the voices of the neighborhoods are heard.”

The congregation erupted into loud applause with shouts of “Amen,” and “Tell it, brother!” After the forum was over activist Roger Williams approached Mitch and asked how he and others could help with the campaign. Prior to that night, Mitch had only a weak campaign organization in the black community, but after that forum and with the help he got from Williams, Ogulewicz was well on his way to a solid showing in the Winchester Square precincts in November.

That candidate forum impressed upon Mitch to what an extent it was a sore point with voters the conflict between Downtown and the neighborhoods. It wasn’t just in places like Winchester Square that Mitch heard these complaints, in every neighborhood people seemed to feel that the Downtown political insiders were getting all the attention, while the residential areas were being allowed to decline. Mitch felt that there had to be some way to bridge thia gulf of alienation that existed between the neighborhoods and City Hall.

Once he had been elected, Ogulewicz was finally in a position to do something about it, so he soon came up with a plan. Ogulewicz realized that part of the problem was that City Council meetings took place at City Hall, meaning that any citizen who wished to participate in their city government had to come Downtown. Ogulewicz wanted to see what would happen if somehow people could share their opinions and concerns with a City Councilor without having to go all the way to City Hall. Mitch concluded that the best way to overcome this would be to start holding "office hours" in every neighborhood in the city. Of course State Senators and State Representatives had been holding office hours in the neighborhoods for years, but no City Councilor had ever done so. Mitch wondered what would happen if city residents could just walk down to their local school, library or fire station and greet a City Councilor waiting there to answer their questions and deal with their concerns.

On January 2nd, 1984, Mitchell James Ogulewicz Jr. was sworn in as a City Councilor representing the nearly 350 year old City of Springfield. In the weeks that followed, Mitch set up a schedule of office hours that would bring him into direct contact with every neighborhood in the city. The reaction to his announcement of office hours surprised him. On the one extreme there was Yolly Nahorniak of the Pine Point Community Center, who did everything but hire a brass band and roll out a red carpet for Mitch’s arrival, while at the other extreme was Karen Ledger of Indian Orchard, who seemed to discourage Mitch from coming to her neighborhood. Mitch later heard from some who attended his office hours that Ledger felt that people should come to her civic association if they needed help instead of talking to a City Councilor directly. Her negative, self-serving attitude surprised Mitch, who had expected his office hours to be completely non-controversial. But Ogulewicz was insistent on going into every neighborhood and not allowing petty political turf wars to undermine his access to the citizens he served.

The East Forest Park listening session at Nathan Bill Park turned out to be the largest turnout of all. When Mitch arrived he was amazed to see the entire Community Center packed to the walls. Mitch couldn’t imagine what neighborhood problems could cause the mostly affluent residents of East Forest Park to flock to see him in such numbers.

To Mitch's surprise, it turned out that the public was in an uproar over an adult basketball league. According to the chief spokesman for the aggravated citizens, retired police captain Jim Williams, there was this basketball league of guys in their 20’s and 30’s who were using the courts at Nathan Bill Park for their nighttime games. Capt. Williams explained that not only were the games noisy, but there was lots of drinking by both players and spectators, illegally parked cars, blocked driveways and problems with people urinating on lawns and cutting through yards. The neighborhood was very forceful in making it clear to Mitch that they were fed-up with the problems caused by this basketball league.

The entire situation puzzled Ogulewicz. Hadn’t the citizens tried to get the city to enforce the noise, drinking, parking and trespassing ordinances already on the books? Yes, the residents explained, but they had been repeatedly put off or handed promises that never came true. It occurred to Ogulewicz that maybe this was the sort of problem that was best handled outside of official channels. Mitch suspected that there was simply a lack of communication between the East Forest Park community and the leaders of the adult basketball league. Perhaps if he were to talk with the leaders of the league one on one then some sort of accommodation could be worked out that would be satisfactory to all parties. Mitch was given the names of two men whom he didn’t recognize who he was told were the persons who were in charge of the league.

Their names were Kevin Kennedy and Mike Graney.

Ogulewicz contacted both men and asked to meet with them men wherever they wished. They told Mitch to meet them at Jilly’s, a popular but tough Parker Street bar notorious for its rowdy clientele. That evening however, the only fisticuffs would be verbal. Over beers Mitch laid out the neighborhood’s concerns as they had been explained to him by the irate crowd at his East Forest Park office hours. He was taken back by the seeming indifference of Kennedy and Graney to what he was telling them and appeared to scoff at what Ogulewicz said. Wouldn’t they make at least some attempt to accommodate the concerns of the residents, Mitch asked?

Kennedy and Graney made it clear that they didn’t have to. They frankly told Mitch that they were personal friends of the new mayor, Richard Neal, and as such did not have to worry about any interference from City Hall or the neighborhood itself. When Mitch persisted that the people of East Forest Park had a right to protect the serenity of their neighborhood regardless of the political connections of the league’s organizers, Kennedy addressed Mitch in the tone of a person talking to someone who has a hard time understanding reality. “We are close friends of the Mayor,” Kennedy said. “F*** those people.”

When Mitch left Jilly’s that night, after having accomplished nothing, he was very disappointed in what had transpired. Mitch was politically sophisticated enough to understand that a little bit of favoritism by politicians toward personal friends and supporters was only natural and could be overlooked if within reason. But it surpassed all reasonable bounds for Kennedy and Graney to feel that their relationship with the Mayor meant that they could dismiss the public's concerns with a crude obscenity.

But if that was the attitude of the friends of the Mayor toward the legitiment concerns of the residents of East Forest Park, then Mitch concluded that those citizens deserved to know exactly where they stood. When he reported back to the citizens of East Forest Park at another packed meeting at Nathan Bill Park, he spared them nothing. After recounting his fruitless attempts to relate the neighborhood’s concerns to Kennedy and Graney, Mitch told them their final response.

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” Mitch said, “I hope you will forgive my language, but I believe you should be told precisely what they said. They told me, “F*** those people!”

The audience erupted in shouts of rage at this news, as some residents began calling for ways to raise money for a court action to be taken against the city demanding the enforcement of the local ordinances. While nothing was resolved that night, City Hall was bombarded over the next several days with angry phone calls and threats of legal action. The public outcry threatened to create a major political embarrassment for the newly elected Neal Administration, and so, quietly and without comment, the adult basketball league moved their games elsewhere. It was a significant political triumph for Mitch on behalf of the people of East Forest Park, but it did not come without a price. The successful resolution of the neighborhood's problems had come at the cost of some of Mitch’s respect for the Neal Administration and his faith in the Administration’s commitment to treat all citizens equally. It had also no doubt strained his own relationship with the Mayor, since in all likelihood Kennedy and Graney had complained to Neal about the uppity new City Councilor who did not show the proper respect for the Mayor’s friends. Mitch had the suspicion that there was likely to be some kind of political confrontation between himself and Mayor Neal, but little did he guess how soon that confrontation would occur.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Richie's Wrath

During the spring and summer of 1984, Mitch Ogulewicz found himself preoccupied with two major issues, both of which would have a long ranging impact on Springfield’s future, political and otherwise.

The first was an issue that has risen repeatedly in Springfield - the return of minor league baseball to the City of Homes. Like thousands of other Springfield residents, Ogulewicz has fond memories of the old Pynchon Park on the Connecticut River and the Eastern League team that played there called the Springfield Giants. He remembered his favorite players, like Juan Marichal, the Alou brothers, Jimmy Ray Hart, Jose Pagan and Tom Haller. Unfortunately, the stadium was less than a financial success and burned down under suspicious circumstances in 1966, never to be rebuilt. Since then politicians from time to time had raised the possibility of bringing back baseball to Springfield, including Mitch Ogulewicz in his campaign of 1983.

Once elected Ogulewicz was determined that a serious effort be undertaken to discover whether the construction of a new baseball stadium would be feasible. Fortunately he had an ally in his cause in the new Mayor Richie Neal, who himself had been an enthusiastic fan of the Springfield Giants in his youth.

One day Neal called Ogulewicz and asked him if he would serve as co-chairman of a study committee to look into the feasibility of constructing a new stadium. Mitch was happy to accept and Neal informed him that his co-chairman would be Garry Brown, a sports editor for the Springfield Newspapers. Others who served on the committee were John Lyons of the Department of Public Works, mayoral aide Alan Howard, Atty. Thomas Murphy, Paul Stelzer of Monarch Capital Corporation and others. The study committee held frequent meetings over nearly a year, interviewing experts on architecture, sports economics, visiting existing stadiums and gathering citizen input.

It is interesting to note that, in sharp contrast to later efforts in 1999-2000 to build a stadium, Mayor Neal and the committee agreed that the stadium should be built completely with private money (aside from minimal public monies for incidental infrastructure work) and they never considered taking land by eminent domain.

When their final report was released the following spring, the committee had identified six potential sites for a new stadium (none of which was the Northgate Plaza site that would be considered in the 1990's). Two sites in particular, the Cottage Street landfill and the former location of the Springfield Airport off of Roosevelt Avenue were regarded as especially promising.

Unfortunately, the sharp downturn of the local economy in the late 1980’s put an end to the stadium discussions until a decade later, at which time it resurfaced in a radically different form that was heavily dependent upon taxpayer funds and required the forced confiscation of private businesses at Northgate Plaza by eminent domain. By then, the far less controversial and much less divisive proposals of the Ogulewicz/Brown committee had been forgotten.

At the same time that Ogulewicz was heading the Mayor’s committee inquiring into the feasibility of a baseball stadium, Mitch found himself drawn into yet another area of controversy. Prominent 16 Acres activist Susan Montigney had contacted Ogulewicz over what she considered to be appalling conditions at 16 Acres Elementary School (now called the Mary Walsh School). At first Mitch was skeptical, but he was soon in total agreement when Montigney took him on a guided tour. The primary problem appeared to be the deplorable condition of the school’s roof, which in one classroom actually had roots crawling across a wall from a sapling that had sprouted on the roof and penetrated the ceiling!

As Ogulewicz investigated further, he discovered that the same sorts of problems were present in other schools, with most of the roofs of the city’s schools in a terrible state of deterioration. When it rained, some schools had to put out buckets, waste paper baskets and barrels to catch the rain from leaky roofs and ceilings. The roofing problems were the result of years of neglect, with the city's maintenance funding woefully inadequate to maintain the public's property. Mitch took his concerns to Council President Brian Santaniello, who suggested that the issue be put before the Council’s Public Health and Safety Committee headed by Councilor Francis Keough. The three of them requested that Building Commissioner Charles G. Cook go out and inspect the roofs of the city’s school buildings and then submit a report to the Committee.

The report turned out to be a devastating condemnation of the city’s maintenance of its public schools. Of Springfield’s then 39 schools, the roofs of 30 were found to be in need of replacement or major repair. Two schools, Duggan Jr. High and Liberty Elementary, were found to be so bad that they posed a potential safety hazard. The publicity resulting from the report caused a public outcry demanding that immediate action be taken.

It was at that point that Ogulewicz received a phone call from the Mayor’s secretary asking him to come by the Mayor’s office. Mitch had no idea what the Mayor wanted to talk to him about, but it was not uncommon for Neal to ask to meet with individual Councilors on one matter or another, although it was seldom arranged so formally. When Mitch arrived at City Hall, Mayor Neal invited him inside his office and asked Mitch to be seated. There was a cold formality to the manner in which the Mayor then walked over to the office door and quietly closed it to insure their privacy. Silently, the Mayor took his seat behind his desk. Then to Mitch’s complete shock the Mayor exploded into an obscenity laced tirade against Mitch for having raised the school roof issue.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing!” the Mayor shouted. “No one can see a f***ing roof! The public only cares about what they can see - fixed potholes, clean streets, terraces and flowers! No one cares about f***ing roofs! This is not an issue I want to deal with now and you are embarrassing my administration!”

Mitch could do nothing but stare at the screaming Mayor in amazement. Then Neal seemed to regain a measure of composure and his voice got low and mean. Leaning closer to Ogulewicz, he pointed his finger an inch from Mitch’s face.

“Alright,” he said, “I’ll fix your f***ing roofs. After all this publicity, I have no choice. But I’m warning you Ogulewicz, if I have to lay-off any employees to pay for those f***ing roofs, I’m gonna tell them that it was your fault and that the voters should put all the blame for the layoffs on you!”

By this time Mitch had recovered enough from his shock over the Mayor’s conduct to respond in kind. Rising angrily from his chair Ogulewicz pointed his finger in Neal’s face precisely as the Mayor had done to him. Neal appeared startled.

“Don’t you f***ing tell me you’re gonna lay ANYBODY off,” Ogulewicz shouted, “because the only people you’ve hired since the election are all YOUR F***ING FRIENDS and you’re not gonna fire a f***ing single one of ‘em!”

The Mayor had never expected this forceful response and looked extremely uncomfortable, but Ogulewicz wasn’t through yet.

“Don’t talk to me about MY roofs because they’re not my f***ing roofs! They’re the roofs that the children of this city sit under everyday and they’re rotting and they’re dangerous and you will not f***ing tell me that I am wrong to point that out or wrong to demand that they be fixed!”

This last statement seemed to have an impact on Neal, who for several long seconds simply sat looking down at his desk without speaking. In the silence the tension hung heavily in the air. Mitch didn’t know how to read the expression on the Mayor’s face. Finally Neal muttered something about having nothing else to say, so Ogulewicz quietly showed himself out the door.

Leaving City Hall Ogulewicz could hardly believe what had transpired. He was stunned that the Mayor, in response to the discovery of a potential physical threat to the well-being of the city’s schoolchildren, had become enraged because no one could see school roofs and therefore there was no political advantage to fixing them. Even more incredible, Mitch couldn't believe that he had been threatened with political ruin if any of Neal’s friends lost their jobs because of the expense of repairing the roofs. Mitch had to wonder whether it was possible for Richard Neal to consider any issue in anything but self-serving political terms.

Ultimately Mayor Neal did direct the members of his Administration to work with the Council and the School Committee to develop a funding schedule for repairing the roofs. However, a comprehensive plan for school maintenance and construction would not be developed until many years later.

In the wake of his confrontation with Neal, however, Mitch was quite discouraged. As far as Ogulewicz was concerned, all he had done was try to address a safety issue brought to his attention by the parents of Springfield school children, a danger which was then later confirmed by the city’s Building Commissioner. If he wasn’t supposed to serve the citizens of Springfield when they came to him with their legitiment concerns, then who or what was he supposed to be serving?

Those who expected his servitude would soon make their presence known.

Another issue involving city buildings was the search for a homeless shelter. This attempt to place one in Winchester (Mason) Square was unsuccessful.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Between Two Worlds

In the elections for City Council officers which were held in January of 1985, Mitch Ogulewicz was elected by his colleagues to the post of City Council Vice President and Councilor Mary Hurley was elected to replace Brian Santaniello as the Council's President. Yet, the election of officers which elevated Ogulewicz to the Vice Presidency came despite a year of intense political activities that in some ways had alienated Mitch even further from many of the players in the city’s power structure.

For one thing, the previous year had been a presidential election year. In 1984 most of the Valley’s Democrats were lining up behind Walter Mondale, who had been Vice President under former President Jimmy Carter. Mitch, however, was supporting Gary Hart, a Colorado Senator who was challenging Mondale for the presidential nomination. Mitch felt that Hart had a better chance of winning than Mondale, who besides being tied to the unpopular Carter Administration had also promised to raise taxes if elected. Ogulewicz felt that Hart represented a fresh face from a younger generation of politicians, so when Ogulewicz, who became Hart’s Western Mass co-chairman, introduced Sen. Hart at a pre-primary rally at Court Square, Mitch praised the Senator in Kennedyesque terms about “passing the torch to a new generation.”

At the same time, Mondale was attacking Hart as being all style and no substance, playing on a popular television commercial of the time in which Wendy’s Hamburgers was critical of their competitors for their skinny burgers. The ads showed a grumpy old lady looking at her hamburger and asking, “Where’s the beef?” Mondale appropriated that same catch phrase on the campaign trail to use as a taunt against Hart.

In spite of those attacks, Hart went on to win the Massachusetts primary. At the local victory celebration, Ogulewicz, his co-chair Lenny Wagner and a campaign worker posed for a photograph with Hart’s campaign platform between two slices of bread, as if to say, “Here’s the beef!” However, despite winning in Massachusetts, Hart soon lost both his momentum and the nomination to Mondale, who just as Mitch had predicted, went down to a landslide defeat in November to Ronald Reagan.

Although Ogulewicz’s support of Hart had annoyed those among the local power structure who were mostly Mondale backers, it was nothing compared to the negative reaction to Mitch’s role in the U. S. Senate race that year. Incumbent Senator Paul Tsongas shocked the state of Massachusetts when he announced that he would be unable to seek re-election because he had fallen ill with cancer. One night soon afterwards, Mitch received a phone call from Lt. Governor John Kerry, whose campaign for Lt. Governor Mitch had served as Western Massachusetts Chairman. Kerry asked Mitch for his advice on whether Kerry should seek the Senate seat made available by Tsongas stepping down.

Ogulewicz advised Kerry not to run, pointing out that Kerry had been Lt. Governor for little more than a year and suggested that it was too soon to seek another office. He warning that running might make Kerry appear opportunistic. Kerry thanked Mitch for his advice, but did not follow it, running for and eventually winning the Senate seat later that year. Once again Mitch had agreed to head Kerry’s Western Mass operations. Yet now that Kerry was running from the position of already holding a statewide office, the senatorial campaign was much bigger and more sophisticated than the hard scrabble, grassroots campaign that Mitch had headed the first time Kerry ran. By comparison, Mitch felt that his role was now more ceremonial, with the nuts and bolts of the race being run by paid professionals.

Many in Western Massachusetts were passionately opposed to Kerry’s Senate race. That was because Holyoke native David Bartley, a former speaker of the Massachusetts House, was challenging Kerry for the nomination. Bartley was the hometown favorite, and most of the Valley’s power elites aligned themselves staunchly behind him.

Ogulewicz felt that he couldn’t get behind the Bartley campaign for a number of reasons. His primary reason was his longtime friendship with John Kerry. David Bartley, on the other hand, was someone he hardly knew. Mitch also disliked what he perceived as Bartley’s lack of commitment to a single political role. Upon leaving the legislature, Bartley had assumed the presidency of Holyoke Community College, despite not having the academic credentials for the job at the time. Bartley had taken a leave of absence at one point to serve in the administration of Governor Ed King and now he was taking yet another leave in order to run for the Senate. Critics wondered whether Bartley had actually retired into academia or if he was using the college merely as a paycheck and a powerbase from which to launch his own political agendas.

Yet, what really disturbed Mitch was the behavior of some of Bartley’s supporters. He was shocked to hear Bartley backers saying things like calling Kerry a “flag burner" (although he participated in many rallies against the Vietnam War, Kerry denies he ever burned a flag) and in general implied that Kerry was not enough of a patriot to sit in the United States Senate. Mitch was annoyed that Bartley supporters who had never served a minute in the armed services themselves were being critical of Kerry, a decorated combat veteran.

As the Kerry/Bartley battle intensified, tempers started to fray and hard feelings began to form. Locally, much of the anger was directed at Mitch, who was thought of as disloyal to the hometown boy for leading the local fight on behalf of Kerry. Mitch tried to explain why he felt that Kerry was the better candidate, but no one would listen or even cut him any slack for being Kerry’s personal friend. As the Kerry campaign surged and the Bartley campaign sagged, Bartley’s supporters became increasingly embittered. Ultimately the race led to tensions with one of Mitch’s colleagues.

During the 1983 campaign, Mitch had run an aggressive door to door campaign, which is considered one of the most difficult and sometimes unpleasant ways to campaign because many citizens hate to be bothered at home by politicians and you can end up with many doors being slammed in your face. The only person matching Mitch’s door knocking pace was former Dimauro mayoral aide Francis Keough. They often ran into each other on the campaign trail and enjoyed talking and joking together about their campaign experiences. When both he and Keough got elected, Mitch had looked forward to working with his former campaign buddy.

It didn’t turn out as well as Mitch hoped. Keough was a team player, anxious to get ahead in politics fast. That meant he was usually concerned with positioning himself to be on whatever side was winning. Meanwhile, Mitch was becoming known as a boatrocker who would not sacrifice principle to ambition, which made Mitch's role on the Council almost the exact opposite of Keough's. One day Keough, a passionate Bartley supporter, walked up to Mitch and said something that struck Mitch as odd. “When all this over Mitch,” Keough said, referring to the campaign, “I want you to know that our friendship will be unchanged.” While there was nothing unusual in the exact words that Keough was speaking, there was something disconcerting about the manner in which he was saying them. While the words themselves suggested something nice, the odd tone in which they were spoken struck Mitch as having a facetious manner. In other words, he felt that what Keough really meant was the exact opposite.

So once again, Mitch had a hard time dealing with people’s petty political attitudes. It was almost as if he lived in two different political worlds, one where big issues were at stake on matters of principle, such as in the John Kerry campaign, and another world of petty political mediocrities who fought viciously over local issues. Why did it seem impossible for him to make political choices without his opponents taking personal offense? Was it possible to disagree without being disagreeable? Mitch rejected this herd mentality in Springfield that had virtually everyone blindly going in one direction, with rejection and animosity towards those who would not follow. The whole concept was foreign to Mitch’s style of independent thinking. How far were they willing to go in order to enforce political orthodoxy?

Mitch was about to discover just how far in a surprisingly unpleasant way.

Friday, August 5, 2016

A New Mandate

In January of 1985, longtime City Councilor Rose Marie Coughlin resigned from the Council after she was elected Hampden County Treasurer in November of 1984. It was a position she would hold until the Hampden County government was abolished some fourteen years later. Her departure created a vacancy, which according to Council rules meant that the next closest defeated candidate in the last election had first rights of acceptance for the seat. Happy to accept was Morris Jones, a thirty year postal employee and well known Winchester Square (now Mason Square) political activist. The arrival of Jones also ended criticism from some quarters that the City Council consisted of all whites.

Jones assumed the office right in the middle of a raging controversy involving the Baystate Medical Center. The hospital wanted to expand and construct new buildings, but the surrounding well-to-do and politically active neighborhood of Atwater Park was opposed, claiming that the new high-rises would spoil their view, increase traffic congestion and lower property values.

Whether the hospital would be allowed to expand was uncertain, since many Councilors, including Mitch Ogulewicz, were undecided. Politically it was a hard call, since the angry neighborhood was very politically active with high voter turnouts. On the other hand, the hospital expansion would create hundreds of new jobs and greatly enhance the quality of health care facilities in the city.

Adamantly opposed was Councilor Betty Montori, the wife of a prominent physician. In fact Montori had run for office specifically with the intent of being a “no” vote on the hospital issue. Equally determined to support the project were Councilors Bill Foley, Frank Keough, Brian Santaniello and Vincent DiMonaco. In many ways Vinnie DiMonaco was considered the leader of the pro-hospital advocates. DiMonaco was a former labor union leader, and advocated the expansion because of the construction jobs it would create and the quality medical coverage it would provide for the poor. Despite some initial hesitation, Morris Jones also joined the supporters. That left in the undecided category Mitch, Bob Markel and Mary Hurley as the swing votes who held the fate of the hospital in their hands. Because it was a special permit, a total of six votes instead of the usual five was required.

With five councilors already in support of the expansion and only one opposed, it was within the power of any of the undecideds to determine the outcome. The three Councilors met on the issue often and it was agreed that if any one of them decided to vote in favor, then the other two would vote yes also. Somewhat cynically considering the political realities, they felt that if it was going to pass, then there would be no point in voting against the project and incurring the political wrath of the unions and other special interest groups over a lost cause.

One day Ogulewicz was in his office at the bank when he received a request to meet with Bank President Karl Walzak. Mitch assumed that it was something to do with routine bank business, and was very much taken aback to discover what the real topic was. Walzak informed Mitch that he had just received a phone call from a very high ranking public figure, urging him to ask Mitch to please vote in favor of the hospital expansion. Mitch was totally surprised and asked Walzak, “Do you mean someone called and asked you to apply pressure on me to vote yes?"

The bank President stressed the fact that he was personally indifferent to how Mitch voted on that or any other issue that came before the Council. Walzak said that he merely felt that Mitch should be aware of the fact that the phone call had been made. Mitch was furious that someone would attempt to pressure him politically through his employer, and demanded to know who had made the call. At first he resisted, but finally Walzak relented and revealed the identity of the attempted blackmailer:

David Starr.

Mitch considered the discovery that it was the publisher of the daily paper who had applied this pressure as beyond the pale and something that Ogulewicz couldn't overlook. He left work immediately and marched straight down Main Street to the corporate headquarters of the Springfield Newspapers. When Mitch arrived, he demanded to speak with the publisher. Ushered into the office, he found Starr was smiling and welcoming.

“Mr. Starr,” Mitch said trying to keep his calm, “I need to have a word with you.”

“Of course,” Starr replied pleasantly, “and don’t call me Mr. Starr. Call me David.”

Mitch was angered by Starr’s friendliness, which he saw as hypocritical considering the phone call he knew Starr had made that morning. It seemed to Ogulewicz indicative of Starr’s arrogant belief that Mitch’s quick arrival at his office apparently meant that Mitch was coming to surrender.

“No thank you, Mr. Starr,” Mitch said, rejecting the offer of moving their relationship to a first name basis, “I don’t want to be too friendly with anyone who puts pressure on the place where I work in order to try to force me to vote their way! Frankly, I don’t appreciate the implied threat!”

The expression on Starr's face revealed that the publisher was caught completely off-guard. At first Starr tried to deny that he had made the call, but Ogulewicz then asked why Walzak, whom he had known since they were youngsters growing up on Hungry Hill, would lie to him about such a matter. Still Starr continued to insist that he had not made the call. The conversation became very heated, with at one point Mitch’s voice becoming so loud that nearby employees gathered outside Starr’s office, concerned about the shouting they heard coming from inside. Mitch finally stormed out of Starr’s office in a rage, aware that what little friendly relationship he had ever had with Starr was now irreparably damaged.

Ironically, despite that ugly incident Mitch ended up voting for the hospital expansion anyway, eventually concluding that the medical needs of the community outweighed the resident’s objections. The other Councilors voted the same way, except for Betty Montori, and the measure passed 8 – 1. Montori suffered for her lone dissenting vote, when the Springfield Newspapers wrote a strident editorial calling for her defeat in the next election.

The Baystate expansion controversy played against the background of the Municipal elections of 1985. Mitch felt confident of his re-election, but the field was far from unchallenging. All nine incumbents were seeking re-election, and it was feared that one of them might be ousted by Patricia Corriera, a popular school committee member who was attempting to make the leap to the Council. If she succeeded, which Councilor would she force out? Also on the ballot that year for Council were candidates with famous last names, like Thomas Brunton, nephew of former Mayor Daniel Brunton, and Donald Whitney, son of former State Representative Frederick Whitney. Also running and considered electable was local labor leader Antoinette Pepe and neighborhood activist William Christophori.

Despite the ugly incident with Starr, Ogulewicz was amazed to see that he received the endorsement of the Springfield Newspapers, although its endorsement was so restrained it was almost useless. In a one sentence statement, the paper feebly stated that Mitch had “focused on neighborhoods and is learning how to become an effective Councilor.” With praise like that, who needs insults?

As it turned out, the threat from Correria proved unfounded, as all nine Councilors easily won re-election. A surprise victory also occurred in the School Committee race when a candidate who had not done well in the primary went on to win a seat in the general election. His name was Michael J. Albano. Considering all Ogulewicz had to struggle through in his first term, his re-election was a gratifying renewal of his mandate and proof that the public did indeed recognize how hard he had worked for them.

Yet as Mitch looked forward to his second term, he was innocently unaware of the terrible political storms that lay ahead.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Robbed!

In the aftermath of Ogulewicz’s re-election victory, speculation began almost immediately over whether Mitch would run for the Council Presidency. He had already served as Vice-President under Mary Hurley, and now with Hurley showing no interest in seeking another term, it seemed natural that as her Vice-President Mitch should succeed her.

In fact, the votes for an Ogulewicz presidency came together on election night, when Hurley officially endorsed Ogulewicz as her successor. He had already received the endorsements of Councilors Robert Markel, Brian Santaniello and Betty Montori, so with Mitch voting for himself, that gave him the five votes necessary to put a lock on the Council Presidency. However at one point during the election night revelry, Hurley took Ogulewicz to one side and whispered to him privately, “Get yourself a sixth vote.” Mitch didn’t know what she meant, since on a nine member body only five votes were needed for a majority. “Don’t trust Markel!” Hurley warned.

Mitch remembered the unpleasant run-in with Markel he had soon after he was elected to his first term, in which Markel had deceived him into inadvertently derailing the presidential ambitions of former Councilor Rose Marie Coughlin. Yet Mitch had been something of a greenhorn back then and hardly knew Councilor Markel. He now had what he felt was a solid working relationship with him, and felt he had little to fear from Markel’s sometimes Machiavellian ways. With his election seemingly assured, Mitch began setting an agenda for the new Council. He intended to make some significant changes.

As much as he admired the dedication of Mary Hurley, she was hardly an anti-establishment figure and had served during her presidency pretty much in harmony with the powers that be. On the contrary, Mitch was becoming more and more disillusioned with the city’s political power structure, and was determined to be more reform minded during his presidency, especially regarding opening up the process to include the average citizen. Unknown to Mitch, there were people maneuvering behind the scenes who wanted keep things just the way they were.

Shortly before Ogulewicz was to be elevated to the presidency by a formal vote, Springfield Newspapers reporter Susannah Pugh called and asked for Mitch’s comment on some startling news. According to Pugh, Robert Markel had formally announced that he was seeking the Council Presidency and that furthermore, he already had the commitments of five councilors! Mitch was dumbfounded and immediately got on the phone to Markel. Robert Markel admitted everything, telling Mitch that he had the votes of machine insiders Francis Keough, Bill Foley, and Morris Jones. Generally independent Councilor Vincent DiMonaco had also been brought onboard. With his own vote, Markel would become the new Council President.

“Bob, you are absolutely unbelievable!” Mitch exclaimed, along with some other, more colorful comments. Ogulewicz told Markel that if he wanted the presidency he should have told Mitch so at the beginning and not gone scheming behind his back. Although Mitch wanted the position, he was not willing to get into a big, ugly fight over it and would have deferred to the more senior member Markel if he had simply been asked. Now Mitch felt that he had been publicly embarrassed, since it had been reported in the media for weeks that Ogulewicz would be the new Council leader, only now it wasn’t going to happen because Markel had stolen the presidency in a backstabbing backroom deal.

Since there appeared to be nothing he could do about it anyway, Mitch decided to accept what had occurred as gracefully as possible, but felt disillusioned by what had happened. Vincent DiMonaco, the dean of the Council who sometimes liked to imagine himself as Mitch’s mentor, tried to console Mitch by explaining that it was all just politics and praised Ogulewicz for the mature way he had accepted the unexpected defeat. DiMonaco admitted to Mitch that it had been himself, in concert with the Springfield Newspaper’s Arnold Friedman, who had put together the coalition to elect Markel. Vinnie chuckled over the fact that Markel had always lacked the ambition to become President in his eight years on the Council, but took the post only after it had been orchestrated for him by the Springfield Newspapers.

DiMonaco also confided that at one point he had approached Councilor Brian Santaniello and asked him to defect, considering Santaniello to be the weakest link in Mitch’s coalition. Mitch was gratified when DiMonaco said that Santaniello had indignantly refused, insisting that he would never betray his word to another Councilor. Santaniello did this even though he probably would have been rewarded by Markel with a plum committee assignment had he done so. Although Mitch and Santaniello were not political allies on many issues, Ogulewicz always respected Santaniello for the loyalty and courage he had shown despite the intense pressure that he was under to betray Mitch. In the end Ogulewicz decided it was best to just put the entire incident behind him, resigning himself to working with Markel as best he could (but never quite trusting him) and instead focus his attention on carrying out his duties to his constituents.

One day Mitch brought a proposal to Councilor Betty Montori to allow the City Council meetings to be televised on cable TV. Today, when virtually every legislative body on every level of government is televised routinely, it is hard to appreciate what a radical idea this seemed like at the time. A special committee was formed to look into the proposal, with Ogulewicz and Montori serving as its co-chairpersons and Building Department head Gene Laino, City Clerk Bill Metzger and Brian Lambert of Continental Cable serving as committee members. Francis Gagnon of the Historic Commission was also onboard to help insure the preservation of the historical integrity of the Council chamber.

Council meetings in those days were run quite loosely, with an informality that many feared wouldn’t appear very flattering on television. As Vinnie DiMonaco remarked to the Springfield Morning Union, “After some of the proceedings we’ve had in here, this council would not be long in office if meetings were televised.” Indeed, there were real reservations about whether the Springfield City Council were ready for prime time players. As City Hall reporter Carol Malley wrote in her political column “Perspectives”:

“For instance, if the full chamber were in view at all times, councilors might feel obligated to remain in their seats throughout the meeting, which would mean that they would have to listen to debate and testimony rather than walk around chatting with the public, with city officials, and with each other. It would also limit the number of times they leave to make telephone calls or check on the Red Sox score. It might also decrease the number of trips to the bathroom, which became a source of laughter Monday night when one councilor was looking for a missing colleague. It might also limit the chatting, fooling around and laughter that now highlights Council meetings.”

Despite all these misgivings, Mitch believed that the people’s right to know how their elected representatives conducted the public’s business outweighed any concerns about whatever inconveniences or personal embarrassments televising the meetings might cause. Under Ogulewicz’s leadership, the Special Committee voted to recommend that the meetings be televised on a regular basis. Soon the full Council adopted the recommendations by a vote of 8 to 1, with Vincent DiMonaco casting the sole dissenting vote. The first televised meeting went off without a hitch, despite taunting from Vinnie that many Councilors appeared to have bought fancy new outfits for their television debut.

Yet as Mitch was soon to discover, the new openness he was working to bring to city government would have its critics - critics who had no intention of having their behind the scenes power threatened and who would act aggressively to defend it.