Albano’s Legacy At Stake

These certainly haven’t been the best of times for the capital of Western Mass.

Indeed, just reading the newspaper these days can be a depressing exercise. Between reading about budget cuts, who’s been arraigned, and who’s not running for mayor, one might get the opinion that this city is paralyzed and devoid of hope.

It isn’t.

OK, maybe it is temporarily paralyzed while people in City Hall, the Mass. Career Development Institute, the Springfield Housing Authority, and just about every other agency in the city wait to see who gets indicted next. Meanwhile, the budget news isn’t good, and the general feeling that things will get worse before they get better is keeping many people out of the mayoral race.

But there’s no reason to give up hope.

As we’ve said many times, there are some good things happening in the Pioneer Valley, and especially Springfield. But right now, they’re being overshadowed by a war in Iraq, uproar over Gov. Romney’s various efforts to close the state’s budget gap, and a seemingly endless run of embarrassing stories about officials abusing their authority and wasting the taxpayers’ money. The latest allegations concerning Gerald Phillips and his management of the Mass. Career Development Institute are particularly disturbing.

And if it seems that many in City Hall and various economic development agencies are letting the events of the day — not to mention the question of who will be the next mayor — get in the way of progress Ö well, they probably are.

That’s why this is a time when the city desperately needs some leadership — and we’re not talking about the next mayor. We’re talking about this one.

Mike Albano has done too much for the city over the past seven years to spend his last 11 months in office trying to keep anything else bad from happening — which seems to be his MO right now. He has to pump some resolve into City Hall departments, especially those charged with economic development.

We know there’s a war and a recession on — and neither of those are good for business — but right now, it seems like economic development in this city is confined to waiting and hoping for someone to come along and develop the York Street Jail, the Gemini building, or the Technical High School property. That’s not economic development — that’s crossing your fingers.

Now is the time when the city should be putting the next phase of riverfront development on the drawing board and looking ahead to the time when the war and the recession are over. Meanwhile, as we’ve said

before, some work needs to be done to make this city more business-friendly, and the planning department would be a good place to start. More often than not, roadblocks are put in the way of developers and would-be entrepreneurs, not ’welcome-to-Springfield’ signs.

While addressing economic development initiatives, Albano should also take the lead in efforts to restore confidence in the city. This is not a job that can wait for the next person to take over the corner office.

At the moment, Albano seems content to let the FBI do the digging and for his city solicitor to do the talking for his administration. Neither strategy inspires much confidence.

When Albano announced in early February that he would not be seeking a fifth term, we became worried — not for him, but for the city.

Despite the mayor’s assertions to the contrary, lame ducks are not good for any community. And we’re not talking about any crusade against Romney’s budget plan and what it might do to cities and towns — we’re talking about the day-to-day operation of Springfield.

Eleven months is too long a period to wait for the next leader of a city, too long a time to put things off until the next administration takes over, and much too long a stretch during which to operate in neutral and leave the hard decisions for the next person. Albano needs to act now to instill some enthusiasm in a city hall that is clearly in a funk. He also needs to know that his legacy is on the line and what he does before he departs could make all the difference.

Come next January — or before that, if an employment opportunity should arise as many are predicting — Albano will depart City Hall and try to convince people that he left the city better than he found it. For him to say that, he still has some work to do.