The Challenge for Domenic Sarno
When Springfield officials set the wheels in motion for a charter change that would double the length of mayoral terms in office to four years, we heralded the move as a tremendous opportunity for the city.
The sea change would enable the corner office holder to act and govern without the many pressures and limitations — real and imagined — that are part and parcel to running for re-election every two years.
Now, Domenic Sarno has that opportunity. We urge him to make the most of it, and we expect that he will. Indeed, he will welcome the breathing room and operating room that a four-year term provides, and in the meantime, we expect that he’ll be spending a lot less time over the next several years talking about how resilient the city is and how it plans to bounce back from the latest natural disaster; the city is certainly due for a break.
Sarno’s four-year mission is rather simple, yet also quite complex: create real progress as this city, like many major Northeast urban centers that were once manufacturing centers, tries to reinvent itself. The main goal (again, simple to say but quite difficult to do) is make the City of Homes a place where people want to live and companies want to do business.
That’s it. There are myriad specific assignments and goals — improving schools and reducing a cripplingly high drop-out rate; making the streets safer; revitalizing neighborhoods; re-invigorating the downtown; and bringing more people out of poverty — but they are merely the means to accomplish those primary objectives.
Reversing a city’s fortunes certainly isn’t easy, but there is plenty of evidence that it can be done here. In the ’70s, Boston was one of the poorest cities in the nation, a community people were fleeing; now it’s among the wealthiest. Two decades ago, Cambridge was among the least-popular mailing addresses for businesses, and especially startups, in the state. Now, it’s one of the most popular. Only 15 years ago, Lowell was experiencing another in a seemingly endless string of declines. Now, it has become a model for urban revival that many cities are trying to emulate, following enormous success with those two basic missions listed above.
The common denominator in each case was hard work, effective planning, and realization that there are no short cuts and no silver bullets. In Springfield, this means resisting the inevitable proposals to place a casino here — perhaps even in the embattled, tornado-ravaged South End, where a casino will be billed as a savior — and going about urban revitalization the old-fashioned way.
Jobs are at the heart of this assignment, as they are in every other city in this region, and across the country for that matter, and what the city needs is a multi-faceted approach to address this concern by focusing on several fronts: from workforce training, to creating a downtown that will attract and retain young professionals; from fostering a much stronger creative economy, to transforming the city’s ethnic diversity into a real asset.
There are other pieces to this puzzle — everything from effective marketing of the city and its attributes to increasing the inventory of market-rate housing in and around downtown — and they need to be addressed simultaneously.
The good news, as we said at the top, is that the mayor now has more time and freedom from the pressures of constant re-election campaigns with which to operate. That’s not a license to take one’s foot off the gas, but it is an opportunity to govern more effectively and aggressively.
It’s now up to Sarno to seize that opportunity.