Attorney, Shatz, Schwartz and Fentin; Springfield City Councilor
He Has a Passion for the Law, and for Serving His Constituents
When he was running for the Ward 2 Springfield City Council seat in 2009 while attending law school at Western New England University, Mike Fenton, who was competing in a deep, well-credentialed field, didn’t think he’d win.
“And when I did win … I didn’t think I’d stay,” he told BusinessWest, figuring that, in time, maybe a few years, he would be immersed in his law career and essentially done with his service to the city.
Suffice it to say Fenton was wrong with both of his projections. Indeed, 11 years later, he is still representing Ward 2 while still building that law practice — he’s a partner with the Springfield-based law firm Shatz, Schwartz, and Fentin, specializing in commercial real estate, business planning, commercial finance, and estate planning.
“A few years into it, I just fell in love with it,” he said of his multi-faceted work with the City Council. “I fell in love with all of it — with helping constituents, the city budget, and some of the more complicated aspects of city government; it’s very rewarding work.”
These sentiments explain why Fenton is now a multiple-year finalist for the Alumni Achievement Award, previously known as the Continued Excellence Award. He hopes that 2020 will be the year he’ll break through, but he admits to having other things on his mind right now.
“I fell in love with all of it — with helping constituents, the city budget, and some of the more complicated aspects of city government; it’s very rewarding work.”
That list includes the now nationwide focus on police-community relations — “we’re taking steps to increase accountability and transparency within the department” — and especially COVID-19. The pandemic is impacting both his law practice — there’s been a general slowing of the commercial real-estate market, but an understandable surge in estate-planning work — and the city of Springfield, which is impacted in many ways, especially within its business community.
As Fenton talked about the changing landscape, one can hear the concern in his voice and the passion he has for serving the city he grew up in.
“The biggest casualty to this pandemic, after you take in the public-health and human cost, which is obviously first and foremost, is commercial real estate and the economy,” he noted. “The commercial real-estate market was doing much better than it had in the decades leading up to 2020, and then the pandemic hit, and like every other place, not only this country but around the globe, it’s a completely different environment now.
“There’s no doubting that Springfield was hitting its stride, and the pandemic has thrown us a curveball,” he went on. “Everything from stalled progress at MGM to questions now about development in the area around the casino, to Worthington Street and what’s going to happen there, to losing Big Mamou’s … there’s a lot of losses that will have to be made up when we get to the other end of this pandemic.”
Fenton said he’s looking forward to serving the city as it works to recover from those losses. To explain this passion, he flashed back to 2009 and his decision to seek public office. Actually, he started the discussion with a different decision — the one to attend law school at Western New England, which offered him a full scholarship, instead of Boston College, where he thought he was headed.
That decision, which he now counts among the most important (and best) of his life, brought him back home. And as he was making that decision, his cousin sent him a news article detailing how Springfield was going through a change in its charter, moving from nine at-large city councilors to a 13-member board, with eight of them representing wards. And this started talk of a possible run for one of those seats.
“I was a political science major, but I never thought about a career in politics — I didn’t want a career in politics,” he explained, adding that a City Council seat wasn’t a career, but it was “a great opportunity to meet people and serve the city I love.”
So he ran, launching his career just a few weeks after graduating from Providence College. And again, to his surprise, he prevailed against a number of opponents with better name recognition and better credentials.
He now represents Ward 2, which includes Hungry Hill, East Springfield, and Atwater Park, balancing a long list of city responsibilities with an equally hectic schedule within his law practice. “I’ve been successful at balancing the two because I’m extremely passionate about both of them,” he told BusinessWest. “Politics, and elected office, is not my career, and it will never be my career — but I really enjoy serving my city in this capacity.”
With that, he explained not just why he’s a finalist for the Alumni Achievement Award, but why he’s now been a finalist several times.