Opinion

Staying the Course with Charlie Ryan

There doesn’t seem to be much interest in this fall’s municipal election in Springfield, and that’s understandable.

Many Springfield residents are apparently of the opinion that the state-appointed control board is calling all the shots, especially with regard to the budget, and that it doesn’t really matter who is elected to serve the community as mayor, city councilor, school board member, or other office holder.

While the control board certainly holds most of the power in Springfield, it is wrong to believe that this election doesn’t have much meaning, especially in the mayor’s race.
The next two years will be pivotal for Springfield. What transpires will likely determine how soon the city can regain control of its finances, and what kind of community we will have when the control board packs its bags — hopefully in July 2007.

And that’s why we strongly endorse Mayor Charles Ryan for re-election. He has the strong leadership skills — and the ability to make hard decisions — that will be needed over the next two years. Ryan, who will be in his 80s by the end of 2007, will likely not seek another term beyond the next one, but he can use the next two years to construct a solid platform on which the next generation of Springfield’s leaders can operate.

Ryan was given an extremely difficult challenge when he took office in January, 2004: starting the process of repairing the considerable damage done to the city’s balance sheet, and its psyche, by an utterly corrupt Michael J. Albano administration. And we believe he has done an admirable job with that assignment.

Much work needs to be done in many areas, including public safety, education, and the broad topic of economic development, but we see some progress on many of these fronts. And any progress would be an accomplishment given the depth of the hole the city found itself in courtesy of its former mayor.

Indeed, the city had real problems with everything from paying its bills to putting police on the streets — and, as a result, had a massive public relations problem as well. Over the course of the past year or so, every major regional newspaper, from The Boston Globe to the Worcester Telegram to the Hartford Courant turned the spotlight on the City of Homes. The headlines varied but the theme was the same: ‘What’s Wrong with Springfield?’

The answer is complicated, and Ryan understood that going in. He also understood that the place to start — beyond the hard work on the city’s bottom line — was restoring trust in City Hall and the people who work there.

Albano’s legacy is a faulty bureaucracy defined by greed, cronyism, and rampant criminal activity. Ryan has taken major steps toward repairing the city’s tarnished image and restoring trust in local government.

With that foundation now laid, he should be given the chance to build on it.

We are especially eager to see progress on the economic development front. If Springfield is to see the kind of rebound everyone wants, there must be an infusion of new, well-paying jobs. To attract those jobs and the companies that provide them, the city must foster new-business development, while also focusing on what David Panagore, deputy executive director of the control board and this issue’s cover story, calls the “fundamentals” of economic development.

By this, he means a focus not only on the six or so major (and also stalled) projects in the city like Union Station, the old Hall of Fame, and the York Street jail, but also on safe streets, education, neighborhoods, and parks.

Charlie Ryan knows all about these fundamentals, and offers real leadership in the ongoing, and critical, work to give people reasons to live and work in Springfield.

Ryan has spent the past two years digging Springfield out of a very deep hole. But the job is far from complete. When it is, there remains the task of fully restoring confidence in a community that has little of that precious commodity left.

For both of these reasons, voters should take this fall’s election seriously, and give Ryan another two years to finish what he’s started.

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