The Albano Administration Betrayed Springfield

BusinessWest turned some heads last month when we suggested that Springfield Mayor Michael Albano could no longer effectively lead the city in the final months of his term and should thus step aside. We said the ’starting-over’ process should begin now, not next January, when his eight-year tenure comes to an official end, or when he gets another job — a task made more difficult by the specter of a probable indictment.

Some people wondered what a business publication was doing focusing on City Hall and what the mayor is doing or, more to the point, not doing. And some readers must have been confused because, only 16 months before, we were strongly endorsing Mayor Mike over respected challenger Paul Caron.

Well, some things have happened in the past year and a half that have prompted us to reconsider some of those earlier opinions. Summing them all up, we’d call it a betrayal of the city’s residents and the business community. Meanwhile, we believe what happens in any city hall has an important impact on any community’s economic health and well-being. That’s why we reacted as strongly as we did to recent events.

The perception of this city has been damaged to such an extent that the Albano administration has become a source of chaos and embarrassment to both area residents and the business community, not the instrument of progress that an administration should be. The residents and the business owners of Springfield deserve better, and they deserve it now.

You might ask, what should people in business expect from City Hall?

Often, they expect too much, which can be a problem in itself. Indeed, almost any time a business fails or never gets off the ground, the entrepreneur in question will say, ’the city didn’t do anything to help me.’

And while such claims are often an exaggeration and a cop-out, sometimes they are not. Springfield is a good case in point.

Any city or town government can do things to make it easier for businesses to succeed — everything from a small grant or loan to help get a company off the ground; to help with zoning, traffic, or parking; to a tax-incentive plan that makes coming to a community more attractive. And local government can set a tone that makes businesses want to come to a city and stay there. The phrase business-friendly is often overused, but some communities are certainly more friendly than others. Springfield is friendly to a chosen few, friends of the mayor, and that’s wrong.

A municipal government can and should deal with matters in a fair and equitable manner, and that’s what we didn’t see from the Albano administration. Instead, we saw grants, loans, leases, and no-bid contracts — some possibly against state law — go to people with connections to Albano.

We know and understand that a certain amount of graft and favoritism happens in many large cities. But in Springfield it was carried out to a degree that it created a sense of frustration in the business community, a feeling that insiders and power brokers were running the city — and running it into the ground. Businessmen and developers have voted with their feet and located their companies and buildings in other Western Mass. cities and towns rather than hire Albano’s friends as "consultants."

When all is said and done — and as the revelations from the FBI probe have made clear — the record will show that some of those connected to Albano effectively looted Springfield. That’s a strong word, but it fits. They took jobs, those aforementioned grants and loans — some to reputed organized crime members — and sweetheart deals, all with Albano’s approval and, in some cases, with his signature on the agreement.

Even more alarmingly, Albano and his friends stole the city’s reputation and a good deal of the momentum that had been built up from such efforts as the Basketball Hall of Fame, the riverfront, and the downtown entertainment district.

It was this ’looting’ that prompted BusinessWest to step out of its traditional role, to forcefully criticize Albano and his administration, and advocate for moving Springfield forward now.

City Hall can’t do everything for a business, and it cannot, by itself, make a venture work. But a municipal government must be fair and work for all the people — not a chosen few. Because it failed to do so, the Albano administration has failed Springfield miserably.