© 2024 New England Public Media

FCC public inspection files:

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact hello@nepm.org or call 413-781-2801.
PBS, NPR and local perspective for western Mass.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Springfield mayoral candidates, city elections chief, try to improve on dismal voter turnout rates

Para leer este artículo en español, haga clic aquí.

Springfield's preliminary election is on Tuesday. At the top of the ballot, voters will trim a field of five mayoral candidates down to the two who will compete in November.

Turnout for preliminaries in the city is usually quite low. But with a vigorous mayoral race, the campaigns and city election officials have been trying to do something about it.

During the afternoon rush hour one day in late August, incumbent Mayor Domenic Sarno, some family and dozens of volunteers stood with campaign signs at the intersection of Carew and Liberty Streets.

It was hot and the mayor — still buttoned up with a shirt and tie — received some honks of approval from passing motorists.

"I definitely think that our traditional standouts — getting the mayor out and making sure that he's seen, he's visible — is really important to the residents and that's definitely what's going to turn out the vote,” said Rose McCaffrey, Sarno’s field director, who took a break from holding a sign herself.

The mayor, who has served longer than anyone before him, is facing four challengers this time around and it's the most competitive race he's had in years. It remains to be seen, though, if voters will respond by casting ballots. The last three preliminaries with a contested mayor’s race have drawn between about 7-14% turnout.

"With our team of volunteers, we've made contact with over 13,000 residents directly in the city of Springfield, whether it's at their door or on the phone," said City Council President Jesse Lederman, one of those looking to unseat Sarno.

Lederman said having personal conversations with would-be voters is critical.

The campaign of one of his rivals, fellow City Councilor Justin Hurst, has had another approach that's driven by text messages.

"It lets volunteers reach out directly to their network rather than having it come from some sort of like faceless campaign operative. It's like people are texting their own friends, family and colleagues," said Tom Hendrickson, Hurst’s campaign manager.

And like many of the other mayoral candidates, therapist David Ciampi said he’s been focused on reaching people on social media and digitally.

"Such as You Tube, e-marketing campaigns as well as Facebook e-marketing campaigns. We'll be doing email blasts," he said.

There have also been plenty of other tried-and-true strategies: yard signs, mailers and — for at least four of the candidates — television commercials.

"With the right person in the driver's seat, I have no doubt that our city can be brought back to its former glory," state Rep. Orlando Ramos — also a mayoral candidate — said in a video posted to his Facebook page. The video showed Ramos driving a restored classic car and likening it to what he could do for Springfield.

Combined, the campaigns have spent more than $500,000 (the bulk of it by Sarno) trying to make their case to voters, and hoping to get them to the polls.

And the city's elections team has its own strategies.

"The most important role the election staff has taken is really going out into the community, so any summer event that we're invited to, we've attended. We've attended events here at the riverfront, at different school locations," said Springfield City Clerk Gladys Oyola-Lopez, who is also the city’s elections chief.

Oyola-Lopez said members of her staff have been making the rounds to remind residents about the preliminary, and get them registered to vote.

There's also a city ordinance designed to do just that. It was approved by the City Council in 2019, overriding Sarno's veto. Hurst, Lederman and Ramos, who was then on the council, all supported the proposal.

Oyola-Lopez said this effort includes posting more signs and mailing post cards — "in Spanish and English, to all the voters in the city of Springfield to remind them of the election dates, remind them about early voting — and that's been a success as well."

And it's never been easier for Springfield residents to cast a ballot. Early voting includes both in-person and by mail. Of course, there's also the traditional way of going to a polling place on election day.

And that night, the campaigns will have a better idea if what they did worked.

Adam joined NEPM as a freelance reporter and fill-in operations assistant during the summer of 2011. For more than 15 years, Adam has had a number stops throughout his broadcast career, including as a news reporter and anchor, sports host and play-by-play announcer as well as a producer and technician.