Ahead of the Nov. 7 election for mayor in Springfield, The Republican put nine questions to the two candidates, incumbent Mayor Domenic J. Sarno and challenger Justin Hurst. Here are their responses.

Springfield City Councilor Justin Hurst, left, and incumbent Mayor Domenic Sarno will face off in the city’s Nov. 7 mayoral election. (Don Treeger photos)

What new approaches do you want to introduce to address gun violence?

DOMENIC J. SARNO: Intervening early on by instituting a school curriculum for our students that includes parent and community engagement will help prevent gun violence before it starts. Continued investment in technology for the real time analysis center so we can quickly identify and isolate those involved in gun violence. We have ongoing meetings with community stakeholders to develop and expand collaborative efforts to suppress violent criminal activities, especially gun violence. We will continue our outreach and proactive programs, such as promoting the universal community center passes, supporting and funding gun buyback events, and providing counseling, mental health, and workforce development opportunities.

JUSTIN HURST: The rise in gun violence is the culmination of 16 years of a lack of investment in our young people and our neighborhoods. My plan to address gun violence consists of three components:

Police Component: 1.) Make sure there is a full complement of police officers on the force with a focus on solving unsolved homicides and increasing neighborhood policing, 2.) Have a representative from the police department on every state and federal task force addressing gang, gun and drug violence 3.) Flex shifts so specialized units work past midnight and on the weekends. 4.) Ask for help from the state before homicides get to an all-time high.Community Component: Financially invest in organizations that are not solely politically connected, but those that have been on the ground doing the work and are committed to addressing the root causes of violence. The focus should be on: Vocational training & job skills, employing our returning citizens, conflict resolution, investing in young people, and mental health organizations to name a few.Gang Component: We need to bring the gang leaders to the table and identify the crux of the violence.

Springfield City Councilor Justin Hurst speaks during a press conference to announce a $500,000 state Early Education Out of School Grant to the Springfield Boys & Girls Club Family Center in September. In the rear is Keshawn Dodds, executive director of the center. (Don Treeger / The Republican)

Read more: Public safety at forefront in Springfield mayoral contest between Domenic J. Sarno and Justin J. Hurst

Residents in the city advocating for peace in the streets are calling for more youth programs that are affordable and accessible. How do you answer them?

JUSTIN HURST: I agree. We need a community calendar so that parents know the many programs and resources that are available to them from sports to arts and culture, to STEM programs. The city needs to make a significant financial investment to subsidize these programs for families to increase participation and work with organizations and our public transit authority to provide affordable transportation to increase access.

DOMENIC J. SARNO: One item that came out of our community stakeholder meetings was the universal pass to all of our community centers where youth can take advantage of the numerous programs offered. We will continue funding our neighborhood community centers so they can continue to offer and potentially expand and enhance their programs and reach more youths. The city, through our School Department and Parks Department, continues to offer affordable summer and after school programs too. An RFP will be going out shortly for my administration’s sports complex project too. My administration also initiated the first in the state universal free pre-K education in our Springfield Public Schools.

How, specifically, do you make Springfield more affordable for residents?

DOMENIC J. SARNO: Springfield remains one of the more affordable communities in western Massachusetts, if not the entire state. My administration will continue to support and invest in economic and workforce housing development initiatives that create opportunity for homeownership and more of that good four-letter word, JOBS! I will continue to support my first-time homebuyers’ program. In all, we’re looking to add another 600-700 housing units within the next couple of years.

JUSTIN HURST: Follow through on the mayor’s original promise to eliminate the trash fee. Work to reduce taxes that have increased eight out of the last eight straight years, especially for our seniors and those on a fixed income. Appoint water and sewer commissioners who can relate to your average resident and understand that increasing water bills 28% over the last four years is a heavy burden on homeowners. Increase our housing stock by having a more competent building department and a building commissioner who is from the city and will hold big time landlords accountable for getting their condemned units back on the market.

People are asking for tax relief. How do you do that?

JUSTIN HURST: The $40 million tax settlement from Eversource, casino revenue, marijuana revenue, and all of the money that is being misused and fraudulently spent, after a full-scale audit of every department in the city are all in play to provide tax relief.

DOMENIC J. SARNO: My administration will continue to provide tax relief for our residents. Springfield now has the lowest residential tax rate in the state behind North Adams. I announced a multi-faceted tax relief plan in Fiscal Year 2023 which lowered the property tax rate for residential and commercial properties – the lowest rate reduction in over a decade. I will continue to explore tax relief by offsetting the tax levy, much like I did in previous years where I allocated $10 million to offset the tax levy for FY 23, $2.5 million in FY22, and $1 million in FY21. I also moved to modify the Clause 41C statute for tax abatements for seniors, doubling the abatement amount from $500 to $1,000, along with reducing the eligibility age from 70 to 65 years of age. For FY24, using the innovative tax investment strategy I implemented by investing $45 million into U.S. Treasury notes, $2 million will be put towards lowering tax bills in FY24 with additional tax relief TBA.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno reacts to his new Thurnderbirds bling during a press conference to announce the results of an economic impact study showing the Thunderbirds have had a $126 million overall economic impact in Springfield during their 6-years of operation. (Don Treeger / The Republican) 10/11/2023

How would you convince someone to switch their vote from your opponent to you?

DOMENIC J. SARNO: My track record speaks for itself. My administration is tested and true through a number of man-made and natural disasters. We have sharply raised graduation rates from 53% in 2008 to 86% today. We have invested in library upgrades with more on the way. Additionally, my sound, prudent and sustainable fiscal management policies work. Springfield now has the highest bond rating in its history and we have a healthy balance in our reserves to weather any economic recession or uncertainty that may come. These financial management policies have enabled us to leverage our strong standing to build new schools (Bright-Lincoln, DeBerry-Swan) and renovate existing schools to the tune of $750 million – the most in the state, fund our pension liability, invest over $111 million into our neighborhood parks, and provide tax relief for residents.

JUSTIN HURST: As mayor, I will be honest with residents and tell the truth. I will follow through on the mayor’s original promise to eliminate the trash fee. I will work to reduce taxes that have increased eight out of the last eight straight years. I will audit every department in the city and use all of the money that is being misused and fraudulently spent and reinvest it back into our neighborhoods. I will fight for all of the neighborhoods and residents in Springfield and not just the downtown area and rich developers who continue to benefit at the expense of all of us.

What more needs to be done for the Springfield Police Department to regain trust of the city’s residents?

JUSTIN HURST: Get rid of police chief Cheryl Clapprood, conduct a national search for her replacement and ensure the next police chief lives in the city. Implement the Consent Decree with fidelity. Empower the police commission to act free from political interference and restore their ability to have hiring, firing, discipline and promotion powers in accordance with the law on the books that was deemed valid by the Supreme Judicial Court.

DOMENIC J. SARNO: The best programs to restore trust involve cooperation and understanding between the community and the police department. The Citizens Police Academy program is one of the best because it allows residents to see firsthand the inside workings of the SPD and what our officers do each day. Continued transparency through our first in the state body-worn camera program, new training, peer leadership programs, and our partnership with BHN when responding to mental health related calls for service are all crucial elements to restoring trust. We will continue to work closely with the DOJ and our compliance evaluator to make sure all of our proactive measures and requirements from the DOJ are being met. The brave and dedicated men and women in blue, under the leadership of Superintendent Cheryl Clapprood, will continue to be proactive with our community-police initiatives.

What do you feel is the best use for the newly acquired Vibra Hospital property?

DOMENIC J. SARNO: Much like my administration did for the three significant properties on the corner of State Street and Main Street, we will put this unique and significant property out for an RFQ/RFP to potential developers to see what economic development opportunities might be feasible. This is truly a unique opportunity for the city to have direct control over such a large land area for future economic development and for us as a community to be able to guide the type of development that will occur on this campus in a way that truly benefits the city and its residents via jobs, economic investment, environmental sustainability and creative land use strategies, while also being conducive with the neighborhood.

JUSTIN HURST: I would consider a state-of-the-art indoor sports complex or housing for the newly acquired Vibra Hospital property. An indoor sports complex in Springfield has the potential to be an economic driver for our city as sports tourism is a $45 billion annual industry that continues to grow. This project will create jobs for residents and increase external dollars being invested in Springfield at our hotels, restaurants, and many other small businesses. Housing always must be considered whenever the city acquires property as we are in desperate need and are thousands of units short.

What are some new amenities or services you’d like to introduce in Springfield over the next four years.

JUSTIN HURST: Affordable transportation, full-service grocery stores in all of our food deserts in the city, hire an Entertainment Czar to bolster our entertainment arts and culture ecosystem. Create a community calendar and do a better job of marketing the city and the events taking place.

DOMENIC J. SARNO: My administration is committed to advancing a number of economic development, housing, and infrastructure projects that are under construction or in the design phase. I will also continue enhancing our beautiful parks system, including the new state-of-the-art Ted Plumb athletic field at Duggan Academy and a skate and bike park at Gurdon Bill. We will continue to build new schools and renovate existing schools and libraries. I will also continue to seek state approval for our Green Municipal Aggregation program to provide utility relief for residents and businesses by allowing the city to procure competitive electric supply to provide cost savings and price stability as part of my administration’s Climate Action and Resilience Plan.

On the new courthouse, should the city’s mayor be involved in selecting a site and giving input on the project? Why or why not? If so, what should be done?

DOMENIC J. SARNO: Absolutely. This project has the potential to be a game changer for economic development, environmental sustainability and to create jobs. With the North Riverfront proposal on the table, the other potential sites are freed up for more economic development projects or to meet other needs. As such, it makes total sense for the mayor to have input and to share their administration’s vision to advance a successful new courthouse project that can be beneficial and meet the facility needs for all parties involved while also being respectful and conducive with the neighborhood. As a matter of fact, Adam Baacke, commissioner of DCAMM and the former director of Planning and Development and assistant city manager in Lowell, indicated to me when we met that he appreciated my thoughts that this would be a catalyst for economic development, housing and neighborhood projects in our North Riverfront area. He indicated this would be an important consideration for a site pick.

JUSTIN HURST: Yes. A new courthouse will add vibrancy to the city and play an important role as a generator of economic activity. As mayor, I will fight for the courthouse to remain in the city as opposed to the all or nothing approach that our current mayor has taken focusing on one particular site that only serves to make rich developers richer at the expense of the residents. The replacement of a courthouse will create thousands of much needed construction jobs that will benefit the residents and businesses adding millions in revenue to the Springfield economy. The influx of people from court staff, attorneys, litigants and those conducting business who will frequent our city daily will help our local economy immensely. The daytime patronage of restaurants and retail establishments will increase activity in whatever area of Springfield the courthouse is located and serve as an engine spurring other economic development opportunities.

 Ahead of the Nov. 7 election, The Republican and MassLive quizzed Mayor Domenic J. Sarno and challenger Justin Hurst on key issues. Here are their responses.  Read More