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Human interest | News features

Human interest: Jurzynski for Mayor (Photo)

Contributed by editor on Jan 09, 2009 - 08:15 PM

News features

US record holding Channel Swimmer and regular visitor to Folkestone and Hawkinge, Peter Jurzynski has been featured on an American weblog but not for his swimming prowess.

A lost opportunity

While exploring recently through the labyrinthian catacombs of my historic vaults, I unearthed this July 1981 issue of the Valley Advocate. The Valley Advocate was larger in those days, and was distributed folded in the middle:

Looking through the 28 year old paper I came across this article about 1981 Springfield mayoral candidate Peter Jurzynski. He was a city councilor and STCC professor who challenged incumbent Theodore Dimauro on a platform of reform that in its insights was way ahead of its time. Jurzynski condemned the city's political establishment for its isolation, lack of diversity and accountability and insider wheeling and dealing. It would be years before it was widely recognized that Jurzynski's evalutation of city government was correct.

By that time Jurzynski had moved to Connecticut. Like so many of those who fought to save Springfield, it was made clear by the powers that be that he wasn't wanted in these parts. Springfield's establishment was always glad to see the activists quit and move away, it meant one less pain in the ass do-gooder to complicate the next round of scams. Today Jurzynski is best known for holding the American record for swimming the English Channel.

This 1981 interview with Jurzynski gives a glimpse of what might have been:

Peter Jurzynski's Big Plans
by Harvy Lipman

Peter Jurzynski in 1981

The thought of Peter Jurzynski as mayor of Springfield is enough to send most of the established political and banking leaders of the city running for their Alka-Seltzer tablets. During his term on the City Council, Jurzynski has been the one consistent thorn in the side of Springfield's power brokers.

He has argued that Mayor Ted Dimauro's downtown redevelopment policies have been carried out at the expense of the rest of the city's neighborhoods, and criticized the mayor for benefiting a few wealthy and powerful business interests while ignoring the needs of the average Springfield citizen.

So Jurzynski's announcement last month of his candidacy for mayor in this fall's Democratic primary undoubtedly did not sit well with what he describes as the Colony Club/Longmeadow crowd - and that's just fine with Jurzynski.

"When I'm mayor" he says with an air of supreme confidence, "I'm not going to have Springfield Central running the city out of its headquarters. And it's not going to be run out of the Colony Club, either."

Nor is there any mistaking Jurzynski's conviction that he will be elected mayor. "I feel I'm going to win by a comfortable margin," he announced shortly after beginning his campaign.

If he is right, Springfield is in for a political shake-up the likes of which it has not seen before. Jurzynski said that one of his first acts would be to review the list of department heads and the members of the city's various boards and commissions. It is likely that many of the current faces would no longer be seen around City Hall.

"There wouldn't be a massive lay-off of department heads," he promised, but those whose philosophies about downtown redevelopment parallel Dimauro's would be advised to begin circulating their resumes to other employers. "John Benoit (head of Community Development) would be out. I'd get a professional planner in Community Development."

Auditor Henry Piechota also would not survive a Jurzynski victory. "This city is run in a half-ass way," the candidate said of the auditor's department. There would be "a major shake-up" in the Law Department, and he would want to "look closely" at the city grants manager and treasurer's offices.

But what most clearly demonstrates the differences between Jurzynski and Dimauro are their attitudes toward citizen representation on the city's policy-making boards. To become a commissioner in the current administration, you have to be either a prominent lawyer or a well-connected business type. Jurzynski promised to revamp the commissions to include as wide a spectrum of citizens as he can.

"I would get people on the boards and commissions from all the neighborhoods, from all walks of life, from all ethnic backgrounds and from all political viewpoints," he pledged. "I want as many different kinds of people involved as possible, not just the people in the clique or a certain few bankers."

The Police Commission would undergo some drastic changes. Jurzynski would appoint an elderly person to that commission, as well as a person "between the ages of 18 and 25" to the same board.

The Springfield Licence Commission would also see a "major change," Jurzynski said, although he added that he would probably retain Commissioner David Blair (the only member of that board to have expressed any concern about the involvement of criminal elements in the local bar scene).

"You would find in my administration women, blue-collar people, minorities and professionals - not just lawyers and insurance company officers. I would use a cabinet-style of management. I would get people involved."

And the focus of City Hall would be shifted away from downtown to the neighborhoods of Springfield, away from a policy that has poured money into the pockets of a few well-connected banking, business and political insiders. Instead of helping build skyscrapers, and offering corporae tax breaks, Jurzynski promeised to spend whatever federal dollars his administration could garner in this era of Reaganomics on mass transit, street lights, housing for the elderly and revitalizing "the dustbowls that are called our parks."

Jurzynski wants to make it clear that he is not anti-business, but merely opposed to a few powerful interests calling the shots behind closed doors. "When you're trying to get jobs you've got to help your existing industry. Nationwide more people are employed in small businesses than anything else. I don't see a problem with low-interest loans from the Massachusetts Industrial Finance Agency for factories and industries, but not for law firms to relocate or for moving theaters. The bread and butter jobs are not in skyscrapers."

"I would get together all the small businesses in the city and tell them what industrial revenue bonds are about and how to apply for them, and then help them apply. But I'd do it at an open meeting to explain to all businesses that we want their help, not just to people who know somebody. Everyone would have a crack at it."

Superintendant John Deady, Mayor Ted Dimauro, and School Committee Members Nicola Gioscia and Ronald Peters.

Jurzynski believes his emphasis on rehabilitating the neighborhoods and opening City Hall up to a broader spectrum of citizens has already begun striking a sympathetic cord around the city. And while he acknowledged that Dimauro can pull in thousands more in campaign contributions, as well as the support of his friends at the Springfield Newspapers, Jurzynski thinks the voters are fed up with hearing what a wonderful job the mayor is doing downtown while they watch their neighborhoods rotting away.

"I'd like to debate the mayor, not just on one issue but on the direction of the city. Dimauro is doing a lousy job. The city's not better off than it was before he was elected. You ask the elderly who can't find a decent place to live, or the mother with a child who wants to play in the parks, or the city worker, or the cops - ask them what they think of Dimauro."

On Oct. 6 the voters will get the chance to answer that question, and Jurzynski thinks the mayor is in for quite a shock.


Mayor Dimauro was in fact shocked by how well Jurzynski did in the primary. However, with the Springfield Newspapers going balls to the walls in Dimauro's behalf, the final election saw Jurzynski defeated.

Published courtesy of Tommy Devine's Online Journal