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Keeping Score: No ties in politics

Published: 11/8/2019 6:49:44 PM
Modified: 11/8/2019 6:49:30 PM

Good morning!
The best game in town wasn’t on the playing fields but at the Greenfield polls on Tuesday. Politics is blood sport and my liberal friend Dave Lorenz texted me to meet him at the high school. “It will be great fun,” he said.

Recorder editor Joan Livingston, tasked with covering a major local election her first year with the paper, asked staff writer Melina Bourdeau to identify the three mayoral candidates’ major contributors. Bourdeau dug up names and numbers to reveal that Roxann Wedegartner had the business people, Sheila Gilmour had the unions and Brickett Allis had the disenfranchised.

In return for monetary support, the people who backed the winner would get seats at the table and make phone calls that weren’t sent to voicemail. Politics as usual, but clean. “This town has had its share of divisiveness, but it is not corrupt,” said a longtime Democratic operative who insisted on remaining anonymous.

Shortly before the polls closed, Allis leaned against the lobby wall talking to former GHS hockey star Ted Devlin. Despite being a write-in candidate, Allis said with genuine sincerity that he expected to win. Indeed, no candidate who runs for anything higher than dog catcher ever expects otherwise, and losing always cuts deep.

At 8 p.m., city clerk Kathryn Scott announced to everyone inside the gym that voting had ended. Standing nearby with two of his officers, police chief Robert Haigh said it had been a peaceful day. The animosity regarding the “safe city” question had subsided, and both sides would live with the will of the voters.

Scott stood in the hallway handing out ‘Observer’ badges to reporters and others who’d come for a firsthand look at the results. Ever since the days when Maureen Winseck and Deb Tuttle were in charge, they were taped on a wall and looked like grocery receipts with the same small print.

The reporters, candidates and campaign staffers leaned and strained and tried not to be rude. Some stood tiptoe, arms fully extended and took photos. I did it the old fashioned way, using a legal pad and scribbling Wedegartner, Gilmour and Allis (aka Write-In) across the page and added up the votes from each precinct.

One of the precinct voting machines had malfunctioned, forcing workers to count each ballot by hand. It wasn’t necessary to wait for that last 10 percent, however, because Wedegartner was comfortably ahead of both Gilmour and Allis.

By my count she won by 186 votes, or 3.39 percent, and Allis was a distant third, 529 votes behind the winner. Overall, 2,285 more voters came to the general election than voted in the primary. In the September primary, Wedergarter beat Gilmour by seven percent and Allis by nine percent, meaning both had gained ground on the establishment choice.

No one knows how Allis’ share of the vote would’ve been split, or what might have happened if Allis had simply thrown his support behind Gilmour. As the saying goes, if ifs and buts were candy and nuts, we’d all have a helluva Christmas.

Perhaps the biggest winner of Tuesday’s election was anyone holding a library card. The great institution founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1831 has survived apathy, abuse and war. In WWII when London was being bombed and the city was implementing austerity measures, someone suggested closing the libraries. “Then what are we fighting for?” asked Winston Churchill.

The ballot question was overwhelmingly approved by a 61-39 percent margin. The library vote was vindication of sorts for committee chair Ed Berlin, who has long felt the sting of losing the first mayor’s race to Christine Forgey.

But it was hard to find anyone happier than library proponent Rachel Roberts, who nervously waited for the last precinct to report. Told it didn’t matter and that the “Yes” vote was insurmountable, Roberts raised her fist, turned for the door and shouted, “The party’s happening. Let’s go!”

The Recorder’s archives are located in a downstairs storage room, close to where a printing press churned out the daily news. Beginning in the 1800s a copy of each edition was bound into a book and today hundreds of those big books are stacked on the shelves.

Last month, the Washington Nationals won the city’s first World Series since 1925, and I was curious how The Recorder had covered that Autumn Classic. After some poking around I found the volume dated from October to December, 1925, still in its original sheath of brown paper. After some brief trepidation about being a freelancer down in the vault, I set it on its spine and tore the wrapping like a kid opening his first Christmas present.

After waving away the cloud of dust that sprung from the brown pages I read headlines akin to The Wild Bunch, the Sam Peckinpah movie about aging gunslingers. “Bandits Hold Up Train and Take $33,000 payroll in Pa.” said a front page item.

It was the Prohibition Era, a 13-year stretch when buying, selling and drinking liquor was illegal. A liquor-laden vessel had sunk near Cape Cod, prompting a clever headline writer to declare: “Rum Schooner Found Bottoms-Up off Georges Bank.”

In the classifieds, an ad for a vegetable supplement called Tanlac promised to aid digestion and cure constipation, and in business news the chamber of commerce had organized a fall style show that would have merchants raise their shades simultaneously at 7:30 p.m.

There was no television of course, and WHAI wouldn’t sign on the air until 1938. That left The Recorder as the sole source of news about the World Series between the New York Giants and Washington Americans. The Oct. 8, 1925, edition of The Greenfield Daily Recorder cost five cents and a banner headline loomed over the fold — Giants Beat Walter Johnson Again, Score is 6-2.

Walter “Big Train” Johnson stood 6-foot-1 and weighed 200 pounds. He pitched 21 seasons and won 417 games, all with the same team. In Dan Okrent’s “The Ultimate Baseball Book” the tip that led Washington to sign Johnson was a letter from a scout who wrote: “He knows where he’s throwing because if he didn’t there would be dead bodies strewn all over Idaho.”

The Recorder put a “player board” outside the building so fans could follow the live action. “Detailed reports will be wired direct from the press box and each play will be depicted on the magnetic board, operated from The Recorder building. There will undoubtedly be greater throngs than ever witnessing the realistic presentation of the series engagements.”

Subsequent reports said the fans were “heart and soul” with Washington, and when they scored the winning run in the 12th inning of the seventh game, “the cheering could be heard for several blocks.”

Indeed, rooting against New York teams was already ingrained in Franklin County baseball fans.

Insiders say Cale Makar will be making an appearance at the Mullins Center on Dec. 6. The reigning Hobey Baker winner will have the night off between Avalanche games against Montreal and Boston.

The Minutemen are hosting Maine that weekend, and the following night Pat Keenan will be honored. Keenan scored 160 points from 1970-73, when UMass played at Amherst College’s Orr Rink.

During his Thursday radio show on Sirius-XM, Charlie Weis speculated that injured Saints quarterback Drew Brees doesn’t want to waste time on the bench. “I can imagine trying to tell Tommy to sit out another week,” chuckled the Patriots’ former offensive coordinator. “I can hear the words coming out of his mouth, his wisecrack, sarcastic foul mouth coming right back at me, ‘Why don’t you take a week off we’d be better off without you.’”

SQUIBBERS: The NMH boys basketball team is traveling more than the Harlem Globetrotters. Last weekend they were in the Bahamas, next week they’ll be in Ontario and the following week they’ll be in Missouri. … Voters in five New Hampshire cities and towns have voted in favor of brick-and-mortar sports betting. The closest location to Franklin County will be Claremont, which is 60 miles up I-91 from the Greenfield rotary. The doors will open sometime between January and April, but mobile betting is expected by New Year’s. Stay tuned for more info. … A pair of Frontier teams will chase their dreams today in Suburban League Football Super Bowl action at East Longmeadow High School. The Pee Wees, slated to play South Hadley, are coached by Keith James and Adam Camp, and the Juniors, which will play the Franklin County Bulldogs, are coached by Scott Dredge and assistants Andy Pickert, Clint Phillips and Josh Phillips. … Today’s Amherst-Williams football game in Billsville will be televised on NESN at noon. Williams leads the all-time series, 72-56-5. “It should be a battle of quarterbacks,” said Williams SID Dick Quinn, referring to the Ephs’ Bobby Maimoron and Amherst’s Ollie Eberth. Amherst (4-4) needs a win to finish above .500 and Williams (6-2) needs a win because it’s Amherst, and they don’t like Amherst. … After the Patriots crashed and burned on Sunday in Baltimore, NBC’s Chris Collinsworth said, “They need to get Isaiah Wynn back at left tackle and they have to come up with an answer at tight end. They are getting no production.” Indeed, Pats tight ends are averaging 28 yards a game. … Analytics and losing can really take the fun out of the game. After last week’s 63-21 loss to Liberty, UMass coach Walt Bell said, “I don’t think there’s a metric within the game of football where we had very much success today.” Oh for the days when JMU coach Mickey Matthews would spout, “My wife could’ve thrown for 400 yards against us today.” … The Toronto Sun’s Terry Koshan asked Alex Ovechkin how the Leafs’ Auston Matthews could learn to play better defense. Ovie laughed and replied, “Call Dale Hunter.”

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley.

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