Activists scold Springfield City Councilor Justin Hurst for criticism of ‘black leadership’

Urban League President, Henry Thomas, City Councilor Justin Hurst, and Greater Springfield NAACP President, Bishop Talbert Swan, II      
City Councilor Justin Hurst criticized “Black Leadership in Springfield for its alleged failure to speak out on important racial issues. His criticism has sparked some activists to strike back, saying his comments were wrong and “insulting.”

The reaction followed Hurst criticizing local black leaders including the Springfield Chapter of the NAACP and the Urban League of Springfield for being among groups that rallied in support of Victoria Rowe, a young black appointee to the Springfield Historical Commission.

Hurst suggested the groups were rallied by the mayor’s office to support Rowe, while not being vocal on many other issues important to the black community.

Leaders of the two named groups fired back on Wednesday.

“To suggest – and I take this personally – to suggest that we were rallied by the mayor’s office and used as puppets is insulting,” said Talbert W. Swan II, president of the Springfield chapter of the NAACP. “And to suggest that we have not spoken to larger issues is equally insulting. I have been actively advocating for our community for the last three decades when he (Hurst) was playing on a playground somewhere.”

Henry Thomas III, president and chief executive officer of the Springfield Urban League, said he believes Hurst’s remarks were “unfortunate, but I respect his right to be wrong.”

“The Urban League, in its 103-year history, has never needed to be rallied to show up when its constituents are being treated unfairly,” Thomas said. “The issue of that evening was not about black, white or brown. It was simply about equity.

“A double standard for one’s participation in public service – Victoria Rowe – should not be tolerated irrespective of race,” Thomas said. “I am afraid Councilor Hurst missed the point of the evening badly.”

Justin Hurst critical of black leadership for focusing on Historical Commission appointment

Some members of the Springfield City Council were critical of the Mayor Domenic Sarno and two staff members, but approved the appointment of Victoria E. Rose, Shannon Walsh and Alfonso W. Nardi.

Among his comments, Hurst said he is “quite baffled when I take a look at the many significant issues that these same folks had a chance to make their voices heard on that this issue (Rowe) is the one that the ‘Black Leadership’ chose to hang their hats on.”

While Rowe’s appointment was approved by the City Council by a 12-1 vote, there was news that some councilors were opposed in advance of the vote, including Ward 4 Councilor E. Henry Twiggs, who questioned if Rowe had the experience in historic preservation issues to serve on the commission.

Twiggs voted for Rowe on Monday in crowded council chambers, with Hurst casting the only “no” vote. Both councilors are black.

Supporters of Rowe said they believed that Twiggs’ initial opposition was politically motivated because Rowe ran against him in the 2015 election, losing to Twiggs.

“… to suggest that we were rallied by the mayor’s office and used as puppets is insulting.” ~ Talbert Swan II

Twiggs denied any political motivation.

Hurst criticized the mayor’s chief of staff, Denise Jordan, and mayoral aide Darryl Moss, both black members of Mayor Domenic J. Sarno’s administration, saying the two “have repeatedly run black candidates against black incumbents for seats on the City Council and School Committee, thus ensuring the black community remains divided.”

Swan said it is misguided to think that the black community becomes divided if a black candidate runs against a black candidate. In a predominantly black ward, the likelihood of two black candidates running for the same seat is high, he said.

Talbert Swan criticizes opposition to Victoria Rowe's appointment

Talbert Swan criticizes opposition to Victoria Rowe’s appointment

Bishop Talbert W. Swan II, a plaintiff in past court cases that pushed for ward representation on the Springfield City Council, issued a statement on Thursday that criticized “the appearance of politics as usual” relating to controversy over the appointment of a new member to the Historical Commission.

“No one says a white community is divided if a white candidate challenges a white incumbent,” Swan said. “Further, it is somewhat insulting to suggest that simply because an incumbent is black, that black people have an obligation to support that individual. We are more intelligent as voters than to keep someone in office simply because they are black.”

Hurst, when contacted Wednesday evening, said he stands by everything he said.

“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion,” Hurst said. “While I have heard the NAACP speak out on some issues, there has yet to be the level of coordination between the NAACP, the Urban League, clergy and other leaders around substantive issues that have a significant impact on the community. And this particular issue around the Rowe issue is not substantive.”

Hurst said it was obvious to him that the controversy on the Rowe appointment was “choreographed,” but he hopes the energy will be used to address more significant issues.

At-large City Councilor Bud L. Williams, said he agrees with Hurst that black leaders need to speak out more on the issues. Williams said he strives to do so himself as a black leader in the community.

“I think African American elected officials need to be more visible, more involved in the community such as attending neighborhood council meetings,” Williams said.

In addition, Williams said he plans to have a council subcommittee meeting on March 10 to discuss racial issues facing the city.

Among issues of importance to the community, Williams said there needs to be more focus on promoting jobs and training, minority hiring and minority-owned contractors.

“I will talk about things going on – the casino, residency, the Mill Street jail, race relations,” Williams said. “The black leadership should be at the forefront.”

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