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Reopened gov’s office links western Mass., Beacon Hill

Stephanie Reitz

SPRINGFIELD — The way Clodo Concepcion sees it, his tax dollars should give him the right to call the governor’s office without running up his phone bill.

Now, for the first time since 2003, he and other western Massachusetts residents can again reach a branch office of the governor in their own 413 area code — not the 617 that some, like Concepcion, say underscores the geographical and political distance they feel from Beacon Hill.

Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration reopened the Springfield office part-time in October and, as of Jan. 15, it switched to full-time hours. That makes Massachusetts one of two New England states, along with Connecticut, to have a governor’s office beyond the state Capitol.

Patrick, who has a vacation home in the Berkshires town of Richmond, promised during his campaign to reopen the office. That was a welcome message to those who felt their region got second-class status from Boston-centric politicians.

“Anything that happened, the state always seemed to just pay attention to Worcester and east,” said Concepcion, a 75-year-old Springfield retiree and community activist. “I’m very happy they’ve opened the office again, but I hope they make sure it’s a place where we can really get help and information.”

The office in downtown Springfield, which opened briefly in the 1970s under Gov. Edward King’s administration and then closed, was revived in 1983 by Gov. Michael Dukakis. It remained open for the next 20 years under various directors until then-Gov. Mitt Romney closed it in 2003 during budget cuts.

Disappointment over that move turned to anger when, in 2005, residents and officials accused Beacon Hill leaders of moving too slowly when widespread flooding displaced scores of western Massachusetts residents and destroyed 75 Greenfield mobile homes.

Patrick said during a recent visit to the Springfield office that he hopes to add employees to help office Director Elizabeth Cardona with constituent service and other duties.

“All through the campaign, I had a sense from people I talked to that frankly, from I-495 west … people feel like Beacon Hill isn’t always paying attention to them,” Patrick said, arranging folders and paperwork on his desk in the third-floor office.

“We’re up and running, and we’ll be sorting it out as we go,” he said of the office’s revival. “It’ll probably be a bit of a refuge for me, too. It’s pretty calm here.”

Compared to the bustle of Beacon Hill, the Springfield office is, indeed, a quiet spot.

Framed prints from Springfield’s Museum of Fine Arts line the walls near Patrick’s desk and conference table, and the entryway’s floors are freshly buffed.

In the vestibule, empty shelves soon will be filled with new brochures on state programs, grant applications, tourism and other topics of possible interest to visitors.

Cardona, 39, a Springfield native appointed in January to run the office, said she receives a steady stream of calls from throughout the four-county region.

Many people have questions about state services or suggestions on improving programs. Others need help with everything from starting a new business to understanding the state’s health care insurance requirements.

As word has spread that the office reopened, she said, drop-in visits have increased, too.

“Our goal is to make this office as valuable a resource as possible,” Cardona said. “The governor has clearly said his intention is to be the governor for the entire state, and I do believe he’ll be using this office frequently.”

Full-time branch offices are common in many larger states across the nation. Massachusetts and Connecticut are the only New England states that have them. Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell has branches in Bridgeport and Norwich, about 60 miles and 40 miles, respectively, from her State Capitol headquarters.

Representatives of some other New England governors say that while those leaders have no permanent branch offices, they use their vehicles, regional state offices, police barracks and other spots as impromptu branches.

About 90 miles separate the Boston and Springfield gubernatorial offices. For some western Massachusetts city leaders, having a local office already is saving both time and money.

Holyoke Mayor Michael Sullivan said a state hearing officer recently held civil service hearings in the Springfield governor’s office, saving the time and travel for not just himself, but also the city’s police chief, attorney and others.

Trips to Boston for certain unavoidable duties, such as attending land court hearings during eminent domain disputes, can eat up an entire workday, he said.

“One thing we’ve seen from this administration is a renewed interest from Boston in general, in being willing to come out here and try to understand this area more effectively,” he said. “I think reopening the [governor’s] office out here is a good gesture on the part of the executive branch, and that other things that could be beneficial to us will also be coming.”

(Associated Press)