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Springfield mayoral challenger Justin Hurst denies paying for votes

Springfield Mayoral candidate Justin Hurst at a press conference outside his home, refuting allegations that his campaign paid for votes.
Adam Frenier
Springfield Mayoral candidate Justin Hurst at a press conference outside his home, refuting allegations that his campaign paid for votes.

In Springfield, Massachusetts, mayoral challenger Justin Hurst denied Thursday that his campaign paid residents to cast a ballot for him during the city's early voting period.

Springfield City Solicitor John Payne alleged surveillance video footage taken from outside the polling place at City Hall on Saturday captured the accused payoffs taking place.

"I observed in the video, and you can observe on the video that people who came out of Mr. Hurst's car went in to vote, and when they came out, each of them received money," Payne said.

The cash was allegedly distributed by a Hurst campaign volunteer.

Payne also said several city employees, including elections officials and a Springfield police officer who was working at the polling place, swore in affidavits that they were asked by some voters about being paid. He said he requested that the Hampden District Attorney’s office conduct an investigation, but also said his office would cooperate with other law enforcement agencies who may wish to also look into the matter.

A spokesperson for DA Anthony Gulluni said Thursday afternoon the office had no comment.

During a press conference Thursday morning in the driveway of his home, the candidate said he was just furnishing rides to the polls, which he's done throughout the lead-up to this election.

"We don't give money in exchange for votes. I don't know how much clearer I can be," he told reporters.

Hurst said the whole thing was a politically motivated hit job by his opponent, incumbent Mayor Domenic Sarno, and some municipal workers who were trying to help their boss. When asked for proof of this accusation, Hurst said: “It's five days before the election, the only reason you would do this right now is if you're fearful you're not winning."

Hurst also railed against Payne, the city solicitor, for his involvement. To that, Payne, a retired judge, said: “his comments are ludicrous, they're baseless, and you know, quite frankly are insulting."

Sarno, the longest serving mayor in the city’s history, and Hurst’s opponent, said in a statement “these allegations are very serious and upsetting to me.”

The mayor went on to say, “voting is a sacred trust and should be treated as such. The integrity of our elections must be protected.”

Under state law, paying, providing gifts or other rewards to voters is illegal, and punishable by imprisonment for not more than one year.

Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin also issued a statement on the matter, saying any allegations of paying for votes was “certainly concerning and deserves further investigation.”

“My office has been in touch with law enforcement, as we would be with any report of a potential irregularity, to ensure that the integrity of the process is maintained,” he said.

Up until, Wednesday, when the bombshell report revealing the allegations was published by The Republican newspaper, the mayoral race had been a routine affair. Sarno had mostly been defending his record over his more than decade-and-a-half in office, while Hurst has argued the city needs a change in leadership.

In September’s preliminary, which was a five-way race, Sarno finished first, capturing 47.8% of the vote. Hurst came in second, advancing to November’s general election with 28.8%.

Hurst has been at a substantial fundraising disadvantage. According to state campaign finance data, through the end of October, Sarno had raised more than $275,000 while spending just over $545,000. Through September, Hurst reported raising $102,000 and spent $135,000. As of Thursday Afternoon, Hurst had yet to file his October report.

Adam joined NEPM as a freelance reporter and fill-in operations assistant during the summer of 2011. For more than 15 years, Adam has had a number stops throughout his broadcast career, including as a news reporter and anchor, sports host and play-by-play announcer as well as a producer and technician.
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