Ward 7 voters have contest over style, substance
Ward 7 City Councilor Eugene Tacy and challenger Alisa Klein. Purchase photo reprints »
Northampton city councilor Gene Tacy, representing Ward 7, is shown at the corner of Main and Mulberry streets in Leeds.
KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »
Alisa Klein, Northampton Ward 7 candidate Purchase photo reprints »
NORTHAMPTON — They disagree sharply on issues ranging from property tax overrides to the use of herbicides on public spaces, but what makes the race for the Ward 7 council seat most interesting might just be the stylistic differences between the two candidates.
Incumbent Eugene A. Tacy is proud of his role as the de facto spokesman for those struggling financially. He says he asks tough questions and won’t back down from an issue.
Challenger Alisa F. Klein has said in interviews and at a recent debate that she would do less “finger pointing,” and would not always seek to be the “lone wolf” on the council. As councilor, she would be more responsive to all people in the ward and would do a better job of reflecting diverse viewpoints on the council.
Tacy said he represents people who feel disenfranchised by their councilors. He said Klein won’t be much different than those currently on the council, many of whom, he says do not have to struggle to make ends meet.
“I don’t mean this to be derogatory or offensive, but there’s not enough people on the City Council that struggle,” Tacy said. “If there were, I think the votes would be different.”
Klein said she will represent people from all walks of life in the ward, and knows what it is like to fight for one’s economic survival. She noted that she began helping support her family at the age of 11 and left home at 15. She later worked as a house cleaner and secretary to put herself through college and graduate school.
“I think it is an enormous assumption on his part that I don’t know economic hardship and I don’t know hard work,” Klein said. “I have had to struggle and really work extraordinarily hard to do what I’ve done in my life.”
What follows are profiles of the candidates and where they stand on some of the issues.
Eugene A. Tacy
ADDRESS: 158 N. Maple St.
JOB: General contractor, owns C.D.T. Construction, Northampton
An outspoken fiscal watchdog, Tacy believes he plays a vital role on the City Council.
The city native and two-term councilor often takes conservative stances on financial matters, a position that frequently leaves him in the minority on the council. Tacy has no problem with that position, saying he’s not a “go-along-to-get-along” councilor.
“I bring a whole new dynamic to the City Council,” Tacy said. “There’s no question about it.”
He said prudent spending is his top priority, and he’s especially mindful of making decisions that benefit the entire community rather than certain groups. That’s where Tacy said he differs from Klein, whom he believes will not represent those with less means as effectively as he has.
Tacy became the loudest voice against last June’s $2.5 million override, which the city approved but his ward narrowly defeated by 90 votes. He worries that increases in property taxes, water and sewer rates and a possibly new stormwater fee are squeezing the less well-off out of the city, Tacy said.
“The override forced a tremendous anguish on a lot of people ... you can’t disenfranchise those people,” Tacy said.
Tacy said he played a role in many cost-saving measures in the city during the past two years, including changes to the way the city reorganized its Parking Division. The mayor used some of his research and ideas on this matter when deciding to dismantle the parking division and merge its functions into two other city departments.
Tacy said he also sought legal opinion from the state and has a letter from a Department of Revenue attorney that says the city can use money collected for specific functions, such as parking and ambulance service, for general purposes. Since then, the council has approved a financial order that directs ambulance receipts into the city’s general fund — a measure Tacy supported.
Tacy said the planned new stormwater fee is one of the biggest issues facing the city, and he believes the $2 million a year budget proposed for the fund is too steep. That’s why he’d like to see the stormwater budget cut in half.
Like most elected officials, Tacy said he would continue to lobby Beacon Hill for a change in the local aid formula. Unlike most, however, he wants to shine a spotlight on grant money awarded to communities each year. Instead of resolutions on national issues, Tacy said he believes the council should approve a measure urging the state to scale back its grant programs.
“How about, therefore be it resolved that the city of Northampton says to the commonwealth of Massachusetts and the federal government to knock off the bologna with this grant money and give us some money to let us spend it where we need it,” he said.
Tacy has argued this position many times on the council floor, but has yet to sponsor such a resolution.
He voted against the city accepting a $400,000 grant from the state to create a new Connecticut River Greenway park off Damon Road. Many have referred to this as the city’s “boathouse” project, though the city is not constructing a boathouse at the site at this time.
Tacy also believes the city should save money by eliminating some foreign language classes at the high school and offering fewer advanced placement courses. He then would take the savings and put them into enhanced art and music offerings at the elementary schools.
Critics say Tacy is more talk than action, a point Klein made at last week’s debate. After Tacy said he supports energy efficiency measures in the city, Klein commended him for that position but noted that she’s not sure he’s actually done anything to move such efforts forward. Others claim Tacy does not do enough legwork such as returning phone calls and answering emails to adequately represent the ward.
Tacy has said that he spends hours working as a councilor and simply cannot respond to all of the emails and phone calls he gets from throughout the city from people who “really need my voice on an issue.”
Tacy and his wife Margaret have a son, Christopher, 20.
Alisa F. Klein
ADDRESS: 18 Chestnut Ave.
JOB: Consultant for social justice organizations
Klein says it is time for Ward 7 to have a councilor who seeks divergent viewpoints and studies issues thoroughly before reaching decisions.
If elected, Klein said she would work hard to give all residents a voice and would seek to break down the “manufactured sense of division between old Hamp and newer transplants.” She said the needs and concerns of ward residents are not wildly different based on their economic status.
“That concept is being promoted and I don’t think it’s accurate,” Klein said. “It just feels important to me that the representation for this ward is as responsive and is really listening to everyone.”
A 20-year Northampton resident, including 14 years as a renter and homeowner in Leeds, Klein said she won’t point fingers and lay blame when the city is faced with a tough decision.
“I feel really strongly that we need representation that is really thinking about finding solutions and answers,” she said.
Though she supported the override measure in June, Klein said she has concerns about the city’s repeated use of the practice to plug budget gaps. She said it’s frustrating to hear multi-generation residents express fears that high taxes are pricing them or their children out of the city. She would like to work with city officials to create affordable housing for a range of incomes.
“I supported the override with real hesitation, with a real understanding that it’s an incredible hardship for a lot of people and a lot of people in this ward,” Klein said.
Klein believes the city should think in multi-faceted ways about economic development, with a special focus on transportation. She pledges to join the chorus of local and regional voices who have been lobbying the state for a change in the way local aid is distributed.
“That’s a really important goal,” she said. “We as city councilors need to work with other city councilors and selectmen as a region to get our tax dollars back.”
As a councilor, Klein said a priority would be finding new revenue to meet the city’s financial needs. She said she believes the city should continue to explore sustainability measures, starting with installation of a solar array atop the landfill, and more regionalization of services and group purchasing options.
On ward-specific issues, Klein said it’s paramount that traffic-calming measures are implemented in a few areas, especially near the new recreation fields and along Bridge Road in front of JFK Middle School.
She also supports exploring turf management that does not involve the use of chemicals.
Klein said many residents are frustrated that their concerns about what’s happening in the ward are being ignored. She would seek to change that by creating town-meeting-style gatherings where people can talk about issues.
Klein, who lives with a partner of 22 years, moved to Northampton in 1988 as an Ada Comstock Scholar at Smith College. She owns a public policy analysis and advocacy consulting business called Alisa Klein Consulting out of her home that works on social justice, interpersonal violence prevention, and peace building issues.