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Easthampton at-large councilor candidates seek votes in first contested race since 2009

  • Political confetti
  • Easthampton City Councilor Donald Cykowski<br/><br/><br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Easthampton City Councilor Joseph McCoy<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Easthampton City Councilor Chester Ogulewicz, Jr.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Easthampton City Councilor Natahniel Ziegler<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Tamara Smith, candidate for at-large councilor in Easthampton.<br/><br/><br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • <br/><br/>
  • James "JP" Kwiecinski, a candidate for Easthampton at-large councilor<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

Among the candidates are four incumbents, two former mayoral candidates, and one candidate who is new to city politics.

Even candidates who have a long record on the council or good name recognition said they are not counting on being elected given the large pool of candidates. “There’s definitely some tough competition this year,” said one candidate.

What follows are sketches of the candidates, listed in the order their names will appear on the ballot.

Donald L. Cykowski

Cykowski, 75, of 86 Pomeroy St., has been on the City Council since September 2004, when another member resigned and the seat was passed to the candidate that had received the next most votes in the 2003 election. He is a retired millwright and a lifelong Easthampton resident.

“I have a lot of experience on the board. I have a lot to offer,” Cykowski said of his 4½ terms on the council. “One of the things I want to do is make sure the taxpayer gets the biggest bang out of their tax dollars.”

At council meetings, Cykowski often finds himself in the minority and argues his side. He has voted no or abstained on some spending items, including allowing Community Preservation Act funds to support the Parsons Village affordable housing project and land preservation off of Ranch Avenue.

“I’m fiscally responsible,” he said. “I hate to see the city carrying as much debt as it is.”

Cykowski was at the center of two controversies in 2011 and 2012 that caused some residents and seven members of the City Council to call for his resignation. An effort to collect signatures to initiate a recall election in August 2012 fell short.

At a council meeting in December 2011, he said, “Where’s a Puerto Rican when we need one?” when a councilor was locked out of the meeting room by mistake. Then in March 2012, allegations surfaced that a former library director had been sexually harassed by Cykowski from 2000 to 2007 when he was a member of the Emily Williston Memorial Library Board. Cykowski declined to comment on the issue in a Gazette interview and at a City Council debate Oct. 24.

He has been married for 50 years to Paula and they have three adult children.

Nathaniel P. Ziegler

Ziegler, 39, of 58 Maple St., is a one-term councilor who works as director of special education for the Hartford public schools. From Pennsylvania, he moved to Easthampton in 1999. Ziegler and his wife, Alicia, have a 4-year-old daughter.

Ziegler said he learned a lot in his first term and he wants to serve another term to “keep the city on course.”

“It’s about looking at the investments we put into the city,” he said, listing projects such as the 2012 construction of a solar array on the capped Oliver Street landfill and the new high school, finished this year. “Now we’re getting grants to look at an anerobic digester. Those are all things included in the master plan and I’d like to see us continue to implement them.”

He said he supports initiatives to promote arts and culture in the city including voting to add the job of Easthampton City Arts + Coordinator Burns Maxey to the city payroll.

He pledges to work to improve parks and open space areas and said his experience in education is an asset as the city considers how to make the city’s schools exemplary and appealing to families.

Chester A. Ogulewicz Jr.

Ogulewicz, 58, of 11 Sandra Road, is a lifelong Easthampton resident. He works as a regional sales manager for Entenmann’s baking company in Cromwell, Conn.

Ogulewicz who lives his wife, Nancy, and two children, ages 21 and 24, said that after learning during his first term on the council, he is becoming a more assertive councilor. Before joining the council in 2012, he served three terms on the Planning Board and he is a member of the Republican City Committee.

He said issues he supports are opening the Municipal Building five days a week, getting the public safety departments fully staffed, and strengthening city schools. He also called himself a “fiscally responsible” candidate and said he has voted that way in his first term. “I’m looking out for the taxpayers’ hard-earned money,” he said.

He is the Greater Easthampton Chamber of Commerce’s liaison on the council and said he thinks Easthampton is making progress toward being business friendly. “I think there’s more we can do to attract business,” he said. “I think working with the Chamber is an ideal opportunity to do more.”

Tamara L. Smith

Smith, 40, of 103 Strong Road, is an assistant professor and chairwoman of the Westfield State University sociology department. She is from Liverpool, N.Y. and moved to Easthampton in 2007. In 2012, she campaigned for the unsuccessful $1.4 million override to prevent cuts in the school department.

Professionally, her expertise is in gerontology and families, and she cited education and senior citizens as among her top priorities.

Another issue in her campaign is diversity, she said. “If you look at the gender of the city councilors, women are not represented to the same extent as men are,” she said. She would also be one of the youngest on the council and one of the newest to the city.

Her husband, Gabriel Aquino, is Puerto Rican, as are their four children, aged 4, 7, 9, and 16. Because of that, she feels she can help the council be more inclusive in the wake of Cykowski’s notorious comment.

“Anytime a city councilor speaks, they have to be aware of the impact of what they’re saying and the likelihood that it could make someone feel uncomfortable bringing a concern to the council,” she said.

James “J.P.” Kwiecincki

Kwiecinski, 60, a realtor from 47 Hannum Brook Drive, is also a former candidate for mayor. He lost to Tautznik in 2009 and served as District 1 City Councilor from 2004 to 2009. Originally from Northampton, he moved to Easthampton in 1993 with his wife, Cynthia, and two daughters, who are now adults.

“I think it’s really important, since we’re not going to have Mayor Mike starting on Jan. 1, to have councilors who really understand the city, know its budget and its people, and who will stand up for the city,” Kwiecinski said. He said will stand up for city issues as he did on the council before, he said, including opposing big box stores and supporting the land preservation.

He said he can help the council deal with issues he sees on the horizon, including changes to employee health care and benefits and mandated upgrades to the city’s storm water and sewer systems.

“The city needs to be creative about how it earns money,” he said, to help solve budget problems. Finding new sites for solar arrays like the one on the landfill could mean more savings on the city’s electric bills, he said.

Donald C. Emerson

Emerson, 66, of 459 East St., is a lifelong city resident, a retired city police captain and former developer. He and his wife, Susan, raised seven children who are all grown.

He ran unsuccessfully against Mayor Michael A. Tautznik in 2011, but said he has no plans now to seek the job again.

He said his main reason for running for City Council is that he wants to continue his career in public service. He served as a Town Meeting representative in the 1980s and is on the city’s Retirement Board.

Emerson said he would like to start holding precinct meetings to learn what residents want their government to work on. “I would vote the way my constituents want, just like I did as a Town Meeting member,” he said.

He also supports opening the Municipal Building five days a week, finding a way to pave more roads with the dwindling state funding, and attracting new business to the city. He said offering tax breaks for a business’ first year or two may be the key.

“Other major cities have done it and it pays off tenfold,” he said.

Joseph P. McCoy

McCoy, 55, of 11 Clapp St., is a four-term councilor and currently serves as council vice president. From Simsbury, Conn., he has lived here for 13 years. He works as a veterinarian and is active on the Easthampton Democratic Committee.

“My top priority is to continue to work for Easthampton families and improve our city,” he said. “I have a lot of experience in a lot of different areas,” he said, explaining that he has served on every council subcommittee.

“I have an interest in making sure government is as transparent as possible,” he said.

To that end, he supports the videotaping of all city boards’ and committees’ meetings. While City Council president in 2010 and 2011, he also maintained a City Council Facebook page and help precinct meetings to increase communication, he said.

He said that as a councilor he will do what he can to support new small busi1nesses. He and his husband, Stanley McCoy, keep goats and have been “playing around with” making and selling soap made from the milk. “It’s given me a newfound appreciation of the regulations and costs that goes along with starting a small business,” he said.

The couple have no children.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.

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