Editorial: Easthampton’s best choice for mayor is Karen Cadieux
GAZETTE FILE PHOTO Easthampton Mayor Karen L. Cadieux has announced that she will seek a second term. Purchase photo reprints »
Easthampton voters face a tough choice Nov. 5. Four people seek to become Easthampton’s second mayor. Of those, two are serious contenders: Karen L. Cadieux, assistant to Mayor Michael Tautznik for 17 years, and Nancy L. Sykes, chairwoman of the School Committee and a former college administrator, criminal lawyer and minister.
Candidates David Ewing and Herbert Glazier have run low-key campaigns, held no fundraisers and bring minimal experience in public life.
Cadieux and Sykes have considerable strengths and both are to be commended for stepping up to the challenge of governing a city of 16,000 and managing a budget of $36.3 million and a staff of 159 (not including the School Department).
Still, leading Easthampton would require either woman to add to the skills she brings to this contest. On balance, we see Cadieux as the better choice but believe she will have to prove herself able to break out of the narrow role she’s long filled and have the capacity to represent every citizen’s best interests, even those relatively new to the city.
In this choice, Easthampton voters should consider what qualities they most want in their next mayor. In one candidate, Cadieux, we believe they have practical, hands-on experience without the rigor of elective experience. In the other, Sykes, they have a skilled communicator and decision-maker who hasn’t experienced the rough-and-tumble workings of municipal government.
Cadieux, 59, has been assistant to Tautznik for his entire 17 years as mayor, and for two years before that she served as secretary to the Select Board. She has gained considerable expertise about what keeps Easthampton government humming and should be able to navigate a smooth transition.
But she has never run for political office. Being an appointed municipal employee — even for such a long time — is different from serving constituents. And though she says she and Tautznik worked as a team, it was Tautznik who made the decisions, big and small, praised and unpopular.
Cadieux does have Tautznik’s endorsement and a demonstrated commitment to the well-being of the community, seen through decades of community endeavors. She has worked closely with city department heads and is versed in the city permitting process. She cites as a top priority streamlining permitting to ease the way for business growth.
Critics say she would be an extension of Tautznik, an assertion we see as simplistic. She learned from him, she admires him and she makes no bones about the fact she thinks he did an excellent job governing the city for nearly two decades. We believe he did, too.
But she sees flaws in Tautznik and is candid about these — and what she would do differently. Tautznik was brusque and impatient at times with people. She said that in recent years he let his relationships with the business community sour and was less than diplomatic with union leadership. Cadieux vows to repair city hall’s relationships with business leaders and will sit at the negotiating table with city unions. As the daughter of blue-collar workers, she feels she will have credibility with unions. But as a longtime mayoral assistant, she knows the complexity of the city budget and will need to be a tough negotiator on the city’s behalf.
Sykes, 72, has an impressive resume filled with jobs in many arenas. She’s been elected to the School Committee twice, serving admirably while it navigated difficult budget issues, the building of a new Easthampton High School and the community effort it took to make that happen. But we question whether her jobs, varied as they are, prepare her for the task of governing a small city.
When asked to identify priorities, she cites maintenance of public roads and buildings, but also stresses her commitment to being a leader who listens, and one able to help the city transition to a new mayor.
We think that shift, while an adjustment given Tautznik’s long tenure, will not be as trying as she suggests and we believe that Cadieux has the experience and skills to best manage that transition.