Ward 2 City Council candidates in Northampton square off at debate (with video)
NORTHAMPTON — Facing their first contested council race in years, about 50 Ward 2 residents Tuesday heard incumbent Paul D. Spector tout his experience and track record and challenger Jason T. Foster stress that he would be proactive and bring a needed set of business skills to the city.
At their only debate before the Nov. 5 municipal election, the candidates answered a mix of questions that focused on big-picture issues such as city finances, economic development and solar panels atop the closed landfill to ward-specific concerns such as speeding and dog walkers along the Mill River.
Spector cited his involvement in several initiatives that have helped move the city forward. Among those are adoption of the Community Preservation Act, support of a package of zoning changes that are leading to a “commercial boom” in the city, and an effort to revive the city’s sustainability measures. The latter initiative is helping the city reduce the amount of energy it uses, saving thousands of dollars, he said.
Though he supported keeping the landfill open, Spector said he now wants to convert the land into a large photovoltaic site. He also pitched a plan to develop a payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, agreement with Smith College.
Spector said he’s been able to parlay his professional skills as a mediator to his work on the council, where he has forged partnerships and collaborations over his decade in office. He said he’s also been a responsive and engaged city councilor, with a policy to respond to constituents who contact him within 48 hours, and that his values as a progressive align well with Ward 2.
As a successful entrepreneur for 20 years, Foster said he has direct business experience that is lacking on the current council.
“I believe I can enhance the skill set of the current City Council because if we don’t do something to enhance that skill set, I think we’ll continue to have overrides as a Band-Aid solution,” Foster said.
He said it’s time for the council to take a proactive role in fixing the city’s revenue problem, which is what Foster said he has done in the private sector for years. For example, Foster believes that some city residents and businesses would invest in paying for a renewable energy park at the closed landfill that would provide the city with a self-sustaining source of revenue.
If elected, Foster said he would do a better job at representing every neighborhood in the ward. To accomplish that, he proposes splitting the ward into 11 areas and creating a team of neighborhood leaders with whom he would meet on a regular basis.
Foster also zeroed in on health insurance as one area where improvements can be made by shifting some of the public costs into the private sector. He believes the city should consider offering its employees a bonus for not enrolling in the city’s health care plan.
The debate at Northampton High School was sponsored by the Northamp-ton Area League of Women Voters.