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Ryan O’Donnell, Gina-Louise Sciarra ready for new roles on Northampton City Council

  • SARAH GANZHORN<br/>Gina-Louise Sciarra is running unopposed for councilor of Ward 4 in Northampton.
  • SARAH GANZHORN<br/>Gina-Louise Sciarra is running unopposed for councilor of Ward 4 in Northampton.
  • SARAH GANZHORN<br/>Gina-Louise Sciarra is running unopposed for councilor of Ward 4 in Northampton.
  • SARAH GANZHORN<br/>Gina-Louise Sciarra is running unopposed for councilor of Ward 4 in Northampton.
  • CAROL LOLLIS<br/>Ryan O'Donnell<br/><br/>
  • CAROL LOLLIS<br/>Ryan O'Donnell<br/><br/>
  • CAROL LOLLIS<br/>Ryan O'Donnell<br/><br/>
  • CAROL LOLLIS<br/>Ryan O'Donnell<br/><br/>

Though they are the only candidates on the ballot for their respective wards at Tuesday’s municipal election, Ryan O’Donnell in Ward 3 and Gina-Louise Sciarra in Ward 4 said they’ve been campaigning and using the time to study key issues facing their future constituents.

O’Donnell, 33, of 36 Day Ave., announced his candidacy in April shortly after Owen Freeman-Daniels said he would not seek re-election and has spent the last several months walking the ward. That gave the him the chance to hear a variety of concerns from residents, he said, from truck traffic to new zoning, redevelopment of the Three County Fairgrounds and redesign of Interstate 91 Exit 19. But the issue that hovers over everything else is affordability, O’Donnell said.

“The larger issue is how does Northampton move forward without excluding anybody?” he asked. “That means keeping the city affordable. Affordability is a big issue on a lot of people’s minds.”

O’Donnell is an advocate for the development of more housing options within the city for people with middle- and low-income levels. He believes a recent overhaul of the city’s residential zoning will help expand the city’s housing stock and increase the number of affordable homes, though he shares the concern of many Ward 3 residents about larger projects. The City Council delayed a decision on the portion of the zoning package that regulates larger projects until next summer, and O’Donnell is looking forward to participating in that discussion.

“I think there should be stringent standards for developers who want to create large developments that would alter the character of the neighborhood,” O’Donnell said.

O’Donnell supported last June’s $2.5 million Proposition 2½ override, though he called the measure a symptom of a broken state tax code. Like many on the council, O’Donnell believes the state should adopt progressive tax reform in which the wealthy pay more. He said most residents, no matter how they voted on the override, share his belief that middle-income families and the poor should not bear a disproportionate share of the tax burden.

Closer to home, O’Donnell supports the city’s effort to upgrade its flood-control levees and crumbling stormwater infrastructure through the creation of a stormwater fund, though he’s not “100 percent satisfied” with the fee structure being proposed. He said ignoring the problem is fiscally irresponsible and could end up costing homeowners more in the long run, particularly if the floodplain is redrawn and many Ward 3 families have to buy expensive flood insurance.

O’Donnell grew up in the Valley and has lived in the city for three years. He works as a communications consultant for Free Speech For People, an advocacy group whose mission is to overturn a Supreme Court decision that allows corporations to spend money directly in support of candidates.

Sciarra ready to serve

Sciarra announced her candidacy in April shortly Pamela C. Schwartz said she would not seek a third term. Since then, Sciarra said she has been visiting ward residents and attending meetings to get up to speed on the issues before she takes office in January.

“People keep introducing me as the next city councilor from Ward 4, and I don’t take that for granted,” said Sciarra, 39. “I want to earn people’s votes even if there’s no one else obvious for people to vote for.”

A political consultant and stay-at-home mother, Sciarra said the time is right for her to go from organizing political campaigns for others to being a candidate herself. She ran William H. Dwight’s campaign for an at-large position on the council two years ago and has done other political work for many years.

“I hadn’t really considered running myself until Pamela announced she wouldn’t be running again,” she said. “It seemed like a perfect way for me to give back to Northampton.”

Like most candidates, Sciarra, of 145 State St., is getting an earful from residents who worry about the cost to live in the city in the face of rising property taxes and fees. She said she looks forward to helping the council try to find balance between making sure residents can afford to live here comfortably and making sure that the city doesn’t sacrifice services.

Sciarra served as co-captain in Ward 4 of the Yes!Northampton group that lobbied for passage of the Proposition 2½ override in June. She believes the city has done a good job managing its money and paring its budget, and maintains the override was necessary to preserve vital services, especially to the schools and public safety.

“But I do understand that people feel that they are just pushed to the limit right now,” she said. “I truly understand that people feel that they can’t pay much more.”

Other issues in Ward 4 include the redevelopment of the Round House lot and Pulaski Park downtown, and efforts to make streets safer for bicyclists and pedestrians.

Sciarra said she looks forward to discussing improvements to the congested intersection of Main, South, State and Elm streets, as well as development of a permanent solution to safety issues at a crosswalk on New South Street next to Pulaski Park.

“It would be great to have a solution that really helps that spot, and that would hopefully help other spots,” Sciarra said.

Sciarra said she is glad to be continuing a line of Ward 4 councilors who have children in the public schools. Sciarra is married to Bill Scher, and has two children, Alazne, 4, and Simone, 20 months.

Related

Override divide outlined in at-large Northampton council race

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

NORTHAMPTON — While the two at-large city councilors say they did yeoman’s work educating the city leading up to last June’s Proposition 2½ override request, their lone challenger says he’s running precisely because they didn’t. Anthony L. Patillo said incumbents William H. Dwight and Jesse M. Adams may have been well-intentioned, but they did a poor job of clearly spelling …

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