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School Committee Chairwoman Nancy Sykes to run for mayor of Easthampton

  • Nancy Sykes, an Easthampton mayoral candidate,  at her home in Easthampton.

    Nancy Sykes, an Easthampton mayoral candidate, at her home in Easthampton.

  • Nancy L. Sykes. CAROL LOLLIS.

    Nancy L. Sykes. CAROL LOLLIS.

  • Nancy Sykes, an Easthampton mayoral candidate,  at her home in Easthampton.

    Nancy Sykes, an Easthampton mayoral candidate, at her home in Easthampton.

  • Nancy Sykes, an Easthampton mayoral candidate,  at her home in Easthampton.
  • Nancy L. Sykes. CAROL LOLLIS.
  • Nancy Sykes, an Easthampton mayoral candidate,  at her home in Easthampton.

EASTHAMPTON — Nancy Sykes, chairwoman of the School Committee, said she wants to be the next mayor of Easthampton. That means there will be a contest for the city’s top job.

Sykes is the second candidate to announce a run for mayor in the city’s first mayoral race without an incumbent since Easthampton became a city in 1996.

Mayor Michael A. Tautznik announced in November that he would not seek re-election after 17 years in office. His assistant, Karen L. Cadieux, said in October she would run for the position.

Candidates for mayor, City Council and School Committee may take out nomination papers starting July 1. Nomination papers must be returned with the appropriate number of signatures — for mayor, 100, with not more than 25 from a given district — by Sept. 17. There is no run-off election in Easthampton, so voters will choose their mayor from the pool of candidates on the Nov. 5 election ballot.

Sykes, 71, has lived in Easthampton since 2006 and is in her second term on the School Committee. She said she wants to be mayor to serve the city and believes she has the skills to move the city forward.

“I just happen to believe in local government,” she said. “I do believe it is where my talents can now go and I can contribute to my town in a very significant way.”

Cadieux could not be reached for comment Tuesday morning, but said in a previous interview that she wants to continue the positive changes in the city and believes her 17 years working in the mayor’s office have prepared her for the job.

Tautznik, who has endorsed Cadieux, 59, said he is not surprised a second candidate has emerged. “I’m happy people are interested in coming forward and talking about their experiences and abilities,” he said Tuesday.

With a full field, Tautznik added, “Candidates will talk about their vision and what’s best for the community, and then voters can choose the one they think has the most experience and the best ideas to move the community forward.”

In an interview at her home Tuesday, Sykes said she looks forward to showing voters why she is “a good fit” to be mayor. “It builds on all the skills I’ve learned or developed over the different phases of my life and different positions,” she said.

A native of Portsmouth, Va., Sykes taught government and U.S. history at a high school in Fairfax, Va., for 25 years before moving to Southampton and earning her law degree at Western New England University in Springfield. She worked as a criminal defense attorney in New York City for five years, moved on to be a visiting lecturer at University College in Cork, Ireland, and then moved back to the area to care for her 24-year-old son, who was sick with cancer but has since recovered.

She then studied for three years to become a licensed minister and was minister at the Plainfield Congregational Church from 2000 to 2006. During that time she was also dean of students at the Western New England University Law School and taught negotiation courses there. She taught U.S. history and law at the King’s Academy, a boarding school in Jordan, for three school years.

Sykes calls herself semi-retired now. She teaches a course in forensic psychology at Holyoke Community College and occasionally gives sermons at the Plainfield Congregational Church. She lives at 32 Mutter St. with her partner, Ann L. Hallstein, the minister of the First Congregational Church of Deerfield.

She said her experiences, from teaching to practicing law, have helped her develop skills in three key areas: “listening, questioning and working in partnership.”

“I think those are the skills needed in the mayor’s office,” she said.

Sykes said her municipal government experience from her two terms on the School Committee will serve her well, and that the job of mayor requires more than municipal know-how.

“I have leadership experience, experience working with people and bringing people together, and experience dealing with issues and solving problems,” she said. “I think it’s a good fit.”

Being a good communicator is also important, Sykes said, and she loves to talk.

“I don’t mean just speaking in public, but talking to the public and having them talk to you,” she said. “I think that’s essential.”

Sykes said she is working on building her campaign, including developing a platform, forming a campaign committee and building a website. She said she plans to announce her platform and introduce herself to the public at an event, probably in July, and then she looks forward to knocking on doors around the city.

“I’m most excited about meeting the people, hearing what they have to say,” she said.

She said her first experience campaigning was introducing herself as a mayoral candidate to a man fishing at Nashawannuck Pond, and it reminded her that residents care about the issues that directly affect them.

“He said, ‘Ms. Mayor, I can tell you what I want — more fish in the pond,’ ” she said.

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

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