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Editorial: A call to leadership in Easthampton

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  • JERREY ROBERTS<br/>Donald Emerson, left, a candidate for Easthampton mayor, and Mayor Michael Tautznik field questions during a debate Tuesday in Phillips Stevens Chapel at Williston Northampton School.

Easthampton Mayor Michael A. Tautznik has been a tireless leader since he was elected the city’s first mayor in 1996. He made official last week that this term, his eighth, will be his last. We hope his announcement that he is not seeking a ninth term will bring forward civic-minded Easthampton residents who would like to guide the city they love.

We believe there are many residents holding elected office or working at other top-level management positions who would be up to the task. We urge current or former office-holders, people with managerial experience in the private sector, leaders of nonprofits, or anyone who believes he or she is an able leader to seriously consider running for this office.

At the same time Tautznik announced that 2013 will be his last year as mayor, he endorsed his longtime administrative assistant, Karen L. Cadieux, to be his successor.

It seems too early for that. Easthampton faces its first mayoral election without an incumbent. With more than a year to go before the city chooses its second mayor, we think Tautznik should have reserved judgment on who will emerge as the best person for this job.

No doubt Tautznik’s endorsement of Cadieux is motivated by genuine concern for the city he has led so admirably for so many years. She may well be up for the job. It’s hard to know if she’s prepared for the rigors of an election and the public scrutiny that comes along with it, though, because she has never run for public office. Tautznik has made no secret of the fact that he has been looking for some time for a candidate he believes “can move the community forward” as he puts it. He wants the initiatives he started to be carried forward.

That is understandable, and Tautznik is entitled to his opinion about who is suitable to follow him in office. It’s even possible that because he’s held the seat for nearly 16 years, he is indeed the person best qualified to assess who has the skills needed to fulfill the duties of the job.

And yet, that is not the way democratic societies work. For better or worse — and we believe it is mostly for the better — voters together decide who fills these key offices. So far, no other candidates have announced intentions to run for the city’s top job. It makes sense that many potential candidates would wait to find out if a sitting mayor is seeking re-election before deciding if they want to run because they might feel the incumbent is doing a fine job and that it’s not worth trying to unseat him.

But when an incumbent bows out, it’s a game changer. The clock starts again. An election campaign is important in so many ways. It is a time for a community to take a good look at itself, consider its goals and assess whether it is on the right course to meet them. Then voters elect the candidate they believe can realize those goals.

When Tautznik, 58, was elected to office, he was thoroughly vetted during a seven-way race in a lively, scrappy mayoral campaign. Easthampton will be a stronger city if its next mayor is elected following another lively, scrappy and thoroughly democratic campaign.

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