Campaign notebook: Candidates for Northampton mayor, council pick up endorsements 

  • Northampton City Hall, Northampton GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 7/27/2021 12:52:46 PM

NORTHAMPTON – The deadline for candidates to submit their nomination papers for the November election is just days away, and several developments – or lack thereof – could have an impact on voters’ choices.

Women’s PAC makes picks

The Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus PAC endorsed more than 70 candidates in municipal races statewide last week, including three women running in Northampton.

City Council President Gina-Louise Sciarra earned the group’s endorsement for her mayoral run. Sciarra is among eight people who have taken out nomination papers to replace outgoing Mayor David Narkewicz in the Nov. 2 election.

The Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus is a nonpartisan organization that works to increase the number of women in elected and appointed public policy positions.

In a Facebook post celebrating the endorsement, Sciarra’s campaign highlighted her public service experience and said she is “more than ready to be our next mayor.”

Candidate Shanna Fishel has earned the endorsement of the political arm of the National Association of Social Workers’ Massachusetts chapter. Fishel is hosting a meet-and-greet event on Sunday, Aug. 1, from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on the front lawn of Forbes Library, 20 West St.

To date, Fishel and Sciarra are the only mayoral candidates certified to appear on the November ballot. Candidate Rosechana Gordon submitted her nomination papers on Monday. All nomination papers are due to the Board of Registrars by Friday at 5 p.m.

The women’s PAC this week also endorsed Jamila Gore, a candidate in a five-way race for two at-large seats on the City Council. Gore is running against current Ward 1 City Councilor Michael Quinlan, Marissa Elkins, Michelle A. Serra and David A. Murphy, the incumbent Elector Under the Oliver Smith Will who is seeking reelection and plans to serve in both roles if he wins them.

City Councilor Rachel Maiore, running unopposed for a second term in Ward 7, picked up the political action committee’s endorsement for a second time.

“The MWPC PAC is proud to endorse these extraordinary women. Their elections will continue diversifying government representation and bring gender parity closer than ever,” said chairwoman Samantha Kelly in a statement. “We are confident that these strong leaders will act with care, urgency, and skill in office.”

Will the city clerk position appear on the ballot?

Nobody knows.

Just days before Friday’s deadline to submit nomination papers to the Board of Registrars for verification of voter signatures, two-term City Clerk Pamela Powers said that she does not know if she needs to run for reelection in order to keep the job.

The Charter Review Committee recommended a variety of changes to city election procedures in its 2019 report, including making the city clerk an appointed position, rather than elected. Several home rule petitions, which would finalize those changes, are before a state legislative committee awaiting further action.

Powers is collecting the necessary 100 voter signatures just in case she does need to run again and said she plans to submit them by the deadline. The full Legislature needs to act on the home rule petitions by Aug. 17 – after which the candidate order is final and ballots are sent for printing – in order for them to have any effect in November, Powers said.

“I was hoping they would (pass the petitions in time), but it’s not looking promising,” Powers said.

If the Legislature does not act in time, the city clerk position will appear on the ballot, even if the changes are approved before November. That means voters may be asked to choose a candidate for a position that is no longer elected.

The city clerk, currently elected every two years, earns $74,000 annually.

If three candidates are certified for the November ballot, the city will hold a preliminary election on Sept. 28 to narrow the field to two. But if the home rule petitions are approved by Aug. 17, the clerk position will not appear on any ballot in the future.

Will teens, non-citizens be able to vote?

The Charter Review Committee also recommended allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in municipal elections, along with non-U.S. citizens who are legal residents of Northampton.

Those changes are among the home rule petitions awaiting action by the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Election Laws. Until the committee issues its favorability reports and the full Legislature votes on each bill, the changes are not final.

Powers said it’s possible that, if those bills are passed, someone could challenge them in court, which may delay implementation even further.

What about mail-in ballots?

Another home rule petition, awaiting action at the state level, would require mail-in ballots to be sent to every registered voter 14 days prior to all local elections, including preliminaries.

Lawmakers last week approved a supplemental budget that would extend no-excuse mail-in voting statewide until Dec. 15, and it is awaiting Gov. Charlie Baker’s signature. Until the COVID-19 pandemic forced a reevaluation of election procedures, Massachusetts voters needed a legally recognized excuse to vote with an absentee ballot, such as physical disability or an inability to vote on Election Day due to religious observation.

In short, it remains unclear if mail-in voting will be an option for this election because the home rule petitions are still outstanding and Baker has not signed the mail-in extension. But if either of those outcomes occurs, voters in Northampton will be able to vote by mail in November, as well as in a potential preliminary election.

Brian Steele can be reached at bsteele@gazettenet.com.

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