Rachel Achmad and Pat Brough: Easthampton must move ahead together

  • Nicole LaChapelle, the newly elected mayor in Easthampton, center left, shakes hands with Sarah Shapiro while greeting supporters gathered at the Brass Cat on Tuesday. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Easthampton has elected a new mayor. In any election, emotions run high, building to a heated crescendo in the final week before Election Day.

No matter where on the political spectrum their candidate falls, supporters are passionate and often that leads to extreme positions.

That has been the case in Easthampton’s municipal elections this fall. Set against the backdrop of the drama and intensity of the national election a year ago, citizens are keenly aware of what their choices in the voting booth stand for and the importance and value of their civic engagement.

Perhaps more now than in many decades, ballot choices often represent a stark contrast in ideology, and people acutely feel that impact.

Easthampton had a busy season of debates and forums, which were hugely beneficial for information sharing, exchanging of ideas and lots of respectful dialogue between candidates as well as among voters.

However, there was also a fair amount of name-calling, accusations and downright mean behavior by supporters of various candidates. To be clear, some playful venting is always present, and in fact, necessary, but at times the zeal of supporters led to behaviors in real life and online that otherwise might not have occurred.

It’s good to disagree. That’s how flaws in ideas can be discovered and mended; how new creative thoughts can come forth; and how a city of individuals who all love their home can find common strength and work together.

We supported different candidates in Easthampton’s mayoral election. But that one difference between us was far outweighed by the many issues of concern we’ve shared and discussed for years: promoting Easthampton’s reputation as a welcoming community; supporting our public schools, including the proposal for a new elementary school; helping our amazing arts community continue to flourish and grow; nurturing current businesses and helping new ones get established; supporting our public safety departments; and improving our roads.

Similarly, the marked difference between our mayoral candidates mostly lay in their operational style and ideas for implementation. On the majority of the issues brought up at the debates, they too agreed on the desired outcomes – just like us. And the tasks of the new mayor will be focused on that.

Sure, what happens statewide, regionally and nationally impacts us all, but the scope of a municipal office is to take all of that knowledge and information and apply it to fixing the local issues at hand.

Easthampton is lucky that our two candidates were so similar in this regard — it means that we don’t have to be left with an election aftermath that makes half the city feel unrepresented or unheard.

But there is a challenge that lies ahead. Can we all work to find that common ground with our neighbors, even those whose lawns sported different campaign signs than our own? Can we listen to others’ explanations of why they like different ideas than we do, and try to catch a glimpse of their perspective?

We already know that Easthampton is a caring community — evidence is all around us: from the annual Thanksgiving 5K that benefits our Community Center, to the mountain of toys that are donated at our Holiday Whobilation, to the people who give up weekend mornings to tidy up the bike path and the boardwalk … and that’s just a few.

This is also seen daily online. We see shared postings of lost family pets that the whole community starts looking for, or benefit fundraisers, or even something as simple as a lost wallet that has been turned into the police station.

These examples show who we truly are. As divisive as things may have felt over the last few weeks, we hope that all of us can look past who supported whom, and remember that not only are we one community, we are at our best when we are working together. The more energy we put into that, the stronger we will be.

So as the last of the campaign signs come down, and our new mayor gets sworn in and rolls up her sleeves to get to work, we trust that all our newly elected officials will put the election season behind them and do their part to move forward with their community.

We are ready to work with them. The question is — will you join us?

Rachel Achmad and Pat Brough are residents of Easthampton who supported different mayoral candidates in Tuesday’s election. They wrote this column before Election Day.