‘Voice of reason’: City Councilor Joe McGiverin honored with Dwight Distinguished Service award

  • At-Large City Councilor Joseph McGiverin has served the Paper City for 40 years and was just reelected. STAFF PHOTOS/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Holyoke At-large City Councilor Joseph McGiverin has served the Paper City for 40 years and was just reelected. Photographed in the council chambers at City Hall on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Holyoke At-large City Councilor Joseph McGiverin has served the Paper City for 40 years and was just reelected. Photographed in the council chambers at City Hall on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Holyoke At-large City Councilor Joseph McGiverin has served the Paper City for 40 years and was just reelected. Photographed outside City Hall on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Joseph McGiverin watches as Maryclaire Carrier pins flowers on his lapel prior to receiving the William G. Dwight Distinguished Service to Holyoke Award, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019 at the Delaney House. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Joseph McGiverin, right, talks with Ron Collamore prior to receiving the William G. Dwight Distinguished Service to Holyoke Award, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019 at the Delaney House. Collamore was the 2011 recipient of the award and has served on the Holyoke School Committee for 42 years. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Joseph McGiverin shares a moment with his wife, Jennie, prior to receiving the William G. Dwight Distinguished Service to Holyoke Award, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019 at the Delaney House. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Joseph McGiverin gets a hug from Maryclaire Carrier prior to receiving the William G. Dwight Distinguished Service to Holyoke Award, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019 at the Delaney House. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Joseph McGiverin, right, has fun with Henry Czerniak, left, and Joe Bryda on Thursday before receiving the William G. Dwight Distinguished Service Award at the Delaney House. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Joseph McGiverin, left, talks with Tom Ginley, an old friend, prior to receiving the William G. Dwight Distinguished Service to Holyoke Award, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019 at the Delaney House. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Joseph McGiverin has fun with Barbara Bernard, center, prior to receiving the William G. Dwight Distinguished Service to Holyoke Award, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019 at the Delaney House. His wife, Jennie, looks on. Bernard was the 2017 recipient of the award. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Joseph McGiverin shares a moment with his wife, Jennie, prior to receiving the William G. Dwight Distinguished Service to Holyoke Award, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019 at the Delaney House. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Joseph McGiverin, right, shakes hands with Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse after receiving the William G. Dwight Distinguished Service to Holyoke Award, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019 at the Delaney House. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Joseph McGiverin, right, listens as Holyoke City Council President Todd McGee speaks about him after McGiverin received the William G. Dwight Distinguished Service to Holyoke Award, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019 at the Delaney House. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Joseph McGiverin, left, receives the William G. Dwight Distinguished Service to Holyoke Award from John “Jay” Driscoll, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019 at the Delaney House. Driscoll was the 2018 recipient of the award. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Joseph McGiverin, left, receives the William G. Dwight Distinguished Service to Holyoke Award from John “Jay” Driscoll, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019 at the Delaney House. Driscoll was the 2018 recipient of the award. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Pauline Piechota, left, Mayor Alex Morse, Joyce Piechota and Jennie McGiverin listen during Joseph McGiverin’s speech Thursday night after he received the William G. Dwight Distinguished Service to Holyoke Award at the Delaney House. Pauline Piechota, left, Mayor Alex Morse, Joyce Piechota and Jennie McGiverin listen during Joseph McGiverin’s speech Thursday night after he received the William G. Dwight Distinguished Service to Holyoke Award at the Delaney House.

  • Joseph McGiverin, right, receives a proclaimation from state Rep. Aaron Vega after receiving the William G. Dwight Distinguished Service to Holyoke Award, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019 at the Delaney House. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Joseph McGiverin speaks after receiving the William G. Dwight Distinguished Service to Holyoke Award, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019 at the Delaney House. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 11/22/2019 1:13:46 PM

HOLYOKE — At an October meeting of the City Council’s Ordinance Committee, local officials got into some of the micro, mundane problems facing them.

The discussion centered on the city’s fee schedule for weights and measures work, which does not generate as much money as the state is charging the city for that labor. Though he isn’t on the subcommittee, At-Large City Councilor Joe McGiverin was in the chambers following along, as he often does. And the committee was quick to pull him in.

“We have a rate schedule that is archaic,” McGiverin said, explaining that it had been decades since it was last updated. The city at one point had its own department that did that work, he added.

To say that McGiverin is the institutional memory of the City Council is an understatement. At 64, he has spent 40 years on the City Council, making him one of the longest-serving public officials in the region. (McGiverin noted he is not even the longest-serving elected official in Holyoke; that title belongs to William Collamore, who has represented Ward 6 on the School Committee for 42 years.)

“I think Joe, of all the city councilors, is perhaps the most committed to the duty of being as present as possible,” Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse said. McGiverin educates himself on every vote and how it will impact the city, its government, department heads, employees and residents, the mayor added: “In an age where grandstanding has become popular among members of legislative bodies, Joe McGiverin represents common sense and respect.”

That legacy and tireless work have earned McGiverin the Rotary Club of Holyoke’s William G. Dwight Distinguished Service to Holyoke Award — named for the longtime owner, publisher and editor of the Holyoke Transcript-Telegram — which he received at a banquet Thursday evening at The Delaney House. 

“Joe is at everything — he speaks up, he’s fair,” said Katie Buckley, a vice president of the Rotary Club. “He was one of those people who, once his name was brought up, it was almost like everyone was in shock he hadn’t been given this honor before.” 

A historical perspective 

A lifelong Holyoker, McGiverin grew up on Beech Street near the YMCA. Early on, he was introduced  to the city’s political life when his father ran for what was then the Board of  Aldermen. After helping out on several other city campaigns, McGiverin decided to run for the Ward 4 seat in 1979.

“I ran, won and never looked back,” he said. McGiverin followed the example of his father and others when campaigning, learning the importance of going door to door  — particularly in the “elderly towers,” he said, referring to the city’s affordable housing for seniors.

McGiverin didn’t speak much during his first few years on the board, he said — but after six years, he was confident enough to run for president of the body. He won and held that title for 26 years until he was defeated 8-7 on the second ballot in 2012, losing out to Kevin Jourdain.

That year, Aaron Vega — now the city’s representative on Beacon Hill — had just been elected to his second term on the City Council. He said it was an exciting time: A handful of new city councilors had been elected, and Morse had just been sworn in as the city’s youngest-ever mayor at 22.

Change was in the air, Vega said, and he was the deciding vote that gave the City Council presidency to Jourdain. In a phone interview Thursday, Vega said that looking back, that vote is one of the few that he now regrets.

“Thankfully, we stayed friends after that,” Vega said with a laugh, noting that McGiverin has always been helpful to him. “He’s always able to look at all sides of an issue and give a historical perspective.”

McGiverin has worked for many years as a state probation officer at Holyoke District Court. He is hesitant to talk about himself. When asked about his successes on the City Council, he stressed that there are no individual accomplishments.

He did highlight his constituent service. And when he was Ward 4 alderman, he said, he worked hard with others to make possible a complete overhaul of Beech Street — narrowing it in some places, widening it in others, and putting in new traffic lights to address the accidents and other traffic problems that used to plague the street.

In the early 1990s, after his family moved out of the ward, McGiverin ran for an at-large seat, which he has held ever since. In that role, he said, he began to focus more of his attention on economic development. That issue “still keeps a lot of my interest,” he said.

McGiverin was named acting mayor in 1991 after the mayor at the time, Martin Dunn, resigned to become a state senator. He also served on the board of the Holyoke Economic Development and Industrial Corp. Though he lost the special election to fill Dunn’s role, McGiverin said every mayor since has reappointed him to that board.

When asked if he has any regrets from his time on the City Council, McGiverin said he doesn’t think about things that way. He does wonder about certain ongoing issues: “Did we work hard enough to resolve the school issues we’re going through?” he asked. “Have we done enough to keep business in the community?”

A balancing act

To judge by the popular vote, McGiverin is a well-liked politician, easily winning reelection every two years to one of the six at-large seats on the 13-member City Council.

But not everyone in the city favors that at-large component of the City Council, which until 2018 comprised a majority of the council — eight of 15 seats — until voters decided to reduce the number of those seats. In 1992, a group of Hispanic residents from Ward 1 sued the city over the at-large system, arguing that it violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by diminishing minority representation in elective government. They lost on appeal.

The civil rights activist Orlando Isaza was one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit who had previously run for an at-large seat and lost. But Isaza also recalled that during the years when the lawsuit was moving through the courts, McGiverin had approached him to suggest working on a compromise. 

“I was very impressed by that — I will always remember that,” Isaza said. “I’ve always perceived him as an accessible, amenable, thoughtful and caring kind of person.”

In a city where a majority of residents identified as Hispanic or Latino in the last census, there have been only a few at-large candidates ever elected from those communities. In this year’s election, those elected to at-large seats were all white and all incumbents except for Howard Greaney, who had previously served on the Council. Four of the six live in Ward 7.

McGiverin contends that the system is fair, saying he feels like he represents everyone in the city. He said a ward-only system would come with its own problems.

“I think people make assumptions that the candidate or choice to represent the Latino community has to be Latino,” he said. “Are we saying that a Caucasian person doesn’t vote for a Latino person, or a Latino doesn’t vote for a Caucasian? That’s not the way it works.”

Vega was one of the few Latino residents elected to an at-large seat. He said the at-large system tends to favor incumbents from Wards 5, 6 and 7, and that inevitably when someone has been in government as long as McGiverin, people will wonder when their time in power will end.

“But when you get on there as a freshman city councilor, it’s those people that have been there for a long time are the most helpful,” he said, noting that McGiverin was that person for him when he was first elected to the City Council. “It’s a balancing act. Joe has always been supportive of new people running.”

Vega said that McGiverin has been open to new ideas, whether that has meant welcoming the cannabis industry’s entry into the city or being supportive of improving bike lanes and walkability in the city.

McGiverin is often referred to as the “voice of reason” on the City Council. He said he’s not really sure what people mean by that, but he likes to understand it as being able to hear multiple sides of an issue before making a decision. And sometimes, he said, that decision means arriving at a compromise for the greater good of the city.

So, what’s McGiverin’s advice for people running for office?

“I think it’s relatively simple,” he said. “I think you have to commit yourself to being accessible, and you have to be able to listen to everyone.” 




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