Easthampton City Council at-large candidates make case to voters






  • Lindsey Rothschild CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • JERREY ROBERTSEasthampton Municipal Building, 50 Payson Avenue JERREY ROBERTS

  • Easthampton Municipal Building GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Easthampton’s City Council at-large candidates, clockwise from top left, David Meunier, Lindsey Rothschild, Koni Fay Denham, Kae Collins, Brad Riley and Owen Zaret. SUBMITTED PHOTOS

Staff Writer
Published: 10/27/2021 2:21:57 PM

EASTHAMPTON — Six candidates, five of whom will appear on the Nov. 2 ballot, are running for four City Council at-large seats.

Of the six candidates, two incumbents, Owen Zaret and Lindsey Rothschild, are seeking re-election while candidates Koni Fay Denham, Brad Riley and David Meunier are making their first bids for a council seat. Kae Collins, meanwhile, recently entered the race as a write-in candidate. The top four vote-getters will win election to the 9-member council.

Owen Zaret

Zaret, who is running for a third two-year term, said that while he’s proud of what the council has accomplished over the last four years “there’s always more work to do.”

He expressed pride in being involved with diversity and equity issues like being part of the successful efforts to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day in Easthampton and getting the LGBTQ pride flag flown at the Municipal Building for the first time. He also spoke about his support for small businesses and the arts and highlighting them through social media. He expressed pride in an ordinance on single-use plastics that the City Council passed and he spearheaded.

If re-elected, Zaret said he would address a number of environmental issues, such as revisiting the city’s solar ordinance, maintaining pollinator corridors, and looking into pesticide and herbicide use in the city.

“We need to always legislate based on facts and well-done research,” he said.

He also spoke to housing affordability and expressed a desire to support more workforce housing in the city. Additionally, he continues to support establishing a dog park in the city, describing it as an equity issue as dog owners don’t always have access to off-leash space.

Zaret is a father of one child and works as a physician assistant. His wife is a professor at Clark University.

Lindsey Rothschild

Rothschild has spent most of her first term as a city councilor in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and she said that after learning the ropes, she would like to continue in her role.

“I’m looking forward to just knowing more,” she said.

Rothschild chairs the council’s Appointments Committee, and she noted how its process was reformed under her tenure to give all candidates for appointment to city boards and committees the same set of initial questions.

She also noted her work with the Community Preservation Act Committee’s rent relief program, which she said raised concerns with her initially over barriers to access. She said the committee subsequently worked with her to reduce such barriers in the program.

As a member of the Public Safety Committee, she also worked on the Mayor’s Pledge Report, tackling issues of criminal justice reform in the city. During this time she made connections with Westfield State University’s Criminal Justice Department and she said she will be following up on collaborating with the department on reform in November.

Rothschild is also looking to hold a planning meeting on universal design in November, which will discuss increasing accessibility in the city for all people. If re-elected, Rothschild said that she would stay engaged with the Mayor’s Pledge Report, and would also support affordable housing and combating climate change.

Rothschild, a mother of one child, founded an online learning development company in the pandemic and is a volunteer hockey coach.

Brad Riley

Riley is a nonprofit consultant currently enrolled in a master’s program in public policy and administration at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

A member of the Affordable and Fair Housing Partnership and the Elementary School Reuse Committee, Riley is running for office with a focus on housing affordability and infrastructure.

“I felt like what the city needs right now is someone with a background in housing,” he said. “Our housing situation is out of control in Easthampton.”

Riley spoke about Bill 868 in the state Senate, which if enacted would give communities the ability to enact up to a 2% transfer tax on real estate sold above the mean average in a county. This money would go into CPA funds in Easthampton and have to be used for housing expenses. Riley said that by his calculations, Easthampton could receive approximately $100,000 a year through this initiative.

Riley also expressed a desire to look into the city’s Housing Authority, and to ask its residents what they need, saying that the authority’s properties are in poor repair. Additionally, he said he would also like to see more green energy and sustainable design in the city to justify the tax increases residents are seeing.

He also mentioned the impact of the changing climate on infrastructure, noting the increased impacts of tropical storms in New England in the last two decades. “No infrastructure in New England was designed to withstand high winds and flooding rains,” he said.

Riley is a father of two adult daughters, and his husband works as a health care executive.

Koni Fay Denham

Denham, the director for the Center for Education Policy and Advocacy at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said her top priorities are issues of taxes and housing affordability.

“I’m worried about people’s ability to live in Easthampton,” Denham said.

She said she wants the city to be welcoming to people of different backgrounds, and she described being moved while campaigning by a conversation with a senior who said that he was born in Easthampton and wanted to die there.

“There’s real concern around property taxes,” she said.

Denham said she wants to investigate the options available for dealing with higher property taxes, such as what a property tax freeze for some residents would look like, a property tax rebate or expanding the tax work-off program.

Denham served on the Affordable and Fair Housing Partnership for a number of years, and she said that climate change will have an impact on affordability in the city as more people migrate inland. She also said she’s interested in creating more space and programming for young people, with a youth center as a long-term goal.

“I would love to be able to see a youth center in Easthampton,” she said.

Denham’s wife also works at UMass and they have three dogs together.

Denham said that her campaign has been doing a lot of canvassing and that this has involved asking people what they appreciate about Easthampton, as well as their concerns.

“Easthampton is a really special place,” she said.

David Meunier

Meunier, a mechanical contractor, is a lifelong resident of Easthampton who is married with one child.

“Lately this town has evolved in a great way,” he said. “I want to be an integral part of the evolving city that it is.”

Meunier praised how the city has become more diverse, and he said he would like to look into reducing the tax burden for residents.

“A lot of people feel like they’re overtaxed and their tax money isn’t being spent properly,” he said.

As a city councilor, he could examine these issues more effectively, he said.

“Without being a city councilor, it’s just hard to look into it,” Meunier said. “It’s hard to be a loud voice in the room.”

He also said fixing roads and infrastructure is important to him as well and spoke about making improvements to the city without overburdening its taxpayers, citing looking into grants as a possibility.

Meunier also expressed support for municipal internet, noting the monopoly that Charter enjoys in the city. “They have the city by the horns,” he said.

Kae Collins

Collins announced her write-in campaign this week, after being approached by a number of people asking her to run.

“I’m all about people having choice,” Collins said.

Collins is no stranger to the City Council, having lobbied before it on a number of issues. She also served on the Ordinance Review Committee, which looked over the city’s bylaws with an eye to eliminating systemic racial bias, and she was a candidate to fill outgoing councilor William Lynch IV’s seat when he stepped down in 2020. The council elected Erica Flood to fill Lynch’s seat.

Both Collins and her wife work in the retirement industry. Her wife is also a radio host and they have a dog and two cats.

While Collins had considered running for at-large city councilor earlier this year, she ultimately chose not to at that time because of starting a new job and family commitments. She said that she now has the time to run, however, and that she steps up when her community asks her to.

Collins said that she feels passionate about everyone being able to participate in the processes of city government and that she wants people seeking appointments to city committees and speaking in public speak time to be treated the same. Collins said that she’s interested in supporting affordable housing, supporting small businesses and supporting BIPOC business owners. She also expressed an interest in supporting the arts community, and supporting affordable studio, performing and living spaces for them. Additionally, Collins expressed an interest in supporting seniors aging in place in the city.

Collins also noted her familiarity with the members of the council.

“I’m a known quantity to the uncontested city councilors,” she said. “They know me, I know them.”

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.

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