Editorial: Nicole LaChapelle our choice in Easthampton

  • The Gazette endorses Nicole LaChapelle for mayor of Easthampton. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Easthampton voters will make a critical choice Tuesday in electing the city’s next mayor. We endorse Nicole LaChapelle and believe she has the leadership skills and forward-looking vision needed now in Easthampton as it faces challenges brought on by shifting demographics in the community.

LaChapelle and Joy E. Winnie offer voters a choice in the experiences they would bring to the mayor’s office. LaChapelle, 50, who has experience as a lawyer and educational administrator, is politically well-connected across the state as a member of the Democratic State Committee, though she has not held local office. Winnie, 57, the transportation supervisor for the Northampton School Department, has served on the City Council for 21 years and lived in the same house on Holyoke Street for all but 10 years of her life.

Both candidates have run spirited campaigns as they seek to become the third mayor of this city of 16,000 people. Incumbent Karen Cadieux is retiring after four years as mayor. She succeeded Michael Tautznik who served for 17 years. Both Cadieux and Tautznik have endorsed Winnie.

We believe that it is time now to break from that political past and elect LaChapelle, who will be a mayor with the fresh leadership needed to bridge the divides that increasingly have become evident in Easthampton. Its residents have been split on the issue of designating Easthampton a sanctuary city and a scathing attorney general’s report in August that identified racial bias, discrimination and administrative unresponsiveness in how students are disciplined at the high school.

LaChapelle sees those issues as related, while Winnie does not believe they are. LaChapelle encourages reopening the sanctuary city discussion with residents so they can “discuss what it means to be a welcoming city.” Winnie does not support designating Easthampton a sanctuary city and said the community instead should focus its attention and resources on the opioid epidemic, which she believes is more pressing.

Both candidates want to launch another “visioning” process to engage leaders and residents in mapping the city’s future. While Winnie frames the initiative as repeating the past process nearly 20 years ago as Easthampton made the transition from a town to city form of government, LaChapelle talks about a fresh approach open to a wider range of people in the community.

Winnie has a commendable record on the City Council representing Precinct 3. She leaves a strong mark as part of the city’s first generation of leaders, leading the way as Easthampton built a new public safety complex, bought and renovated the building at 50 Payson Ave. for new municipal offices, found new uses for the old Town Hall and built a new high school. Winnie has worked alongside the city’s previous mayors as they crafted annual budgets and weathered economic storms while helping keep the city fiscally sound.

However, the challenge for Easthampton’s next mayor is not just effectively managing government or continuing existing efforts. As the city becomes home to a more diverse  range of people, economic classes and expectations, leadership from the top is needed to make connections with all residents, including those who feel disenfranchised, in order to build a stronger community with a place for everyone.

Some in Easthampton have raised questions about LaChapelle raising so much money for her campaign from outside the city. LaChapelle reported raising more than $34,000 — with about three-quarters from donors who do not live in Easthampton — through Oct. 20, the most ever for a mayoral campaign in Easthampton. She outspent Winnie by four to one.

The reality of even small city politics is that it takes a high profile campaign to compete against a well-known Easthampton politico such as Winnie. And as a practical matter, it is highly unlikely that the business leaders, educators and political figures who have donated to LaChapelle’s campaign will be in a position to receive any special treatment in exchange for their contributions. We believe that her fundraising shows the level of commitment she has made to her campaign and her ability to rally support — skills that she will bring to the mayor’s office.

As an Easthampton resident for 20 years, LaChapelle has been in the city long enough to know its strengths and recognize its challenges. It is the right time for the new leadership and fresh perspective that LaChapelle will bring to the mayor’s office. We enthusiastically encourage her election.