Editorial: Sciarra is best poised to lead Northampton

  • Gina-Louise Sciarra, pictured here answering questions during a Northampton mayoral debate held at 22News Tuesday afternoon in mid-October, is the Gazette's choice to be Northampton's next mayor.  GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Published: 10/28/2021 7:36:33 PM

The next mayor of Northampton will inherit a city that has many things going for it — its finances are sound, its schools are of high quality and its downtown business community, though dealt a blow in recent years, is still the envy of others in the region.

But there are many looming challenges — how to move ahead with reenvisioning the way police do their jobs, including implementation of a new Department of Community Care; what to do about homelessness, including the creation of a resiliency hub downtown; how to best redesign Main Street; how to spend some $21.7 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money; how to attract businesses to all parts of the city, not just downtown; climate change initiatives; and many more.

The question for voters in Tuesday’s municipal election is which of the two candidates — Gina-Louise Sciarra, the current City Council president who has been on the council for eight years, or Marc Warner, a successful businessman and transportation consultant — is in the best position to take the baton from longtime Mayor David J. Narkewicz and move the city forward over the next four years.

No matter which candidate voters select to follow Narkewicz, it is clear that come inauguration day in January, a new chapter opens in Northampton government. In addition to a new mayor for the first time since 2012, there will be four new city councilors, and possibly five, in addition to a School Committee with six new members and a new chair in the next mayor.

In our opinion, Gina-Louise Sciarra, who goes by GL, stands most ready to lead Northampton’s 29,500 residents and $121.7 million budget in this pivotal moment. In part that’s because she views the challenges that lie ahead as an exciting opportunity for Northampton. She’s not undaunted by the job and, at 47, we appreciate her enthusiasm for the task at hand.

In a recent meeting with our editorial board, Sciarra said she has a passion for local politics that’s only grown stronger since she joined the council representing Ward 4 in 2014. That passion comes through when she says “this is a massive moment for Northampton,” before going on to note her experience and the relationships she’s built in the community and within the departments that make the city run. “I’m ready to get going right away,” she said.

The four-term councilor also has experience. Over the last eight years, she has learned how municipal government works, she has sought out and listened to concerns of constituents and has built relationships with department heads. She also strikes us as humble enough to ask for help, to do the research and consider all sides and opinions of an issue to make tough decisions that may not be liked in all corners of the city.

As a councilor, Sciarra has served on many council committees, commissions and advisory groups that have given her a firsthand look and a major say in citywide policies, from finances to parking, housing, legislative matters and more.

Perhaps most importantly, given events of the last 18 months, Sciarra was the lead co-sponsor, along with Narkewicz, of a resolution that led to the creation of the Northampton Policing Review Commission. This critical resolution, approved in July 2020, came in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and in response to Black Lives Matter protests throughout the city and country. That commission’s recommendations included creation of a Department of Community Care. One of the next mayor’s first responsibilities will be getting that department off the ground, which in turn will move the city toward the goal of reenvisioning its police department.

To be clear, we don’t agree with every position Sciarra has taken while on the council. The decision to make a last-minute 10% cut to the Police Department budget in June 2020 was, as Warner has said numerous times in this campaign, reactionary and made in response to loud voices. Sciarra disagrees, but the decision did lead to many negative consequences. Officers were laid off or resigned and morale in the department suffered, the Gazette reported.

We understand councilors were in a tough spot, and as Sciarra points out, they held hours of testimony leading up to that vote to cut the department’s funding. We also understand that other departments had to take a cut to their budgets, but the cut to the Police Department did not come with a larger plan to address the damage.

The vote for our next mayor, however, is not about one issue. It’s about a whole body of work, both work that’s been completed and work that’s yet to come. In both cases, Sciarra is in the best position to move the city forward.

Warner, 63, also has a passion for the city. His nearly three decades of running his own company, Warner Transportation Consulting, Inc., involves conducting management, operations and planning studies for large public agencies throughout the United States. He’s also given back locally, having served on four city committees, from a charter review committee in 2012 to parking and passenger rail committees. Since 2003 he has served as a board member and treasurer of Common Cause of Massachusetts, a good government group.

But we question whether this experience is enough to run a city beyond the nuts and bolts, to build consensus to fix problems and to create the kind of leadership that inspires people to want to follow.

Over the past few months, voters have had many chances to hear from the candidates directly and in public forums. On Tuesday, it is time for them to talk back.

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