Editorial: Voters deliver clear mandates in Easthampton, Northampton

  • Newly elected Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle, center left, shakes hands with Sarah Shapiro while greeting a crowd of supporters at the Brass Cat on Tuesday. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Published: 11/10/2017 5:59:22 PM

Voters on Tuesday delivered clear messages for change in Easthampton and stability in Northampton.

Attorney Nicole M. LaChapelle, 50, who was elected as Easthampton’s third mayor, brings a fresh perspective and forward-looking leadership needed in the city that continues to grow more diverse. Her challenge now is to reach out to all residents, including those who believe their voices have not been heard, in forging a stronger community.

LaChapelle delivered a message of unity Tuesday night after receiving 53.8 percent of the vote to defeat Joy E. Winnie, who served 21 years on the City Council. “I think it’s also a time to give every resident a voice, regardless of their color, their orientation, what they believe in — they’re a resident and they have a seat at our table,” LaChapelle said. “Our table is going to get much, much bigger.”

When LaChapelle takes office Jan. 2 she will break a 21-year political chain since Easthampton became a city. Its other two mayors, Michael Tautznik, who served for 17 years, and Karen Cadieux, who held the office for four years before deciding to retire, both endorsed Winnie, who emphasized her experience in city government and roots as an Easthampton native.

Voters elected LaChapelle during a year marked by a divisive discussion over whether the city should become a sanctuary city providing added protection to immigrants, and a damning report by the state attorney general’s office that detailed racial bias, discrimination and administrative unresponsiveness in how students are disciplined at the high school.

We expect that LaChapelle will engage the community in examining “what it means to be a welcoming city,” as she pledged during the campaign, as well as what led to a years-long pattern of minority students being subjected to more severe discipline than white students at the high school. While those conversations may be difficult at times, we hope that they lead to a greater understanding and tolerance for differences among all residents of Easthampton.

LaChapelle said Wednesday that education will be a major focus of her first year as mayor. She will play a key role as a member of the School Committee in seeking voter approval next spring of a consolidated pre-kindergarten through Grade 8 school, and selecting a new superintendent to succeed Nancy Follansbee, who will retire in June. The mayor-elect pledged to “cast as wide a net as possible” in choosing a new school leader.

Four of the other six school board members also are newcomers — Alexandra Dodge, Shannon M. Dunham, Laurie A. Garcia and Jonathan M. Schmidt. They join Marissa L. Carrere and Cynthia L. Kwiecinski, the only two incumbents who sought re-election.

Carrere was outspoken last summer in her reaction to the attorney general’s report, saying that “district leadership owes a profound apology to the students and their families who have been affected by racism and discrimination in the school environment.”

On Tuesday, Carrere said she looks forward to working with LaChapelle, and pointed to her support for diversity, special education and overall equality in education.

We expect that LaChapelle’s skills, including her commitment to transparency and inclusiveness in government, will help her bring unifying leadership to Easthampton.

* * *

In Northampton, voters gave Mayor David J. Narkewicz an overwhelming mandate as he was re-elected to a third term with 78.8 percent of the vote against challenger John D. Riley.

That gives Narkewicz another fours years to continue his work on an impressive array of projects, including downtown improvements, developing more affordable housing, supporting education and the arts, addressing climate change and other environmental issues, and continuing his leadership in providing a welcoming atmosphere for all in Northampton.

The contest for city clerk was only slightly closer as Pamela L. Powers received 72.3 percent of the vote to defeat Robert J. Driscoll. A middle school history teacher, Driscoll had the support of the past three city clerks, Wendy Mazza, Christine Skorupski and Adeline Murray.

Powers cited her six years of work in City Hall, including assistant city clerk from 2011 to 2014, and then clerk of the City Council. Powers has been interim city clerk since July, when Mazza retired.

“I think in the end the voters made … the choice that said experience matters,” Powers said Tuesday night. We agree and believe that she will provide the same dedicated, professional service that marked the last four decades under Mazza, Skorupski and Murray.

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