Mayoral, council hopefuls make last pitches to survive ballot cut

  • Annie Rose-Weiss casts her ballot while her son, Caleb Rose-Weiss, 3, watches at the Northampton Senior Center Thursday afternoon during early voting. Friday was the last day for early voting. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Heather Bell, an election worker, hands a voter a ballot envelope during early voting at the Northampton Senior Center Thursday afternoon. Friday was the last day for early voting. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Pam Powers, the Northampton City Clerk, and Jack Favaro, an election worker, close the Northampton Senior Center after Powers had collected the early voting ballots at the end of the day Thursday. The last day for early voting was Friday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Pam Powers, the Northampton City Clerk, collects early voting ballots from the Northampton Senior Center at the end of the day Thursday. The last day for early voting was Friday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Annie Rose-Weiss casts her ballot while her son, Caleb, 3, watches at the Northampton Senior Center Thursday afternoon during early voting. Friday was the last day for early voting. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Pam Powers, the Northampton city clerk, collects early voting ballots from the Northampton Senior Center at the end of the day Thursday. The last day for early voting was Friday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Heather Bell, an election worker, gets ballot envelopes ready for early voters while Dennis Helmus, an election worker, talks with Diane Welter who was at the Northampton Senior Center to cast her ballot Thursday afternoon. Friday was the last day for early voting. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 9/25/2021 7:00:26 AM

NORTHAMPTON — The city’s preliminary election is just days away, and in a campaign season dominated by public health restrictions, many candidates on Tuesday’s ballot are making their final pitches to voters by phone, on social media and in small masked gatherings.

Voters will eliminate candidates in races for mayor and City Council at large. After a decade in office, Mayor David Narkewicz is not seeking reelection.

Five mayoral candidates will appear on the ballot: City Council President Gina-Louise Sciarra, retired resident Roy Martin, social worker Shanna Fishel, transportation analyst Marc Warner, and Rosechana Gordon, who dropped out of the race after the ballots were printed. Voters will narrow the field to two candidates for the Nov. 2 general election.

One City Council at-large candidate will be eliminated from a field of five people who are seeking two open seats. Sciarra is giving up her seat to run for mayor, and longtime at-large councilor Bill Dwight is not seeking reelection.

Sciarra is the only mayoral candidate who has served in elected office. Fishel is a first-time candidate, while Warner lost a 2015 at-large City Council race to two incumbents, though he has served on a variety of city boards and commissions over many years.

Martin, a retired Marine Corps veteran, is making his 10th run for mayor. He placed third in a five-way race in 2007, earning 257 votes; two years earlier, Martin received a single vote, and it came from Ward 3B, where he lives. In 2001, he simultaneously lost races for mayor and city councilor at large.

As of Friday, City Clerk Pamela Powers said about 1,000 people had taken advantage of new early voting procedures in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She described the number as “really slow, both in-person and by mail,” but said low turnout among the city’s 21,000 voters is “typical” in a preliminary election. The last day to register to vote in the general election is Oct. 13.

City Council race

The at-large council candidates, in the order they will appear on the ballot, are Michael Quinlan, David Murphy, Marissa Elkins, Jamila Gore and Michelle Serra. City councilors serve two-year terms.

All five candidates are planning to attend an in-person, masked meet-and-greet on Sunday from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. at Leeds Elementary School.

Quinlan is the incumbent Ward 1 councilor and a member of the Finance Committee, and also served on the Policing Review Commission that recommended a peer-led emergency response alternative known as the Department of Community Care.

“I would identify as progressive, but at the same time, I have dialogue with people who are more conservative, or more progressive, than me,” Quinlan said, adding that one of the most important lessons that he’s learned as a councilor is to return every phone call and email.

Quinlan said he wants to be “part of the conversation” about how the city spends $22 million in federal pandemic relief funds.

In an effort to increase government transparency and foster understanding about its function among citizens, Quinlan advocates a “modernized” version of former Mayor Clare Higgins’ City School program, which allowed residents to schedule classes with department heads.

For eight of his 14 years as a Ward 5 councilor, Murphy served as Finance Committee chair. He lost reelection to Alex Jarrett in 2019. Murphy has described himself as “apolitical” and an unenrolled voter, emphasizing his financial knowledge and skills over a particular set of policies.

The pending redesign of Main Street is a once-in-a-generation project, Murphy said, “so we really need to get this done right.”

Murphy said the redesign must solve the annual problem of mountainous snowbanks piled in the middle of Main Street, find ways to discourage distracted driving, allow for “thriving” street-level retail, and increase the number of downtown residents who can keep the economy alive after normal business hours.

Since 1979, when he was appointed to a commission that explored the idea of bringing cable television to Northampton, Murphy has served in one municipal government capacity or another. In addition to the council race, he is seeking reelection as Elector Under the Oliver Smith Will. He also manages Childs Park and chairs the Board of Assessors.

“It’s been a pretty tumultuous two years” for the City Council “because a lot of these people, a voting majority, have never done it before,” Murphy said. “It would be really helpful to have some elder statesmen on the council who know what they’re doing.”

Elkins, a criminal defense lawyer and vice chair of the Planning Board, picked up the endorsement of retiring City Councilor At-Large Bill Dwight.

“I chose to step down because the council needs fresh voices,” Dwight said.

Elkins encouraged continuing remote participation in city meetings, supports a municipal broadband system that is the subject of a ballot question in the general election, and wants to see the city manage its carbon reduction goals effectively.

Implementing and obtaining funding for the Department of Community Care is a top priority, but Elkins said that the money does not necessarily need to come from cutting other departments.

Gore, meanwhile, has called for reallocating some money from the “overfunded” Police Department to the Department of Community Care and other social service efforts. She said she supports the broadband ballot question and, as a renter who uses public transportation, an increased focus on affordable housing.

She has earned support from state Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa and state Sen. Jo Comerford, both Democrats of Northampton who were co-sponsors of a summer fundraising event. Gore, a progressive activist and writer, said that “being able to build relationships with people is one of my strengths.”

If elected, Gore would be the second Black city councilor in Northampton’s history and its first Black woman.

“I have a different perspective than most people on the council and the other people running,” Gore said. “My voice would make the council more dynamic.”

A 27-year resident of Florence, Serra has served in a variety of roles to advance progressive political causes. She said she wants to better integrate the needs of Florence and Leeds residents into government planning.

She was the Massachusetts chapter leader for the political action committee Progressive Democrats for America and the Hampshire County coordinator for Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign, among other efforts.

“My personal political views, my proud progressive values, are perfectly relevant … but there are some extremely experienced people in our community that I want to talk to, that I want to listen to, even though we may not agree politically,” Serra said. “The people in our community are a wonderful, valuable resource, and a lot of them have expertise. ... They don’t want to see the council as a rubber stamp.”

Serra has conducted much of her campaign through phone calls with citizens, some lasting an hour or more.

“That’s been really meaningful to me,” she said. “I am running to be responsive to the needs of the community.”

Campaign finance

Only mayoral candidates in Northampton are required to report campaign donations and expenditures to the state. A Northampton city ordinance, which Sciarra helped to pass, limits contributions to $500 per donor in each election, half of the state cap of $1,000 per donor.

Sciarra finished August with $16,178.44 in campaign funds, according to the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, and has brought in $2,355 so far in September. She raised nearly $25,000 throughout her seven-month mayoral run.

Many of Sciarra’s donors are elected leaders and candidates in other Northampton races this fall. Mayor David Narkewicz and his wife, Dr. Yelena Mikich, each gave $500; so did councilor Dwight and his son Eli Dwight. City councilor John Thorpe, Hampshire County Register of Deeds Mary Olberding and at-large City Council candidate Marissa Elkins are also among Sciarra’s financial backers.

Fishel’s campaign reported $1,926.02 in available cash at the end of August and took in $375 since then. Fishel has received about $12,400 in total donations.

Sciarra’s largest expenses to date were $1,900 to SignRocket.com for lawn signs and $1,322.60 paid to State Street Fruit Store for food at a campaign event.

Fishel has spent $4,800 on salaries for campaign staff, and paid taxes and professional service fees related to processing payroll.

Martin’s campaign has not made any expenditures, but it has still lost money. Campaign finance filings show that Martin gave his campaign $100 on May 6. Every month since then, he paid a $3 service charge to Citizens Bank. Martin has reported no other contributions, and he ended the month of August with $91 in the bank.

Warner lent$1,500 to his own campaign and received $100 in donations. He has spent money on lawn signs and campaign literature.

Brian Steele can be reached at bsteele@gazettenet.com.




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