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Five vie for 4 at-large City Council seats in Easthampton 

  • LINDSEY ROTHSCHILD

  • WILLIAM LYNCH IV WILLIAM LYNCH IV

  • OWEN ZARET

  • PEG CONNIFF PEG CONNIFF

  • LAURA DOUGLASS LAURA DOUGLASS

  • Easthampton Municipal Building, 50 Payson Avenue GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 10/29/2019 11:43:57 PM
Modified: 10/29/2019 11:43:47 PM

EASTHAMPTON — Five candidates are running for at-large City Council seats this year, but when the dust settles, only four will win election.

Incumbents Owen Zaret, Peg Conniff and William Lynch IV have been joined by newcomers Lindsey Rothschild and Laura Douglass in the campaign. City Council President Joseph McCoy decided not run for re-election this year.

Peg Conniff

Conniff, 60, is currently the only woman on the nine-member council and said she appreciates that other women are in the running this year. Running for her third term, she’s also the longest-tenured at-large councilor seeking re-election.

As to why she is running again, Conniff said, “It really has a lot to do with unfinished business.”

Originally from Chicago, Conniff said that when she moved to Easthampton eight years ago, her attraction to the city “was immediate.”

Conniff, a business process senior director for UnitedHealthCare, works from home for the Minneapolis corporate office of the company and plans to retire soon, she said, which will give her more time to devote to the city.

In the meantime, she’s doing more door-knocking this campaign than she has in the past to reach residents.

“I felt that I owed it to them,” she said.

Conniff said her main focus will be on affordable housing and on senior tax relief, including having the city embrace a tax workoff program for seniors. Overall, Conniff said the senior population needs more attention, and she’d like to focus on accessibility, affordability and allowing seniors to age in place.

“That right should remain theirs,” she said.

Conniff said zoning changes could help seniors. One possible change she brought up was allowing for smaller residences in the city.

“For me, there’s nothing that’s off the table,” she said.

Conniff would also like to connect seniors and students. For instance, seniors could teach classes to students and students could do yard work for seniors, she said.

“Creating connections with all the generations is something that I really am interested in,” she said.

William Lynch IV

Lynch, 38, is seeking a second term on the council, and he thinks he “brings a lot to the table” as a member of the body.

Lynch works at Stop & Shop as a sales lead and he and his wife, Stacey Lynch, have two sons, ages 5 and 1. Lynch has lived in Easthampton his entire life.

“There’s a lot of pride to it,” said Lynch on being a lifelong resident.

Lynch said he “questioned every line” in the city’s last budget, not to be contrarian but to be a good steward of the city’s money. He also has introduced an ordinance that would allow the police to ticket people for crosswalk violations and have the money go directly to the city.

Lynch described himself as pro-union and “standing up for the workers in the city.” He said that he fought the unsuccessful attempt to change how the city bargains health care with its unionized employees. The last budget included cost-of-living increases for nonunion city workers and retirees, he added.

Lynch has been endorsed by District 3 City Councilor Thomas Peake.

Laura Douglass

Douglass, 58, owns Galaxy restaurant in Easthampton with her husband, Casey Douglass, and is running for City Council for a second time. Her first run was for the Ward 2 seat, which she lost, but she said she isn’t running for Ward 2 this time because she backs the incumbent, Homar Gomez.

“I like what he stands for, I like the voice that he brings,” she said. “And he’s a really good dude.”

The two have also done a campaign event together.

Douglass, a nurse manager at Baystate Medical Center, moved with her husband to Easthampton in 1995 from Boston to start a family. They have two children, 27 and 22. They also founded and formerly owned the Apollo Grill.

Douglass is very interested in what will happen to the school buildings that are set to be vacated — Center, Pepin and Maple Street schools.

“I want to see a decision made that we’re proud of 20 years from now,” she said.

She would like to see some kind of public benefit from the re-use of the school buildings and floated exploring the idea of a community center and housing in one of the buildings and moving the senior center into another.

The arts have been a major part of the success of the city, she said, and she expressed support for affordable housing and venues for artists in Easthampton, as well as affordable housing in general. In addition to running Galaxy, her husband is also an artist.

Douglass and her husband are landlords as well. On the issue of zoning, Douglass said that she supports subdividing houses and infill development if done carefully.

“I like the word ‘careful,’” she said.

She also voiced support for efforts to make Easthampton a more walkable city and a safer place to drive. And said she would like to see more female representation on the council.

Lindsey Rothschild

Rothschild, 46, moved to Easthampton with her wife, Drea Marks, a decade ago. Currently a real estate agent, Rothschild taught English as a second language at Holyoke Community College for nine years before that, and also served as an instructional designer at the college for four years.

Rothschild is originally from Detroit, and lived in New York City before moving to the Pioneer Valley. She said she and her wife chose Easthampton in part because the area is good place for a lesbian couple to raise a family. They have one son, 7.

Rothschild recalled a block party she and her wife attended after they moved to Easthampton.

“It was just so welcoming and friendly,” she said.

She added that in her experience, there isn’t as much of a divide between new Easthampton residents and longtime residents of the city as it might appear in discourse on social media.

“I feel for the most part people are very proud of the city and proud of where it’s going and have common concerns,” she said.

Rothschild moved into real estate to get more involved with the city, she said. She also wants to see women better represented on the City Council, which is one reason she decided to run.

Among the issues she’s backing are more affordable housing, both for seniors and in general, and making the city more pedestrian- and bike-friendly. She also said she’d like the city to invest more money in the Emily Williston Memorial Library.

In talking to people, Rothschild said she has found climate change to be an important issue for the community, and she said she’d like to see a strategic planning process for the city addressing it that would involve everyone “from little kids to seniors.”

Rothschild also proposed a weekly update from City Hall that anybody could subscribe to, and which would be posted in multiple places, such as the library and the community center.

In her campaign, Rothschild has hosted four house parties, where she has invited speakers to talk on specific issues, after which she facilitated conversations. One party’s theme explored bicycling and pedestrian safety and featured City Planner Jeff Bagg. Others focused on open space, aging and envisioning a 21st-century library.

Owen Zaret

Zaret, 45, is looking to secure a second term on the City Council.

“There’s always more work to do,” Zaret said.

Zaret is married to Abbie Goldberg, and they have a 10-year-old daughter.

A physician assistant, Zaret moved to Easthampton in 2000. He grew up in Woodbridge, Connecticut, and moved to the Pioneer Valley from Boulder, Colorado, in the late 1990s after falling in love with the area.

The incumbent said that he backs increasing affordable housing and senior housing in the city, and allowing aging in place. Zaret spoke about altering zoning to make more affordable housing possible and about including an affordable housing component in the new uses for the school buildings set for decommissioning.

Zaret is also keen on combating the climate crisis, and supports increasing solar in the city and decreasing plastic use. He also favors citywide composting.

Asked what he’s proudest of accomplishing in his first term, Zaret noted the unanimous resolution from the council in favor of the city funding the construction of a new school building, as well as the organization of the first-ever Easthampton contingent to the Northampton Pride Parade. He also pointed to the hoisting of the rainbow flag over city hall, and the passage of a Yes on 3 resolution.

Zaret said he values social media for its ability to help with outreach as well as input, saying he doesn’t have “all the answers” when it comes to the city.

Zaret has held listening sessions as part of his campaign, and he spoke about the importance of being seen as a councilor that people can approach with their issues and ideas.

“They feel engaged with the city through the work I’m doing,” he said.

He also noted his “three questions” project, in which he interviews Easthampton business owners and posts their answers on social media.

Zaret said that he cried after winning his first election, and he expects to cry again this year.

“My heart’s 100 percent in it, my ego’s 100 percent not in it,” he said. “I really do this for the people of Easthampton.”

The election will take place on Nov. 5.

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




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