Incumbent Linda Vacon faces challenge from Guy O’Donnell for Holyoke City Council’s Ward 5 seat

  • Holyoke City Council candidates in Ward 5: incumbent Linda Vacon, left, and Guy O’Donnell. SUBMITTED PHOTOS

  • Holyoke City Council candidates in Ward 5: incumbent Linda Vacon, left, and Guy O’Donnell. SUBMITTED PHOTOS

  • Linda Vacon SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • Guy O’Donnell FELIX N. VAZQUEZ

Staff Writer
Published: 10/25/2021 2:00:26 PM

HOLYOKE — On Nov. 2, Holyoke residents will vote to fill seven ward-based seats on the City Council, five of which are contested races. The ward seats are in addition to six at-large seats on the Council.

Ward 5 covers the Whiting Farms neighborhood, much of the Homestead Avenue neighborhood and all but the northernmost section of the Rock Valley neighborhood. Two candidates are vying for the position — Guy O’Donnell and incumbent Linda Vacon — and are profiled in the order they appear on the ballot, which was randomly determined.

Guy O’Donnell

An adoptive father of two children who both go to Lt. Elmer J. McMahon School, O’Donnell has been an active volunteer in the public schools as well as with the organization Wolf-PAC, which seeks to get big money out of politics.

O’Donnell and his family live in Rock Valley, where they have a permaculture food forest on their property. He comes from a working-class background — his mother was a social worker and father a union carpenter — and said that has influenced his worldview. He noted that he has been endorsed by several unions, such as the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1459 and the Massachusetts Nurses Association, as well as Western Mass Area Labor Federation, a coalition of local unions.

“I come from a working-class family, I want to make sure we’re looking out for working-class families,” he said.

When large corporations come into Holyoke, O’Donnell said he wants to make sure they’re paying their fair share of taxes to the community from which they are making profits.

Supporting the city’s public schools and reducing Holyoke’s carbon footprint are two big issues for O’Donnell, who said he wants to make sure his children and others aren’t inheriting a planet in disaster. The city’s infrastructure also needs to be taken care of too, he said, from its roads to its parks.

“We need to invest in our public infrastructure,” he said. “And our local natural resources, too, and making sure they’re accessible to all of Holyoke”.

O’Donnell said that his opponent has been on the City Council for 12 years and that he hasn’t seen “a lot of forward thinking from her.” He noted that she was one of a group of councilors to reject a $250,000 grant from the Barr Foundation to study green energy in the city.

“I’ve talked to a lot of residents, I see a lot of people feel like they’re not being heard or communicated with,” he said. “As a City Council and as a city we need to make sure we’re reaching out to everyone and we are hearing their issues.”

Linda Vacon

A nurse who has worked in a variety of roles over her career, Linda Vacon is in her 12th year on the City Council. She said she views her political service just as she sees her work with residents and patients who have healthcare needs.

“I see it as one of serving the community,” she said.

Vacon said she finds it rewarding when she’s able to help residents solve their problems and navigate city government. She said she has been very focused on constituent service as a ward councilor, but that she also takes a holistic approach when voting on city-wide issues.

“I like to think I take that broader view and look out for the entire city,” she said. “Balancing the needs of the departments with the ability of the residents and the taxpayers to support those services.”

Vacon’s biggest issue is “the affordability of living in the city with the ever-increasing taxes,” she said. When she is going door to door, she said that topic frequently comes up together with quality of life issues like roads, sidewalks and public safety.

“In particular, I find myself sympathetic to the homeowner that has paid off their home and is living on a fixed income while the taxes are going up, the fees are going up, the gas and the food,” she said. “They’re feeling squeezed. And for the folks who rent, as these things go up the rent goes up as well.”

Other important issues to Vacon include lifting a moratorium on gas hookups currently imposed by Holyoke Gas & Electric amid a lack of pipeline capacity. Although the City Council does not directly control whether a pipeline is expanded, Vacon said it is important for elected officials to support expanding that capacity and Holyoke Gas & Electric in doing so.

Vacon said her experience is what sets her apart from her opponent, adding that having competition in politics is always a good thing.

“The experience is serving the ward well at this point, and it does take sometimes three years if not more to actually get certain things accomplished that people need,” she said.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.


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