First five at-large Holyoke council candidates stress commitment

  • Candidates for at-large seats on the Holyoke City Council, from top left moving clockwise: Jose Luis Maldonado Velez, Kevin Jourdain, Peter Tallman, Israel Rivera and James Leahy. —SUBMITTED PHOTOS


Staff Writer
Published: 10/18/2021 7:58:54 PM

On Nov. 2, Holyoke residents will vote to fill six at-large seats on the City Council.

There are 11 candidates on the ballot competing for those seats, only four of whom are incumbents. Today we are publishing profiles of five candidates — two incumbents and three challengers — and on Wednesday we will publish the remaining six. The candidates are profile in the order they appear on the ballot, which was randomly determined.

Jose Maldonado Velez

Born and raised in the Flats neighborhood, Jose Luis Maldonado Velez graduated from Bryant University in Rhode Island before following a career path that included nonprofits, education, retail management, cleaning houses and bartending in New York City.

Returning to his home city several years ago, he said he noticed people felt disengaged with city politics. He said that his wide range of past experience led him to see that it is everyday people who make cities what they are, and he is running for City Council to put power back in their hands.

“One of the biggest reasons I’m running is to provide something different and to show people that we are the ones who create our city,” he said. “We just need to take back control of our city and really own it and make it the best it can be.”

Maldonado Velez’s campaign is focused on upgrading the city’s technology — everything from garbage trucks to the city website — and infrastructure, as well as creating a unified vision for the Holyoke of the future.

Maldonado Velez noted that as a young Latino man, he does not look like most of Holyoke’s elected officials throughout the years. But a majority of the city identifies as Hispanic, and he noted that he is bilingual in English and Spanish, allowing him to communicate across the entire city.

He said that to involve the whole community in civic life, residents have to have leaders who look like and come from their communities.

It is time to change what an elected official in Holyoke looks like, he said. He noted that his campaign slogan is “not me, nosotros,” because it will take more than one city councilor to make lasting changes and bring the entire city into the fold.

“It’s a two-way street,” he said. “We’ve been talked to for too long, and it’s time for the city to have conversations running both ways.”

Kevin Jourdain

Though he’s a challenger this year, Kevin Jourdain is hardly an unfamiliar face in Holyoke politics. He served on the City Council for 24 years, including six years as City Council president, before stepping away in 2018. He currently chairs the city’s Board of Water Commissioners, and has sat on the Holyoke Community College and Pioneer Valley Transit Authority boards, and he chairs the Finance Committee of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home.

An attorney by trade, Jordain said he hopes to continue to be a “fiscal watchdog” dedicated to keeping Holyoke an affordable place to live without excessive fees and taxes.

“I intend to continue that — making sure that the money is properly managed,” he said. “That departments are held accountable for outstanding service and responsible for their budgets.”

Jourdain said he is also focused on quality of life issues, from trash pickup to crime in the city. He said he would like to see more enforcement when it comes to issues including panhandling and trash.

He also said he would be a strong advocate for Holyoke regaining local control of its schools and ending a gas moratorium in place in the city, though the City Council doesn’t impact those issues directly.

He said, for example, he would not support a mayor’s nomination of any commissioner to the board of the Holyoke Gas & Electric who were “anti-natural gas” or did not support expanding a pipeline needed to boost gas capacity in Holyoke and end the moratorium.

Jourdain said his degrees in business administration and law help him understand the complex policies and projects that city councilors have to address.

“I’m the most experienced and qualified candidate,” Jourdain said of the at-large field. “I’m really good at this job, I’m very effective at it and I provide excellent constituent service … I’m a good listener and I have a tremendous work ethic, and I’m focused on the priorities voters want us focused on.”

Peter Tallman

A retired letter carrier who worked for the U.S. Postal Service in Holyoke for 37 years, Peter Tallman has been on the City Council for 23 years. After a brief two years on the council in the early ’90s, he was appointed to serve in 2001 and has won reelection ever since. An involved member of his church and regular blood donor, he has an associate degree in business administration from Holyoke Community College.

Tallman said quality of life issues are his biggest focus, from trash pickup to police and fire protection. He said he plans to make sure the Department of Public Works continues to be fully funded and picks up the trash on time.

“I believe we have to support our police with funding,” he said. “I do think we should have an independent audit of the department to find out where most of the funds are going.”

Tallman said he wants to see federal coronavirus relief funds the city can spend next year directed toward social services, including educational and emotional support initiatives for children, as well as infrastructure.

“Really we have to look at the climate issue,” Tallman said. He added that working to conserve gas in businesses and homes might open up extra capacity in the city so that new businesses could connect to the city’s gas supply, which currently is at capacity, resulting in a gas moratorium imposed by Holyoke Gas & Electric.

What separates him as a candidate is his accountability to all of the city’s residents in every ward, he said. As a decades-long letter carrier, he said he knows every neighborhood and makes a point of getting out and listening to residents everywhere.

“I’m not afraid to listen to others, whether it’s in the bodega, the grocery store or on the streets,” he said. “I have that can-do spirit, and I’ll work for them.”

Israel Rivera

Raised in the Flats, Israel Rivera has been a community organizer since he was a teenager working at the Holyoke Boys and Girls Club — lifelong efforts recognized by the state Legislature’s Black and Latino Caucus in 2018. He is currently the family access and community engagement manager at Holyoke Public Schools and chairs the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission.

Currently working on his master’s degree in public policy administration at UMass Amherst, Rivera has previously worked as community engagement director at OneHolyoke Community Development Corp. and a program manager at UMass Amherst. He also sits on the Holyoke Community College Foundation’s board of directors.

“My main thing is quality of life,” Rivera said. “Public safety, education, economic development and whatever else you want to mention that is important for a city to function successfully.”

In 2006, Rivera went to prison for possession of a controlled substance and “intent to distribute.” He served five years, after which he began to work and attend HCC. He served as a career counselor for young people recently released from prison, helping them apply for jobs and interview. He eventually graduated with a sociology degree from UMass Amherst in 2018.

“I’m on the ground, grassroots,” Rivera said, adding that city councilors need to be doing more “boots-on-the-ground work” and building coalitions to unify the city and address quality of life issues. “I’m out there, I’m in every community, whether it’s Ward 1 or Ward 7. I can knock on doors and I know somebody in every community.”

Rivera said he hopes to bring together city councilors, department heads, other leaders in the city and everyday residents to function as one team to tackle important issues including trash pickup, city sewer rates, homelessness, substance abuse, crime, youth programming and public health.

“I don’t wait until I win to do stuff — I’m doing it now,” he said. “I’m an outreach worker, that’s what I do. So you’ll have an outreach worker as a city councilor.”

James Leahy

Currently serving his 11th term as city councilor, James Leahy chairs the body’s Public Service Subcommittee and sits on its Finance Committee. He said his civic engagement is the deepest among those running for at-large seats. He has been president of the Holyoke St. Patrick’s Parade and of the Volleyball Hall of Fame, chaired the Westfield State Foundation and has served in other leadership roles in nonprofits and youth sports.

The son of an Irish immigrant to the city, Leahy said he always runs on quality of life issues.

He noted that he doesn’t accept the endorsements of political action committees, but instead runs his own campaigns. He said he loves talking to residents on the streets and in their homes about important issues, and founded the Hello Holyoke! community Facebook group as a place for discourse.

“I want to continue focusing on making sure Holyoke is fiscally responsible,” Leahy said.

“I want to continue cleaning up the streets, making sure law enforcement is provided exactly what they need. I want to make sure the Fire Department gets what they need ... I also want to make sure we’re getting needles off the street.”

Leahy said he wants the city to rethink having a needle-exchange program in town, and wants to continue to help businesses come into the city. He said he is environmentally friendly — the only councilor, he said, who drives an electric car — and that he wants to make sure Holyoke residents have the best possible quality of life.

Leahy stressed that his community involvement sets him apart, and that he goes out into all of the city’s wards.

“I make every decision by taking the evidence and taking what’s presented in front of us,” he said. “I don’t have a relative that’s the mayor or a department head. I make every decision like it’s affecting my own pocketbook.”

Dusty Christensen can be reached at
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