Holyoke poised to cut mayoral field to two on Tuesday

  • Holyoke City Hall, as seen from Holyoke Heritage State Park. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 9/17/2021 5:47:45 PM

HOLYOKE — Election season has arrived in Holyoke, and voters on Tuesday will select their preferred candidates for mayor in a seven-way preliminary race that will decide which two will compete in November’s general election.

Early voting is already underway at City Hall ahead of the Sept. 21 preliminary election. The race will narrow the field to two candidates, who will compete on Nov. 2 to immediately be sworn in as the successor to Alex Morse, who spent nine years as mayor before departing in March to become town manager in Provincetown.

For many in Holyoke, change is in the air. That’s how Carmen Ocasio, the president of the South Holyoke Neighborhood Association, feels. She said the election is important to her and all residents of the city.

“We need to have change here in Holyoke and not just to have somebody there as a title,” Ocasio said. “Somebody that’s really going to do the job and really clean up Holyoke. You have to start with fixing the problems that have been consistent for so many years and are getting worse, and try to beautify it.”

The seven candidates who made it onto the ballot for Tuesday’s preliminary mayoral election are: academic and activist Gloria Caballero Roca; Blandford Town Manager Joshua Garcia; writer William Glidden, who was an aide to Morse; businessman Christopher Kosinski; School Committee member Devin Sheehan; and at-large City Councilors Rebecca Lisi and Michael Sullivan.

The preliminary election comes less than two months before the general election, when voters will decide on not just a new mayor, but on at least five new members of the City Council. That’s how many incumbents have declined to run for councilor. And there are contested races for the six at-large seats on the City Council and five of the city’s seven wards.

“It’s definitely a transformative time,” said Matt Szafranski, the editor in chief of the political blog Western Massachusetts Politics & Insight and a longtime follower of Holyoke politics.

Szafranski said many of Morse’s opponents over the years have coalesced behind Sullivan, though not entirely. Those who supported Morse over the years seem to be drawn to the other candidates, he said. Some people will choose the city-government or administrative experience of Sullivan, Lisi, Garcia or Sheehan, while others will be drawn to the ethos of bringing people together that Glidden and Caballero Roca have espoused on the campaign trail, he said.

Candidates on issues

In campaign materials, Glidden has said he intends to advocate for the city’s schools, to work with the Police Department to build on its “exemplary” community policing, and to work with Holyoke Gas & Electric to transition the city away from fossil fuels. He said he wants to promote Holyoke’s assets to make the city a prime location for businesses, and to provide affordable and market-rate housing in part by rehabbing existing housing stock.

Lisi has highlighted her 14 years on the City Council, such as her work to revitalize the city’s urban core by bringing in new businesses, including the cannabis industry. She has advocated for a municipal broadband internet network, planning to regain city control of its schools from the state, and working to implement “budget conscious, evidence-based approaches to reducing crime” while reining in overtime costs at the Police Department and empowering a citizens commission to ensure transparency and accountability.

Garcia has spotlighted his experience managing municipal finances as Blandford’s town administrator. He has said his priority will be improving City Hall operations to safeguard public funds and local assets. He has said he will address the city’s deficits and increase free cash balances, develop sound financial policies, establish a capital improvement program and grow the city’s stabilization accounts.

Sullivan has touted his economic development plans, promising to support industries such as cannabis manufacturing, hydroponics and robotics seeking to locate downtown, and also to rehabilitate buildings and build new infrastructure there. He said he would work to end a natural gas moratorium in the city, improve hydroelectric capacity, and implement more active oversight of commercial properties in the city.

In a candidates’ forum earlier this month, Kosinski spoke about his experience in marketing, sales and negotiation. He said he intends to focus on education and addressing crime, and that will help to bring businesses into the city. He also said he wants to improve the way city departments communicate and work together, and that he is committed to gathering public input from city residents.

Caballero Roca has often spoken about investing in the city’s people. Her platform includes investments in housing citywide, preserving and expanding green spaces, improving transportation, and prioritizing green energy and food sustainability amid climate change. As an academic and educator, she has promised to fight for local control of city schools and expanding educational opportunities.

Sheehan has made his central campaign planks renewing the city’s commitment to city infrastructure, economic development, and building community. He said he will fully assess city-owned property and create a capital improvements advisory committee, and that he will work with the City Council and the Office of Planning and Economic Development to streamline ordinances and market the city so as to bring in new businesses.

Campaign finance

Some mayoral candidates have already raised and spent signficant money as Tuesday draws near.

In the month of August — the most recent month for which data is available for all candidates — Glidden raised by far and away the most money with $11,122. Lisi raised $4,335 in August, Sheehan $2,725, Caballero Roca $1,625 and Sullivan $1,115, according to data from the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance.

Some candidates, however, have filed more up-to-date campaign finance data with the state, covering receipts in the month of September as well. Glidden raised $3,213, Lisi $2,459 and Caballero Roca $275 in September.

Available state campaign finance data show that Sullivan has pulled in the most money this year: $59,317, which includes $20,000 transferred from his previous campaign account. Glidden has raised $49,501, Lisi $41,276 including $7,916 from a previous account, Sheehan $26,664 including $8,044 from a previous account, Garcia $8,260 and Caballero Roca $5,444.

Kosinski has raised no money and has not launched any formal campaign.

Of the $196,411 that has been raised in total so far in the race, $150,257 was given by donors who identified their occupation. Of that $150,257, some 40% was donated by retirees, business owners and managers, developers and lawyers.

With the preliminary election approaching, candidates have spent substantial amounts of campaign cash.

As of Aug. 31, Sullivan had spent $40,442 — the most of any candidate. Much of that money was spent on video advertisements and commercials, including $20,500 spent with the Northampton campaign advertising firm Horgan Associates and $5,000 on Facebook advertising.

During that time period, Lisi spent $31,777, including $4,505 on billboard advertising, $3,600 on political consulting with the firm Almquist and Associates, and $2,782 on lawn signs and stickers from the union print shop The Blue Deal.

Glidden’s $27,007 in spending included $8,750 paid to campaign manager John Dolan of Northampton, $3,475 on yard signs from a Texas-based company, $2,754 on mailers and $2,500 on a campaign launch video.

Sheehan has spent $11,562 through August, including $2,938 on mailers, $2,300 on advertising and $828 on yard signs. Garcia spent $9,303, of which $2,683 went to the firm LGR Production for video advertising and Facebook ad services. And Caballero Roca spent $3,705, including $800 to campaign consultant Juan Sanchez, $505 on yard signs and $459 on flyers.

Some candidates have been publicizing the endorsements they’ve received, and local groups have been coming out in support of their preferred candidates.

The group A Better Holyoke for All — previously the Keep Holyoke Affordable for All Committee, which successfully opposed a tax override ballot question in 2019 to fund the construction of two new middle schools — has endorsed Sullivan. He is part of a slate of candidates the group has endorsed.

Lisi, meanwhile has won the endorsement of a handful of city officials and labor unions, including the Massachusetts Nurses Association and the Western Mass Area Labor Federation, as well as the only two Latinas currently serving on the City Council: longtime Ward 1 Councilor Gladys Lebrón-Martinez and Ward 4’s Libby Hernandez.

Garcia has received the endorsement of state Sen. Adam Gomez, D-Springfield, the first Puerto Rican to ever serve in the state Senate.

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