Holyoke’s mayoral debate postponed in deference to firefighter’s wake

  • Holyoke firefighter Jonathan “Jono” William Robert, who died on July 29, 2021 at the age of 30. —HOLYOKE FIRE DEPARTMENT

  • Holyoke City Hall, photographed on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019.

Staff Writer
Published: 8/4/2021 2:47:05 PM

HOLYOKE — A mayoral debate originally scheduled for Thursday night has been postponed because it conflicts with the wake for city firefighter Jonathan “Jono” Robert, who died suddenly last week at age 30.

Hosted by the Holyoke Taxpayers Association and Greater Holyoke Chamber, Thursday’s planned event was billed as the first debate among the seven candidates who filed nomination papers ahead of a July 27 deadline. However, Robert’s death last week led several candidates to announce their withdrawal from the debate, ultimately leading to the sponsors deciding to postpone.

“The Chamber and the Holyoke Taxpayers feel that it is an inappropriate time to be discussing politics when our community is grieving the loss of a well-loved community member, father, son and husband,” the organizations said. “At this time, there is not a reschedule date determined and both organizations will announce the new date as soon as it comes available.”

The withdrawals from the event began Sunday, when current Blandford Town Administrator Joshua Garcia announced his decision on his campaign’s Facebook page.

“Out of respect for the Robert family, the Holyoke Fire Department, and the countless Holyokers grieving the death of Jono, Joshua Garcia is choosing not to participate in the scheduled Mayoral Debate this Thursday,” his campaign said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Jono’s family.”

The seven candidates who will be on the ballot for the Sept. 21 preliminary election are: School Committee member Devin Sheehan; City Councilors Rebecca Lisi and Michael Sullivan; Gloria Caballero Roca, an academic and educator; William Glidden, a writer who worked as an aide to former mayor Alex Morse; Garcia; and Christopher Kosinksi, a sales representative.

On Wednesday, more candidates announced their decision to pull out of the debate.

Sheehan and Glidden both announced they would not be attending, saying they had spoken with both sponsors about postponing the event. Lisi said she had heard that Robert’s family called for the forum’s postponement, and asked the sponsors to respect that wish.

The chamber of commerce and taxpayers association called off the event around noon on Wednesday, expressing sympathy for the family of Robert.

Robert was a 2010 graduate of Holyoke High School, where he was a star in baseball as a catcher and in football as a quarterback, according to his obituary. He joined the Holyoke Fire Department in 2014 and had started a landscaping company with his father.

“Jono was the life of every party with his charm, wit, and humor,” his obituary read. “He brought smiles and a warmth to all he encountered. He had an infectious love for life and a smile that lit up any room. He was famous for discreetly ‘flipping the bird’ in nearly every family photo.”

In a phone interview Wednesday, Sullivan said he knew Robert well. He said he choked up Tuesday evening calling for a moment of silence at the City Council meeting.

“It just really hits home, especially for a lot of the younger guys,” he said. “It’s a tragedy.”

The wake for Robert will take place at Our Lady of the Cross Parish Church on Thursday from 3 to 7 p.m. A funeral Mass will be held at the church on Friday at 11 a.m.

There have already been several forums featuring most, though not all, of the candidates running for mayor. Those events included an environmental forum hosted by several local and state organizations in July, and a “community conversation” at Jibaritos Sports Club last month. Sullivan and Kosinksi were not in attendance at either event.

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

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