Northampton’s John Vanasse announces candidacy for Hampshire County sheriff 

  • JACK VANASSE

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    John “Jack” Vanasse at his home in Florence with his dog Cooper who wears a harness that says, " Vanasse 4 Sheriff." STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

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    John “Jack” Vanasse at his home in Florence with his dog Cooper who wears a harness that says, " Vanasse 4 Sheriff." STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • John “Jack” Vanasse at his home in Florence, is running for Hampshire County sheriff. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 4/6/2022 6:00:20 PM
Modified: 4/6/2022 5:59:41 PM

NORTHAMPTON — If elected sheriff of Hampshire County, John Vanasse of Florence said he wants to “leave a mark” in areas including staff training at the county jail and community outreach — while vowing to serve a maximum of two six-year terms.

Sitting in his home office in front of a wall of career memorabilia and a decades-old campaign bumper sticker calling on Pittsfield voters to elect his grandfather Donald Butler as mayor, Vanasse, 45, envisioned a sheriff’s department that is actively involved in solving the biggest problems facing Hampshire County, including drug addiction and homelessness.

The administrative lieutenant for the Springfield College Police Department, Vanasse is running as an independent in the Nov. 8 general election. Three Democratic candidates — Sheriff Patrick Cahillane, corrections educator Yvonne Gittelson and corrections nurse Caitlin Sepeda — are competing in the Sept. 6 party primary.

All of Cahillane’s challengers to date worked for his administration at the Hampshire County Jail and House of Correction in Northampton. Vanasse said it’s time for change in the sheriff’s office.

“To get any kind of training in there, you had to either know the right person, or you had to claw, bite and scratch to get it. That’s not how it should be,” Vanasse said. “Things need to change up there. People aren’t happy.”

A Pittsfield native, Vanasse worked at the jail from 2015 to 2018 and said the facility is outdated, officials are slow to adapt to crises such as COVID-19 and opioid addiction, and Cahillane, first elected in 2016, is not as known as he should be among voters in many of the county’s 21 communities.

“I think (Cahillane) thought that he could just ride this out” until retiring from the same jail where he has worked for more than 35 years, Vanasse said. “That’s not how I am. I want to get in, I want to leave a mark.”

Vanasse started his career in 1998 at the Bureau of State Office Buildings and became responsible for a $2.1 million State House security budget after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He worked under three governors — Paul Cellucci, Jane Swift and Mitt Romney — before taking a job teaching criminal justice at a Spring field high school.

He was asked  to join the school safety team, and after he went on a 25-minute “rant” about needed improvements during his first meeting, he said he was offered a job as assistant director of safety and security for the district’s 54 schools.

His next gig was at the Hampshire County jail; on Friday, he joined the rest of Cahillane’s opponents in describing the jail as an old-fashioned facility where demoralized corrections officers complete their paperwork on typewriters. Vanasse vowed to be “the squeaky wheel to get money” for modernization.

Of the sheriffs in the other three western Massachusetts counties, Vanasse said, “They get it. They’re out there. They know how to support the community. There’s pictures of (Hampden County Sheriff Nick) Cocchi doing everything under the sun.”

“My goal is to have us everywhere. Everywhere where the community needs our assistance,” Vanasse said. That includes training corrections staff to be part-time police officers in understaffed departments and work traffic details in the Hilltowns.

He also said he would make changes to vocational training programs offered to inmates, such as the chair caning shop.

“When’s the last time you needed your chair caned?” Vanasse said. “There’s no forward thinking there. It’s so stuck in the times.”

Vanasse worked as the head of American International College’s police department before taking his current position at Springfield College in December.

The candidate is planning a meet-and-greet campaign kickoff at the Northampton Country Club on April 11 at 6 p.m.

Brian Steele can be reached at bsteele@gazettenet.com.

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