Northampton council candidates court future voters

  • Ward 7 candidate Penny Geis answers a question during a forum with fellow candidate Rachel Maiore, held by Leeds Elementary schoolteachers Alyssa Dwyer and Andrew Foster. Students Chloe Cardoso left, and Ryleigh Pease watch and listen. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Leeds Elementary teacher Andrew Foster calls on students during a forum with Ward 7 candidates Penny Geis and Rachel Maiore. Students Jai Schaefer, left, Rowan Durrant-West, Chiron Tillinghast and Grace Carpenter have questions. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Ward 7 candidate Rachel Maiore answers a question during the fourth-grade forum Thursday as students Aida Jiggetts, left, Mia Bourgeois and Tyler Monska listen in. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 10/17/2019 4:47:38 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Taking questions from elementary school students is not a typical forum for City Council candidates in the Nov. 5 election. But on Thursday afternoon, Ward 7 candidates Penny Geis and Rachel Maiore sat in a circle of 60 fourth graders in a classroom at Leeds Elementary School to answer their questions on issues ranging from the environment to homelessness.

When teacher Andrew Foster asked the group of two fourth-grade classes for questions, more than half a dozen hands shot up.

How do you encourage more walking and biking? Madalyn Smith asked.

“It’s about building the right infrastructure,” Geis said, adding that the city needs to make roads safer with speed bumps and blinking lights at pedestrian crossings. Maiore said the city needs more bike racks downtown.

“I was thinking,” said fourth grader Amelia Bourgeois, “if there’s some way we can get more money for homeless shelters?”

Perhaps Northampton should consider building more affordable housing and helping people find jobs, Maiore said. “Maybe we should be thinking longer term.”

“One of the things you might do is help your parents give money to United Way,” Geis said.

One student said he worries that Alexa, Amazon’s virtual assistant, listens to what people say and wondered what the City Council can do about privacy issues.

Both candidates offered examples. When the Northampton Public Schools got Chromebooks, Maiore said, the city spent money to cover the cameras.

“In other places, they can collect video and data,” she said.

Geis spoke about how the council is considering creating its own fiber-optic network to provide internet service to citizens, which would help protect users’ privacy.

After about 45 minutes of questions, the end of the school day neared, and the candidates thanked the fourth graders for hosting them.

“You are the present and future of Northampton,” Maiore said.

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