Clerk rules city councilor, Smith Vocational trustee can be on ballot

By ALEXANDER MACDOUGALL

Staff Writer

Published: 09-12-2023 9:30 AM

NORTHAMPTON — Two incumbents in the upcoming municipal elections in November will have their names on the ballot after all, after the city clerk’s office reversed its position on their eligibility.

Marissa Elkins, one of the city’s two current councilors at-large, and Richard Aquadro, a member of Smith Vocational and Agricultural School’s board of trustees, both had filed nomination papers to the Board of Registrars, but failed to pick them up to submit to the city clerk’s office, a requirement in the city’s charter in order to be listed on the ballot.

“I was obviously very disappointed in the mistake I made,” said Elkins in an interview with the Gazette. “I was prepared for a write-in campaign, but I’m very grateful for the diligence and willingness to look through this by the city clerk.”

Following the deadline, Elkins and Aquadro began to explore ways to potentially get listed on the ballot. Their attempt to do so was bolstered by the fact that such a situation was not without precedent in Massachusetts.

In 2011, a similar case was brought before the Bristol County Superior Court by a member of the board of selectman for the town of Westport, located in the southeastern part of the commonwealth. The selectman, Brian Valcourt, had filed his election papers with the town’s board of registrars several weeks before the town’s March 8 deadline, but had failed to deliver them to the town clerk’s office. Valcourt subsequently filed a lawsuit against the town.

The court ruled in Valcourt’s favor, saying that although he only filed papers with the board of registrars, the town clerk was a member of the board and subsequently obtained custody of his election papers and therefore should be allowed to run.

“The undisputed fact is that (Valcourt) delivered his nomination papers to the board of registrars of voters,” wrote Judge Thomas McGuire in the court’s ruling. “If the town clerk is also a registrar of voters, filing with the clerk and the registrars may be accomplished at the same time.”

Similarly in Northampton, City Clerk Pamela Powers is also a member of the city’s Board of Registrars.

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“The case in Westport certainly shows that is not the only way to interpret the statute,” Elkins said.

In a letter sent to both Elkins and Aquadro by the city clerk’s office, a copy of which was obtained by the Gazette, Powers said she and city attorney Alan Seewald agreed with the 2011 ruling.

“The outcome of that case, and the resulting judge’s rationale outlined in his decision, suggest that an update of our internal procedures is appropriate,” Powers wrote. “I agree that the exclusion of an otherwise duly qualified candidate based solely on a narrow interpretation of election procedures creates more barriers to participate in our democracy, not less.”

Aquadro told the Gazette that, like Elkins, he would have run as a write-in if he had to, but was thankful to the clerk’s office for allowing him to run as a listed candidate.

“I’m appreciative they looked into the matter, and I’m glad to be on the ballot,” he said.

With the update to the ballot, there are now four candidates for Northampton’s two councilor at-large positions. Along with Elkins, the other candidates are current Ward 4 councilor Garrick Perry, former mayoral candidate Roy Martin and former city councilor David Murphy. Jamila Gore, the other current councilor at-large, earlier in the year announced that she would not seek reelection.

Aquadro joins two other candidates, Michael Cahillane and J. Spencer-Robinson, for the three available seats for the Smith Vocational board of trustees. Elected to the board last year, Aquadro has long been associated with Smith Vocational’s carpentry program, with many students over the last 20 years being trained at his company, Aquadro & Cerruti, with several going on to work for him after graduation.

Alexander MacDougall can be reached at amacdougall@gazettenet.com.

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