‘It just feels like the right time’: Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz will not seek reelection

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  • Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz announced on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021, that he will not seek reelection this fall. Photographed in his office at City Hall on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz announced on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021, that he will not seek reelection this fall. Photographed in his office at City Hall on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz announced on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021, that he will not seek reelection this fall. Photographed in his office at City Hall on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz announced on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021, that he will not seek reelection this fall. Photographed in his office at City Hall on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Narkewicz ran this advertisement, right and above, in 2005 during his successful run for Ward 4 city councilor, a post he held from 2006 to 2010. STAFF PHOTOS/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz announced Tuesday that he will not seek reelection this fall. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz announced on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021, that he will not seek reelection this fall. Photographed in his office at City Hall on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 1/5/2021 11:42:49 AM

NORTHAMPTON — After serving the city in appointed and elected roles for more than two decades, including the last nine in the corner office at City Hall, Mayor David Narkewicz announced Tuesday that he will not seek re-election to a fourth term as mayor.

“It felt like the right time for me to step away and allow other folks to be able to bring their ideas and energy forward,” said Narkewicz, who was first elected mayor in November 2011, becoming the city’s 44th mayor. “I’ve loved this job, and it’s been one of the greatest honors of my life.”

He added, “When I first announced my candidacy back in March 2011 on the front steps of my house with my wife and then young kids, one of the things I said was it’s time for a new generation of leaders to step forward … It feels like now is a really good time for someone else to step forward.”

Narkewicz, 54, is a native of Shelburne Falls and previously worked as a congressional aide. He served three terms on the City Council along with other city boards and commissions like the Zoning Board of Appeals and Transportation and Parking Commission. He was the City Council president when he announced he would run for mayor. He also served as acting mayor for four months when former mayor Clare Higgins left early in September 2011 and took a position at Community Action Pioneer Valley.

Higgins was mayor for nearly 12 years when Narkewicz succeeded her, and former mayor David Musante was also among the city’s longest-serving mayors at 12 years. Narkewicz was first elected to a two-year term and then reelected to four-year terms in 2013 and 2017 after a charter change extended the term of mayor from two to four years.

“It’s a grueling job. It’s a 24/7 job,” Narkewicz said. “I’m grateful to my family. It’s a sacrifice for them, and I’m so grateful to them for allowing me the opportunity to do this work and supporting me.”

Narkewicz informed city department heads of his decision in a meeting Tuesday morning. His announcement comes about one month after Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse declared that he would not seek reelection to a fifth term in office in November. Morse was also elected mayor in 2011.

Focus on finance

Looking back on his time in office, Narkewicz emphasized his focus on finances and the city’s reserves, increasing the city’s bond rating, and passing two Proposition 2½ overrides.

“When I think about the really important work that isn’t really exciting or people may not be as focused on, it’s really been our laser focus on our finances and the budget,” he said. “Because, really, without having that financial stability, you can’t make all the kinds of investments, whether it’s in renewable energy or rail trails or parks or cemeteries or shade trees.”

In announcing his decision, the mayor also cited the city’s work in promoting economic development, including being a statewide leader in welcoming the medical and adult-use cannabis industry, and a leader in sustainability, advancing renewable energy, alternative transportation, and climate resiliency.

He also said the city has stood up for being a safe and welcoming city during his tenure.

“We’ve rejected the politics of hate and division and worked to serve the interests of all residents, whether that meant standing up for LGBTQ+ equality, protecting immigrants by declaring ourselves a sanctuary city, defending front-line workers against wage theft, promoting gender equality, condemning racism in all of its forms and declaring unequivocally that Black Lives Matter, or serving the houseless and other at-risk and marginalized people,” he said in his public statement Tuesday.

Wayne Feiden, director of planning and sustainability, has worked for the city for more than 30 years and worked under four mayors.

“I’m not totally surprised,” he said of Narkewicz’s announcement. “Ten years is a long time. It’s a brutal job. But I’m certainly disappointed. He’s been a pleasure to work with.”

Feiden praised Narkewicz’s work on open space projects and efforts to redevelop the state hospital.

City Council President Gina-Louise Sciarra likewise said the news didn’t surprise her.

“I think, as Mayor Narkewicz noted in his statement, he is one of the longest-serving mayors in Northampton history,” she said. “I think that he has done remarkable work in his time as mayor and I certainly understand that he feels it’s time to move on, both for himself and to let others take on that role in the city.”

In a statement, Sciarra said she is grateful for Narkewicz’s leadership.

“He is extremely patient and always happy to explain complex and wonky things, often with PowerPoint,” she wrote.

Asked if she would consider running for mayor, Sciarra said she “will make a decision about future plans at a later date.”

Praise for hard work

John Riley, who ran against Narkewicz for mayor in 2017, said on Tuesday that he has no plans to run again.

David Murphy joined the City Council at the same time as Narkewicz, in 2006, and stayed on the council until he lost reelection in 2019.

“He’s been a very level-headed mayor,” Murphy said. “He’s made some decisions that I might not have made, but when I think about somebody in his position, he’s very thoughtful, he’s very honest, he works very hard, he takes his job seriously.”

Murphy worries it’s a difficult time to lose a mayor.

“Whoever wants to do this and whoever steps up better know what the hell they are doing,” he said. “This is not going to be a couple of normal years coming out of this pandemic.”

Former city councilor Pamela Schwartz took Narkewicz’s Ward 4 City Council seat when he moved on to an at-large position.

“I feel like we have been incredibly fortunate as a community to have his leadership over these last 10 years,” she said.

Schwartz was involved in campaigning for several overrides in the city, including those in 2013 and 2020 when Narkewicz was mayor. She said she doesn’t know anyone who plans to run for the seat but is curious to see who might.

“I have faith that we’ll have a successor that’s up to the task,” she said.

Taxed too much

Not everyone is sad to hear that Narkewicz will be leaving.

“I’m glad,” said Bill Rakaska, a city resident since 1973. “In the beginning when he was first elected, he seemed OK. But all he wanted to do was raise taxes.”

Rakaska did not support the override vote in 2020.

“I’m retired and on a fixed income,” he said. “Why should the city get more and waste it?”

Northampton Abolition Now criticized Narkewicz’s record on police funding. “Mayor Narkewicz has not responded to the calls across the country from the Movement for Black Lives, from Northampton residents of color, and poor and working-class residents to reduce the police budget and instead invest in social programs that would keep all Northampton residents safe,” Mary Jones, a Ward 2 resident and member of the group, wrote in a statement on behalf of the group.

The police department budget was reduced by 10%, or more than $600,000, over the summer after hundreds showed up to City Council meetings and protesters demanded cuts to the budget. The mayor and City Council then created the Policing Review Commission to study the department and come up with recommending reforms.

“We hope the next mayor will take bold action based on the wealth of knowledge and recommendations that BIPOC community members have provided,” Jones statement continued, “rather than maintaining Northampton’s pattern of letting good ideas to build a more just community die in commissions and reports.”

Although Narkewicz made the announcement 10 months before the Nov. 2 election, he said he is “not shutting off the lights and leaving. I plan to continue working hard and finish out this year strong, and obviously prepare for a smooth transition for whoever the voters elect.”

A major project he plans to work on in his remaining months is developing a ”Community Resilience Hub,” a space that would act as a day center for the houseless and others in need and would double a place to be used in case of emergencies. His administration is also working on a plan to help the city reach its goal of making the city carbon neutral by 2050.

“I’m looking forward to having that plan be finalized and really having a roadmap for the next 10 to 20 to 30 years for how we get there,” he said.

Narkewicz said he is not sure what is next for him.

“I want to finish this job and finish it strong and continue to work on the important issues and challenges of the office,” he said. “I think there will be plenty of time when I complete my term to think about what the next phase of my life will be professionally, but I don’t have any clear path. I’m not running for office again, I’m fairly certain of that. Public service has been a big part of my life. We will see what opportunities are out there when I leave office.”

The mayor also said he is not aware of anyone who intends to run for mayor at this time.

“It has been 10 years since we’ve had a change in the corner office and I wanted to allow people enough time to think about it and to put together campaigns or explore campaigns,” he said.

“It’s a hard decision, deciding to run for mayor, and certainly the decision to step away and not run again was difficult,” he added, “but I’ve learned to trust my gut and trust my instincts in this job and it just feels like the right time.”

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.


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