Two candidates seeking Northampton’s Ward 4 council seat



  • Northampton City Hall

Staff Writer
Published: 10/28/2021 8:05:07 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Two candidates are running in the Nov. 2 election to replace outgoing Ward 4 City Councilor John Thorpe.

Ward 4A is the downtown area, including West, Old South, Center, State, Gothic and Bright streets. Ward 4B spans from Florence Road to Old Springfield Road and includes the South Street/Route 10 corridor that leads from Easthampton into downtown Northampton.

The candidates, in the order they will appear on the ballot, are Garrick Perry and Jesse Hassinger.

Garrick Perry

Perry, a local musician performing under the name Force, is the booking manager for the downtown music venue Bishop’s Lounge and the general manager of the Music Hall at Gateway City Arts in Holyoke. He is originally from the Washington, D.C. metro area and moved to the Pioneer Valley in 1997 to attend Amherst College.

A 15-year resident of South Street, he said that his experience is in “building communities” in Northampton.

“My heart is downtown,” Perry said. “Having a chance to impact the place that’s had such an impact on me? That’s awesome.”

Asked about his ideas for helping the city’s homeless, he described the open door policy at Bishop’s Lounge that, before the pandemic, allowed anyone to walk in, store their possessions, use the bathroom and play a musical instrument. He said he supports putting the Community Resilience Hub, a resource center for populations including the homeless, in a prominent place downtown.

If elected, Perry would be the second Black man ever to serve on the City Council after Thorpe, who was elected in 2019 and did not seek a second term.

The city, Perry said, should spend some of its $21.7 million in COVID-19 relief funds on diversifying the business community. He said his biracial daughters, for example, do not have access to a hairdresser who can work well with Black hair.

Perry’s opponent is a member of the Northampton Arts Council, which stoked controversy earlier this month by canceling its Biennial arts and poetry show in response to complaints from Indigenous artists. The council decided the selection process was not inclusive enough and that the exhibit included “harmful genocidal art.”

Perry said the decision to cancel represented a “failure of leadership” and a “missed opportunity” to bring people together for difficult public discussions. At the same time, “The one painting they didn’t want to show is the one that everybody saw” due to public interest in the controversy.

On the issue of police reform, Perry said he sees “a lot of nuance. … Northampton’s police department is flawed, but not as bad as Springfield’s.” He said the police should be part of any conversation about police reform, and that “you have to work within systems in order to break systems down.”

The new Department of Community Care, he said, should work closely with unarmed police officers.

Perry has the endorsement of outgoing At-Large City Councilor Bill Dwight.

Jesse Hassinger

Hassinger and his wife co-owned the Belly of the Beast downtown restaurant until it closed on Oct. 10. They had moved from Boston to Northampton in 2015 to open their first business, but Hassinger said it could not survive the economic realities of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Voters are concerned about “big-ticket items” like the Main Street redesign and the new Department of Community Care, “but they are concerned about potholes and speeding” too, Hassinger said. Certain issues only affect a handful of families, and “those are of equal import to those people in those houses.”

The Main Street redesign options proposed by the city are not adequate, Hassinger said, and he backs the work of Main Street for Everyone, a citizens group calling for a major focus on climate change mitigation and a reduction in vehicle traffic.

On the issue of police reform, Hassinger said he would push for more decriminalization of nonviolent offenses, and he and Perry both support the City Council’s May resolution to decriminalize psychedelic plants. Hassinger wants the new community care department to receive as much funding as it needs to succeed, he said, as a way to improve public safety.

Hassinger said the Arts Council’s Biennial decision did not become a campaign issue, despite the controversy that played out online and in newspaper opinion pages.

“There were reasons why we decided to cancel the Biennial, and the only way that I can get other people to understand that decision is through open dialogue,” Hassinger said.

Hassinger was raised by Buddhist parents, and he said the ideals of empathy and open communication inform his approach to city government.

“The idea that canvassing is just for election time is faulty when it comes to local politics. That’s the only way to find about these issues,” Hassinger said. “People don’t reach out until something reaches a level that they can’t stand it anymore.”

Hassinger has earned endorsements from the Western Mass Area Labor Federation, the Massachusetts Nurses Association and Northampton Abolition Now, which supports a reallocation of Police Department funds to social services including the Department of Community Care.

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