Penny Geis running for Northampton City Council in Ward 7

  • Penny Geis, candidate for Northampton Ward 7 city councilor, speaks with the Gazette on Wednesday. staff photo

  • Penny Geis, candidate for Northampton Ward 7 city councilor, speaks with the Gazette on Wednesday, April 10, 2019.

  • Penny Geis, candidate for Northampton Ward 7 city councilor, speaks with the Gazette on Wednesday, April 10, 2019.

Staff Writer
Published: 4/13/2019 12:03:53 AM

NORTHAMPTON — Pennington “Penny” Geis has worn many hats in her life: Mediator, county commissioner, county government administrator and student at the Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government to name a few. Now Geis, of Leeds, is running to take on yet another role: Ward 7 City Councilor.

The incumbent in Ward 7, Alisa Klein, is not running for reelection this year. One other candidate, Pioneer Valley Women’s March Director Rachel Maiore, has also pulled her papers to run. The general election will be held on Nov. 5, and if there are more than two candidates for the seat there will also be a nonpartisan primary on Sept. 17 to determine which two candidates make it to the general election ballot.

Geis, 77, said she was asked to run for Ward 7 City Council in September.

“My immediate response was, ‘Find somebody younger,’” Geis said.

But she reconsidered, and after a short exploratory period has been running in earnest since October.

On the issues, Geis said, “I’m about having the government actually do things.”

A particular passion of Geis’ is climate change, which she says is “the biggest problem we have on the planet.”

Geis wants the city to adopt municipal energy aggregation, and to use it to invest in local solar power and battery capacity, as well as to explore micro-hydro in the city’s water pipes. She said that aggregation would also save money for the city’s ratepayers.

She worked with former state Sen. Stan Rosenberg when he was in the House of Representatives to help craft the law that makes municipal energy aggregation possible in the commonwealth.

Geis supports municipal broadband, and she is an active member of the Northampton High-Speed Community Network Coalition.

“It is a really critical infrastructure for today,” said Geis. “If Leverett can do it, we can do it.”

She also said she wants to advocate for the roads in Ward 7, and that she would like the Hotel Bridge to be brought back up to a condition where it can at least be opened up to pedestrian and cyclist traffic again.

Geis was born in Wakefield, but her family moved all around the country when she was growing up, settling in Kansas when she was in eighth grade.

All that traveling as a young girl taught her something fundamental, Geis said: “Wherever you go, people are people. And if you are with people who love you, you are home.”

In 1986, Geis was elected to the Saline County, Kansas Board of Commissioners. Geis was the first woman to ever be elected to the board, although she noted that she was not the last.

Geis worked as a mediator in the private sector, and during her time as a commissioner, she got to use her skills to mediate a dispute between a farmer who was using the remains of dead Native Americans he’d found on his property as a roadside attraction, Native American tribes, and other parties. As a result, a resolution was reached that allowed the remains to be reburied.

“That was really satisfying,” Geis said.

Geis served a single four-year term on the board, where she was the only Democrat. Her husband died not long before she lost her seat, and the mother of four decided to go back to school at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

“I celebrated my 50th birthday by writing a final,” she said.

After graduation, Geis became the Hampshire County Government administrator. She oversaw the transition of the county government into the entity that is now called HCG, and got it into the electricity business.

Geis retired from her position in 2008 and in 2012, she moved to Leeds to be closer to her son Nelson and his three children.

Geis said Leeds is very welcoming to newcomers, while also being home to people whose families have lived there for generations.

“It’s just such a wonderful neighborhood,” she said.

In addition to Klein, Ward 2 City Councilor Dennis Bidwell and At-Large City Councilor Ryan O’Donnell are not seeking reelection. Ward 4 City Councilor Gina-Louise Sciarra is running for At-Large City Councilor.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.


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