Northampton social worker announces mayoral bid


Staff Writer
Published: 3/4/2021 8:54:32 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Shanna T. Fishel, a social worker, is running for mayor.

“The inspiration for me to get into politics — currently I am not — is the 20 years I have been both a special education teacher, certified sex educator and counselor, and lately, social worker,” said Fishel, who uses they for a pronoun. “I know the harmful impact of municipal decisions on disenfranchised individuals and families.”

A detailed list of priorities on Fishel’s website includes pandemic recovery, creating municipal broadband, funding a preschool expansion, increasing teacher and school staff pay, increasing opportunities for participatory budgeting, and addressing high rents and empty storefronts.

“It’s a mouthful for sure. It’s not something I or anyone can accomplish in a year,” Fishel said of their goals. “My intention is not to be a one-term mayor.”

Fishel, 42, lives on Chesterfield Road in Leeds with their partner, two children and mother, and works at the Center for Human Development. Previously, they were a teacher in the Boston Public Schools where they were involved in the union and helped organize a strike, according to their website.

They moved to Northampton in 2016, drawn to the city for its access to nature, Jewish community and their partner’s family roots in the area. Fishel then graduated from the Smith College School for Social Work. Their two children, 12-year-old twins, go to Lander-Grinspoon Academy and plan to go to JFK Middle School next year.


Mayor David Narkewicz announced earlier this year he would not be seeking reelection for a fourth term in November. When Fishel heard he was stepping aside and that he said it was time for someone else to take over, “That moment I had that spark of ‘I can run for mayor,’” they recalled.

“I think that what happened on January 6 at the insurrection was definitely something that made me think of the need to have good leadership — not just in the federal government, but in the local government as well.”

Gina-Louise Sciarra, City Council president, also announced this week she is running for mayor.

Though the vaccine is being rolled out, the city will continue to feel the effect of the pandemic well into the future, Fishel said.

“I think that in light of the COVID-19 crisis, first and foremost is equitable, safe, and future-orientated recovery for all members that call Northampton home,” they said, “including small businesses, including the workforce, including the houseless population, and those living in affordable housing.”

They also want to take a close look at the city budget. Quoting President Joe Biden, they said, “Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.” They added, “I think that really encompasses my platform.”

Fishel said they are looking at the CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets) program in Oregon, a mental health crisis response team that responds to some 911 calls.

“That is one of the very inspiring models that I’m looking into,” they said. “The police are just not trained and it’s not their job to respond to mental health crises. And no one should come into a mental health crisis with a gun.”

But, they said, “in order to adopt a model like that for Northampton, you have to have enough services in place to refer someone to.”

Fishel’s website says part of their vision is to “ensure access to timely crisis service response to urgent medical or psychological crises, including: assessment, referral, transportation, advocacy, suicide prevention, intervention, and first aid.”

Housing equity is another goal, and their website mentions developing a plan “toward rent stabilization,” encouraging energy-efficient homes, and providing aid for those who are housing insecure or houseless.

“I know many people who had to pick up and leave Northampton because they can’t afford to live here,” they said.

Fishel is also working with several other people to establish a community fridge.

“The principle of a community fridge is, leave what you don’t need, take what you want. It’s also to combat food insecurity. It’s also a way to combat food waste.” They added, “‘We’re hoping it won’t be the last one in Northampton.”

They also want to see the city have a water steward, similar to the city’s tree warden position.

“There’s so much water around here. I don’t understand why we don’t have a water steward. For me, the purpose of a water steward would be to also have someone focused on the access and use of swimming holes in terms of outreach and accountability.”

In the spring, “I intend to canvass door to door,” they said. “I really value person-to-person interaction.”

This Sunday, Fishel is planning a Zoom fundraising event. For details, Fishel said to email them at

According to their campaign’s ActBlue fundraising page, “10% of all funds collected will go directly back to our community and be donated to existing mutual aid programming that benefit marginalized individuals.”

Fishel said they are considering Manna Community Kitchen, Nothing But Kindness, and HRH413, a harm reduction group.

Greta Jochem can be reached at

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