Contests aplenty as voters head to the polls on Election Day

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  • Marguerite Suozzo-Gole, left, casts her ballot with Northampton precinct 4B warden Heather Culver, center, while her friend, Kate Godsil-Freeman, right, who just voted, waits in the hallway at the Senior Center on Tuesday afternoon, Nov. 2, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Gazette intern and staff writer
Published: 11/2/2021 2:59:05 PM

AMHERST — Voters hit the polls Tuesday to choose candidates for a wide range of elected offices, including mayoral races in Northampton, Easthampton and Holyoke, as well as a referendum on a $36.3 million project to renovate and expand Jones Library in Amherst.

The Jones Library is what drew many voters to the ballot booths in Amherst, as did contested Town Council and School Committee elections. Nick Grabbe, 71, rode his bicycle near Amherst’s Bangs Community Center while holding a sign in support of the library project.

“The library is a really important part of Amherst,” he said, highlighting that the renovations would create new spaces for children and provide much-needed physical renovations.

As the town’s contribution to the project is limited to $15.8 million, Grabbe said it would be “foolish” to throw away the $13.8 million state grant for the project already promised by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners. By voting no, he said, residents would miss out on an opportunity.

Rita Burke, a 69-year-old Amherst voter for more than four decades, held a sign against the library project at Amherst-Pelham Regional High School.

“I think the plan is wasteful and way too expensive,” she said.

Burke said Amherst already has enough libraries as it is, including the W.E.B. Du Bois library, one of the tallest libraries in the world, on the University of Massachusetts campus.

Nick Chirekos, a 31-year-old firefighter and paramedic for the Amherst Fire Department, voiced his support for Town Council at-large candidates Vira Douangmany-Cage and Mandi Jo Hanneke, as well as Patricia De Angelis for District 2 Town Council.

He said his department is experiencing staffing shortages so severe that Amherst firefighters are overworked and need to call on neighboring towns to an excessive degree to help respond to calls. The candidates he supports have pledged to address this issue once elected to Town Council.

“I’ve got 25 years left on the job,” he said, explaining that he’s going to want the right staff and equipment to do the job.

Allegra Clark, 36, said her votes go to newcomers Ellisha Walker, Vince O’Connor, and Douangmany-Cage for at-large Town Council seats because “they will bring fresh perspective” to Amherst. In particular, she mentioned that Walker has “shown a great deal of composure” in her work and will bring a voice to populations in Amherst that are typically underrepresented.

She also said the library project should not move forward because “it’s overinflated in its budget” and “there are lots of other things that money could be spent on instead.”

Casey Brown, 50, shared that he’s supportive of the need for public libraries but his foremost opinion was that “it’s just important to vote.”

Mayoral picks

Voters in Northampton, Easthampton and Holyoke are choosing their city’s next mayor on Tuesday and many have been voicing their support for candidates in the days leading up to the election.

Standing outside of Nick’s Nest in Holyoke on Sunday, Gina Barry was clear about what she wants to see from the next mayor of the Paper City. In Holyoke, the contest is between At-large City Councilor Michael J. Sullivan and Blandford Town Administrator Joshua A. Garcia.

“I’m just hopeful that the mayor that comes in can help our city makes strides to become more economically viable,” she said.

As for who she’s supporting, Barry said she’s backing Garcia.

“He has experience running a municipality,” she said.

For his part, city resident Pedro Rivera is supporting Sullivan, who got him his first construction job when he was only 15 years old.

“A lot of us are in construction because of Mike,” Rivera said.

He also said Sullivan already has a proven track record, especially when it comes to helping youth.

Standing in front of his restaurant, Juan Uribe, owner of El Paraiso Colombiano, said he is backing his friend Garcia for mayor. Uribe’s establishment is on High Street, and he expressed hope that Garcia would improve the downtown.

“We need our moneymaker,” Uribe said.

In Northampton, City Council President Gina-Louise Sciarra is running against transportation analyst Marc Warner to replace longtime mayor David Narkewicz.

There are many other contests for City Council, School Committee, Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School and Forbes Library trustees, as well as a ballot question on whether or not to authorize the city to establish a municipal light plant – which would allow Northampton to provide municipal broadband service.

Jennifer Dieringer, who attended a campaign event for Sciarra on Sunday on Main Street said she believes the City Council president is “the obvious and natural pick.”

At an event holding signs for Ward 4 City Council candidate Garrick Perry at the other end of Main Street, Stephanie Pouliot sported a Sciarra button.

“I’m happy that we have a contested race,” Pouliot said, noting that it allows people to get a deeper understanding of the issues.

James Winston, a disability attorney, is backing Warner, and he said that Warner’s background would make him ideal for tackling the Main Street redesign.

“This is his field. This is what he does for a living,” Winston said.

Winston said he has concerns with the proposed redesign now under consideration, which reduces travel lanes and parking. However, he also said that the mayoral race is between two qualified, exceptional candidates.

“Ultimately, the city will be in good hands,” he said.

Eating breakfast at Miss Florence Diner with family, former city councilor Linda Desmond and her husband, Dennis Desmond, both expressed support for Sciarra.

“She has excellent experience,” Dennis Desmond said, adding that he thinks the race in Northampton is a positive one.

“There’s no mudslinging,” he said. “I’m happy to see that.”

Disappointment

Easthampton is the only one of the three contests that features an incumbent running for re-election, with Mayor Nicole LaChapelle seeking a third term against Fort Hill Brewery owner Eric Berzins and city resident Keith Routhier, as well as write-in candidate Donald Torrey. There are races for City Council and School Committee as well.

Easthampton City Council President Peg Conniff, who is not seeking re-election, said she’s backing LaChapelle for mayor. However, she expressed disappointment in the response the election has produced, saying she had hoped to see a community dialogue and new ideas.

City voter Natalie Murphy said she is backing Torrey.

“He seems like he’s just really focused on the city,” she said. “He just wants to make the city better.”

LaChapelle was at a rally at the rotary downtown on Sunday along with candidates for at-large city councilor. The mayor likened this particular election season to a Tim Burton movie.

Jackie Brousseau-Pereira was present holding a sign for At-Large City Council candidate Koni Denham, and she said she’s backing LaChapelle.

“It’s a really easy choice,’ she said. “There’s no one else in this race who compares.”

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

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