I Read the News Today, Oh, Boy…About Holyokers Who Made the Ballot…
UPDATED 7/31/15 10:42: For clarity and grammar.
Elections in the Paper City are rarely dull affairs, but a healthy mix of nominal retirements and fresh pushes by the city’s dominant political camps may yield a potentially heated cycle. Pile on the likelihood of some binding ballot questions and a special Treasurer election and Holyokers could be confronting one of the most significant cycles in recent memory.
Only the mayor’s race will require a preliminary, but every council seat will be contested as will be several School Committee slots ensuring a packed November election. With 30 Council candidates—16 at-large and two for each of Holyoke’s seven wards—the battle for the city’s legislative branch could prove as compelling as the executive contest among Mayor Alex Morse, homecare mogul Fran O’Connell and Ward 2 Councilor Anthony Soto.
The Council races became fluid when Ward 6 Councilor Todd McGee announced he would retire from his seat because his family was moving to Ward 7. Shortly thereafter, Councilor Kevin Jourdain forwent near-certain reelection to his at-large seat to seek McGee’s instead.
Jourdain’s only opponent had been Mark Riffenburg, a 2013 at-large council aspirant. Riffenburg pulled out in June and Jourdain seemed set to just waltz into McGee’s seat without a fight. Then, last week Juan Anderson-Burgos filed for the seat reviving the race.
Nor was McGee out of the picture. Husband to City Clerk Brenna Murphy McGee and tied Holyoke’s traditional political classes, McGee is now seeking the seat of his new ward, vacated by Gordon Alexander. This sets up a potential clash of the titans between McGee and former city treasurer Jon Lumbra, who entered the race in January.
Nelson Roman and Jonathan Moquin are competing for Ward 2’s seat left open by Soto’s bid for mayor. Roman, an LGBT activist and veteran of city campaigns, may have more visibility than Moquin, a facilities manager for Pioneer Valley Railroad.
The tenor of the ward races with incumbents vary, but so far Ward 4 has been a roller coaster. Councilor Jossie Valentin has whipsawed from having a race, to not and back again. Challenger Kurt Bordas had officially withdrawn, but resuscitated his bid this month. Things turned even stranger when someone in another race trained their fire on Valentin.
Perennial candidate Mike Franco, who last year competed for a senate district in which he did not live, is among the masses competing for an at-large seat. On his Meetup messaging board, he attacked sensitivity training councilors underwent this year as “iron-fisted” indoctrination.
Odder still, in the same thread, he lashed out at Valentin over a production of The Vagina Monologues performed at the War Memorial Auditorium saying she “wants all of us to hold hands and talk about her vagina.” He added, “I say, no thank you.”
When Masslive questioned about him about his comments, Franco suggested the “wasteful” sensitivity training occurred at Valentin’s instigation. The precipitating incident involved Councilors McGee and Daniel Bresnhan and occurred a month before Valentin’s election in 2013.
Franco’s posting, first noted by the semi-satirical site H.U.S.H. and picked up by Masslive, swept across social media. Words of support streamed in from across the commonwealth, including Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, an outspoken advocate for women and LBGT issues. Driscoll told Masslive she was moved to donate to Valentin’s campaign as were others.
— Kim Driscoll (@MayorDriscoll) July 29, 2015
Reaction to Franco’s comments on Valentin and vaginas would imply his new statewide audience has concluded his head is located in a different orifice.
Elsewhere, incumbent Gladys Lebron-Martinez faces Juan Cruz in Ward 1. Bruce Mitchell is challenging Ward 3 Councilor David Bartley and Ward 5’s Linda Vacon will defend her seat from Christine Burns.
But it is the nine at-large challengers and seven incumbents seeking reelection that has prompted Holyoke’s bulging ballot. At-large seats disproportionately constitute eight of the city’s 15 Council slots.
Incumbents seeking reelection are Bresnahan, Jennifer Chateauneuf, Howard Greaney, James Leahy, Rebecca Lisi, Joseph McGiverin and Peter Tallman. Challengers include James Brunault, Adrian Dahlin, Darlene Elias, Franco, Jordan Lemieux, Mimi Panitch, Jemma Penberthy, Michael Sullivan and Anne Thalheimer.
With an open at-large seat and the potential for tactical voting, the major factions in the city—not quite aptly shorthanded as New & Old Holyoke—have room to maneuver and grow their share of the Council.
One thing to watch is the impact of the vote against the Polish historic district, intended to protect the shuttered Mater Dolorosa church. The vote vaguely followed the New/Old Holyoke axis, but the real division was ward vs. at-large. Ward councilors overwhelmingly backed the district while those at-large opposed it. Only Lisi and McGee’s votes did not follow this pattern.
The irony may be that while tribal politics may have influenced the district’s Council opponents, councilors in support of the district viewed it through an urban redevelopment/economic lens. Mater Dolorosa merged with historically Irish, Holy Cross. The latter remains open and its parishioners feared being left with the cost of Mater Dolorosa’s maintenance if the Council erected the district.
The city’s Polish-American community, stung by votes that seem intended—fairly or not—to placate Holyoke Hibernia, may hold opponents of the district to account.
Voters have a host of other Council actions to mull over especially since Holyoke’s charter grants the body stronger powers than most strong mayor-council setups.
Of the School Committee races, only the at-large seat and ward 1, 6 and 7 have more than one opponent. The other at-large seat is not up this year.