Chicopee May No Longer Be All the Same, but Every Pol Knows Your Name…
CHICOPEE—At the top of ballot, a raging, repeat battle for mayor is absorbing much of the attention here. Yet, at-large city councilors and those from Wards 1, 5, 6, 7 and 9 all have opponents this year. What makes Ward 5 stand out, however, how the city’s broader dynamics are also in play in this race.
Miguel Roldan-Castro is challenging Fred Krampits for the Ward 5 seat amid a particularly spirited city election season. In vivid detail, the race between former mayor Michael Bissonnette and incumbent Richard Kos has revealed how passionate yet Balkanized the political scene is in Chicopee, a city of 55,000, but this truth applies down ballot, too.
To be fair, the Krampits/Roldan-Castro race is not nearly as heated or personal as the mayoral race.
Roldan-Castro told WMassP&I he was moved to become a candidate after working on several campaigns last year. “I decided to run for city council to help the community,” Roldan-Castro said.
During an interview at a supporter’s home, Roldan-Castro, a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals and Commission on the Disabled here, discussed what he had heard from voters and the significance of Chicopee electing its first Latino councilor. Latinos now constitute 15% of Chicopee’s population.
“That’s one of the things that got the most interest for a lot of people,” Roldan-Castro said. He added that many Chicopee Latinos feel few connect to their take on issues from job creation to police relations.
Census data suggest Latinos are diffused throughout Chicopee, certainly compared to the higher concentration and segregation within Holyoke and Springfield. Chicopee’s Ward 5 has a high Latino population compared to other wards, but whether it is unique in this way is harder to ascertain.
For his part, Krampits is well aware of the demographic shifts in Chicopee and says he strives to be accessible to all residents in Ward 5, Latinos included.
“When I do get calls from somebody of a Hispanic background, I certainly meet with them and speak to them like anybody else,” he said in a phone interview. Krampits added, having worked for years at WTCC, which airs multicultural programming, he has had the opportunity to learn more about issues facing people of color.
“I know that it can be a struggle for minorities anywhere,” he explained.
Krampits does fit another Chicopee trend. Power is clustered among a few families. He was selected to fill the seat his father had held after the elder Krampits’s passing in 2003. He noted that he gets challengers fairly often, about every other cycle.
Like any elected body, the Chicopee City Council has dead weight, but some Chicopee political observers deem Krampits an effective advocate for his ward.
Krampits boiled his outlook and tenure down to a focus on quality of life issues such as, improving parks, and getting sidewalks replaced. Foreclosed and abandoned properties, especially those not technically within a banks’ control, are a particular problem.
“It can be painfully slow because sometime it has to go through the courts,” Krampits said.
Roldan-Castro also discussed quality of life issues, but framed slightly differently. As part of a multi-point plan, he emphasized the need to combat homelessness and crime in addition to broader considerations like job creation and tax policy. However, these issues also portray the split between the candidates.
Crime was high on Roldan-Castro’s list, with a break-ins being plaguing Ward 5. His own lawnmower had been stolen. “It’s been a similar scenario across the city,” he said.
Krampits said statistically crime is down, but he acknowledged, “It still weighs heavily on people’s mind.” He observed that local crime watches have helped deter crime and even foil home invasions in progress.
Taxes likewise showed differences. Roldan-Castro said longtime residents nearing retirement and up-and-comers, such as minorities building wealth, are challenged by rising taxes. By contrast, Krampits asserted, “We strive to keep a balance,” between services and the tax rate.
In 2015 among Hampden County cities with separate resident and business property tax rates, Chicopee has the second lowest commercial rate after Agawam. Arguably more pertinent to voters, Chicopee’s residential rate ranks in the middle.
More than any issue, Chicopee’s preference for officials with whom voters can relate and connect is a dominant factor in this race. Even here there is a divide between some who want a new voice that understands their concerns better and others who are confident in Krampits’s representation.
“There have been some cases of complaints that there was no follow up,” Roldan-Castro said, promising he would hold regular meetings in the ward for residents.
Krampits, unperturbed by criticism, said he tries to research issues and find a solution when he can “I’ve always been a phone call or an email away,” Krampits said, “A lot of it is just trying your best.”