Standing out Is Easy for One Holyoke Candidate Running At-large…
HOLYOKE—With each New England touchdown, Patriots fans gathered at Brennan’s Place erupted in shouts and cheers. Sunday football occupied most patrons’ attention at the downtown watering hole, including those gathered in back for a Patriots watch party organized by State Representative Aaron Vega.
Many a Paper City luminary were there, scarfing down buffalo tenders and beer, chatting about politics local and beyond. Some aspiring pols were present, including candidates for treasurer and Council. One candidate, the party’s co-host, stood above the rest—literally. But perhaps more than vertical distinctions, Adrian Dahlin is among a growing number of residents who want to stay, rather than escape the city.
“There’s a lot of potential is embodied in these old mill buildings, but they’re crumbling,” Dahlin said, almost offering a metaphor of Holyoke and its Gateway city peers.
A foot taller than almost everybody else and topped with a mop of curly red hair, Dahlin, an at-large Council candidate, is hoping to snag one of the city’s eight at-large seats in a crowded field of 16 candidates. There is an open seat due to the retirement of Kevin Joudain—he is seeking a ward seat instead—but that is no guarantee in such a crowded race.
Dahlin, 27, is not a native, but since his family moved here around his 18th birthday, he says he “fell in love with Holyoke.” Even after his parents moved away, he stayed after graduating from Tufts, unlike many Western Massachusetts residents who move away after college.
Nevertheless, supporters have touted Dahlin’s ability to work with the city’s often at-odds factions. Patricia Duffy, chair of the Holyoke Redevelopment Authority, said she was “impressed with his interest in reaching out to all parts of Holyoke.”
“Collaboration is my MO,” Dahlin said.
During an interview set against the din of rooting fans, Dahlin, who works at the Conway School as its admissions and marketing director, discussed his background and plans if elected. Speaking in a measured tone, he punctured his seriousness with cracks about his height and big ears.
A first time candidate, Dahlin cited his experience as a member of a conservation commission and the committee considering new uses for the closed Mount Tom power plant.
Among the issues facing the city is its reputation, starting with the Council itself, which he said often leaves the city’s politics wallowing in pettiness and distraction.
“You change the lack of professionalism by increasing the number of professionals,” he said, in a not so subtle dig at a body which recently underwent sensitivity training and, dismissing the city’s experts, dithered on funding to demolish derelict buildings.
Holyoke’s “serious image problem,” leaves the impression that downtown is entirely unsafe and rife with drug addicts. However, Dahlin also noted there are real problems like insufficient jobs, crime, schools, housing and social inequality.
To address some of these, Dahlin called for the city to aggressively market abandoned properties and use grants to renovate them, before selling them. Alternatively, properties could be sold with firm promises to renovate or otherwise revert back to the city.
To address jobs, he said tax incremental financing agreements—wherein the city waives part some property tax liability in exchange for job creation and development—should have clauses that require hiring of residents.
“I don’t think we’re trying hard enough,” Dahlin speculated as to why the Council has not done any or enough of these ideas already. “I’m not sure our city council looks around, sees our problems and feels a sense of responsibility for them,” he added, suggesting some in the political establishment seems detached from Holyoke’s problems.
He referenced John Fetterman, the mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania and a US Senate candidate, who has tattooed the dates of homicides in his struggling ex-steel town community, as example of someone truly bearing his town’s struggle on his person. “This isn’t a game or a club,” Dahlin said of governing.
Indeed, he said that voters have responded positively to his less-than-lifelong ties to the city. On the doors, “they say, ‘oh good you won’t be involved in any of that nepotism,’” he reported.
Dahlin may be straddling various political dividing lines here, but he has support from some prominent Holyoke politicos. Rep Vega feted Dahlin during some brief remarks during halftime, earning the latter some of the applause not reserved for Tom Brady.
“I know Adrian as someone who works on the issues and has the whole of Holyoke on his mind regarding any decision that he makes,” Vega said during a brief interview. Given his experience on the conservation and coal plant reuse panels, the Council would be well-served to “have someone who’s vetted development projects.”
Vega, competing with the boisterous crowd, added, “He’s done that.”
As for the Patriots, they did what they have done. New England beat Dallas 30-6.