Endorsements on Parade: The Times May Be A-Changing, but Keep Holyoke’s Mayor…
Holyoke is at a crossroads. Intractable problems of poverty, disparity and want remain as it has in ilk cities for some time. Yet of late, there is a spark of life among the citizenry and in the earth of the Paper City. People are engaged and feel part of their city. Redevelopment and repurposing of old mill buildings are picking up speed, activating a once-barren landscape.
Alex Morse did not birth the movement behind this transformation, though as one of its heralds, he has helped foster a Holyoke renaissance. There have been missteps and errors, but nothing, in our estimate, to gravely jeopardize the city. Egregious blunders are cause for dismissal, but lesser ones are opportunities to learn as we believe Morse does. Thus, we urge his reelection.
Supporters of Francis “Fran” O’Connell, Morse’s challenger, describe things in apocalyptic terms, a hellscape damned by Morse’s rule. Absurd! Holyoke’s spirit is healthier and its redevelopment more tenable than Springfield’s, though even on its worst day, we would hardly characterize Domenic Sarno’s Springfield in the same despairing terms Morse critics use for Holyoke.
By contrast, some cast O’Connell as craven and unmoored from morality. Though we credit the claims of sexist behavior and condemn O’Connell’s failure to grow and learn from that episode, there must be some goodness and true affection for Holyoke that motivates him.
Alas, all we saw was a bitter, negative campaign. We—and much of the Valley press—just wanted a realistic sense of what his Holyoke would look like. He treated that as an exercise in gotchaism and remained aloof and vague throughout. O’Connell held out nebulous promises of “better” or indefinable assurance he could undo 50 years of American deindustrialization in Holyoke’s 23 square miles.
Nor were we convinced his business acumen and success—if sometimes undertaken on the backs of workers—would work in City Hall. The Economist wisely observed business competence does not always translate into the political arena.
Morse has pursued inclusion and out-of-the-box thinking. Traditional projects, like the redevelopment of the ex-Holiday Inn near the Mall are paired with a proliferation of galleries and art spaces. He has rightly noted some projects precede him, but others proposed, but festering on the drawing board since he was a child, were enacted on his watch, like the rail platform.
There have been mistakes. From what we know, Morse executed the Egan separation agreement properly, but he should have included the Council. Still, the council traded real oversight for half-baked referrals to law enforcement that did not even identify statutes violated.
The state takeover of the schools has little to do with Morse’s School Committee attendance. Conflating the two is cynical without explaining—clearly—what could have been. Although Stephen Zrike has calmed nerves, we sense strain on the School Committee, of which the mayor is a member. Morse must work doubly hard to correct this next term.
What animates us most is to see a vital democracy bubbling up in Holyoke. Is this Morse’s doing? Not entirely, but soliciting ordinary citizens, not just the connected, to serve on boards and commissions builds residents’ stake in their community. They may have more motivation to vote, participate on campaigns or even run themselves. This speaks to the hopeful air blowing off of Holyoke today.
One inspired to serve, advocate for or represent this revived Holyoke may challenge Morse someday. That person may have a better platform, shaper ideas and just as true intent. He or she might be a better mayor, but that person is not now running against Morse, who fits the bill in this election.
We close by asking all Holyokers to reflect. Many say they love Holyoke, but do they really love it for all its faults, all its virtues, all its people, and all its diversity, or do they merely lust for the power to reign over it? If it is the latter, then please, stand aside.
Even the most earnest person may not realize which applies because, as flawed beings, we like to think that we have the best of intentions.
As this year began, we did not know who should be mayor, but now the choice is obvious. We fully recommend Alex Morse for reelection as Mayor of Holyoke.