Ward 3 City Council Wanna-Bes To Debate Next Week

Bounded by the Connecticut River and bisected by Interstate 91 and Route 9, Ward 3 is a diverse and vital section of the city. (Map from city website)

Former city councilor Fran Volkmann will moderate the debate, with questions to come from emails and audience members.

Debate moderator Fran Volkmann. (Photo shot from NCTV broadcast)

NORTHAMPTON – The race to fill the vacant Ward 3 City Council seat picks up steam next Tuesday when the two candidates – retired orthodontist Arnold Levinson and financial consultant Owen Freeman-Daniels – face off in a debate at the Bridge Street School.

The 7 p.m. event, sponsored by the Ward 3 Neighborhood Association (W3NA) and moderated by former Ward 2 city councilor Fran Volkmann, will take place in the school’s cafeteria.

A press release about the event was issued earlier this week by W3NA President Gerald Budgar, whose late father Leonard served as the Ward 3 city councilor for many years. (To see the press release, click here)

The Former Councilor Looms Large

The two men, both newcomers to elective politics in the city, will appear on the Aug. 2 special election ballot to fill the seat vacated in April by freshman councilor Angela Plassmann, who unexpectedly quit her $5,000-a-year post.

Former Ward 3 councilor Angela Plassmann.

Plassmann – who resigned amidst a Building Department probe of an illegal mobile home adjacent to her house in the Meadows section of the city – publicly claimed that she stepped down because an unnamed city department head was harassing her, and had singled her out for political reasons. (See “Plassmann Property in Violation, Says Building Commissioner.”)

A couple weeks after Plassmann quit, the trailer was removed from her land, which is located in the environmentally sensitive special conservancy area of the Connecticut River floodplain. No permits for the trailer had ever been pulled, and no property taxes were paid on the structure, which had sat there for years.

Plassmann, who has acquired a folk hero status among supporters, has allied herself with Levinson, and attended his fundraiser this spring, where he thanked her for her service. Levinson’s prime backers also include mayoral hopeful Michael Bardsley and blogger and videographer Adam Cohen. Former Ward 3 Councilor Maria Tymockzo (who offers a testimonial on Levinson’s website) and former Ward 1 councilor and blogger Michael Kirby are also vocal supporters.

Fusco’s Failed Candidacy and the Debate Format

Before he entered the race, Freeman-Daniels helped manage the candidacy of businesswoman Lisa Fusco, who entered the Ward 3 race the day Plassmann resigned, but abruptly dropped out three weeks later when her financial problems surfaced. (See “Fusco Drops Out of Ward 3 Council Race.”)

Arnie Levinson.

Owen Freeman-Daniels. (David Reid photos)

Among Freeman-Daniels’ more visible backers are former Ward 3 councilors Robert Reckman and Marilyn Richards, as well as At-large Councilor Jesse Adams.

Some observers, including Volkmann, suggest the Ward 3 outcome could foreshadow citywide elections for all nine council seats set for Nov. 2.

“I think it’s a very important race,” said Volkmann, who was chosen by the candidates to host the event. Voters, she said, will be looking at how the two candidates demonstrate a knowledge of pressing issues not only in Ward 3 (to see a map of the ward on a pdf file, click here), but also citywide, since all councilors vote on matters affecting the entire community.

Among expected debate topics: development of the Three County Fairgrounds, potholes and street repairs, the proposed expansion of I-91′s Exit 19, the city budget, public safety, soccer fields on Island Road, and truck traffic on residential streets.

The debate format allows for each candidate to make brief opening and closing remarks, with questions to be asked alternately from those emailed in advance to Volkmann and those posed by the debate audience. (Volkmann’s email is franv@comcast.net.)

According to the press release, both candidates can view the submitted questions before the hour-long debate. Each candidate will also be given a chance to comment on the other’s comments, or to rebut statements made.

Volkmann seems like a perfect choice as the debate moderator, a function she provided during the city’s charged 2009 mayoral campaign.

A former Ward 2 city councilor whose six-year tenure ended in 2004, Volkmann is a retired Smith College professor of psychology and neuroscience, and is a member of the League of Women Voters’ local chapter. A past member of the city’s Planning Board, Volkmann currently serves on the city’s Community Preservation Committee, recently ending a term as its chairwoman.

Filling the Full Two-Year Council Seat

The winner of the Aug. 2 special election will serve out the remainder of Plassmann’s unexpired term, which ends on Jan. 2, 2012.

For Ward 3 City Council candidates, however, there will be little time to rest.

One week after the special election – on Tuesday, Aug. 9 – candidates throughout the city must submit nomination papers to get on the Nov. 2 general election ballot, from which voters will elect a new mayor, all nine city councilors, most School Committee members and other elective officers.

In other words, no matter who wins the Ward 3 special election on Aug. 2, all candidates for that full two-year council seat there must submit another batch of voter signatures  by Aug. 9 to get on the Nov. 2 ballot. (Every candidate in the city needs to hand in signatures from at least 50 registered voters.) That full term begins next Jan. 2

If more than two candidates for the seat submit papers by Aug. 9, a preliminary election will be held on Sept. 27.

The deadline to register for voting in the special Ward 3 election has passed; it was Wednesday, July 13. The deadline to register for the preliminary election (if there is one) is Sept. 7; the registration deadline for the Nov. 2 election is Oct. 19. (To see this year’s general election calendar, click here.)

Absentee ballots for the Aug. 2 special election are now available at the City Hall office of City Clerk Wendy Mazza. (To see Mazza’s press release on how to obtain an absentee ballot, click here.)

Both candidates or their campaigns maintain active websites and Facebook pages, and have Twitter accounts to reach tech-savvy voters. They have been going door-to-door, have plastered the ward with their lawn signs, and continue attending various small events to raise money and meet voters.

(To see the candidates websites, click their names in the first paragraph. Levinson’s Facebook page is here; Freeman-Daniels’ Facebook page is here.)

© 2011 Northampton Media

David Reid can be reached at dreid@northamptonmedia.com

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