The Race for Mayor Gears Up
It’s one if by air, and two if by land. The mayors are coming! The mayors are coming!
NORTHAMPTON – The mayor’s race is heating up and the signs are popping up all over.
For Michael Bardsley, the most recent salvo was the aerial advertising plane that flew over the city last weekend, dragging a banner reading, “A Mayor Should Be Elected, Not Selected.” An after-the-fact press release (entitled “Bardsley Launches Air Strike”) sent to reporters by Darby O’Brien, the candidate’s ad agency, described the tactic as “another unconventional move in Bardsley’s hard-hitting mayoral campaign.”
A former City Council president, retired school guidance councilor and longtime union activist, Bardsley will soon officially open his campaign office in downtown Florence, where the black-and-gold “Michael Bardsley for Mayor” signs are plastered on the first-floor picture windows. From the outside, the office looks unused, but campaign co-chair Mimi Odgers said there’s been plenty going on there.
Candidate Bardsley, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2009, has been appearing at the city transfer station, on the Verizon workers picket line downtown and at various public and private gatherings citywide. And tonight (Wednesday) from 3 to 6 p.m. he will hold an ice cream social and fundraiser at the Florence Civic Center, at the corner of Park and Main streets.
Big Signs and a Two-Wheeler for Narkewicz
For City Council President David Narkewicz, his campaign splash was a retrofitted, hybrid mountain bike carting his mobile campaign station to the Tuesday farmers market downtown.
Wheeling to the courtyard next to the city’s parking garage this week, the former legislative aide took off his helmet, affixed a beach umbrella, arranged his campaign literature on the portable table and chatted with dozens of potential voters. He plans to bring his two-wheeled campaign office around the city.
Reporters learned about Narkewicz’s bicycle-office gimmick in a press release titled “Pedal Power” from campaign co-managers Alex Ghiselin and Rachel Simpson.
Narkewicz’s downtown campaign office, at 1 Brewster Court, sports a 6-foot-tall red-white-and-blue sign proclaiming “David Narkewicz for Mayor. Moving a Great City Forward. davidnarkewicz.com.” The office has been bustling, and was a popular stop on last week’s Arts Night Out tour, its walls lined with paintings by artist Laura Curran.
At 8 a.m. last Saturday, former city councilors James Dostal and Alex Ghiselin were already at work at Narkewicz headquarters, brewing coffee, arranging promotional materials and assembling lawn signs by the dozens. The candidate himself has been knocking on doors throughout the city almost every night for weeks.
A Vacancy in Room One
The two men, Mike Bardsley and Dave Narkewicz, are battling it out to replace longtime Mayor Mary Clare Higgins. This March, Higgins announced she would not seek her seventh two-year term. A month later – by then both Bardsley and Narkiewicz had thrown their hats into the ring – the mayor announced she had found a new job and would leave office in early September, four months before her term was to have ended.
Bardsley disclosed his candidacy in an editorial board meeting with the Daily Hampshire Gazette, which ran the story the day before Higgins withdrew from the race. (Correction: Daily Hampshire Gazette reporter Dan Crowley broke the story that Bardsley was going to run in a story published on March 4, 2011. There was no editorial board meeting at the Gazette; Crowley and Bardsley met off-site.)
Narkewicz announced he would run in a speech on his front steps, surrounded by his wife, two daughters and his dog, and then he answered questions from reporters.
With Higgins leaving office early, City Council President Narkewicz will become acting mayor, as the city charter requires. Both he and Bardsley, both council presidents under Higgins, have served in that capacity from time to time when the mayor has been away.
In his campaign materials, on his campaign blog and on his aerial banner, Bardsley proclaims his outsider status, and suggests Higgins arranged mayoral incumbency for Narkewicz to thwart Bardsley, who almost unseated her in 2009.
“Mayor Higgins’ early departure is part of a transparent attempt by the small group of entitled insiders who have supported her to install their hand-chosen successor into the Mayor’s Office,” writes Bardsley on his website.
Higgins denies it, although there is no love lost between her and Bardsley, as was evidenced during their often bitter campaign two years ago. Higgins squeaked by with a paltry 300-vote margin.
Higgins has said she could have left in May, when her new employer – CommunityAction! of the Franklin, Hampshire and North Quabbin Regions – wanted her to fill the vacant executive director’s post. Instead, Higgins said, she chose to see the city through the annual budget process and the current round of contract negotiations.
And Narkewicz told Northampton Media he will serve as acting mayor – while continuing as the council president – because the city charter requires it, not because of some back-room, political maneuvering.
Public Comments and Private Emails
After his 2009 defeat at the polls, Bardsley made repeated appearances at the City Council public comment sessions, railing against various elected officials for their actions or oversights. He constantly rang the bell for more openness and transparency in government, a theme in his current mayoral campaign, whose catchphrase is “Everyone’s Mayor.”
In what some consider his unofficial campaign kickoff, Bardsley publicly charged Narkewicz and Ward 2 Councilor Paul Spector with attacking him in their private emails and on WHMP radio. Bardsley said their criticism of him was personal and anti-democratic and impeded free speech. He later requested all of Narkewicz’s emails that mentioned Bardsley.
The emails showed very little, but Narkewicz did write that Bardsley was “simply looking for any issue to. . . create some justification for his impending candidacy” for mayor. In another email, Narkewicz said some Bardsley supporters on the City Council would continue stirring up trouble: “Never a dull moment with this crew!”
While some thought it was much ado about almost nothing, Bardsley took to the council microphone again, declaring Narkewicz’s emails were evidence of dirty politics and negative campaigning. (To see our story about the emails, and Bardsley’s reaction, click here.)
Meeting Missteps with Teachers
And in June, Bardsley again complained about Narkewicz for apparent violations of election laws. Narkewicz had met with teachers off-campus to discuss their concerns. The meeting itself was no problem, but some teachers organizing the event used the in-school mailboxes to distribute flyers and one teacher announced the after-school meeting over the school intercom.
Bardsley called the affair another example of insider politics at work, an alleged violation of the law and “dirty politics,” and said Narkewicz should have known better. Narkewicz said he never authorized the use of school property for the campaign, and said he was surprised to learn of it.
City Clerk Wendy Mazza asked for an advisory from the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance, which said the matter was outside its jurisdiction but a question for the state Ethics Commission. Bardsley told Northampton Media he was considering whether to file a formal complaint.
Ignoring the Old Battles and Negativity
Asked to respond to Bardsley’s accusation of insider politics in his “elected-selected” ads, Narkewicz replied, “I’m not going to get into the negativity… I’m not going to be spending a lot of time talking negatively about my opponent or the city.”
And on his campaign website, Narkewicz writes about open government.
“I believe strongly that local government must be open, fair and transparent and have worked hard to make that ideal a reality during my three terms on the City Council,” he writes. “I also believe the best public policy decisions are those made with good public participation and review and have pushed for changes in our decision-making processes to ensure that happens.”
Bardsley, who in 2007 had to step down from his 8-year stint as council president when fellow councilors selected Councilor Jim Dostal instead, has been a vocal critic of Mayor Higgins, charging that her tenure was marked by a lack of transparency.
But Narkewicz rejects any suggestion that he is her heir-apparent.
“I’m not part of those old battles (and) I’m not going to fight them,” Narkewicz told us. “I want to move the city forward. I’m running on my own record, my own ideas.”
What about the elect-select message of Bardsley’s, doesn’t that resonate, we asked?
“I don’t really know what to make of that,” said Narkewicz, who noted that almost every day he is knocking on doors, talking to voters and asking them to vote for him on Nov. 8. “I’m running for election.”
Debates are currently being planned by various civic groups. And buckle up, it is going to get rough this political season.
© 2011 Northampton Media
David Reid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org