Ward 7 Mayoral Debate Features Unusual Questions
NORTHAMPTON — If elected, would David Narkewicz pledge to be a single-term mayor? Will the next mayor “return” an elusive document to state regulators? What are the pros and cons of secrecy in collective bargaining? Are there any negative impacts from the city’s many bike paths, and who pays for graffiti removal there? And the thing that’s driving me nuts here is the thing with the firemen’s stipends.
These were just a few of the questions and statements posed to mayoral candidates David Narkewicz and Michael Bardsley at Tuesday night’s mayoral debate, hosted by Ward 7 City Councilor Eugene Tacy at the Leeds Elementary School.
There was a home-spun feel to the event, which featured Halloween decor, loose moderation, a buggy sound system, and rambling audience declamations that didn’t all end in question marks.
Narkewicz, a three-term member of the City Council and the body’s president, has been acting mayor since six-term mayor Mary Clare Higgins stepped down in September.
Bardsley was on the council for 16 years, eight of those as its president. Bardsley was replaced as president in 2008, and launched an unsuccessful bid for the Mayor’s office in 2009, narrowly losing to Higgins.
Tuesday’s debate was moderated by Kathy Elliott, a longtime Leeds resident. More than 100 people attended the event, and dozens of supporters for the two candidates held signs outside the school beforehand.
Despite printed and spoken announcements to the contrary on Tuesday, George Kohout of the Leeds Civic Association said that his organization had nothing to do with planning the event and were not sponsors.
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Bardsley’s Campaign Chairwoman: “Return the Waiver to the DEP”
The format for the debate seemed a work in progress, changing midstream even after the candidates began answering questions. When it came time for audience members to grill the candidates, moderator Elliott allowed whomever wanted to step forward to do so.
The first person to take hold of the microphone was Mimi Odgers, a leader of the anti-landfill group Water Not Waste, who apparently had a hand in vetting Tuesday night’s questions. Although she did not identify herself, Odgers is Bardsley’s campaign co-chairwoman.
Odgers said “a caller called in and asked about the waiver for the landfill,” and asked if the candidates would pledge to “return the waiver to the DEP.”
For those who haven’t been following every detail of the landfill story for the past six years, Odgers was referring to a 2006 ruling by the Department of Environmental Protection exempting Northampton from drinking water supply protection regulations in its bid to gain “site assignment” for expansion of the city’s regional landfill off Glendale Road.
Back then, the landfill was placed within a local aquifer protection zone as a provision of the DEP waiver. The City Council voted last year to ban landfills within such protection zones, effectively killing the expansion project.
DEP site assignment, a key step in the landfill’s permitting process, was granted to the city in 2006. (See the state’s complicated site assignment regulations and its waiver provision here.)
But opponents insist that the “waiver” is the key decision that would allow an expansion in the future — and that the waiver decision can be “returned.”
Narkewicz said that the waiver, even if it exists as a document that can be returned, has been made moot by actions taken by the city since then.
Bardsley, hitting the table for emphasis, said that he would “return the waiver,” even if he has to make a mock-up of it first.
Bike paths, Trains, Economic Development and the BID
In response to a question posed by Bardsley campaign treasurer Loretta Gougen about possible negative effects of city bike paths, including graffiti, Narkewicz said bike paths have been beneficial to the city, from students biking to and from schools, residents exercising and even eco-tourism.
“I think they’ve been very positive to the city,” Narkewicz said. “Northampton has been a leader [in creating rail trails] and I’m very proud of that.”
Bardsley hedged his answer, taking credit for helping establish rail trails during his time on the council, but calling for a review of the bike path creation process to gauge whether it could have been done better. He said questions about plowing and safety remain, suggesting he would be receptive to opponents of future bike paths.
Both candidates said they would work hard to bring new businesses to the city, and said the city’s current economic development efforts lack focus (Bardsley) and would benefit from a new advisory commission (Narkewicz). Bardsley said he would search out “green” businesses to locate here and provide new jobs; Narkewicz said zoning changes on King Street will spur development and jobs along the city’s commercial corridor.
The return of passenger rail service to the city, Narkewicz said, will bring new business activity to the city, and help link the city to the region, including a new Holyoke computing center. Bardsley warned that train service is a two-edged sword, allowing local residents to commute elsewhere for work at a time that local companies and jobs should be a priority.
Both candidates said they support the work of the Business Improvement District (BID) downtown, which picks up trash, repairs sidewalks, plants trees and hangs holiday lights downtown. Funds are provided through fees assessed to property owners who joined the group.
“I think it’s a positive thing for the city,” Narkewicz said. But he said the city — one of the largest property owners downtown — needs to fulfill its obligations under the agreement, including snow removal and equipment upgrades.
Bardsley said he opposed the final memorandum of understanding between the BID and the city a few years ago because he felt the BID would end up performing some functions the city should be doing, something he said “should ever have been part of the (agreement).”
Making Their Pitch for Votes
Both candidates vowed to open up the appointment process for city boards and commissions to bring more diversity to the government; each also said they would scrutinize the capital improvements program, and would respect union members in future contract negotiations.
In their opening and closing remarks, Narkewicz and Bardsley each painted themselves as the most qualified candidate to lead the city into the future.
Bardsley described voters as employers who must fill a mayoral vacancy by reviewing the two candidates’ resumes. He described himself as a leader with the courage, wisdom and skills to best serve the city. He said he had supported many initiatives during his long council tenure, and asserted that he is “best positioned to be an agent of change that we so desperately need.”
“I am the candidate with a positive vision” of the city, Narkewicz said, reminding voters he had been U.S. Rep. John Olver’s economic development director for the district. Finger-pointing and invoking political battles from years ago is not helpful, he said, pledging to encourage new ideas and energy to the city’s top post while initiating “a new generation of leadership.”
The election is Nov. 8, with the winner being sworn in to a two-year term on Jan. 2, 2012.
For more from Ward 7, listen to the audio contained in the above embedded playlist.
© 2011 Northampton Media
Mary Serreze and David Reid both contributed to this story.
Mary Serreze can be reached at email@example.com
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