At least two major western Massachusetts cities will see a change in leadership during elections this fall. Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse and Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz have both announced they will not seek re-election.
Both mayors have guided their cities through some challenging times, including the COVID-19 pandemic. Connecting Point’s Ray Hershel spoke with outgoing Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse about his decision not to run again and what’s in store for the future after leaving office.
Read the full transcript:
Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: There will be a change of leadership for at least two major western Massachusetts cities after this fall’s elections. Mayors Alex Morse of Holyoke and David Narkewicz of Northampton have announced their intentions not to seek reelection. Both mayors have guided their cities through some challenging times, including the COVID-19 pandemic.
Connecting Point’s Ray Hershel talked with each mayor about their decision to step down and future plans. And his conversation this evening is with outgoing Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse.
Mayor Alex Morse, Holyoke: I always felt like a decade was a long enough period of time to to make a difference, to leave a lasting imprint in getting us closer to some of the goal posts and goals that we set out to accomplish 10 years ago. And I feel like in many ways, we’ve accomplished those goals.
And I think it’s time and frankly, for a new perspective. And I think that’s also healthy for democracy. Elected positions aren’t lifetime appointments. And I think it’s important to have new perspectives and new voices over time. I turned thirty-two in January and I’m excited about what’s next.
Ray Hershel, Connecting Point: As you look back at your 10 years as mayor of Holyoke, Alex, what do you feel is your most proud achievement or your major accomplishments that you’re most proud of?
Mayor Alex Morse: When I think about what I’m most proud of, it’s standing up to make City Hall and the city of Holyoke an inclusive, welcoming place that focuses on equity. We now have a city government, From department heads to commissioners and volunteers, that reflects the diversity of our population.
One of the first things I did as mayor that remains to be one of the things I’m most proud of, is frankly opening up a needle exchange program that has saved countless lives here in the city of Holyoke to focus on harm reduction and tackle the obesity epidemic. I’m proud of the fact that we’ve made Holyoke a sanctuary city to protect undocumented immigrants. I’m proud of the fact that we closed the state’s last coal plant and transitioned closer to one hundred percent renewable energy here in the city.
But again, really, it’s opening up the doors of city hall to communities and people that didn’t feel like they could be part of their government.
Ray Hershel: Well your last election, when you ran for Congress against Richard Neal was a bruising campaign and bruising election, obviously. You were quoted as saying after that election that you would consider running again. Is that an option for you at this point? Would you consider running for Congress again?
Mayor Alex Morse: I would say it’s very unlikely that I would mount another campaign for Congress in the near future. I want to look forward, to continue giving back to my community. And I think I need a break from from being the candidate.
Ray Hershel: We all know what a difficult campaign that was and what a controversial one it was. In retrospect, as you look back at that campaign, Mr. Mayor, how much do you feel this whole issue with the controversy over UMass and reaching out to students there through social media impacted that campaign? Was that a game changer?
Mayor Alex Morse: Yeah, I think it impacted the campaign. You know, it was a it was a grueling 14 month campaign. We crisscrossed the district and I, you know, don’t want to get caught up in the in the noise that happened at the end.
But I think we ended on a on a high note. I mean, we engaged thousands of voters. We got nearly forty two percent of the vote and got to know and build relationships and give a voice to many people that hadn’t been part of government on that level. And I frankly ran because, you know, after being mayor for so many years, I wanted to help communities like Holyoke that have been forgotten about by our federal government.
Ray Hershel: Now, there are some serious issues and challenges, obviously, facing you over your next year before you leave office. Certainly one of them is the the COVID-19 pandemic.
At this point, how has that impacted the city of Holyoke in terms of public health, in terms of economic development? And where does Holyoke stand now, as far as COVID-19 is concerned, and getting your citizens vaccinated?
Mayor Alex Morse, Holyoke: Yeah, so we’re all-hands on deck. Like a lot of local communities, the issue stems from the state on down. There’s a lack of supply. Happy to see the Biden Administration moving quickly to supply states with higher supplies of vaccines. And we’re doing the best we can to vaccinate as many people as possible.
But frankly, we’re just waiting for guidance from the governor and from the Department of Public Health as to when we can really vaccinate other categories of folks. And so, unfortunately, it’s been slower than we’d like and more restrictive than we’d like, in western Massachusetts, including Holyoke. You know, I don’t think it’s getting as much attention as eastern Mass. I’m grateful for folks in the state delegation for for raising their voice.
Ray Hershel: Certainly, one of the most difficult issues has been the the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home in the seventy six veterans who lost their lives due to COVID. We are just learning that Governor Baker is going ahead with a bond bill to construct a new Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, your thoughts on that and the need for a new home?
Mayor Alex Morse: It’s long overdue. It’s been divested from for years, and really happy to see that a plan is advancing to invest in a new facility. Thankful to the advocates that push to increase the number of beds from the preliminary plan that the state released.
And I also just want to note, a bond bill is great, but it’s a bond bill. Once you get into a bond bill, you still need the authorization to spend that money. There is hundreds of millions of dollars in bond bills over the last decade that was never actually allocated to to be spent. And so, my hope is that it starts with a bond bill, and then quickly is authorized by the governor to actually spend that money and make a new home possible as soon as we possibly can.
Ray Hershel: And Mayor, as you get set to leave office at the end of the year, any final message, any thoughts for the people of Holyoke?
Mayor Alex Morse, Holyoke: Through the ups and downs, the challenges, the successes, I, just again, want to thank the people of Holyoke for trusting in me, for electing me four times to be your mayor. And I look forward to to continue giving back to my community and in other ways and watching this election in the months to come for my successor.