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 Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz about his decision to step down and his future plans.
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 talks with each mayor about their decision to step down and future plans. And he begins tonight by speaking with outgoing Northampton mayor David Narkewicz.
David Narkewicz, Northampton Mayor: I’ve had the great honor of serving now, what will be over two decades in municipal government in Northampton. And I feel that it was time for me to step back and to allow other folks to step forward and bring their ideas and their energy to help lead our city forward.
Ray Hershel, Connecting Point: Well, Mayor, you’ve got nearly a year left on your term. At this point in time, do you have any ideas of what your future might hold, in terms of either the private and public sector?
David Narkewicz: I don’t have a clear idea. I mean, I’ve been involved in public policy and public service of one form or another my entire adult life, whether my prior career as a congressional aide, I was also in the in the Air Force. And so I’m, you know, I’m going to serve out the remainder of my year. I’m going to work as hard as I can for the people of Northampton, and try to finish some of the some big projects that I want to get accomplished before my term ends.
And then I’ll — then I’ll assess what’s out there, whether it’s public or private sector. I think I have some some skills that might be helpful to to an organization or company, and I’ll just take it there. But I don’t have anything clear, clearly mapped out now and certainly not running for office. That’s one thing I think I can say with great clarity. I’m not seeking any additional elected offices.
Ray Hershel: Mayor Narkewicz, how difficult has this past year been as mayor of Northampton? Has this been the most difficult year that you’ve served as the city’s mayor?
David Narkewicz: I can’t imagine there’s a mayor anywhere in America who wouldn’t say that COVID, you know, serving during COVID, was not the most challenging. I mean, just — it’s just obviously a once-in-a-century pandemic. And and it has challenged us.
But in many ways, I think it’s, for me at least, it’s affirmed the work that we do. And it’s made me proud of the people that I’ve appointed to key positions in public safety and public health. And I think we’ve risen to the challenge and worked really hard to protect our residents and and make decisions, sometimes without a lot of information, but make decisions in the best interest of the city.
So, it’s been challenging. But I also feel like, you know, this is what I’ve prepared for. And when you’re mayor, part of taking that oath is being able to lead in unknown situations. And so I feel like I’m proud of this work that we’ve done. And I, you know, we’re obviously still not out of the woods yet.
But yes, definitely the most challenging. But at the same time, in many ways, I think gratifying because I feel like we have done a really strong job. And it’s a testament to the men and women who work for our city and train for these things and and have really come through in the clutch.
Ray Hershel: Mayor, could you talk a little bit about the specific challenges that you faced as mayor of Northampton during COVID as it relates, for example, to your budget to the local economy? Just how much of an impact has COVID had on that?
David Narkewicz, Northampton Mayor: Most definitely. I mean, Northampton, more than than most communities, does derive a large percentage of revenue from revenue sources like meals tax and hotel/motel tax. More recently, cannabis taxes. And so obviously parking, because we have a pretty large parking system and we rely on visitors to come to Northampton for shows and for restaurants and retail. So, that piece of it has been very challenging.
You know, we have seen significant drops. You know, some of these revenue sources are, you know, down 70 and 80 percent where they would have been, you know, a year ago this time. So, that made us have to make some some difficult decisions during the last budget. And we’re now in the middle of the process for the upcoming July 1st budget. And again, we’re trying to make some similar decisions.
And then just our local economy generally, because Northampton is heavily based on restaurants, retail, service economy, education, obviously higher education, as well as the many performance venues we have, from the Calvin to the Academy of Music. Many of those have been closed or severely limited. So, it’s affected the larger economy as well. So, it’s it’s definitely been a major component of this and a major challenge to try to build budgets during.
Ray Hershel: Mayor Narkewicz, as you look back over your many years in office in Northampton, what would you say are your biggest accomplishments? What have you been most proud of as a mayor?
David Narkewicz, Northampton Mayor: It’s been challenging economically. And so one of the things that I think I’ve been very successful at is really trying to help build stability, in terms of financial stability for our city. When I when I got elected, we were just coming out of the last Great Recession. And so we were facing, you know, challenging budgets and depleted reserves.
So, I’ve really made it a hallmark of my administration to try to rebuild and prepare for the next, you know, the next time that we face this. Little did I know we’d be preparing for COVID-19. But even then, we come in into COVID-19 in very strong financial condition.
And all the other things that we try to do as a city, whether it’s funding high quality schools or building bike trails, or preserving open space or, you know, having a robust arts program, all of that comes back to having financial stability and the ability to actually fund those programs and fund those values that a budget really represents.
Ray Hershel: Yeah, you’ve successfully, of course, steered the city toward approving tax overwrites, Prop two and a half overwrites, I think, twice in terms of the the city finances. And you went through a charter change as well.
What would your message be as you complete your last term in office here for the people of Northampton? What message would you like to leave them with?
David Narkewicz: Really just thanking them for this honor. I mean, it’s it’s been, you know, an incredible honor and privilege. I mean, Northampton is a great city. And we have, you know, we have so much — so many positive things happening in our community, even in the midst of of COVID.
It’s really, you know, shown us how people come together, whether it’s people volunteering to support those in need, or volunteering to help feed people, or volunteering to help people get vaccinated. I mean, it’s just a great community. So, it’s been an honor to lead this community and to hopefully lead it in a in a forward and positive direction. And so I thank everyone who supported me and gave me that opportunity over these 10 years.