In Holyoke, Dialing “M” for Morse (and Perhaps Momentum)…
UPDATED 5/31/15 1:24AM: For grammary and clarity.
HOLYOKE—Beginning his campaign for a third term in a room filled with supporters at the Delaney House, Mayor Alex Morse called on residents to keep up the momentum he and his partisans say have brought change and coaxed this famously old-school city toward new thinking on the issues bedeviling it.
The 26 year-old chief executive defended his record by rattling off accomplishments during his 40 months in office and all but daring rivals to define their alternative as something other than naysaying.
“We’re running for something,” he said during a brief interview.
But the tone also served as a warning not to take the election for granted. “Despite overwhelming voices to the contrary,” Morse said in his prepared remarks, as “folks who seem to enjoy discussing what is wrong with Holyoke” lined up to attack him.
So far three candidates have announced their intention to challenge Morse including Ward 2 Councilor Anthony Soto, Ward 1 School Committee member Mildred Lefebvre and home care mogul Francis O’Connell. Another candidate has pulled papers, but has also taken them out for other offices.
At the event’s start at the Delaney House off, Morse and his fiancé Edwin Cruz-Vargas—whom Morse later joked got a better applause than himself—greeted a steady stream of guests. Attendees ranged from longtime allies like Rep. Aaron Vega and Councilor Jossie Valentin and Council adversary turned frenemy Kevin Jourdain, the body’s president. Mark Riffenburg, who faces Jourdain in the Ward 6 race was present as well.
Other high-profile guests included Hampden Sheriff Michael Ashe, former state senator Brian Lees, Patrick Leahy, a city police officer who ran for state senate last year and several councilors including David Bartley, James Leahy and Rebecca Lisi.
Former Holyoke mayor Martin Dunn introduced Morse, praising his “energy, charisma and resilience.”
“In most instances he is still doing it with a smile on his face,” Dunn remarked to laughs.
Possessing an air of incumbency that seemed more tenuous last time, Morse enters this campaign with more strength. Later-breaking controversies in 2012 hovered over him until the 2013 primary when he failed to clear 50% of the vote before rallying to defeat Jeffrey Stanek by eight points.
One of the biggest complaints from Morse’s opponents this time around all but imploded yesterday when Attorney General Maura Healey’s office declined a Council request to investigate the separation agreement between the city and ex-City Solicitor Heather Egan. In a letter, deputy chief of the AG’s government bureau, Juliana deHaan Rice, said the agreement did not seem unusual.
Rice’s wrote that the Council’s letter “does not suggest what legal provisions, if any, the agreement may have violated.” Masslive first reported the AG’s response Tuesday.
Critics have also zeroed in on the state takeover of the schools in this often struggling old mill city. However, Morse’s School Committee vote is only one of 10 and problems date back years, if not decades. Time has diminished any weaknesses related to his youth while perceptions of indecisiveness have been reframed—positively—as deliberation.
Theresa Cooper-Gordon, a city resident and activist said his willingness to change his mind based on evidence rather than stubbornly holding a position was a plus. “It is very healthy,” she said. With Morse, “it is all about the process. I just love that.”
For himself Morse said the importance of this election lies in advancing work that had already been done. “It’s a choice between continuing the momentum and progress” or not, he told WMassP&I.
Morse noted that many of the supporters there Wednesday night were on board in 2011, but he and his campaign were seeing to expand his coalition within the city.
Although he mentioned several priorities and accomplishments in his speech, when asked, Morse narrowed them down to focusing on downtown revitalization and opening the doors to City Hall to more people beyond the usual suspects.
On the latter point, he emphasized, “People feel like this is their community.”
It is still quite early in the campaign season and much of the voting public tunes out during the summer months. However, the Morse campaign apparatus has been gearing up. His campaign finance team from 2013 is already in place.
But among those at the kickoff, who seemingly cut across the New/Old Holyoke divide, there was a sense that Morse’s administration represented a different way of doing things.
Chris Hopewell, a Morse-appointed Fire Commissioner with a long background in emergency medical response, said the mayor “never has indicated any politics that affect any motions or policy.”
“That shows character and leadership,” Hopewell continued. “He’s letting us do our job.”
To let Morse keep his job, he and his backers now begin the work to convince voters.