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Endorsements on Parade: Holyoke Decisions with Double the Mayor…

Which one? (WMassP&I)

Are the stakes low in Holyoke’s mayoral election? Not in the least. The city will be, for the first time, electing a mayor for four years. That person will have twice the time to imprint their agenda onto the city before facing voters again. At the same time, the tone and tenor of this election, while heated, has not been a race to the bottom in terms of decency or hysteria.

In a way, the race has been astonishingly normal. Incumbent Alex Morse and former City Councilor Jason Ferreira have come to blows over issues, employ hyperbole, and point out each other’s flaws. But politics is rough and combative, though the apocalyptic rhetoric of the last two elections has been absent.

While we credit both candidates for adjourning from the gutter this year, we endorse Alex Morse for reelection as mayor.

Jason Ferreira at his kickoff. His campaign has avoided the most apocalyptic rhetoric of past Morse challengers.

Ferreira has waged a campaign about public safety and improved economic development. He has promised to overcome the division between the mayor’s office and the Council. Otherwise, they agree a lot. For example, both backed the Community Preservation Act debate referendum and wanted a less Council-dominated CPA committee. Importantly, while some Ferreira supporters are fellow travelers to discrimination, this blog believes the former Ward 4 councilor rejects such outlooks and embraces the city’s diversity.

Ferreira’s issues are fair, but his critiques fall a bit flat. Public safety debates revolve around the January 1 fire where three people lost their lives. Despite numerous investigations, few in a position of professional assessment but the Holyoke Firefighters union has said fire department staffing levels were a cause of the death toll.

This compels us to view the issue through the lens of a labor dispute. It doesn’t mean the Firefighter lack a point—who doesn’t want more first responders?—but it suggests Holyoke is not, for now, in a state of immediate risk above that of other similarly situated Gateway Cities.

As for economic development, many mayors have been challenged by this, and neither Ferreira nor Morse can themselves overcome the region’s stagnation. That said, projects both big and small, like Gary Rome Hyundai and the canal walk, are coming online. Morse has taken a more holistic approach, such as the SPARK initiative, since his first term rather than betting on big splashy proposals (are you listening Springfield?).  Ferreira’s complaints about business-friendliness are anecdotal and impossible to measure. However, Morse would be wise to take them seriously.

It was finished during the last term, but the Canal Walk is an example of the way Holyoke’s economic development table has been set. (via Holyoke Redevelopment Authority)

Our only complaint with Ferreira is his imbibing the recent contributions apoplexy. It’s nonsense. We said our piece on this in our Council endorsements. This blog will only add that Morse is a prodigious fundraiser. We abhor America’s campaign finance system, but it also means Morse can and does raise far too much for any one business or industry’s contributions to sway him.

Morse and his allies’ fairest criticism is the undeveloped nature of Ferreira’s alternative. In terms of spirit and dedication, Ferreira has no deficit. But the alternative mayoralty he proposes is vague. The how is not there.

As for Council relations, Ferreira may not face the same outright hostility from the legislative branch. But Ferreira knows well that the Council’s ideologues, cynics and grumps are a problem. They would gladly try to nuke Ferreira, unfairly, the moment they sense—or hallucinate—their ox is about to be gored.

Alex Morse at his kickoff. (WMassP&I)

After six years, Morse has not been perfect. We do not allege that any more than we did in 2013 or 2015. But the fact is Holyoke has changed under his administration and for the better.

Approaches to issues are modern. Technology and innovation are going into making City Hall more accessible. Simple things, like a new website, facilitate the growing transparency City Clerk Brenna McGee has implemented.

Holyoke’s civic virtue began to improve well before Morse. Yet his widening the pool from which to appoint boards and commissions has fostered residents’ ownership of the city.

If we were to fault Morse for any of the things his critics press him most on, like finances and public safety, it is for not pushing back enough. Morse should demand the Council identify the cuts necessary to finance alternate Fire Department staffing.

The same goes for the budget generally. Morse could send the Council a budget that pulls Holyoke out of its cycle of mid-year fiscal balancing.  However, to do so the Council might need to give up its cherished Water Commission appointments or face a year of political pain while the budget recalibrates.

This blog guesses the Council would prefer not to leave even a scratch on those oxen.

With Democrats at a low ebb, Morse seems unlikely to be going anywhere soon.  Indeed, he has spoken about serving as mayor for about a decade, which would bring him to the end of this four-year term. He would be wise to take that time to call his critics’ bluff.

But he should also reach out to them. If this contest really has been somewhat cordial, Morse should invite from Ferreira—and Ferreira should provide, as we believe he would—input as to who’s being left behind and left out.

Likewise, Morse should extend a hand (again) to his fiercest opponents in and out of government—and then document it. That way, if they still claim he’s being too cliquey, Morse can refute it.

It is hard to peer too far into Holyoke’s future. This blog believes the 413’s fate is increasingly out of its hands. Rather it is in Beacon Hill’s, except to the extent that the West chooses to engage. That doesn’t abrogate local responsibility. But in reviewing the factors within local control, Morse has done well.

(Via Facebook/Morse campaign-Rob Deza)

We recommend Alex Morse for reelection as mayor of Holyoke this Tuesday November 7.