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How Garcia Could Go from Prelim Silver Medal to Holyoke Mayoral Champ…

Garcia Campaign Office

Photos at Garcia’s campaign office. Can he add an inauguration portrait to the collage? (WMP&I)

HOLYOKE—A little over three weeks ago, Joshua Garcia, a former School Committee member and Blandford’s Town Administrator, roared into the November 2 mayoral general election here. Yet, Garcia still placed second in the initial round. At-large Councilor Michael Sullivan was first. Sullivan has benefited from a unified right while a mix of interests to his left fractured in the seven-candidate prelim.

To win, Garcia must coalesce disparate elements and interests in Holyoke. That process had begun almost immediately after the September 21 preliminary. Garcia has been fundraising. A reformist political action committee is backing him and like-minded down ballot candidates, partly to counter a PAC behind Sullivan and his slate. Yet, more work lies ahead.

“When we come together, that’s what’s going to help us win this race,” he told supporters at his office opening earlier this month, urging them to volunteer. “And that’s the message we’re going to focus on, as well as my experience and what I bring to the table and how we’re going to solve the whole problem.”

Few expect the gangbusters turnout Holyoke experienced during the first three of former Mayor Alex Morse’s four campaigns. Some 5156 voters cast valid ballots in Holyoke’s preliminary. Voters will undoubtedly turn out better in the general, but the election could still turn on relatively small margins.

Sullivan’s camp appears to be projecting some confidence. On preliminary night he called his six-point or 300-vote edge of Garcia a “landslide.” By comparison, Northampton City Council president Gina-Louise Sciarra bodied her opposition in that city’s mayoral preliminary. She came 39 points and over 2000 votes ahead of general election foe Marc Warner.

In the general, Sullivan has been quiet. He only spent $360 between the preliminary and the most recent report’s end on September 30. Most expenses were transaction fees. He has attended public gatherings, but vanishingly few have been campaign events. Sullivan has yet to respond to post-preliminary requests for an interview. He declined an interview with WMP&I beforehand, citing time constraints.

Garcia has been taking more visible steps in part because he must.

Erin Brunelle, now a Garcia supporter, won her at-large School Committee seat by defeating an appointed incumbent. She said face time with voters, however difficult these days, was key to winning citywide in Holyoke.

“I think the main thing is interaction with the citizens, right?” Brunelle explained. “So you have to just be door to door, you have to be interacting, you have to be at every event possible, and just meeting as many people as you can, because at the end of the day, those that you meet, they’re gonna remember your name when it comes to November.”

Josh Garcia

No joke, Garcia has been staying busy since September 21. (WMP&I)

In the nine days of the most recent reporting period that took place after the preliminary, Garcia spent $3700. Garcia held an office opening at the beginning of his month, drawing from a cross-section of the city. He has held other events since the general began and has scheduled more.

At that opening, Garcia campaign officials urged supporters to knock doors and carry his message across the city.

Though clearly leaning into the historic nature of his election—Garcia would be Holyoke’s first mayor of Puerto Rican heritage—he has emphasized a message of unity. Plus, he has doubled down on his experience in municipal management.

“All I got to do is just make sure that I stay on message, build off the message of collaboration and unity, focus on letting the people know that my experience and what we’re going to do to help solve the gaps in the city of Holyoke,” he said in a brief interview at his campaign office.

To some extent, the Latino side of the equation had a trial run last month. Some supporters think his last-minute push to gather votes in the city’s Hispanic-heavy precincts helped. Whether that or community name recognition, Garcia placed first in many of the lower wards, though turnout was also lower there.

The history of Garcia becoming Holyoke’s first Latino mayor—the Paper City is the most Puerto Rican locality outside the island itself—has appeal to both Latinos and many non-Latinos alike.

Among voters generally whether progressive or conservative, Garcia is pumping up his background in municipal services. Before becoming Blandford’s town manager, he worked in municipal services for the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission. His former boss Jim Mazik has vouched for Garcia’s work at the Commission in campaign materials.

Garcia took a forceful line on city finances during the preliminary. That prompted some pushback from other candidates who saw it as an appeal to the right. He has pointed to the need of better management across city departments, too. Nevertheless, Garcia generally gets along with city’s left. Oddly, even Holyoke’s conservative slate has edged leftward in recent weeks.

Two candidates eliminated in September have already show visible support for Garcia. Academic Gloria Caballero-Roca has attended his events. Former mayoral aide Billy Glidden wholehearted endorsed him recently.

Billy Glidden

Glidden is one of two of Garcia’s former rivals to have shown support for him in the general so far. There’s another 50% of the prelim vote out there. (WMP&I)

Citing work ahead on economic development, climate, inequality and municipal administration, said Garcia was the one who could move Holyoke on these issues. Moreover, Glidden echoed Garcia’s message on unity.

“Josh proposes a different path. We don’t have to be a city where endless conflict is the norm. We can be a city where good-faith deliberation is possible,” Glidden said in a lengthy statement he originally posted to social media.

“Josh’s Holyoke is the one I know and believe in.” Glidden continued, “A Holyoke with a place for everyone. A Holyoke whose best days are ahead. A Holyoke where you can hear words of hope and love and welcome, in English and in Spanish.”

Glidden is also the spokesperson for Holyoke Forward/Palante, the PAC spending in support of Garcia and Council candidates whom, the PAC believes, can work with him.

The most recent report for the group shows it had raised $2205 since its formation earlier this month. It has $1743 on hand. A Better Holyoke for All (sometimes styled as Keep Holyoke Affordable) has only $1500 cash on hand, most predating the prelim. The PAC originated to oppose the 2019 debt exclusion vote to finance new middle schools.

For the candidates, money is important, too. Both Garcia and his supporters are not exactly fretting about any cash disparities.

Campaign finance records show Sullivan spent over $40,000 up to the preliminary to Garcia’s $9000, a sign of the latter’s late entry into the race. The final vote gap of 6% between the two seems narrow considering the money chasm, to say nothing of unsuccessful mayoral contenders spent.

“It just goes to show you that money isn’t everything and grassroots matter and groundwork, hitting the doors, talking to constituents matters more than any ad you’re going to run on WWLP,” Brunelle said.

The Massachusetts Office of Campaign & Political Finance has some data available as soon as it hits candidate bank accounts. OCPF data show that Sullivan raised $78,000 since forming his campaign committee on March 5. Of that, over $17,000 has come from the preliminary through October 15. Garcia’s data only goes through September 30, which show him collecting another $6149. He had raised about $22444 before the preliminary.

Holyoke City Hall

The finish line looms. (WMP&I)

Money has been rolling in for Garcia, although the exact pace is unclear. Garcia has upped fundraising activities. Latino Springfield leaders headlined a fundraiser for him downriver at Dewey’s this week. He has another funder in Holyoke this week.

At his office opening this month, Garcia said he has been seeing support from all over. He, too, noted that he had survived despite a significant cash disadvantage. He has even tried to make light of it.

“Whatever we do raise, we’re gonna do what we did in the last race,” he said of the preliminary. “I joke around oftentimes, and I say we spent $9,000 in the primaries, that’s what I call responsible management.”