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Briefings: López Comes into View as Challenger to Chicopee Mayor Vieau…

Delmarina López

López would be the second Ward 3 councilor to leap to the mayoralty in four years. The first is the incumbent. (handout photo)

The 413’s second city will not miss out the electoral action this year. On Thursday, Ward 3 Chicopee City Councilor Delmarina López announced she would run for mayor. The first-termer, who became the Council’s first woman of color in 2021, would be challenging incumbent mayor John Vieau.

Although politics is always simmering in Chicopee, Vieau’s mayoralty has seemingly struck a balance between the disorder and the imperiousness some saw in prior administrations. Still, Chicopee has had its political surprises in recent years and Vieau’s initial mayoral race in 2019 had been a slog. Indeed, in her announcement, López took direct aim at Vieau’s tenure.

“I’m running for Mayor because we need a leader who will put our city back on track,” López said ina  press release. “All residents deserve a voice in our city government and to know how our tax dollars are being spent.”

López charged the mayor with a lack of transparency and undermining quality of life matters. “Vieau,” she said, “has allowed crime to rise, housing costs to skyrocket, and defunded the schools, putting our future in jeopardy.”

Vieau did not immediately reply to an email requesting comment.

John Vieau

A view of Vieau as mayor. (via Chicopee City Hall)

As of Thursday, only López and Vieau have pulled papers for mayor from the City Clerk’s office. The Registrar of Voters told WMP&I that nobody has been certified to appear on the mayoral ballot yet. Signatures are due August 1.

López, an attorney and adjunct professor, won reelection in a year that saw women—and persons of color—make an overdue breakthrough on the Council. She succeeded Lucjan Galecki. He served one, tempestuous term, and retired after making controversial remarks about sexual assault and corporal punishment of children. He endorsed López.

After nearly two decades without women members, two women, López and Ward 9 Councilor Mary Beth Pniak-Costello, joined the Council. The election of López, who identifies as Afro-Latina marked a victory for the city’s growing minority population. Before then, it had gained little traction in city politics. It was something of a harbinger of Shirley Arriaga’s shock victory in the Democratic primary to succeed Chicopee State Rep Joe Wagner, the then-dean of the Western Massachusetts legislative delegation.

Before becoming mayor Vieau had actually represented Ward 3, which covers parts of the Ferry Lane and Willimansett neighborhoods, on the Council. As Council President in 2019 and long-time ward councilor, he was a favorite of Chicopee establishmentarians to succeed the retiring once-and-again mayor Richard Kos. Many city liberals backed him, too. Nevertheless, vice-principal Joseph Morrissette put up more of a fight than many expected.

Vieau’s tenure began on the eve of the COVID-19 pandemic, which dominated nearly all of his first two-year term. He won reelection without opposition in 2021.

Chicopee City Hall

Will it be a battle for the top job at Chicopee City Hall. Or will it merely be contested? (WMP&I)

Whether coincidentally or not, Vieau’s office announced on Thursday he was holding a series of neighborhood meetings to engage residents. The first is next Monday in Willmansett, not far from the ward that López and he have represented.

In a filing posted with the first of the month, Vieau reported $15,032 in his campaign committee’s bank account. Money is hardly everything as is becoming more clear in neighboring Springfield. Nonetheless, this figure puts him well ahead of where López is starting.

In her last filing with the city—councilors file campaign finance reports with the City Clerk, mayors with the state—at then end of 2022, López’s Council campaign had $2,217 in its account. She can transfer these funds into the state account she opened for the mayoral race.