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City Council

I Go To City Council Meetings #11

The Council Ponders Democracy


On Thursday, July 12, the Northampton City Council held their twelfth meeting of the year. Approximately 7 people were present.

Public Comment

Two community members asked for the resignation of Northampton Housing Authority Executive Director Cara Clifford due to the public health crisis at two public housing buildings, McDonald House and Salvo House. On May 2nd, Clifford enacted a ban on A/C window units which, according to residents, left them with substandard alternatives to provide cooling during the life-threatening temperatures of a recent heatwave.

Tom Burton, a resident of public housing, said that conditions were unacceptable at McDonald House and quipped that residents were now referring to the building as “Toasty Towers.” He pleaded for councilors to do something about the current temperatures in the building, saying that a sizable portion of the community has been affected and warning that current conditions “could turn into a tragedy very easily.” He also asked that Clifford be removed from her position saying, “This person is not fit for this job.”

Gabe, a local nurse who has met with tenants at McDonald House, dittoed Burton’s sentiment saying, “As a nurse I was taken aback. This is a public health emergency.” He also called for Clifford’s resignation saying, “She has showed incompetence around this issue and other issues.”

A member of the Mayor’s Youth Commission, which co-sponsored the Resolution to Lower the Voting Age for Northampton Municipal Elections, asked for the council to support the resolution.

Sharon Moulton shared information about an event in support of the abolition of nuclear weapons where Congressman Jim McGovern and additional candidates for state office would pledge their support for a nuclear ban. She added that the Raging Grannies would also be present to show their support.

Resolution to Lower the Voting Age for Northampton Municipal Elections

The Council voted unanimously in support of a resolution to lower the voting age for municipal elections in Northampton. The resolution “calls on the Northampton City Council to petition the Massachusetts Legislature to allow the City of Northampton to establish a minimum voting age for residents of Northampton of sixteen years for all municipal elections.” The Northampton City Charter would require a review of the Charter to lower the voting age minimum. The next Charter review will be sometime before July 1st 2019 in which a special committee determined by ordinance will conduct the review. The resolution provides a way for the council to support a lower voting age minimum until that review occurs.

Councilor Dwight, who is a co-sponsor of the resolution, introduced it saying, “We have a cohort that has a desire for agency.” He recounted past arguments against other populations that were denied suffrage, like women and African Americans, and argued that those same arguments do not hold up either when applied to 16 and 17 year old voters.

On the matter of intelligence being required for a vote, he accused Trump voters of having none, remarking, “If intelligence was the guideline, we wouldn’t have had what just happened happen.” President Trump too has used this argument against liberal democrats and even conservatives, often accusing his critics of having low I.Q.s. It remains to be seen if calling 62,984,825 million people unintelligent will result in more votes for whoever may run against Trump in 2020.

Council President, Ryan O’Donnell stressed the fluidity of law, commenting, “The rules we set up are not handed by god, they are for us to make.” He argued that more voters equal a stronger democracy saying, “The more people we have involved, the stronger it is generally, the better the results will come out of it.”

Councilor Alisa Klein stated, “I am a huge supporter of this.” She went on to share, “There is a term for young people of color: the rising American electorate. It is a bloc that constitutes 60% of eligible voters. Theoretically, to look at a national level, if we bring 16 year olds into voting, we are strengthening that rising electorate, the new face of the United States.”

Council Jim Nash thanked the youth commission saying, “Every year they come forward with something like this. The come up with game changers like the plastic bag ban and the idea to paint park benches. It is exciting. It is cool.”

Councilor Gina-Louise Sciarra shared, “This generation of young people is the only thing that gives me hope.”

Councilor O’Donnell closed the discussion before the vote saying, “Democracy is an evolving experiment.” He quoted U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis who said, “Our States are laboratories of democracy for our country,” and added, “Cities and towns can be laboratories of democracy for our state.”

I left this meeting with a couple questions:

Does the creation of a larger quantity of voters alone, necessarily create a “better democracy”? Or do we also need to throw capitalism in the trash and replace it with socialism?

Are people who call Trump voters unintelligent, unintelligent? (See how pointless and futile this questions is?)

Blair Gimma is a co-editor of The Shoestring. They are alive in Northampton, MA. 

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