NORTHAMPTON — There are competitive elections next Tuesday in two City Council races in Northampton: a four-way contest for two at-large seats and a write-in candidate challenging a candidate on the ballot in Ward 3.
Running for the two at-large seats are current at-large Councilor Marissa Elkins, current Ward 4 Councilor Garrick Perry, longtime former councilor David Murphy and Roy Martin, who has been president of the Walter Salvo Tenants Association and has unsuccessfully run for mayor 10 times. The other current at-large councilor, Jamila Gore, is not seeking reelection.
Originally, there were only three candidates on the ballot after Elkins filed her nomination papers with the Board of Registrars but failed to pick them back up and file them with the clerk’s office as was customary. But then City Clerk Pamela Powers, who is also a member of Northampton’s Board of Registrars, reversed that decision based on a 2011 court case in which a candidate for elected office in Westport also failed to bring his papers from the board of registrars to the town clerk’s office. In that case, a judge ruled in favor of the candidate since the town clerk was also a member of the board of registrars.
Expecting that Elkins would file a lawsuit to get on the ballot — and that a judge would likely rule in her favor based on that 2011 precedent — Powers decided to reverse course and allow her on the ballot, according to emails obtained through a public records request. Powers made the same decision for Richard Aquadro, a candidate for the Smith Vocational and Agricultural School board of trustees who was in a similar predicament.
“I believe that the exclusion of an otherwise duly qualified candidate based solely on … a narrow interpretation of election procedures creates more barriers to participate in our democracy, not less,” Powers wrote to both candidates at the time. “This is a rare instance where a clerk can define a process in favor of greater involvement by all.”
In addition to the at-large seats, there are now two candidates running for the Ward 3 seat that outgoing City Council President Jim Nash is vacating. Court stenographer and former professional cellist Quaverly Rothenberg is the only candidate on the ballot. However, on Oct. 12, longtime neighborhood resident and former School Committee member Claudia Lefko announced she was launching a write-in campaign to challenge Rothenberg.
In the at-large race, it has been Elkins and Perry who have raised and spent the most money, according to campaign finance records that Powers released online on Friday morning.
This year through the end of October, Elkins raised $2,551 in campaign cash and spent $575 of it, most of which on a campaign kick-off event and registering for the Northampton Education Foundation spelling bee.
Perry raised $1,675 in addition to the $2,590 that was previously in his campaign coffers. He spent $3,018 mostly on mailers from the worker-owned Collective Copies and yard signs from the local Sunraise Printing.
Murphy has raised and spent only $179 on campaign pins and a website.
In Ward 3, Rothenberg has raised $7,057, the most in any race for City Council. Nearly all of that money came from her own pockets. She spent $5,000 on graphic design work with the local firm Amiga Negra and another $1,057 on lawn signs from CopyCat in Northampton.
Powers said that several candidates had yet to submit their campaign finance filings, despite a recent deadline. The city’s website didn’t have disclosures for Martin or Lefko. In an email, Lefko said that she has spent around $100 of her own money on flyers. Powers said that Martin has put $197 of his own funds toward his campaign but hasn’t spent any of it yet.
Elsewhere on the ballot, incumbents Stanley Moulton, Alex Jarrett, Marianne Labarge and Rachel Maiore aren’t facing competition in wards 1, 5, 6, and 7, respectively. Newcomers Deborah Pastrich-Klemer and Jeremy Dubs are also running uncontested in wards 2 and 4.
The following are the candidates’ answers to the same questions, in the same order as they appear on the ballot.
A lifelong resident of Ward 5, David Murphy spent 14 years as that ward’s city councilor until 2019, when he was defeated at the ballot box by Alex Jarrett. He owns his family real estate business, The Murphys Realtors.
Murphy highlighted his experience in city government. He currently chairs the city’s Board of Assessors and served as the chair of the City Council’s Finance Committee when he was in office.
“If this was a job interview for this position, given my experience and my knowledge, I’d be starting next Monday,” he said.
In the past, Murphy has criticized the City Council’s decision in 2020 — in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests following the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis — to cut the Northampton Police Department’s budget by 10%. At the time, he said the police department and city “don’t have the problems here you see on the nightly news.”
Murphy said Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra has herself pointed out that, with residents expecting more from their city governments than just traditional services, municipal finances have grown more complex. He said residents now want their city to focus on bigger issues like climate change. He said that if the city is going to be creating new departments, like Sciarra did this year with the birth of the city’s Climate Action and Project Administration, a tax increase is going to be necessary.
“There’s going to be a real money problem and I know the money side,” he said.
Murphy said he cares about the city, where he traces his lineage back to his great great grandfather. Though he has given campaign donations to Republican candidates on the state and federal level, in addition to contributions to local Democrats, he often bills himself as “apolitical.”
Murphy said that if elected, he would also push hard for mandatory in-person meetings of the City Council. Councilors and the public can currently participate remotely, which many have said increases participation in, and accessibility to, city government to a more diverse group of people. Murphy, though, said that with city councilors increasing their own pay this year to $16,931 — an effort to increase the diversity of candidates running for office — they had an obligation to show up in person.
“They got really comfy sitting at home on Zoom, but that ain’t good government,” he said, pointing out that the city also offers councilors health insurance. “One would like to think you’d haul your ass down to Council chambers and go to a meeting.”
A local defense attorney and parent of a child in the city’s public schools, Marissa Elkins served on the Planning Board before she was elected to serve on the City Council in 2021. She said she is running for reelection because she has enjoyed her work on the City Council so far but that there is much more to do.
“I’m particularly interested in issues of this being a sustainable, equitable place to live,” Elkins said. “That we are making choices to do the best we can to live to the values that we coalesce around.”
In particular, Elkins pointed to her role as one of the City Council’s appointees to Commission to Study Racialized Harm, which emerged from a resolution she co-sponsored to investigate racial injustices against Black people and explore reparations in Northampton. She said that work has brought together a wide range of people to talk about actual steps the city can take to be more welcoming and “to atone where appropriate” for past wrongs.
Elkins also highlighted her support of the city’s work to become more sustainable and resilient in the face of climate change. And she said she’s interested in continuing to explore how the city can be innovative in meeting the housing and shelter crisis it is facing.
“I think I have an optimistic view of where Northampton can be,” she said. “I am sincere, and I believe that folks in Northampton are sincere, in pursuing the values that we talk about and that are reflected by who we elect and the policies we get behind. I’m not sure that’s true of everyone who is running.”
Elkins, who is a managing partner in her law firm, is the president of the Hampshire County Bar Advocate Board of Directors. She has also previously led the Hampshire County Bar Association.
Elkins describes herself on her website as a “dedicated progressive.” She said city residents have made clear that they want changes to the way policing is done, a more humane and compassionate approach to public safety, and a city that is welcoming to people across the economic spectrum. And as an elected official, she said that she wants to pursue as much of that as is possible within the limits of the budget.
“I’m interested in how we can maximize the tools of municipal government to move the city forward,” she said. “Not constantly being the voice that constantly says: ‘We can’t, we won’t.’”
A longtime resident of Walter Salvo House, Roy Martin has been president of the public-housing building’s tenants association. He has run for mayor unsuccessfully 10 times, often citing issues like homelessness and the downtown economy in his campaigns.
Martin said that he is now running for City Council because he wants to gain experience working on the city budget. He said he wants to learn from other councilors and city officials about the hard work that goes into the budget and to take part in that work himself. He said he has had some experience looking into budgets at the Northampton Housing Authority.
“We have got to do something to help the poor and we have to do something about people being able to stay in their homes,” Martin said.
Martin said that the amount of homelessness he sees in the city concerns him and he would want to work to address that. He said the city needs to help people struggling with drug addiction get into detox units and rehab if they want to go.
Martin said that what sets him apart from others running for the position is that he is from the poorer part of town.
“I’d like to be city councilor at large so that I can help the people of the city of Northampton,” he said.
Retired now, Martin has previously worked in everything from fishing and oil-rig jobs to running a pet supply store. He himself was able to get sober in Northampton, he told the Daily Hampshire Gazette in 2021, and has also previously been homeless living out of his pickup truck in Northampton. In his bids for mayor, he often said helping others in similar situations was a priority.
If elected, Martin said he would also prioritize helping homeowners stay in their houses.
“They’re being driven out of their homes because their taxes are so high,” he said. “People are not getting younger, they’re getting older.”
Taking care of the city’s older residents is also a point of concern for Martin.
“I would define myself as being a man that is supporting of the people,” he said. “Not a Republican, not a Democrat, not an independent. But people. All the people.”
A local musician who has worked in the music and service industries locally for more than two decades, Garrick was elected as the Ward 4 city councilor in 2021. This time, he’s hoping to be elected to an at-large seat.
“I’m running again for my love of Northampton,” he said. “But also, I think that Northampton is at a crossroads.”
Some of the big issues facing the city, Perry said, related to the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic brought to the city’s arts, culture and cuisine sectors. Perry has worked at Bishop’s Lounge, Sylvester’s, Union Station and other local service-industry jobs. He said his experience living and working downtown, and performing vocals in the local group The Alchemystics, give him unique and valuable experience to tackle those problems. That includes the redesign of Main Street and working to boost the city’s entertainment, art and tourism industries.
“In Northampton, for the most part, we are all invested in our city,” he said. “You don’t have to compete with folks. It’s really about building rapport and community building … That’s something I’ve been doing for the last 20 years.”
Perry said that he decided to run for an at-large seat instead of the Ward 4 seat because “representation matters.”
“Councilor Gore was the first woman of color to represent at large,” he said. “The harsh reality is that I’m only the second African-American male to be on the council.”
Perry also pointed to his experience as a renter as an important one in a city where so many people rent.
Perry pointed to his work with Elkins as one of the City Council’s appointees to the Commission to Study Racialized Harm. He said that talking about the harms and wrongs that the city has done is difficult but necessary work.
“It’s about education,” he said. “It’s about community building.”
Perry said that his job as a councilor has been about finding ways for people in the city to engage with each other and come together for the greater good.
“That has always colored my approach to this work — finding ways to listen to my neighbors, my friends, my constituents,” he said. “But also bridge gaps and also bring folks together so we can have some difficult conversations.”
Perry is currently working as the general manager of Jackalope Restaurant in Springfield. He said his work background and continued focus on the economic dynamic of entertainment make him uniquely suited to helping craft a vision of the Northampton of the future.
“Having a vision of what the city and the area looks like is going to be important,” he said.
Ward 3 race
From childhood until she was in her late 20s, Quaverly Rothenberg traveled the world as a classically trained, professional cellist. She said that if elected, her approach would mirror that of the best conductors of orchestras who “trust, encourage and inspire the players.”
“When they put their baton down and just listen, that’s what’s happening,” she said. “True leadership has nothing to do with control. It’s really about valuing every individual’s wholehearted participation.”
Rothenberg has lived in Northampton for a decade and works as a court stenographer. She has served on the Bridge Street School Council and the Ward 3 Neighborhood Association. She said that she is running as somebody who can bridge divides that have grown between the City Council, constituents and City Hall.
“I have sensed a bit of a divide and impasse on some issues in Northampton where our dialogue has really broken down,” she said. People have not wanted to talk to each other, she added. “They just want to win on whatever their issue is. And I think that’s really a bridge I can help repair.”
Rothenberg said that she isn’t scared of engaging with differing factions within the city — for example, she said, those who are scared of the police and those who are scared of a world without police. She also singled out another issue in Ward 3 she said she could handle diplomatically: the divide between residents who want historical preservation and the city’s desire for more dense housing.
“That’s a place where I understand both perspectives and I think there is room for compromise,” she said.
Another issue Rothenberg said she wants to advocate around is public-school funding, expressing dissatisfaction with the budget cuts city officials approved earlier this year. She said she wants to see Bridge Street School get more equitable funding for the unique role it plays in the city’s school system.
Rothenberg said that she sees many City Council votes approving the mayor’s proposals overwhelmingly with only the occasional, small block of “no” voters.
“This City Council has the opportunity to have more constructive pushback with the mayor’s office,” she said.
Rothenberg said she was somebody “born to make waves without making enemies.” And she said that in order for the city to move forward on important issues, people need to get out of their “silos” and engage one another. She said that she’s the person for that job.
“We need that combination of courage and diplomacy,” she said.
A resident of Ward 3 since 1977, Lefko has previously served on the School Committee for three terms. She has worked as an activist on a range of issues including advocacy work with the Iraqi Children’s Art Exchange. She said she launched her write-in campaign to give voters a choice.
The biggest issue for Lefko, she said, is a decline in citizen participation in city government ever since the last change to Northampton’s charter, in 2021. She also decried what she described as the city’s focus on downtown at the expense of the surrounding areas of the city.
“I feel like there has been so much funding, so much focus, about Main Street,” she said. “Meanwhile the neighborhoods are suffering.”
She has helped lead a group of residents and business owners expressing dissatisfaction with the city’s Picture Main Street redesign, which is aimed at increasing road safety and accessibility to downtown. She said that federal coronavirus recovery funds could have been better spent elsewhere, pointing to a child-care business in her neighborhood that applied but didn’t receive ARPA funding despite a “childcare crisis” locally.
Lefko said that her longer history of activism in the city would be a strength if elected to the City Council.
“My opponent has been casting herself as an ambassador, and I don’t see myself as an ambassador, necessarily,” she said. “The city council has been a get-along, go-along group and what we actually need is advocacy.”
Lefko said she has a strong reputation for advocating for her neighborhood’s residents. She has been a critic of so-called in-fill development, which has resulted in the building of denser housing units in her ward, she said. She said that it used to be easier for regular citizens to work with elected officials on issues, but that nowadays it’s difficult to even meet with them.
“When a citizen approaches the city with an idea, they mostly don’t bother,” she said. Instead, she said, it is “the heavy hand of downtown and the downtown offices in town” that receive the city’s attention.
Lefko said that she is a believer in “humane urbanism” and that the city has ultimately acted against her neighborhood’s best interests. She was an outspoken critic of a developer’s project at 107 Williams St., where a house was demolished to build a building with eight condos despite the concerns around traffic, stormwater and other issues that Lefko and her allies raised.
“They work against us and it shows up not just at 107 Williams but in other ways where they don’t listen to us, they don’t do what we ask them to do,” she said.
Update: This article has been updated to correct the ward that Garrick Perry currently represents, which is Ward 4. Information has also been added about the fundraising efforts of Roy Martin and Claudia Lefko.
Dusty Christensen is an independent investigative reporter based in western Massachusetts. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @dustyc123.
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