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Mayoral candidates get last word before vote

Date: 9/13/2013

By G. Michael Dobbs

HOLYOKE – Candidates took advantage of the near capacity audience filling the multi-purpose room of the Holyoke Senior Center on Sept. 12 as the last word before the Sept. 17 preliminary election.

The event was sponsored by the Holyoke Golden Senior Citizens Club, which invited all of the candidates running in this year’s election. They were given a maximum of three minutes to address the audience, Anne Leblanc of the club said.

Prior the event, the candidates went around the tables of seniors, shaking hands, dropping off brochures and other items. Mayoral candidate James Stanek brought his wife and a sure attention-getter, the couple’s newborn child.

The stars of the event were the candidates for mayor including incumbent Mayor Alex Morse along with challengers Daniel Boyle, James Stanek, James Santiago, and former Mayor Daniel Szostkiewicz.

Speaking in the order they signed in, Santiago was the first. He emphasized his background as a businessman and a veteran of the Air Force.

Santiago said, “We need to change how we look at Holyoke.

Citing the tough neighborhoods in which he lived a child, he said, “I come from the most beautiful neighborhoods of the world … they make Holyoke look like a baby.”

Santiago said the he would work as mayor to address blighted buildings, see to build houses on vacant lots and work on repairing brownfields. He predicted that once investors “hear work is being done we won’t have to go after them, they’ll co after us.”

He added that “education and job creation works together” and what the city has done in the past educationally has not worked.

Boyle, who ran against both Elayne Pluta and Alex Morse opened with the sentence, “if I had been elected in the last two elections there would 150 new jobs, $500,000 in new taxes and we would be in contention of a new casino.”

Boyle, whose background is in business, said if elected he wouldn’t just demolish one or two buildings to make room for new growth but rather “tear down blocks for light industrial use.”

Casting himself the opposite of Morse, Boyle said he was in favor of a Walmart in Holyoke and said the city could use 340 new jobs and new tax revenue. He admitted Whiting Farms Road “may not be the right sport but I would engage Walmart about their proposal.”

He would also speak to Big Y about building a supermarket in the city.

“This is the second time Big Y has received mixed signals from Holyoke city government, “ Boyle charged.

He said he wants to make Holyoke “truly business friendly.”

Political newcomer Stanek stressed his Holyoke roots and discussed his business background including the building of a call center business in Maine.

“With over 15 years experience as a comptroller and chief financial officer I bring a lot to the table, ” he said.

He said the city has to attract new businesses to Have to increase its taxable base and that a mayor “must push our city government for self-improvement and must be must be responsible

“I have the skill set necessary to get the job done,” he said.

Szostkiewicz, who served as mayor for two terms ending in 1999, joked about not wearing a suit. Pointing out his mother in the audience he asked people to tell her it was all right he wasn’t in business attire.

He said that he knew many of the people in the audience own their homes and are on a fixed income. Any increase in expenses is difficult, he added.

Szostkiewicz noted that Holyoke reaching its tax levy ceiling and said, “It’s really going to get difficult.”

Of the $11 million in the city’s “rainy day account,” he said his administration contributed $8 million.

The distinction between him and the other candidates he offered is his experience as mayor for four years and as a city councilor for six years.

Pointing out the window at the Churchill neighborhood he said he was most proud of his successful efforts to bring Hope Six funding to the city that demolished and rebuilt the Jackson Parkway area.

He said the job of mayor just does not require a financial background.

Alluding to events more than a decade ago, Szostkiewicz said he made “bone-headed decisions in 1999.

“I’m older now and I got my personal life in order,” he added.

Morse was the last to speak and said “It has been an incredible honor to be your mayor over the last year and half.”

A native of Holyoke, Morse said that unlike many of the city’s young people, he decided to return to his hometown after college.

With almost one term under his belt, he said, “Things are moving ion the right direction.”

He cited improvements in education and public safety with the three police substation opened and the return of bike and foot patrols. He noted that 2012 was the first homicide free year in 25 years.

He believes part of his role is being the city’s “chief marketing officer – no matter where I am I take every opportunity to talk about how great this city is.”

Ne observed that in a year from now, Holyokers would be able to board Amtrak in the city.

He said downtown is cleaner and that, with an emphasis on encouraging the creative economy, more people are coming downtown.

He told the audience the city needs “a consistent stable vision in the mayor’s office and that’s what you have right now.”