WESTFIELD – City Councilor Mary O’Connell has always called Ward 4 of Westfield home. As she runs for her sixth term on the City Council, she said it has been “a real pleasure” to serve her district.
O’Connell, who was first elected in 2005, said her background and experience give her an edge.
After getting an undergraduate degree in political science from Colgate University and a masters degree in urban planning from Boston University, O’Connell returned home to Westfield and eventually opened two businesses. That business background has helped give her a unique perspective, she said.
Since being elected, she has served on the Legislative and Ordinance, Personnel Action, Zoning, Planning and Development and Natural Resources committees. She has also served on the Noble Hospital Board of Trustees, the Playground Committee, which helped install a playscape in Stanley Park and the Westfield Business Improvement District.
“Basically, I feel like I’m pretty diverse,” O’Connell said. “I’m interested in a lot of different issues on the city level, not just one.”
While she has served in various subcommittees, O’Connell said she “prides herself on” constituent services and helping the residents of her ward.
“I spend a majority of my week working on constituent services. I get phone calls for everything from Water Department issues to Department of Public Works issues, tax issues, assessor issues and trees that need to come down,” she said. “That’s what I’m really proud of, meeting with people, helping them solve their problems, directing them to the right city departments. I feel another success is over the last decade I’ve managed to form good relationships with the department heads. Experience is a good thing. I know how to get things down and who to contact and the routes to attain certain goals.”
In her ward, she said, some things still need work, specifically the roads and sidewalks. Part of her job is to secure a funding from the city for infrastructure improvements.
Though she has “managed to get a pretty good chunk of that money every year,” O’Connell said there are still routes to take to help the ward’s cause. She has also been working to convert private ways to public roadways, which would make it easier to access funding for their maintenance.
With Juniper Park Elementary School closing at the end of the last school year, the proposed school and Russell Elementary School have been at the forefront of the conversation. O’Connell said the decision to close Juniper Park fell to the School Committee, not the City Council.
“I feel they gambled because by closing the school, they felt that it would mandate everyone to support the new proposed school,” O’Connell said.
O’Connell said if she had been on the School Committee, she would have voted against the motion, but “they did. It’s done, and now we have to deal with it.”
In terms of the new proposed school on Cross Street, O’Connell maintained that the matter is up to the courts to determine the legality of the process.
The widening and renovation of Western Avenue, she said, is another project that the district will need to “keep an eye on.” Though it has been pushed back to 2020, she said residents have expressed concerns about how much of their land will be needed to widen the roads.
In her five terms on the City Council, O’Connell said she has learned to listen to all sides of an issue and to act in the best interest of the ward.
“I think I’m pretty astute at listening to both sides of every argument, and then acting in the best interest of the ward,” O’Connell said. “Sometimes it’s painful to vote for something, but if you know it’s for the best, it’s the best thing to do considering the finances and public safety, I mean sometimes you just have to do it.”
When it comes to reelection, it boils down to, she said, is experience.
“It’s all about getting our fair share for our ward,” she said. “After 10 years I know the right routes to take, the right people to call, the right way to present an ordinance change to the city council, the right way to follow it through the processes, through the proper committees and the right way to reach the finish line.”
O’Connell is challenged by newcomer Katherine Bentrewicz for the City Council’s Ward 4 seat. The general election takes place Nov. 3.
For more information, contact O’Connell at Moconnell25@comcast.net.