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Benton, Cohen make the cut for mayor's seat

Date: 10/13/2009

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

AGAWAM -- Mayor Susan Dawson swore an oath 22 months ago to faithfully execute the office of the mayor to the best of her ability -- and she'll remain steadfast to that oath until her final day on Dec. 31.

Dawson said she may have failed to make it through the preliminary election last week -- Agawam resident Derek Benton and former Mayor Richard Cohen came out on top but she maintains there's still much work to be done.

The incumbent came in fourth out of seven candidates in the Oct. 6 preliminary election. Benton finished at the top of the heap with 1,868 votes followed by Cohen, 1,824 votes; City Councilor Paul Cavallo, 1,342 votes; Dawson, 1,285 votes; City Council Vice President Cecilia Calabrese, 538 votes; Agawam residents Alan Griffin and Peter Boadry with 16 and 10 votes, respectively.

Benton attributed his preliminary election victory to dedicated volunteers, daily standouts, door-to-door campaigning, hard work and outreach via his campaign Web site and Facebook account.

"I think a win is a win no matter if it's one vote or 44 votes," he said the day after the election. "Not only can I feel the vibe in Agawam today but the residents can feel the vibe with [my] new energy and experience.

"I want to thank each and every registered voter that voted in the preliminary election," Benton continued. "To have 37 percent [of registered voters] cast their vote is huge and that means they're getting involved no matter which candidate they voted for, I'm glad they're getting involved."

He added that he'll continue to campaign tirelessly between now and Nov. 3 to ensure that more residents rock the vote.

Benton noted his qualifications working for former State Sen. Brian Lees; his service on the Allocations Committee for the United Way of Pioneer Valley and Berkshire Power; and his five years as vice president of Benton Real Estate Company.

"When somebody comes to me and puts [a home] -- the biggest purchase of their lives in my hands -- that's experience," he added.

Benton said if elected, his focuses will include encouraging economic growth and boosting morale at Town Hall, which will be included in his 30-, 60- and 90-day plans for 2010.

"Morale is down ... the residents are mad because they can't go shopping in their hometown or [they're mad because of] lack of leadership," he added. "There is always something but we're going to work together [to solve those challenges]."

"The concern at the last [mayoral] election was the low voter turnout," Cohen said. "Everybody saw what happened ... that every vote counts. [I tell voters,] 'I need your help. I need your ideas and I can't do it without your vote and every vote counts.'

"People have seen what happens when inexperience gets elected over the past two years," he continued. "It's not about selling houses -- this is about running a $77 million budget, 13 unions to be negotiated, hiring, firing, and making sure that taxes are low. It's not about a pep rally. This is serious business and [Agawam] needs experience."

Cohen said he's ready to hit the ground running on day one, given his previous experience as Agawam's mayor from 2000 to 2008. He explained that he plans to continue his work to create a Business Improvement District and see the Feeding Hills Sewer Extension Project completed.

"I've already proven I can do [the job]," Cohen said. "I kept the tax rate low. We filled the [former] Food Mart [Plaza], [built] the new DPW and Senior Center and were still able to keep the tax rate low. We need somebody in these difficult economic times to do what is right to keep the burden off our taxpayers.

"The key I think to our [campaign] victory in November is that in these difficult times we need someone with experience because it's not about selling houses, it's about running our city," he continued.

Benton said he plans to answer Cohen's call for three (not yet determined) debates prior to the final vote on Nov. 3.