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Pluta has some big shoes to fill in Holyoke

Date: 1/4/2010

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

Throughout the region this week there is a passing of the guard as new municipal officials have been sworn into their office.

For many people this is a bittersweet time as it is the ultimate affirmation that their candidate did not win. And for one person there must be some definite mixed feelings.

That person is Mike Sullivan, the outgoing mayor of Holyoke.

Now perhaps you might quip why anyone would want to be mayor of Holyoke. Well, I doubt you know the city very well.

With the growing number of young people discovering the affordable rents, Holyoke is poised to be the next Northampton. With the high-speed computing center, who knows how far the city will go.

But then again, I like Holyoke. I like the people. I like the buildings and history. I like the canals. It's a cool town.

It is not exaggeration that if performed correctly, being a mayor is the most difficult job in politics. Mayors are expected to be on call 24/7. People expect them to be at their events. They are required to know hundreds of people on sight. They have to have answers for any number of problems and concerns.

Being a mayor, even if you enjoy the challenges of the office, is a demanding job to say the least and Sullivan served in that capacity for 10 years.

When I started working on radio in Holyoke in 1982 I had already served over a year at the Holyoke Transcript-Telegram my insurance agent, Pat Bresnahan, told me I'd do fine in Holyoke if I understood that while it appeared to be a small city, it was really a village. I took his advice to heart and he was right.

Holyoke has all of the problems of any east coast city and yet it is a community where there are layers of relationships between its residents. Sullivan clearly understood that condition and treated his city as both an urban center and a small town.

Sullivan was the type of guy who was in his office at 7:30 a.m. and would answer his own phone. He picked up trash and litter around City Hall. He met monthly with the business people who have their concerns in the city and advocated on their behalf. He fostered the idea of people addressing their problems in a peaceful and community-based fashion.

He was no Pollyanna, though, and as a realist could cite the real political challenges facing the city. He was the kind of guy who always had something substantial from a news perspective to offer.

His hard work and long tenure drew the attention of Gov. Deval Patrick who asked him to serve on a statewide task force on solving the problem of homelessness.

Despite all that a mayor has to face, Sullivan maintained his sense of humor he is a very funny guy. He performed his duties with the right blend of good nature, realism and support for his town.

Thanks, Mike.


Reporting tip #45: It's poor form for a reporter who can see the fertilizer creep toward the ceiling at a public meeting to stand up and declare the situation in a way for all to understand.

That's what I wanted to do on Tuesday night at the Springfield City Council meeting on raising the property tax rate.

I know for a fact that some of the city councilors understand the tax structure in Springfield is driving businesses and people out of the city. I also believe there are some councilors who do not want to acknowledge that fact.

The bottom line is we are probably going to be stuck with an increase, but we don't have to be next year if the new City Council comes into power with their spines in place.

My advice to them: if some political insider comes around, watch your backside. That person just may be looking for a way to remove your political will. This column represents the opinions of its author. Send your comments online to or to 280 North Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028.