Use this search box to find articles that have run in our newspapers over the last several years.

Audience laughs, sinckers, cheers for mayoral candidates

Date: 9/22/2009

By Katelyn Gendron, Reminder Assistant Editor


AGAWAM -- Spectators at the mayoral forum last Thursday sat down in the middle school auditorium and experienced a spectacle. Some laughed and snickered at certain candidates, others cheered for their favorites and some shook their heads in disbelief of the field of potential mayors seated before them.

The Oct. 6 preliminary election ballot will include seven candidates for mayor -- incumbent Susan Dawson, former mayor Richard Cohen, City Council Vice President Cecilia Calabrese, City Councilor Paul Cavallo and Agawam residents Derek Benton, Peter Boadry and Alan Griffin -- each of who pled their case at last week's forum.

A Laughing Matter

Highlights, which seemed to prompt laughter from the audience, included an awkward moment between Griffin and Calabrese during the candidate-to-candidate question and answer round of the forum. Griffin, who was ordered by the Housing Court earlier this month to allow officials to remove five goats from his property on North Street, asked Calabrese, "How can people say my goats stink?" Calabrese replied, "I don't think goats stink. I love goats." Members of the audience laughed, while others snickered.

Another moment some audience members found comical occurred when Boadry was asked, if elected mayor, how he plans to fill gaps in the school budget next fiscal year without federal stimulus money and decreased Chapter 70 state aid. Boadry replied that he believes the town must work to keep drugs out of schools. Many members of the audience met his response with confusion and laughter.

Pleading Their Case

Other mayoral candidates attempted to stick to what they considered the hard-hitting issues of this election cycle, while boasting their qualifications.

"I've brought strong leadership back to the mayor's office," Dawson said in her opening statement.

She added that during her two years as mayor she has demonstrated fiscal responsibility; improved quality of life for residents; funded public school education despite cuts to state aid; and ended the town's disputes with the police union and Tennessee Gas.

Cohen said he wants to return to the mayor's office; the eight-year mayor lost his bid for re-election to Dawson two years ago.

"Being mayor is about passion, not power ... good leadership is just good government," he said, after which several members of the audience applauded.

Calabrese explained in her opening statement that if elected she will institute quarterly reporting from the mayor, as opposed to yearly; post the town's fiscal year budgets online; and promote digital technology for schools.

"This is not about who has the most [campaign] signs," she said. "Lawn signs and bumper stickers don't vote -- we do."

Cavallo described his "unwritten job description for mayor," which includes someone with proven administrative experience; knowledge of local government; and being an approachable person and a good listener -- all qualities he believes he embodies.

Benton noted his professional experience, which includes working for former State Sen. Brian Lees and his involvement with community service organizations such as Big Brothers/Big Sisters, the Rotary Club and the United Way. He stressed that his youth -- age 32 -- should not be interpreted as a measure of life experience.

"I'm ready to lead Agawam as its next mayor," Benton said as he chose to stand before the crowd, a section of which applauded his statement.

"I'm the people's voice," Boadry told those at the forum. He added that residents told him they want lower taxes, sewers and bingo reinstated at the Senior Center.

Griffin said he is simply "learning as I go." He asked those in the audience several times to give him a chance to be mayor.

When asked why he wanted to be mayor, Griffin replied, "Because mayor is a good thing to be."

Questioning the Issues

Each of the seven candidates was asked questions by a panel of media personnel, audience members and each other during the forum. Topics included economic development, tightening budgets and teen substance abuse.

When asked about the balance between the tiers of economic development, Dawson said she will continue to try to balance large commercial industry with family-owned business. She noted the pending development of Walnut Street Extension and Tennis Road, which may include a Target, Barnes & Noble and Kohl's.

Dawson was later asked her thoughts about increasing property taxes to cover budgetary shortfalls. She explained that measures have been taken to reduce expenditures and plug budgetary gaps and that the town is "remaining stable" financially.

"Raising taxes is not possible for people at this time," Dawson said.

Cohen was asked about his views on the parking ordinance -- a controversial piece of legislation during his last year in office -- and his stance on public safety. He maintained that the ordinance was changed from his original proposal and that there continues to be a public safety issue in the Six Flags corridor.

"When there is a problem with public safety, we need to address it together," Cohen added.

Dawson asked Cohen how he would absorb impending 9-C cuts next January if elected. He said he would cut "unnecessary programs," not jobs.

Questioned on how she plans to make up for the town's diminished commercial-industrial properties, Calabrese said she would only be in favor of rezoning residential properties "if the people living in those areas would be part of the planning."

Later, when asked about her views on town charter review and re-examination of the mayoral two-year political term, Calabrese said she is in favor of both. "Two years is too short for any sitting mayor," she added.

When asked about curbing teen substance abuse in schools and raising students' SAT scores, Cavallo noted his experience as principal of Agawam High School. He said he believes that the school department's internal programs and partnership with outside agencies have helped to reduce teen substance abuse and raise test scores, respectively. Cavallo added that he would like to see those partnerships continue.

Benton was asked about his views on the use of stabilization funds and free cash for town expenditures. He replied that such funds should not be used for capital expenditures for fear such resources will "dry up."

When asked by the forum panel why he believed there is so much interest in this mayoral race, Boadry replied that he's not running for a paycheck but for better government.

During the final round of questioning, Cohen asked Boadry to state he his credentials and how he is qualified to prepare a municipal budget.

"I'd have to learn by doing," Boadry replied. "I'd even maybe have to hire somebody to help me with that."

Griffin was questioned on his policies for infrastructure repairs. He explained that he believes the town has too many parks that are eating up maintenance costs.

That's All, Folks

In her closing remarks, Dawson warned, "Agawam is not out of the woods yet, when it comes to the recession." She added that the town needs a mayor who has a proven capability of balancing finances while listening to the needs of constituents.

"Because of my experience, I am ready and willing to serve on day one," Cohen said. "I know what it takes to turn thoughts into action."

Calabrese explained she believes her political record "will build the foundation for the future of Agawam."

Cavallo reiterated his qualifications as a former school principal, member of the School Committee and City Council.

"I truly believe in my heart that my vision is in the best interests of Agawam ... Agawam, I will not let you down," Benton said.

Griffin asked voters once again to give him a chance and Boadry revealed that he has "management skills and degrees nobody knows about" that will help him if elected.

The preliminary election will take place on Oct. 6. The two top vote getters will participate in the general election on Nov. 3.