By Katelyn Gendron
Reminder Assistant Editor
AGAWAM It was supposed to be a prodigious reelection celebration for Mayor Richard Cohen at The Oaks last Tuesday.
Two giant chandeliers illuminated the Crystal Ballroom, the tabletops were decorated with red, white and blue Mardi Gras beads, noisemakers and party hats. However, the over 150 people in attendance were wearing none of their party favors, nor were they dancing.
Unofficial figures released by the town indicated that Cohen had lost by 44 votes. He received 3,545 votes, while his opponent Susan Dawson received 3,589 votes.
Cohen, the man who never stops smiling in public, stood in the center of the ballroom with a sad and defeatist look on his face as he received condolences from supporters.
"[President Harry] Truman went to bed thinking he lost and woke up a winner," he said that night after he was told of the slim margin.
According to City Clerk Richard Theroux, there will not be a recount, nor has any candidate requested one. He added that candidates have until Nov. 16 to request a recount. Theroux said there is no need for a recount because unlike previous elections where absentee ballots were counted by hand, they are now fed through the voting machines on election day.
"I love Agawam and its citizens," Cohen said. "I'm very proud of what I've accomplished over the past eight years."
However, over at Bobbie J'z on Main Street, Dawson and her supporters cranked up the music and were singing and dancing to Queen's "We are the champions."
As the final voter tally came in Dawson stood in front of a monitor and watched the total rise in her favor. She screamed, threw her hands up on her head and hugged her son Zach and daughter Taylor.
She attributed her victory to her volunteers and campaign team that has worked diligently since Oct. 1.
"My 'church chicks' began going with me to Mass every morning and we asked God to take control and that's how we won," she said. Dawson added that on Election Day she went to vote with her son Andy and once she got out of the car two rainbows appeared and people began to scream, "It's a sign."
As Dawson thanked everyone in her camp she emphasized the importance of the team effort that got her elected. She said she will continue to have a team of trusted advisors throughout her two years in office.
Dawson said upon receiving a congratulatory phone call from Cohen she is confident that the two will work together to make a "smooth transition."
She added that the first item on her agenda will be the repeal of the parking ordinance. Dawson said she believes that the controversy surrounding the ordinance as well as the strenuous negotiations between the mayor and the Police Patrolmen's Union are what gave her the leg up in the race.
She said she is planning on "putting together a team to evaluate safety issues" in Agawam so that a new ordinance may be tailored to "where the problem is."
While Cohen has insisted from the beginning that the parking ordinance has been about public safety only, Dawson said, "It was only about power and money."
She also said that another item on her agenda come Jan. 1 will be to make sure that all municipal contracts are settled. Dawson said her goal is to restore the confidence that municipal employees once had in their town government. She added that she wants employees to feel like their needs are being met while being mindful of the town's budget.
Dawson also wanted to make it clear that all current building projects will move forward as planned. Specifically in reference to the new Senior Center on Main Street she said it was a "pivotal point at the end of the election" and will be finished.
Dawson said she will also be looking into the sewer project in Feeding Hills and the possibility of a Community Center over the next two years.
She added that two other points on her agenda will be school safety and small business growth. Dawson said it is not the financial expense of keeping students safe but the "priority attached to it," specifically mental health and special needs services.
When speaking to voters Dawson said she has come to find that they are eager to have larger "upscale" businesses in Agawam such as Barnes & Noble or Panera Bread. She said she will advocate for businesses that will "fill the needs of the town."
Dawson added that she is eager to begin work and to right many popular misconceptions.
"A lot of lies have been told about me in this election," she said. "If I remain firm, consistent and caring about this community we will succeed. We need to make Agawam a positive place to live again."
The race for the 11-member City Council ended with the unseating of Vice President Robert Magovern and Ruth Carr Bitzas. Paul Cavallo and Jill Messick will be the two new comers to the council next year.
Cavallo received the highest number of votes with 4,442, followed by Gina Letellier with 4,297 votes; Messick received 4,165 votes; Joseph Mineo received 4,038 votes; Cecelia Calabrese received 3,918 votes; Donald Rheault received 3,881 votes; Jill Simpson received 3,857 votes; George Bitzas received 3,773 votes; Robert Rossi received 3,747 votes; Dennis Perry received 3,367 votes; and Robert Young received 3,653 votes. Magovern, Carr Bitzas, Patricia Souder, Andrew Fondakowski and Donald Chartier fell short.
Next year's six-member School Committee will also see changes as four incumbents Anthony Bonavita, Diane Juzba, Roberta Doering and Linda Galarneau will remain on the committee. Bonavita received 5,010 votes; John Burns received 4,855 votes; Juzba received 4,726 votes; Doering received 4,549 votes; Shelley Borgatti-Reed received 4,391 votes; and Galarneau received 4,105 votes. John Cesan fell short with 2,859 votes and John Cameron Jr., received 2,576 votes.
Calls made to Cohen for additional comments were not returned by press time.