BOSTON — The open race for City Hall in Boston grabbed most of the attention paid to municipal elections in the Bay State this year as eyes across the country watched the hotly-contested race end with victory for Michelle Wu, Boston’s first woman and first Asian American elected to the post.
But big shifts in leadership were occurring in a host of other Massachusetts cities at the same time. North Adams elected Jennifer Macksey its first woman mayor. In Holyoke, Joshua Garcia was elected the city’s first Latino mayor. And in Framingham, Gloucester and Westfield, newcomers toppled incumbents at the ballot box.
The retirement of several longtime mayors, including Joe Curtatone of Somerville, Donna Holaday of Newburyport, David Narkewicz of Northampton and Tom Bernard of North Adams, made way for new candidates on the ticket. Some of the outgoing mayors left office to pursue new posts, such as former Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, now the U.S. secretary of labor, former Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera, who now heads MassDevelopment, and former Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, now the town manager in Provincetown.
In all, there were 34 mayoral races this November, according to the Massachusetts Municipal Association, and 11 of the victors -- about a third -- will be new to the corner office in 2022. Together, these communities represent nearly 1.2 million residents or about 17 percent of the state’s total population.
Two of the new executives -- Garcia of Holyoke and Lawrence Mayor Brian De Pena -- have already been sworn in, while the remainder of the incoming officials will take office in the new year.
As this new “class” of mayors navigates the road to City Hall or the first weeks on the job, several of the freshly-elected officials told the News Service a few things are top of mind: Getting up to speed at City Hall, and determining how to best use federal ARPA funding at the disposal of municipalities.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for all of us cities and towns around the country,” Greg Varga, mayor-elect in Gloucester, said. “And so we want to make sure that we use it for the intended purposes and find the best use for it, to help us continue to dig out of the hole the pandemic caused.”
Varga is a former city councilor who unseated incumbent Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken by a margin of more than 1,000 votes. He campaigned on a promise to “reset” Gloucester and told the News Service he was motivated by a desire to “return professionalism to City Hall” following complaints about Romeo Theken’s leadership style. Now, he’s focused on getting his team in place and setting the tone for his administration so that Gloucester can put the incoming funds to use as soon as possible.
New Holyoke Mayor Garcia, a former Blandford town manager and Holyoke School Committee member, is also thinking about management. He said his first priority is strengthening oversight and accountability through the city’s internal operations. “I think that a lot of the challenges that we see impacting quality of services today or quality of life today is just a symptom of a bigger problem” with internal management, he said.
When it comes to the ARPA funding, Garcia’s hopeful some of it will be used to implement “rapid recovery” strategies the city has identified through a state planning program. Water infrastructure updates are another need that takes precedence, he said.
These kinds of upgrades are on North Adams’ “laundry list of infrastructure improvements” as well, Macksey, the mayor-elect, told the News Service. She’s also eyeing a feasibility study for a municipal broadband network, a new public safety complex and investments in the local schools. Macksey previously served as North Adams’ director of finance, treasurer, tax collector and CFO.
“It’s a question of, how can we use this to fix some long-term issues that we have here in the community?” she said. “So I’m very anxious to have the dollars assigned to us and start planning and working.”
Several of the new mayors said prioritizing equity will be a key part of their transition. Garcia noted that Holyoke has created a matrix to gauge representation on its boards and committees, and said his transition team is working to create advisory councils around different issues, such as public safety and education.Lynn Mayor-elect Jared Nicholson, a law professor and former School Committee member, said he is eager to work with the city’s first diversity, equity and inclusion officer, who was hired prior to his election and is developing a language access program to provide interpreters for the most commonly spoken languages in the city.
Like the other mayors, Nicholson already has a running tally of infrastructure needs the ARPA funds might go toward. He hopes the money can fund projects that will benefit all residents, such as affordable housing, a senior center -- which the city doesn’t currently have -- and improvements to reduce pollution on King’s Beach.
“Lynn is really poised for growth, and a big goal for our campaign, a big goal for administration is to make the most of that opportunity,” Nicholson said. “And to do it in a way that is inclusive, that really benefits the whole city and includes all of us in Lynn.”
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