Nicole LaChapelle Wins 2017 Easthampton Mayoral Race

Karina Patterson, Editor

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On November 7, 2017 there was an election held to vote for a new mayor of Easthampton, new school committee members, city council members and other elected offices.

Regarding the mayoral election, Nicole LaChapelle won and will be the new mayor of Easthampton. LaChapelle won with 2,717 votes against her opponent, Joy Winnie, who had 2,292 votes.

She received endorsements from The Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus, Environmental League of Massachusetts, Congressman Richard Neal (MA-1), Attorney General Maura Healey and many other people and organizations both locally and statewide.

This mayoral race has had a lot of attention throughout Easthampton and was even considered a challenge between the “old” Easthampton and the “new” Easthampton. LaChapelle is a part of the “new” Easthampton. Many citizens are quite excited for the change in power and what the future of our city holds. 

Before the election, I was able to sit down with LaChapelle and ask her a few questions about herself, her feelings about Easthampton, our school and the events which transpired last spring. She was very happy to help contribute to the school community. 

  1. What is your biggest concern right now regarding the town of Easthampton?

My biggest concern is the amount of opportunity that’s before us economically, culturally, with our environment, our natural resources and schools and how those several opportunities right now, are off kilter with the level of communication and feeling of true welcomeness throughout the city. What has happened at the high school in the last year, and also the feelings around school consolidation have been not aligned with the amount of opportunity we have in front of us and that is really concerning. I feel like we are losing people, we are losing residents and are having some mixed messages out there. Regardless of everybody’s best intentions, we are not on the same page and we have to be to be the best city we can be.

2. In what aspect of our community do you feel you can make the greatest impact?

As mayor, I can apply my skills as an executive and as a leader in nonprofit, for-profit and political agencies to leading the city. To mesh together community input, city hall employee input for one common message and theme of togetherness. We may want to get there different ways, which is okay, but I think that I can bring people together as I have in the past. I think I can also leverage my connections and knowledge of regional, state and federal elected officials that have a lot to do with my past personal experience.

      3. Do you have any comments on the events that took place at EHS last spring?

The disparity between what the superintendent’s report indicated and data that is routinely reported to state agencies, and the attorney general’s report was shocking to me. The specificity of where we were really off as a city within that data really, really troubles me. In a [previous] statement I used the word “taken aback”. The events are such a disservice to students, a disservice to educators, and honestly it is in the direct polar opposite of what the potential of Easthampton Public schools is. The two different sets of findings are a disservice as well. I think it was really a contrast to what members of the community thought was happening in the school. It’s a cliche but you kids, are our future. I want to make sure you have opportunities, jobs, be able to come back after college, have the opportunity to travel or pursue some sort of training. I’m sure it [recent events] puts a lot of question in people’s minds if they would want that for kids your age.

      4. If you were mayor at the time of the events last spring, what would you do? Would you do anything differently?

I have worked in education for 20 years and have seen all sorts of things happen, both good and bad, and it is hard to second guess. It is hard to go back in time and say “I would have done this and that would have been a better outcome”. Appropriately so, the level of detail that would influence my decisions isn’t available to me and that’s good. There needs to be a high degree of confidentiality. As a resident and as an educator, the thing I would have liked to seen and would have promoted more would be  students feelings and input and how they would have wanted to express it in a constructive and proactive manner. I still want to see more of that, more student impact. There has been a lot of talk about “…this is our plan and this is what we are going to do…” but I want to know for sure that plan has lots of student input and if it doesn’t, why? Or how will that happen? I want to hear that from students. When you research something in school, a history report, you want primary sources. You want first person. You could have written an article on me based on Facebook or my website, but as a journalist, somebody who is documenting in real time, we are sitting down face to face and talking.

      5. What is your background in politics and how will that help you be a good mayor?

I have done grassroots organizing formally since around 89’ or 1990. I have gone back and forth between a few different things on a grass roots basis around ballot initiatives and petitions to get something on ballots. In 2006, I just wasn’t happy with who was leading our state so I got involved in Deval Patrick’s campaign. From there, I got involved with the Democratic State Committee and established, and still have, relationships across the state, across the Northeast, in D.C. and somewhat across the country. These relationships are with policy makers, both elected and those who are serving in agencies. A campaign is a campaign but after a campaign is really the test for maintaining those relationships and remembering why people will vote for a certain candidate, following up on those policies which are very important to Easthampton (housing, schools, women’s rights, health insurance etc). To be able to bring those relationships into Easthampton, I think is very imperative because of where Easthampton is regarding diversity, economically and population. Also being located in Western Mass, where we’re so small, the relationships that I have are unique and can be leveraged to the cities benefit. I want to do that as mayor. I will do that as mayor.

      6. Why did you chose to come to Easthampton? What was appealing?

First and foremost, it was affordable. I was a young mom and was actually able to buy a house here in 1997 where my mortgage was actually cheaper than my rent in Northampton. The one thing that opened my eyes to Easthampton was that the house I had been buying (I think the first and only house I looked at) was on the side of Mt. Tom. I had seen Mt. Tom since I was 14 and to live next to it and to have it as my backyard was kind of like to have my own Rocky Mountains. To find a house that was affordable, in a really charming city, with Mt. Tom in the back was appealing. I felt at home. I felt like I was making my own home. I was close to where I grew up but this was something that was my own and my daughters. It sounds a little romantic but it truly is how it all went down.

      7. If you are elected into office, what would be your top priority this coming year?

I would have to say the schools. I think that we need to, as a city (starting at the mayor’s office down), to look at not only rebuilding bridges that were burnt or frayed or hurt, but what bridges weren’t there in the first place and what are we going to do about it as a community. I think that plan starts with the mayor and a mayor’s commitment to do just that.

      8. Do you have anything you would like to say to the students of EHS?

I want the students of EHS to know, as a resident of Easthampton, as a mom and as a candidate for mayor that they have a voice in this community. They have a place. I am listening. There are others, like me, who are listening. Deeply listening. We stand with the students regardless of where they are on the events. This isn’t about choosing sides, it’s about listening and going forward constructively. It’s about figuring out what we all have in common. 

      9. Is there anything else you would like to say?

The amount of courage shown by the students who spoke up, on both sides, is brave, courageous and the basis of America. To take that first step is scary. It should be scary, but it’s needed and necessary. It is what makes America the most courageous, visionary country that we have ever known in modern times.

In general, I encourage if you’re voting or not, to get involved civically. Whether it’s Easthampton or if it’s a cause you’re very passionate about. I want you to know that if things are very difficult or confusing, a solution starts with a word. With a step. Once you take that step or say that word, there will be a response. Change is very scary but any kind of change doesn’t indicate the world is upside down. It [change] is embracing or considering a new opportunity.

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Nicole LaChapelle Wins 2017 Easthampton Mayoral Race