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Northampton Mayoral Candidates Agree On Big Things, But Not Little Ones

Mayoral incumbent David Narkewicz and candidate John Riley participated in a campaign debate last week.
Lucas Ropek
The Republican
Mayoral incumbent David Narkewicz and candidate John Riley participated in a campaign debate last week.

The two candidates for mayor of Northampton, Massachusetts -- both Democrats -- agree on most of the big issues, from the harm of casinos to the value of being a sanctuary city. But they don't agree on many of the little issues.

Incumbent David Narkewicz is a longtime public official, military veteran and former stay-at-home dad who's vying for his third term as mayor.

John Riley is a bookstore owner who was part of the downtown renaissance decades ago -- and recently fought the city unsuccessfully on its stormwater fee.

They both agree a casino in nearby Springfield could hurt businesses in Northampton.

Narkewicz helped get a grant from the state gaming commission to market the city to casino visitors.

But Riley, speaking at a recent public forum recorded by Northampton Community Television, said he'd want to be strategic about exactly who they market to.

"I would take the money we're getting to combat the casino, and maybe spend it on people we really want coming here," Riley said. "Let's attract people from Tanglewood, from MASS MoCA, from Jacobs Pillow. Those are our people, not a bunch of gamblers."

On education, both say charter schools take funds from regular public schools and should not be allowed to expand.

But Riley -- whose daughter went to a performing arts charter school -- said he likes what charters have to offer.

Narkewicz said the problem is they're allowed to play by different rules.

"We shouldn't have schools that are taking public dollars that are basically excluding -- pretty systematically -- high needs and disadvantaged students," Narkewicz said.

One area where there's more disagreement is on putting surveillance cameras downtown, an idea the police chief recently floated. Riley believes they should be banned, while Narkewicz said that's unnecessary as the community gets a say.

Then there's the surprisingly contentious question of a traffic roundabout near the Coolidge bridge. Riley is decidedly against it: "A roundabout there, I swear, would be like an Indy 500 every day," he said.

But Narkewicz -- a roundabout supporter -- said he's already fought this battle in other parts of town.

"I remember distinctly standing in a very hostile room at the look park garden house defending the roundabout that everyone said would not work and couldn't be plowed and people would die," Narkewicz said, "but I think we have seen they have worked."

While both men are longtime residents of Northampton, their divergent experience in politics is reflected in their fundraising. According to state campaign records, Narkewicz raised about $12,000 this year -- three times what Riley did.

And while Narkewicz still has most of that money left, Riley's account is nearly empty.

Karen Brown is a radio and print journalist who focuses on health care, mental health, children’s issues, and other topics about the human condition. She has been a full-time radio reporter for NEPM since 1998.
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