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Now A Veteran Mayor, Morse Looks To Hold Holyoke Job In Race Against Ferreira

Former Holyoke City Councilor Jay Ferreira (left) and Mayor Alex Morse.
File photo
Former Holyoke City Councilor Jay Ferreira (left) and Mayor Alex Morse.

Holyoke, Massachusetts, a city of about 40,000 residents, has been led the last six years by Alex Morse, who was a senior at Brown University when he first ran.

"I announced when I was 21 years old, back in January 2011," Morse said in a recent debate on WWLP TV.

After graduation, he won the office, and with it a good amount of national media attention.

Now he's making his third run for re-election and for the first time, it's for a four-year term. That longer term, and his national profile, came up during the debate.

Morse's opponent -- Jay Ferreira, a former city councilor who works to find jobs for people with developmental disabilities -- said it was an open secret the mayor actually wanted to seek higher office.

"Do you plan to complete your four-year term in the city of Holyoke, and do you plan to commit to that 100 percent today?" Ferreira asked.

Morse didn't use those exact words, but came close.

"I'm not sure what to say, because I think it's such a funny question," he said. "I'm running for the four-year term because I want to complete the four-year term, at least."

On the issues, the candidates agree on the economic benefits of legalized marijuana. Their main disagreement -- as is often the case in mayoral elections -- is on schools.

Holyoke's district was taken over by the state in 2015. Ferreira said the mayor hasn't been forceful enough in trying to get back local control.

"There are folks who unquestionably would have loved to send their children to the Holyoke public schools, who are now exploring other options -- charter schools and school choice, because they don't know what the future holds," Ferreira said. 

Morse said the schools are making progress, but offered no timeline for when he thought state receivership would end.

"Jay Ferreira has pretended that the mayor of Holyoke can pick up the phone and call the [state] commissioner [of elementary and secondary education] and say, 'We really want local control back,' without doing the work necessary to get local control back," Morse said.

Neither candidate in that debate talked about an immediate challenge for the schools: whether there's enough money, teachers and classroom space for the expected increase in students from Puerto Rico, coming to Holyoke to stay with family while the island recovers from Hurricane Maria.

At this point, at least as reflected in campaign finance reports, 2017 appears to be Morse's least challenging election yet. His campaign has raised more than $93,000 this year -- from donors across the state and beyond -- and still has much of that in the bank.

Ferreira's donors -- nearly all from Holyoke -- have given him less than $6,000.

Sam Hudzik has overseen local news coverage on New England Public Media since 2013. He manages a team of about a dozen full- and part-time reporters and hosts.
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