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'Abysmal' Turnout In Holyoke, But 'Very Good Set Of Options' For Voters In November

A polling place sign.
Adam Frenier
/
NEPR
A polling place sign.

Tuesday was preliminary election day in a few western Massachusetts communities. In the race for Holyoke mayor, City Councilor Michael Sullivan and Joshua Garcia, who's the town administrator in Blandford, advanced to November's general election.

They were the top two finishers in a seven-person field. After his victory, Sullivan said there are several issues he'll continue to focus on.

"We've got to bring some business and good-paying jobs back to the Holyoke," Sullivan said. "Gotta take back control of our schools, and we really, really gotta rebuild our infrastructure."

Garcia, who came in second, said better management is needed to accomplish those things.

"Each of these elements of very dependent on how well we operate internally as a local government, and I think that's where we are failing," he said.

Panelist Mike Dobbs said it would be easy to see this race as "old Holyoke" against "new Holyoke."

"We're talking about a Latinx candidate who's made it to the November ballot versus a veteran city councilor of Irish American extraction who's on the ballot as well," Dobbs said. "But I don't think it's quite that easy."

Dobbs said he believes the main theme is the "aftermath of the Morse administration," and all that remains to be done in Holyoke following the departure of Mayor Alex Morse to his new job in Provincetown. 

Dobbs noted that Garcia, as a town official, knows how to deal with the state, while Sullivan, as a city councilor, has a "completely different point of view on municipal government."

"I think this is going to give the voters of Holyoke a very, very good set of options in terms of the candidates and what they represent," Dobbs said.

Garcia's strong showing came despite only being fifth in money raised during the campaign, according to the latest state data.

Panelist Carrie Saldo found that result really interesting.

"Because we usually talk about money being really key in politics and this race really proved that wrong. Money didn't seem to be as big of an issue," Saldo said. "I think for both of these guys, job [No.] 1 is going to be voter turnout."

Saldo noted that turnout in local preliminary races is often low, but the roughly 19% in Holyoke was "abysmal" given there were seven candidates on the ballot.

Also this week, Massachusetts lawmakers released a bill with wide-ranging reforms to veterans care. The bill calls for changes in how the Holyoke Soldiers' Home is operated. The state-run facility was the site of a COVID-19 outbreak where more than 70 veterans died last year. Two leaders of the Soldiers' Home are facing criminal neglect charges over their handling of the crisis.

The bill calls for a new advisory panel to oversee the facility, and another in eastern Mass., and creating an ombudsman position to field complaints from staff and residents.

Officials in Springfield this week began an outreach effort to get more young people vaccinated against COVID-19. Students with parental permission began receiving shots at Central High School, and some of them begged their classmates to do the same, including Olivia Romito.

“I don't like getting shots in general, I'm scared of needles, so I was just very anxious about it,” she said. “But it's not that bad. Suck it up. You're going to have to do stuff you don't want to do your whole life.”

Health officials say, of late, there's been more cases in people under 20 than any other age group in Springfield. The vaccination rate for 12 to 19-year-olds is less than 40% in the city.

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