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In election for new Northampton mayor, police budget cut emerges as key issue

Northampton mayoral candidates Gina-Louise Sciarra and Marc Warner.
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Daily Hampshire Gazette / gazettenet.com
Northampton mayoral candidates Gina-Louise Sciarra and Marc Warner.

An open seat for mayor of Northampton, Massachusetts, will be filled on Nov. 2. City Council President Gina-Louise Sciarra and transportation analyst Marc Warner earned their way onto the ballot as the top two finishers in the September preliminary.

In that race, Sciarra had the upper hand, with about 60% of the preliminary vote in the four-person field. That was a couple thousand votes ahead of Warner. 

During a https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zJaMpovk-ac?t=5601" target="_blank">recent debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters, Warner seemed to admit that he's up against it.

"My run takes on an entrenched candidate anointed by the political insiders with huge financial advantage," Warner said.

Sciarra had taken in $28,201 as of the end of September. Warner reported receiving about $3,011, with most of that coming out of his own pocket.

But Warner said his background running his own business and his service on some city boards makes him qualified to be mayor.

"I have the good sense and integrity to act not in response to loudest voices and most powerful players, but in response to the most reasoned voices and most powerful arguments," he said.

In making her case, Sciarra leaned heavily on her nearly eight years of experience as a city councilor.

"This is a pivotal time for Northampton with many big projects underway," Sciarra said. "We need someone ready to lead."

The one contentious moment during the debate involved a vote last year by the City Council to reduce Northampton's police budget by 10%. The move came around the time of  protests against police brutality, following the murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police. 

Sciarra, who has led the council since 2019, said the budget cut served two purposes.

"In that budget, nearly every city department had to absorb emergency cuts with revenue down, and we asked the police department to make a cut," she said. "A cut, I also ... felt, that showed we were serious about meeting that moment to rethink public safety."

But Warner criticized the City Council, and said the cut was hasty.

"The idea of cutting the budget in a single City Council meeting was a mistake," he said. "It is not progressive. It gives progressives actually a bad name, to do that. Even Amherst recognized, no, this is kind of nuts."

Sciarra took issue with that, saying the council did its due diligence. Speaking over the debate moderator, she said her opponent must not have been paying attention at the time.

"There was a budget hearing on June 3, another one of June 4. A vote on the budget continued to a special meeting on June 10, with a first vote and second vote on the budget June 18," Sciarra recounted. "It was days, hours and ... into the wee hours of testimony and discussion."

Still, Warner insisted the cut came too quickly and was made because of what he called "loud voices" pushing for it.

The two did find some common ground on the need to bump up the city's climate goals and to establish a so-called "resilience hub," which would serve as a resource center for homeless residents.

The winner will take over in January for the outgoing mayor, David Narkewicz. He chose not to run for reelection after nearly a decade in office.

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