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Easthampton mayor faces challengers, but they don't seem to be running hard to defeat her

Easthampton, Massachusetts, Mayor Nicole LaChapelle and challenger Eric Berzins participate in a debate.
Courtesy WWLP
Easthampton, Massachusetts, Mayor Nicole LaChapelle and challenger Eric Berzins participate in a debate.

The mayor of Easthampton, Massachusetts, has two people running against her in November. But they are hardly pulling out all the stops to take the job.

Easthampton Mayor Nicole Chapelle is running for a third term. She faces Eric Berzins, who owns Fort Hill Brewery, and resident Keith Routhier — although state reports show neither has raised any money for their campaigns.

At a recent debate hosted by WWLP, Routhier didn’t show up. Berzins did, wearing a top hat and a large yellow star on his lapel with the words "mayoral candidate."

Berzins began the debate by explaining why he entered the race.

"I am not a politician," he said. "I just feel that for the sake of democracy, it's important to have, at the very least, another candidate to have dialogue during a debate, and during an election year."

The two candidates discussed the opioid crisis, climate change, and ranked choice voting. Easthampton voters approved it in 2019 and it will be in place for the November election.

"I quite frankly don't fully understand what ranked choice voting is about," Berzins said.

It means that voters can put candidates in order of who they want. If a voter's first choice doesn't win, their other choices can still help decide who takes office.

LaChapelle supports it.

"If we were to have too few candidates or too many candidates, we have an assurance of voting somebody who has the majority of support of our community," she said.

During the debate, LaChapelle and Berzins differed on whether they'd welcome a big box retailer to town.

"Absolutely," Berzins said. "As long as there are no tax breaks, and they're paying what the rest of us citizens are, I'm all for it."

LaChapelle had a different take.

"I would listen to what the public has to say, and what they have said, which clearly — big box stores have not found a warm place in the hearts of Easthampton residents," she said.

The candidates were also asked about police reform, a major topic in cities across the country following the murder of George Floyd.

In his response, Berzins spoke briefly about a personal experience with local law enforcement that involved the mayor.

"This kind of hits close to home, as Nicole has called the police on me several times," he said.

In an interview later, LaChapelle confirmed that happened, describing Berzins as a “scary dude” who confronted her on the Easthampton bike path.

In an e-mail response, Berzins said he was only questioning the mayor about decisions made at City Hall.

That’s not the only legal conflict the candidates have engaged in.

The city of Easthampton filed a lawsuit against Berzins’ company, alleging it built a bicycle track and parking spaces near the brewery without a permit. The city and the brewery are now in settlement negotiations.

Before joining New England Public Media, Alden was a producer for the CBS NEWS program 60 Minutes. In that role, he covered topics ranging from art, music and medicine to business, education and politics.
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