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In Chicopee, a mayoral campaign focused on experience, transparency and historic firsts

Chicopee, Massachusetts, Mayor John Vieau will be challenged by City Councilor Delmarina López in the mayoral race next week.

Vieau is running for a third two-year term.

López is the first woman of color on the city council and said she wants to see Chicopee’s diversity reflected in its leadership.

When this election came along, she said she was advised to wait her turn before running for mayor.

“I was told that people wouldn't know my name, that I didn't have the name recognition and that the city thrived on name recognition,” López said. “And I think that this campaign trail and what we're doing here is dismantling all of that.”

López greeted her supporters at a coffee hour event at Bernardino’s bakery on Exchange Street last month. She’s calling for more transparency in Chicopee's government.

“I care about the residents knowing where every dollar goes. I care about them having transparent city services and I don't have to be on the council for 20 years to prove that,” López said.

López is an attorney and works as a business consultant. She was born in Puerto Rico and moved to Chicopee as a child. She attended elementary, middle and high school in the city and said she got a really good education.

But, she said, the school system in Chicopee today needs work.

“Our administrators are working so hard every single day to keep these schools afloat, despite not having enough teachers — and they're underpaid. Meanwhile, we're putting millions of dollars on reserve. That is fiscally irresponsible," she said. "We need to be investing the money back into the city."

López also criticized how current Mayor John Vieau has handled pedestrian and driver safety in Chicopee following the death of a resident who got in a multi-car crash earlier this month.

“There were no flashing lights when people died on these streets and now suddenly, oh, we're doing great,” López said. “We're adding flashing lights. It just feels like suddenly they want to work.”

Vieau spoke on the issue in his campaign office across from City Hall.

“Drive down Chicopee Street today and tell me if you think it's not safer than it was a year ago,” Vieau said. “We just received $50,000 because our delegation understands how important this is to buy more rectangular, rapid-flashing beacons. We want to enhance pedestrian access and safety in those high-volume locations — Broadway, front of City Hall, Chicopee Street.”

Vieau, a real estate appraiser and civil engineer, was a city councilor for 16 years prior to getting elected mayor in 2019.

Vieau is proud of his work leading the city through the pandemic and won a second term in 2021 — unopposed.

“Our city's doing very well,” Vieau said. “We're fiscally stable. We have a robust stabilization account. We have some multi-million dollar projects that we're looking to continue that progress.”

But with Chicopee’s Latino population almost tripling since 2000, Vieau said he’s had to make some changes.

“As mayor, when I first got elected, there was a barrier. And it felt like when someone who didn't speak English, we’ll say of Hispanic descent or Latino descent, came into the office, there was an uncomfortableness for them,” Vieau said. “So what we had asked the City Council for was a constituent liaison part-time position."

Vieau said the liaison helps him talk to Spanish-speaking residents who come into City Hall during his office hours.

“I believe in democracy, and I believe that it's up to the people to decide who they want to lead their community and their city. And I don't think it has anything to do with your race, color or creed,” Vieau said.

López, on the other hand, thinks differently.

“We've never had a woman as a mayor. We've never had a person of color as the mayor. And it's about time that people see themselves in that position,” López said.

Chicopee residents will decide at the ballot box next Tuesday.

Nirvani Williams covers socioeconomic disparities for New England Public Media, joining the news team in June 2021 through Report for America.
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