NORTHAMPTON – The four mayoral candidates pledged to treat climate change as an emergency and shared their strategies for increasing citizen engagement with the government, in a final forum on Thursday ahead of Tuesday’s preliminary elections.
The 7 p.m. virtual forum hosted by Climate Action Now featured the remaining candidates: City Council President Gina-Louise Sciarra, retired resident Roy Martin, social worker Shanna Fishel and transportation analyst Marc Warner.
A fifth candidate, Rosechana Gordon, will appear on the ballot despite the dropout in August.
Voters in the September 28 preliminary elections will narrow the field of mayoral candidates to two, and one general candidate for the city council will be eliminated out of a field of five, for the November 2 general election.
Early voting is available on Fridays at the Senior Center, 67 Conz St., from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Sciarra, general councilor and chairman since 2019, said the carbon emissions targets set out in the Northampton Sustainable Plan – a 50% city-wide reduction by 2030, 75% by 2040 and full carbon neutrality by 2050 – are not ambitious enough.
“The climate emergency will lead to all actions taken by the city,” said Sciarra. “Before taking the oath, I will start working with the outgoing mayor (and department heads) on a transparent tracking system so that we can see the progress. We need this to be done.
The city should “move away” from the use of pesticides, Sciarra said, and it is against “indiscriminate” spraying of mosquitoes. She supports the creation of a task force to investigate natural gas leaks and recommend solutions.
On Wednesday, the city council’s finance committee, which Sciarra chairs, passed first reading of an ordinance allowing the rental of rooftop space at Bridge Street, Leeds and Ryan Road elementary schools for solar photovoltaic panels.
“I am committed to achieving real sustainability and real fairness,” said Sciarra, describing the finance committee as the place “where our progressive ideals become progressive realities”.
In order to involve more people in government decision-making, she supports a municipal broadband system that will be voted on in general elections and said the city should consider continuing to attend meetings. virtual.
When asked how he would increase city hall engagement with people of color in the city, Martin said every council and commission should have “Spaniards, because we have a lot of Spaniards here in town”.
“We have a lot of black people in town who are put behind the eight ball, so to speak, and they are never asked what to do. We tell them what to do, ”Martin said. “Maybe we would take some Jews. … I have heard that many Jews are not very familiar with politics.
Moderator Ben Weil asked each candidate to name the most effective thing they would do, if elected, to tackle climate change at the local level. Martin briefly touched on the challenges of regional cooperation between cities, then said: “I don’t know how to answer this question.
Earlier in the forum, he said he would “institute things in small incremental steps” which, if every municipality participated, would have a cumulative impact on carbon emissions.
“Together we can all do it. Together, ”said Martin. “Otherwise we’re going to eat shit, as you might say. ”
Martin pledged to “fully fund” the urban forestry program which aims to restore the city’s shade tree canopy, but said he would prefer the hardwood trees to the “little things” that are currently being planted. .
Responding to Martin’s comments, Fishel said, “I am a very proud Jew and I am very proud to enter politics. We need to empower marginalized communities.
Fishel is an outreach social worker in Holyoke and a former special education teacher in Boston Public Schools.
“In these roles, I have faced the harmful impact of municipal decisions on the most vulnerable, and I have dedicated my life to working for equity,” said Fishel. “I am committed to good listening, better planning and real empathy.”
In their first year, Fishel would establish binding guidelines on carbon emissions, rather than the soft targets of the Sustainable Northampton Plan, they said. All new city vehicles would be electric, Fishel said, and the city would encourage citizens to use skateboards, hoverboards and motorized unicycles, among other alternative transportation options.
Fishel wants the city to meet its net carbon emission target by 2030, two decades ahead of schedule.
Warner said the city has three options when it comes to climate change: first, to try to mitigate the effects; if unsuccessful, try to adapt to more extreme weather conditions; and third, “misery”.
“It’s an alternative that we don’t want to leave to future Americans,” Warner said. Climate change “is something that requires management, not just goals”.
Over the next few years, the city will have dozens of opportunities to apply for state, federal and private grants, he said, and each will have requirements, legal issues, revenue predictability, criteria for different assessment and submission standards. Navigating through these various factors will require strong management, he said, and “I have these management skills.”
Warner, founder of Warner Transportation Consulting Inc. and its president for 29 years, said he had experience managing large-scale projects for public transportation agencies around the world, including helping Los Angeles to planning a new railway construction last year.
In terms of bringing more public transport to Northampton, Warner said increasing the number of buses “is an ideal, but not really realistic.”
Fares will “never” cover transit operations, Warner said, so the money would have to come from somewhere outside of town or from its own coffers. He called for expanding the possibility of walking and adding bike lanes in targeted places like the Baystate Village area.
He said that while climate change is a critical challenge, mitigation efforts should not cause the city to neglect its other priorities.
“Let’s make sure that aligns with the goals of our entire community in other areas as well,” Warner said.
He said the city should hold a carbon reduction competition with Amherst, work with utility companies to identify municipal energy use and display the numbers on the side of city hall, and hold the heads departments responsible for measurable actions on climate change.
Brian Steele can be reached at [email protected]