Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include a comment from Precinct 8 candidate Kelly Dixon.
Following the failure over the summer of a safe city ordinance in Greenfield, which would have offered additional support and protection to residents regardless of immigration status, progressive Democratic candidates are making a run at the town council.
If they sweep the Nov. 7 election, meaning candidates are elected to two at-large seats and seats in precincts 5 through 8, progressive councilors would have enough votes potentially bring back and pass the ordinance.
“I think we’ve got the momentum on our side, especially in the wake of the Donald Trump presidency,” said Greenfield Town Councilor Karen “Rudy” Renaud, who drafted the ordinance. “I think it’s really woken up a lot of people who otherwise weren’t interested in town politics or politics in nature. Now they realize that if we want our voices heard we’ve got to get our boots on the ground and go to the voting booth.”
Besides the safe city ordinance, another major issue is whether or not to limit needle exchange in the city, which is tied to the opioid epidemic impacting Greenfield and other communities across the commonwealth.
Other issues that would likely be tackled in the coming term would be whether to fund construction of a new library. The project is set to get a state construction grant of $9.4 million.
The safe city ordinance would have required city employees to serve all residents regardless of their immigration status as well as for Greenfield not to inquire about a residents immigration status. It also mandates refusing requests from any state or federal agency that require identifying a resident’s immigration status, according to the ordinance.
The city would have also refused any requests to enforce federal immigration policy, and review Greenfield policies to comply with the safe city resolution. The ordinance was passed by the Human Rights Commission on Feb. 13, before being moved to the council.
More than 200 people attended the Aug. 16 council meeting at Greenfield High School’s cafeteria in which the safe city ordinance was defeated by a vote of 6 to 4. More than 70 members of the public spoke during than three hours of public comment time.
Councilors Verne Sund, Wanda Muzyka-Pyfrom, Maria Burge, Council Vice President Isaac Mass, William Childs, and Daniel Leonovich voted against the ordinance, while Councilors Renaud, Penny Ricketts, Robert Wainstein, and Mark Maloni supported the safe city initiative. Councilors John Lobik and Ashley Stempel were absent from the meeting and Council President Brickett Allis abstained.
Hillary Hoffman, a member of the Greenfield Democratic Town Committee and a former council president, said some councilors who voted against the ordinance gave tone deaf statements.
“Several used the Constitution as an excuse, which I don’t think had any basis in any legal reality in terms of what their role is as local officials,” Hoffman said. “Secondly, they talked about their own ancestors immigrating, ‘the right way.’”
“The majority of this current Town Council would not vote for safe cities because of their conservative values regardless of the people that showed up,” Renaud said. “That’s not the first time we had a vote go like that. This is not personal to any of these current councilors that I serve with. I think they’re all good people, but I do think we need people in these seats whose values reflect the town.”
Renaud said she doesn’t think all councilors are monolithic in regards to how they vote.
“Those who lean conservative don’t always vote that way,” she said. “No matter which way you slice it, we need more of a balance. We’re leaning way too much to the right. To even out that balance at all would be good.”
There is little room for error. Of the six town councilors who are not up for election this year, only Renaud voted in favor of the ordinance. That means that for the ordinance to pass, six of the seven seats up for election on Nov. 7 would have to go to pro-safe city candidates.
Candidates backing the ordinance include current councilors Ricketts and Stempel, who came in first and second place, repsectively, during the Sept. 12 preliminary election for two at-large seats. Newcomer Andrew Killeen came in third place, while incumbent Precinct 6 Town Councilor Maria Burge placed fourth.
Kileen said he would not support the safe city ordinance because he doesn’t believe it would be “in the spirit of the law of the land.”
Burge, who originally voted against the ordinance, did not respond to a request for comment as of press time.
Apart from the at-large candidates, four candidates in precincts 5 through 8 have declared support for the ordinance: Timothy Dolan, Sheila Gilmour, Otis Wheeler, and Douglas Mayo. All would need to win in order for the ordinance to pass, as Lenovich, an incumbent councilor who voted against the safe city ordinance, faces no opposition for Precinct 9.
Precincts 1 through 4 do not have elections this year.
Renaud said she thinks Ricketts and Stempel have a good chance at winning their respective seats based on the results of the preliminary election, adding that although there are four precinct seats that would need to be won, those candidates better reflect Greenfield voters than their conservative opponents.
In Precinct 5, Dolan will face off against former town councilor Marc Odato, who said he supports the safe city initiative. In Precinct 6, Gilmour is vying against Russell Johnson, who said he’s staunchly against the safe city ordinance.
“If we’re going to be safe, we need to follow the laws that exist,” he said when asked why he wouldn’t support the ordinance.
In Precinct 7. Wheeler is running against Dan Viorel Oros, who said he would not support the ordinance as it exists. He thinks the language of the safe city initiative needs to be amended. He would support safe city as long as it doesn’t protect people who have committed a criminal act.
Mayo and Kelly Dixon are vying for the Precinct 8 seat. Dixon wrote in a statement that she believes Greenfield is already a “safe city,” in that officers do not now make inquiries on a suspect’s immigration status, and would oppose revisiting the safe city ordinance.
Gilmour, Mayo, Wheeler, and Dolan have all been endorsed by the Greenfield Democratic Town Committee and Franklin County Continuing the Political Revolution, a former group supporting Bernie Sanders for his 2016 presidential bid that now supports progressive candidates in Franklin County.
David Greenberg, a member of the coordinating committee for Franklin County Continuing the Political Revolution, said he thinks the progressive candidates could shake up the council’s conservative leaning status quo.
“We have to start running progressive people for office if we want to start turning around some of the things that are going on in this country,” Greenberg said. “We’ve taken that to heart … We’re doing this at the local level.”
Chris Goudreau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.