Friday, October 30, 2015

Why I'm Voting For Alex Morse, Again

October 30, 2015

I can't imagine that there is a single one of us who hasn't looked at the transformation of downtown Northampton and, more recently, downtown Easthampton and said "wouldn't it be great if this could happen in Holyoke?"

Well, I never thought I'd be able to say this, but it's actually beginning to happen.  For the first time in decades, significant investment is starting to funnel into our downtown district.  Infrastructure improvements like the Canal Walk are now leading to private investment in the old mill buildings adjoining our downtown canals.  They're getting snapped up by savvy investors who believe in Alex Morse's plan for Holyoke's future.  Apartments, condominiums, retail, office, restaurants -- are all in the works.  Holyoke's revitalization is upon us and people are noticing:  across the region . . . across the state . . . and across the country -- and almost everyone is rooting for us.  Rooting for Holyoke!

Yet, instead of being excited by these long hoped-for developments, some residents aren't happy.  I ask myself how could anyone be unhappy about the biggest acceleration in private downtown investment Holyoke has seen in decades?  The only answer I can come up with, is that some people just don't like Alex. 
I get that Alex has alienated some people and I'm not invalidating their reasons for feeling that way.  But if I had the opportunity to look each of them in the eye I would say to them:  "You don't have to like Alex, to love what he's doing for our city."  

Because, in the end, that's what this election should be about.  Is Holyoke better or worse for having Alex as our mayor these past 4 years?
When is the last time you saw this much new investment in the heart of downtown Holyoke?  Do any of us truly believe that, without Alex and the team he has put in place, that we would be on the cusp of a major downtown revitalization today?  Isn't this exactly the kind of progress we've waited 40 years to see?

If Holyoke's progress is more important to you than Holyoke's politics, please join me in voting to re-elect Alex Morse as Holyoke's mayor next Tuesday. 
Holyoke is on the verge of a major revitalization.  Please don't stop it dead in its tracks.

John Epstein

The following was published October 2013:

Why I'm Voting For Alex Morse

I remember growing up in Holyoke in an era when you never thought twice about leaving the doors to your home unlocked or your keys in your car's ignition.

I remember going downtown to shop, as a child with my parents, and later as a young adult.  The streets were crowded with shoppers and every store was bustling and busy.  There was Steiger's, Neisner's, McCauslin Wakelin, Childs, Moriarty's, Bail's, Dorothy Dodd's, Casual Corner, D'Addario's, Del Padre, Shirl's Record Whirl, Stein's Kiddies World, Lesser's, Ryback's and dozens more.  Most of their owners were our Holyoke neighbors, or lived in nearby towns. And every one of them advertised their businesses in the Holyoke Transcript-Telegram.

I remember the locally owned pharmacies that populated every neighborhood, where I'd ride my bike every week to buy the latest baseball cards or Batman and Superman comics.  I remember  family dinners at Gleason's Townhouse, Kelly's Lobster House, Edna Williams' Log Cabin, The Yankee Pedlar and, in later years, at The Golden Lemon.

And I remember the thrill of seeing the latest movies on the giant screens at The Strand, The Suffolk and in the splendor of the Victory theater.  These and other wonderful Holyoke businesses are fondly burned into my memory all these years later.

But by the time I graduated from Holyoke High School in 1974, things were already beginning to change.  Within the decade which followed, crime and drugs and fires and poverty all ran rampant through our hometown.  Businesses began their rapid exodus from downtown as the Mall drove the final nail in the coffin of locally owned stores.  I watched as an influx of absentee landlords purchased some of Holyoke's grandest apartment buildings; turned them into Section 8 cash cows; milked them for every penny; ran them into the ground; and then abandoned them, leaving their decaying remains as a blight upon our city. 

It didn't take long for Holyoke to become the butt of everyone's jokes.  But is wasn't a joke to those of us who grew up, raised our families, and built our lives here.  By the late 70's, most of my classmates had fled town.  Some moved to other areas of the country.  Others relocated to nearby towns.  I'm one of the very few of my classmates who never left Holyoke.

Over the subsequent 40 years, friends, classmates, and even complete strangers would ask me why I hadn't left town.  My answer has consistently been that "there are still good things going on in Holyoke", though it saddened me that virtually none of these people seemed to be able to see it.  Yet, I can understand their reaction because, for decades, the news which was reported about Holyoke was mostly about it having the reputation of being an unsavory place to live or to spend time. 

For years -- and as a Holyoke resident you surely know this -- wherever we went, outsiders ranked on our hometown, describing it variously as either the "armpit" or the "dumping ground" of Western Mass.  They would repeatedly ask "why would anyone choose to live in Holyoke?"  As residents, we knew there were problems, but we also knew it was seldom as bad as its reputation.

And this is why I'm voting for Alex Morse.  Not because of what's happened during the past 40 years, but because of the dramatic change in how outsiders have come to view Holyoke since Alex was elected two years ago. 

Nowadays, wherever Ruth and I go and whenever we mention that we're from Holyoke, people comment to us about "your new mayor" and how "something really exciting is happening in Holyoke" or that "Holyoke is a really exciting place to live right now".  Whether we're in Turners Falls, Greenfield, Northampton or Springfield, the reaction we've gotten is markedly different from what it had been just a few years ago.  Several people we've met have told us that their next move was going to be to Holyoke.  One former resident who fled Holyoke over 2 dozen years ago said that she and her husband had recently made the decision to move back home to Holyoke.  What struck me most about her comment wasn't just that they were coming back, it was her use of the word "home".  Here it was, dozens of years later, and they still looked upon Holyoke as their home. 

For 40 years I've suffered the slings and arrows of outsiders and former residents asking me why I would stay in a "dump" like Holyoke.  But now I'm hearing complete strangers say that it's an exciting place to be.  I never thought I'd hear people talking that way about Holyoke again in my lifetime.  And it's not just coming from here.  People all over the Pioneer Valley, all over the State -- and even across the country -- have been viewing Holyoke in a significantly more positive light since Alex was elected.  How many decades or generations do we have to look back to find a comparable change in public reaction?  Seemingly overnight, Alex's election has changed the perception outsiders have of Holyoke -- in an extraordinarily positive way. 

Still, some argue that the only remaining chance for Holyoke is to sell her out to the highest bidder -- be it a Wal-Mart, a casino, or even a nuclear waste dump.  They argue that turning more residential neighborhoods into business neighborhoods is the magical answer.  I don't believe that.  Neither does Alex. 

That's why I'm voting for Alex Morse. 

I may not have agreed with every single thing Alex has done, but I can't ignore the fact that Alex is transforming Holyoke into a place that outsiders want to come to play; to live; to work; to invest; and to establish their business.  Those are the fundamental building blocks that are absolutely mandatory for an older industrial city, like Holyoke, to renew itself.  Alex understands that.  And over the past 2 years it has become clear to me that Alex's vision for Holyoke is what's driving that renewed interest. 

Of all the things Holyoke could possibly do to improve its standing, probably the single most significant thing that can happen is that people want to come here.   No Mayor in my entire adult lifetime has done more to improve the perception that others have of Holyoke, than Alex Morse.

For the first time in 40 years, outsiders are viewing Holyoke in an extremely positive light.  I, for one, am not willing to wait another 40 years for an opportunity like this to come again.

That's why I'm voting for Alex Morse.

John P. Epstein