|By Carley Dangona
Mike and Cathy Roeder.
Reminder Publications photo by Carley Dangona
WESTFIELD Mike Roeder has entered the race for mayor of Westfield and he intends to challenge Mayor Daniel Knapik's spending and borrowing habits and to hire qualified personnel. He made the announcement April 8 at the Westwood Restaurant.
Roeder, a Vietnam veteran and former employee of the Connecticut Department of Corrections, was most concerned about the $7 million budget increase that has occurred during Knapik's time in office. He said, "Without hesitation, I was floored by the current bond debt what I call 'live' debt because it is debt that we must pay back with interest. At approximately $85 million today, we pay $6.5 million annually on this debt, which means that it is money unavailable to pay every day bills incurred by the city. What is even more amazing the mayor has in the pipeline right now, more than $100 million in future projects that will require extensive borrowing. If he is re-elected, these projects will go forward."
He added, "It is conceivable that in just the next two and a half years, this city will have a live debt of approximately $185 million, which will raise the yearly debt payment from $6.5 million to $11.5 million. Add to this the utility live debt of approximately $65 million in the next three to four years and we have financial armageddon in this city of 41, 000 people."
Roeder stated that he would support the Westfield Senior Center project, but not for a cost more than $6 million, because the project has been years in the making.
Roeder said he opposed the Ashley Street School Project for many reasons such as the reduction of property values and quality of life for surrounding residents, but mainly due to the $36 million dollar cost of the project, which the city will have to pay for the remaining balance after the state reimburses its 60 percent share.
Roeder promised to hire local people based upon skill and not because of political influence. "I am not going to do political hires. This mayor has done that repeatedly. Some of the recent appointments were not based on the qualifications of the candidate. That's wrong. The way we stop that is to change the culture. The way we change the culture is to bring in some fresh blood," he said.
Roeder added, "If we're going to make a change in the political structure in this city, we need to start with the City Council."
He thanked At-large Councilor Dave Flaherty, who he described as "one of the few people who, besides Ward 4 Councilor Mary O'Connell, has the courage to repeatedly challenge the mayor on his philosophy and his pension for borrowing and spending."
He acknowledged O'Connell, who he said, "is very often standing behind Dave and challenging the mayor on a lot of financial issues to the point where the mayor has made it very clear that this fine lady is not welcome in his office ever."
Resident Tom Smith, opponent of the Ashley Street School Project, said that Roeder approached resident Brian Winters and others regarding his candidacy. "We have similar views on how the city should be run. He's for the law. The current administration avoids the law to suit their rights. Doing so takes away people's rights and denies them a voice."
Winters is currently awaiting clarification from the Hampden Superior Court as to whether he is the next highest vote getter, making him the successor to the Ward 2 City Council seat.
Roeder said he's always been interested in running for office, but that he was unable to do so due to prior responsibilities. He returned to Westfield upon retirement because "it was my dream to move back to the city when I retired I like it here."
In a separate interview, he told Reminder Publications, "I am running now without any prior political experience. I do not think this is a particular weakness in this day and age. I really believe one of the serious problems we have in this country today is 'politicians for life syndrome' people who serve until the ends of time and completely lose track of what they are supposed to do and that is serve the needs of all constituents. With regards to Westfield, I have spent a year researching the political history of the last two to three administrations. I know what the issues are and I have solutions."
Roeder said a concern is the lack of voter turnout in the city. "In the past 20 years ten mayoral elections the average voter turnout has been less than 6,000 voters. In the 2011 election, 4,400 people came to the polls. That's it. There are 23,491 voters in this city."
He offered three strategies to improve voter participation. "I will knock on thousands of doors over the next six months, I will speak anywhere, anytime to any and all groups about my platform and I will do at least three mass mailings. The importance of voting will be a daily emphasis, particularly with our young residents ages 18 to 24. I have met many of them and most admitted they are not registered. This is truly tragic," he said.
When asked his response to the recent news of an opponent, Knapik told Reminder Publications, "I'll just let my record speak for itself. I've kept my promises." He cited the solar panel project as a disappointment during his time in office, but added he had completed many successful ventures such as the revitalization projects and the redesign of the city website to make it more user-friendly and accessible for residents.
Roeder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via mail at P.O. Box 875, Westfield, MA 01086-0875.
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